Law Assignment


1) What are the elements of a defamation claim, whether it is libel (written) or slander (oral)?

A defamation claim accuses the defendant of communicating a factual inaccuracy about the plaintiff to a third person or to the public at large, potentially damaging the plaintiff’s reputation. The alleged inaccuracy must relate specifically to an individual or organization.

A statement of fact, however damaging to an individual or organization, cannot result in defamation. The onus of proving a statement to be false lies with the plaintiff in the US. In several other countries however, the defendant must establish that the statement under question is accurate.

The factual inaccuracy must be specifically about someone – an individual, group or organization. “Journalists are hacks,” for instance, is a sentence that cannot attract defamation because it is not targeted at any particular individual or organization.

The inaccuracy must hold the potential to damage the plaintiff’s reputation as is perceived by society at large. Hurting the sentiments of the plaintiff is not adequate ground for defamation.

The defendant has to also have published or communicated the inaccurate statement to at least one person other than the plaintiff for a defamation claim to hold. Defamation charges can accuse the defendant of libel, if the inaccurate, unflattering statement is made in writing – in the story or in any other written form – or of slander, if the statement is communicated orally to a third party.

Reporters can attract defamation even before their stories are finally published – if they make false, unflattering statements about someone to a third party.

2) If someone gives you her name and password to access her employer’s website, should you use that information to access the site?

No. Reporters should not use someone else’s electronic identification to gain access to information stored digitally. Pretending to be someone else on the internet is a violation of cyber laws, and can get reporters into trouble.

There is however nothing wrong in accessing any information or data in the online world without pretending to be someone else. Information can be accessed from websites if their security is so weak that no misrepresentation is required for the task. Journalists who cleverly guess web portals where organizations may have uploaded information that they later intend to make public, are also not guilty of any legal violations in accessing those online sites.

3) How much time should you give the subject of an article or video to comment before publication?

The time a reporter gives a source to respond to queries depends on specific situations, but the reporter must never allow the source to effectively dictate when the story is published.

It is usually best not to commit to hold a story for any specific number of days. The news organization may be in a position to access the required information from other sources before the first source responds, and may wish to publish the story which is now complete. Such a scenario leaves the reporter in a position where he ends up having misled the first source about when to expect the publication of the story.

4) What is the rule on reading back quotes to sources?  (Something of a trick question)

There are no fixed rules about reading back quotes to sources. Some reporters do read back quotes to sources – while others don’t. If a reporter promises to read back quotes, he or she must do so.

Reporters who want to read back quotes should however do so immediately after the interview rather than later, when the source has a chance to reflect on any unintended consequences of his or her quote and may try and tweak it even though the initial quote was accurate.

Journalists must however never show the entire story to a source prior to publication. This gives other stakeholders represented in the story the impression that the reporter is biased as one source appears to have greater influence over the story as it will finally appear. Sources are also rarely good editors.


Business of Journalism Assignment


a) Name three trends that have significantly changed economic models for news organizations in the digital age. (no more than 500 words total)

“The times, they are a changing,” sang Bob Dylan almost five decades ago. Today, those words ironically ring true not just for “The Times” – as the New York Times is often referred to – but for every news organization, new research by Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism suggests.

The changes have largely been triggered by trends brought on by the digital age that have forced traditional news organizations to review financial models they followed for years.

A dramatic shift in users from print and broadcast to online platforms, the collapse of the aggregation model milked by traditional media organizations for years, and ever-increasing digital competition are three trends that stand out.

A recent study by the Pew Center for the People and the Press showed that 65 percent of people in the 18-29 age group use the Internet to access their news, leaving television and newspapers far behind. The Internet is also competing with newspapers for older eyeballs – 34 percent of people between the ages of 50 and 64 access their news online as compared to 38 percent newspaper readers, the Pew study found. An increasing number of users – as many as 47 percent American adults, according to a separate Pew study — are today accessing at least some news on smart phones, tablets and other mobile devices.

This shift in user choice of media platform has thrust new challenges upon news organizations. Print and broadcast organizations need to focus on their digital platforms. But online platforms can’t just transfer traditional revenue models on to the Internet, the Tow Center researchers found. Mc Clatchy Co., the third-largest newspaper organization in the US, witnessed a 17.3 percent increase in unique online viewers in 2010, but only a 2.4 percent increase in digital revenue for the year.

Traditional news organizations successfully used aggregation as a revenue generator for decades. By offering different readers the content they were interested in, on a single broadcast or newspaper platform, these organizations could pitch a massive market to potential advertisers.

In the digital age, however, users can access the specific content they are interested in, at the click of a mouse, without needing to purchase an entire newspaper or watch a news program. Online, advertisers pay for the number of eyeballs a particular page attracts – instead of the aggregated readership or viewership of newspapers and broadcasters.

The low investment and marketing costs involved with starting and running online media platforms has also led to an exponential increase in digital content providers, ending decades of monopoly or oligopoly enjoyed by traditional broadcast and newspaper groups. The increased competition lowers advertising rates. Advertisers also no longer depend solely on traditional news organizations to get their message across to consumers. Online platforms like Google and Facebook, with large user bases, have taken away some of the advertising budget of firms that newspapers and broadcasters traditionally benefited from. Craiglist, a centralized network of online communities, has irreparably damaged classified advertisements as the biggest source of revenue for newspapers.


b) List up to three advantages that a new, digitally based news company has over a traditional print or broadcast organization. (no more than 250 words)

Lower investment and marketing costs, freedom from the constraints of space and time for content delivery, and the relative ease of creating focused audiences and tracking viewership are key advantages new, digital organizations have over traditional news firms.

The capital expenditures required to launch broadcast and print companies do not shackle new digital media companies, which don’t need tall antennae over hills or large printing presses. Digital news platforms can effectively use aggregation – including packaging content drawn from multiple other news sources — to increase their revenue, as the Huffington Post or the Drudge Report have shown, a new report by Columbia University’s Tow Centre for Digital Journalism argues. Digital media firms need a smaller staff than print or broadcast companies to put out the same volume of content. Online platforms also save on marketing costs since their content is publicized for free by users who share links with others through email or networking sites like Twitter or Facebook.

A newspaper can offer only a certain number of pages, on which advertisements and news content must be shared. Television programs similarly have only limited time within which they must squeeze in both news and advertisements. Digital platforms face no such restrictions.

Using sophisticated usage-tracking services like Omniture or Chartbeat, digital firms can track usage patterns much more accurately than traditional platforms, and in real time. This allows online media firms to create focused audiences by providing targeted content, far more easily than traditional media organizations can.


c) List up to three advantages that a traditional print or broadcast organization has over a new, digitally based news company. (no more than 250 words)

Despite the assault on their bastions by new, digital news firms, traditional print or broadcast organizations retain some key advantages over their online rivals.

The relatively greater time and attention readers and viewers devote to print and broadcast news sources, the challenge of matching advertising supply and demand online, and the failure of most digital platforms to provide users meaningful advertisements are among these advantages.

People typically spend over 30 minutes reading their daily newspaper, while they spend less than 4 minutes on a particular internet page, two independent studies have indicated.

Digital media firms face a tougher challenge than print or broadcasting counterparts, in trying to predict the demand for advertising they are likely to attract, since the traffic they draw varies dramatically based on the content they put out. This difficulty often forces digital platforms to undersell advertisement space. The Guardian witnessed a spike in online viewership during the days it was breaking stories on the phone-hacking controversy at the News of the World. But it had already sold its advertisement space for rates lower than what it could have commanded given the traffic its website attracted. This mismatch in demand and supply makes online platforms depend on cheap, “remnant” advertisements when the demand outstrips supply.

Barring non-news online groups like Google or Facebook, few digital platforms have succeeded in tailoring advertising to what the user is interested in – leaving them at a disadvantage compared to traditional print and broadcasting organizations.



Hello everyone,

This will be the platform where I will be posting some of my work as a student at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism over the coming few weeks. I hope you like what you read.



Charu Kasturi

Hello world!

Welcome to After you read this, you should delete and write your own post, with a new title above. Or hit Add New on the left (of the admin dashboard) to start a fresh post.

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