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Attitudes towards Journalism Shield Laws amongst Journalists and Bloggers

The next speaker at ICA 2010 is C.W. Anderson, whose interest is in debates over the US shield law for journalists. Can we see a process of professional boundary maintenance in this (protecting definitions of who is and isn't a journalist)? The shield law debate emerged from questions about what legal protections were available to journalists who were suppoenaed to release information gathered from confidential sources; the law would protect journalists and their sources and grant them immunity from particular forms of prosecution.

Part of the development of a shield law also requires the lawmakers to define through law who is and isn't a journalist - while debates over this tend to occur on a public and rhetorical level, the law would enshrine their outcome in law. So, during the debate, would bloggers and industrial journalists frame this debate differently? C.W. examined some 100 articles from both sides during 2007 and 2009 to conduct a comparative frame analysis (interestingly, though, there were ten times as many blog posts about the issue than newspaper articles during these timeframes).

Webogs mainly focussed on political or legislative calculations (30%), discussions of the 'covered person' category (20%), invocations of the public role of journalists (12%), and terrorism and national security issues (11%). Newspapers addressed political and legislative calculations (22%), the history of jailing journalists (16%), the public role of journalists (15%), and the 'covered person' category (15%). Main differences, then, were in political and legislative calculations (where bloggers led substantially), the history of jailing journalists (where newspapers led just as much), the 'covered person' category (where bloggers led again), and - slightly - the public role of journalists (newspapers just ahead).

Future research could move beyond this qualitative coding of a smaller number of articles towards a quantitative analysis of the entire amount of articles in blogs and newspapers which address the shield law issue, to further examine these boundary maintenance processes.

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