From Internet law to infusing meaning in news

By Shea Andersen

Although it was a beautiful Saturday, journalists and media professionals crowded inside a U.S. Bank building conference room for the 2009 Fall Conference, organized by the Southwest Chapter of the Idaho Press Club.

The theme of this year’s conference was “Back to Basics.” Instead of wringing their hands over the fate of the industry, reporters and editors learned about pertinent media law in the Internet age and heard from newsmakers about what it’s like to be on their side of the microphone.

Attorney Brad Frazer kicked off the day with his presentation about media law and the Internet. Frazer, who focuses on such topics for the Hawley Troxell law firm in Boise, guided conference attendees through the maze of law that pertains to the Internet.

“The Internet changes the field dramatically,” Frazer said. His discussions about defamation and invasion of privacy, plus the risks inherent in using different types of copyright-protected material, were eye-openers for many journalists, even those who have been reporting on and through the Internet for years.

The takeaway from Frazer’s presentation?  “Trust me, you don’t want to get sued,” Frazer said.

Dealing with the go-go publishing schedule of the Internet was a focus of a thoughtful presentation by Len Reed, the Environment and Sustainability Editor for the Portland Oregonian. Reed traveled to Boise to give a talk called “Trapped in Real Time,” about the search for meaning in journalism, especially in an age when news gets old, fast.

“We’ve held the newspaper up at some of our morning news meetings and said, ‘This is what stupid looks like,'” Reed said. The challenge, he said, is to make the company’s signature product, the newspaper, meaningful when it might come a day later than the news.

“We’re in the meaning business,” Reed said. “In the new day, people are going to want someone to sort the miasma for them and suffuse it with meaning.”

For Reed, a 30-year newspaper veteran, this was an exciting challenge, not an insurmountable wall.

“I’m not depressed by this,” he said. “I’m jazzed and energized by it. It’s just harder. Everything is learning, all the time, in real time.”

Finally, journalists enjoyed a spicy panel of newsmakers who were encouraged to tell stories and discuss lessons they’d learned about being the source of news. State Sen. Dean Cameron, Rep. Scott Bedke, Ada County Commissioner Sharon Ullman and onetime Congressional candidate Andy Hedden-Nicely offered their advice to reporters and editors. The discussion was off the record, to encourage a frank and candid discussion, and the audience got it. One lesson these newsmakers agreed upon: Remember to ask sources if they’ve got the information right.

The conference crowd was increased by the presence of several Borah High School journalism students.

The conference was organized by the Southwest Chapter of the Idaho Press Club, with assistance from the state board. Chapter board members Todd Dvorak, Patti Murphy, Sydney Sallabanks, Thanh Tan and Shea Andersen arranged for the space, prepared the agenda, wrangled the speakers and even got the coffee and sweets for early morning attendees.

Shea Andersen is a freelance journalist, and is the president of the board of the Southwest Chapter of the Idaho Press Club.