Blogging Cred(s)

January 22nd, 2007

Some recent discussions in the chemical blogosphere have wandered into particularly contentious areas. Whether trading news about scientific misconduct or sounding off on minorities in science, bloggers and commenters want to know how much they can say without getting into trouble. Fortunately, the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School has the answers. They developed to help Average Joes and Janes on the Internet understand laws regarding what you can and can’t say online.

So, how many of the protections enjoyed by the press also apply to bloggers? All of them. Just remember that when you post stuff online, you are publishing information. Online publications are governed by the same laws that govern information published in more traditional media. Blogs have the right to report newsworthy things, but at the same time, bloggers are also open to defamation and violation-of-privacy lawsuits. You generally want to keep two things in mind: make sure what you say is both true and newsworthy. Don’t make stuff up, and don’t go digging into areas where someone would have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

On the plus side, you only have to worry about what you say. Legal precedent has established that owners and operators of sites are not responsible for statements posted by third parties. That means that bloggers are not responsible for defamatory comments left on their blogs. (So keep on posting, Wolfie.) At the same time, commenters don’t have “freedom of speech” on someone else’s Web site; their comments can be deleted by the site’s owner at any time.

While those are the main points, I highly recommend surfing through the Chilling Effects Web site when you’ve got some free time. And should you ever find yourself having to figure out a cease-and-desist letter, they’ve got a great section on those, too.

While the law may treat bloggers as members of the press, the rest of the world has been reluctant to do the same.  Fortunately, that’s changing. A recent article in The Washington Post notes that 2 out of the 100 seats for the media at the Scooter Libby trial are being distributed to bloggers. With this new vote of confidence, it will be interesting to see whether bloggers improve their journalistic standards by doing things like taking the time to verify information, obtaining permission before using copyrighted images, and publishing corrections when circumstances warrant them.

As far as chemistry goes, the American Chemical Society has pretty much poo-pooed the idea of blogs being a legitimate news medium. As proof, look no further than national meetings, where the ACS offers complimentary registration and access to a media room (complete with wireless Internet access) to the people lucky enough to be deemed journalists. Seeing as how the ACS is coming to Boston this Fall, I thought it might be interesting to use their facilities to post dispatches from the lectures and maybe even get short interviews with anyone being offered to the media. Upon closer inspection, it appears that the ACS won’t let me:

Press/Media Registration: Press registration is complimentary for credentialed members of the news media (restricted to reporters and editors working full-time for print or broadcast news) who are approved by the ACS Office of Communications. Press representatives may pick up their badges with valid media credentials from the Press Room (Moscone Center, Room 232) during the meeting.

That stinks, and it makes little sense as a blanket policy. For instance, by their definition, no freelance reporter will be granted press registration. Furthermore, a reporter from the Harvard News Office could get credentialed but not a student-reporter from the Harvard Crimson, despite the fact that the latter probably has a much greater readership. If the ACS truly exists as an organization to promote chemistry, I think that encouraging intrepid bloggers to cover interesting chemistry would be a good idea. I mean, who’s going to do a better job of covering chemical lectures: some random reporter working full-time for the Sunnyville Post or some nerd on the Internet who actually understands chemistry?

Maybe I’ll send a letter to the ACS Press Office to see if they’ll step into the 21st century and reconsider their restrictions. I’m not looking for a free ride…I’ll happily pay for registration, just give me access to the Internet at the meeting site. Pretty, please?

UPDATE: Mitch found a more extensive write-up of the ACS’s Media Accreditation Policy.  Web entities can get media registration so long as they have a news component, and freelancers just need a note from mommy.

Expect more news posts on ChemBark in 2007.  If I can save some money on registration, the drinks will be on me.

Previous Comments

  1. eugene Says:
    January 22nd, 2007 at 9:59 am So, as a quick rundown, if someone were to post an account of what James LaClair said in private during the Gordon conference while he was standing by his poster, which had nothing to do with research and claimed that it was the Brazilian secret service and then the US army that forced him to make hexacyclinol, would that be legal or illegal? If the source was anonymous to all except the blog author, like ‘Heterogeneous’ was?“I mean, who’s going to do a better job of covering chemical lectures: some random reporter working full-time for the Sunnyville Post or some nerd on the Internet who actually understands chemistry?”

    I’m not sure. I’d like to say it’s the former because they are not going to do a better job from the point of view of the ACS. The type of media that will cover ACS will either be chemistry (ACS) affiliated, or will not care. Going the latter route might make things too… exciting in some cases. Although it would lead to greater publicity with normal news picking up on it. No ACS president wants to read in a major news outlet on the terrible fight that Cordova/Blackmond had at ACS in all its graphic details.

  2. Mitch Says:
    January 22nd, 2007 at 2:03 pm It is not about Blogs, it is about readership. C&EN has a monthly circulation of 584,000, and other print media probably also have a high readership when compared to the average blog. It makes financial sense to comp print media’s registration fees. Most blogs probably have a readership of 3000 uniques per month, if they are lucky. Why should ACS comp them, when they barely have any readership when compared to print media?Mitch
  3. Mitch Says:
    January 22nd, 2007 at 2:41 pm From:…..olicy.html

    Media accreditation is extended to representatives of newspapers, television and radio stations, and magazines. It also is extended to some web entities – those that meet the news requirement.


  4. Paul Says:
    January 22nd, 2007 at 2:56 pm Yeah…but at the same time, how many people who care about chemistry read the Falls Church News-Gazette? Greater or fewer than 3000? Why give them creds?
  5. Paul Says:
    January 22nd, 2007 at 3:05 pm To answer Eugene, anything that someone overhears related to JJ LaClair, hexacyclinol, and research (or motivation, etc.) is fair game for discussion as news, even if it is overheard in an otherwise “private” conversation. What would not be fair game for blogging is if you sneaked a peek in the men’s room and saw that he had a tattoo of the molecule in an area usually obscured by clothing.
  6. milkshake Says:
    January 22nd, 2007 at 3:49 pm As long as there is absence of malice on your part you can write a stuff that turns out to be factualy incorrect. Whether or not it can be considered by someone as slanderous or hurtful, the burden of proof is on them – they have to prove that you intended to besmirch ther reputation.
    Being sloppy and not cross-checking your sources makes you a tabloid hack but does not make you open to libel suit in US. (The situation is quite different in UK).
  7. nobigtitlesforme Says:
    January 22nd, 2007 at 4:50 pm I imagine (REDACTED) could help you get some accreditation, insofar as it would lend legitimacy to her posting on here.Edited at the request of the author.
  8. nobigtitlesforme Says:
    January 22nd, 2007 at 5:14 pm Sorry, that came out too mean. Please cut that comment for me, if you please?
  9. Paul Says:
    January 22nd, 2007 at 6:47 pm Using the magic of the Internets, I guess it’s possible to un-ring a bell.
  10. Wolfie Says:
    January 22nd, 2007 at 9:40 pm “So keep on posting, Wolfie.”You don’t let me.
  11. Wolfie Says:
    January 22nd, 2007 at 9:47 pm You forget one thing: As a journalist in the traditional media, you are writing for a publisher you gives you the right to do so with his money. Glad you who are writing for a Harvard professor who does not care.
  12. Kyle Finchsigmate Says:
    January 22nd, 2007 at 9:52 pm Free drinks? I’m there, buddy.
  13. Wolfie Says:
    January 22nd, 2007 at 9:57 pm Don’t get cynical, Kyle, but accept realities.
  14. Ψ*Ψ Says:
    January 22nd, 2007 at 10:42 pm If I end up at an ACS conference in the near future, I’ll be sure to hit you up for a drink. :)
  15. joel Says:
    January 22nd, 2007 at 11:41 pm Paul,As far as I know, the courts have only begun to look at the rights of bloggers in the last couple years and nothing has gone in front of the Supremes.

    Actually, I can only think of one watershed case on blogger’s rights’ to the reporter’s shield law (Apple v. “Does”), and that went down in favor of the
    bloggers as an anti-SLAPP in California. However, this decision may be limited (i fear) because in many parts it relies on CA state law—many laws
    protecting reporters vary somewhat from state to state.

    btw, the site you referred is also sponsored by the EFF (electronic frontier foundation), who also sponsored the “Does” in the aforementioned case.
    I already put this in their suggestion box, but I think their FAQ section should be referenced to include some of the cases on which they base their

  16. Wolfie Says:
    January 23rd, 2007 at 12:09 am The question is always:When do the bloggers get out of graduate school and have to make their own money ?
  17. Hap Says:
    January 27th, 2007 at 12:02 am Wolfie,You might ask Derek Lowe about that – he doesn’t exactly have a large chemistry program to bankroll him, and of the chemblogs running I would figure his readership is among the highest. (Though maybe I’m being optimistic – I would like to hope that blog hasn’t really hurt his career, considering the only people he expends any vituperation on are the antipharmaceutical “miracle herbal cure” charlatans.)

    At some point (particularly if micropayments or some equivalent become common), bloggers will not necessarily depend on the generosity of those for whom they work, but on the willingness of their readers to back them.

  18. Dan Says:
    February 9th, 2007 at 10:05 pm You were spot on with your comments on the American chemical society. Have you, as a thoughtful person ever asked yourself why the ACS exists? It goes to congress and claims to speak for all chemists, yet the reality is it primarily benefits big business and tenured academics (both which have an incentive to see both the opportunities and salaries for chemist kept to a bare minimum.) I choke when I read their annual fictional salary surveys. No mention is ever made that prospects for future generations of US chemists are dimming.Anyone ever considered starting an organization that represents working chemists and not spoiled brat tenured folk?

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