HUNTINGTON – Fame and fortune await the person who finds a way to make money with news on the Internet, First Amendment guardian Lucy Dalglish predicts.
Dalglish, director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Arlington, Va., spoke at a Sept. 22 panel discussion at Marshall University.
"No one has figured out how to monetize news on the Internet," she said. "Whoever understands how to make money off news on the Internet will be the next Bill Gates."
She and four other panelists examined First Amendment rights of "bloggers," in a discussion that the university and the Supreme Court of Appeals sponsored.
Chief Justice Brent Benjamin, as moderator, said First Amendment freedom embraces pamphlets, leaflets, lectures, polls, novelists, researchers and dramatists.
Corley Dennison, dean of Marshall's journalism school, said a computer in a basement could have as much impact as a radio transmitter worth millions.
Gene Policinski, director of the first Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, said, "We have gone from the village green to the village screen."
Benjamin asked if bloggers are journalists, and Dalglish said some are and some aren't.
She said some write about touch football or what they ate for breakfast.
She said journalists take information, add value, and disseminate it.
She said when the British controlled America, they required licenses for press owners and could throw people in prison for what they published.
"Our entire democracy depends on the First Amendment," she said.
Benjamin asked where accountability lies for anonymous bloggers.
Dalglish said, "Let's not pretend like anonymous journalism is a new thing." She said authors of the Federalist Papers wrote under pen names.
She said that if an anonymous blogger damages someone, the victim would be able to force an internet provider to identify the source.
Kevin Qualls, journalism professor at Murray State University in Kentucky, said he worries about forum shopping.
He said, "I'm going to sue where procedure favors me."
Policinski said web anonymity brings forth a dark streak in American discussion. "I hope we don't over react," he said.
Benjamin said, "How is it different from what you hear in a bar on Saturday night?"
Policinski said, "It is global, eternal and pervasive."
Howard Bashman, a Philadelphia lawyer whose blog, "How Appealing," covers courts, said barriers to entry are low.
He said, "You may not get any money suing a blogger in his parents' basement."
Dennison said traditional media had an interest in remaining centrist with a veil of objectivity but bloggers have an interest in small segments.
"It's in your interest to write in an inflammatory way," he said.
A voice from the audience asked if journalists hurt their credibility by blogging.
Dalglish said some reporters get in trouble if they express opinions in blogs.
Benjamin asked if a reporter or a newspaper should own a reporter's blog.
Dalglish said a reporter she knew tried to keep a blog when switching jobs, but the former employer wouldn't allow it.
Qualls said he sees language in blog comments so close to a reporter's language that it makes him suspicious.
"I have three or four samples that are making me say hmm," he said. "It's a back door way to get your opinion through."
Benjamin asked if blogs have entertainment value.
Qualls said that often the first four or five comments are on point, "but then it denigrates and it falls apart very quickly."
Policinski said news organizations should set rules on comments. "You can be uncivil, just not on my site," he said.
Benjamin asked if people go to outlets that advance their points of view.
Dalglish said New York has three dailies and very few people read all three. She said, "We are actually reverting to the way it used to be."
Dennison said, "We have had partisan papers for all time."
Qualls said, "Political speech is the most highly respected speech we have."
Policinski said, "I would submit it is self correcting. Credibility becomes all."
He said, "We go to places we can trust. Over time I think we are going to sort them out."
Dennison described how bloggers found controversial comments of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor and traditional media picked up the story.
Bashman said, "It is worthwhile to have people scouring public records."
A voice asked if partisan content was positive or negative. Policinski said, "It's giving more voice to the average person. I love the partisan mixup."
He said, "Remember that the protest speech of one era that is offensive becomes the heroic speech of another era."
Bashman said he reads blogs of law professors and he has seen courts change decisions due to internet analysis.
"Blogs are a great way to participate in democracy," he said.