A SLAPP in the face of journalism

A hearty congratulations and considerable sympathy is due freelance writer Susan Paterno, whose American Journalism Review article "Santa Barbara Smackdown" so upset the owner of the Santa Barbara News-Press that the journalist ended up in court for two years before having the case dismissed this month.

That's two years of courtroom conflict that should light a fire under every American journalist, and not just the freelance writers who aren't reading their contracts before they sign them.

Two years.

As Howard Kurtz reported a year ago, the publisher of Paterno's story, American Journalism Review, "was not originally named as a defendant but agreed to pay Paterno's legal bills and indemnify her against any judgment."

And what did AJR get for doing the right thing? Kurtz had that answer too: "management was stunned to discover that its libel insurance did not cover freelance writers."

Like AJR, a lot of mainstream newspapers are contracting out more and more of their content, which in many cases exposes their freelancers to the same sort of experience Paterno suffered.

Every journalist ought to consider the chilling effect this is bound to have on freelance journalists covering business and government at every level. Will injustices go unreported for fear of retaliation? I don't know. Is two years in hell too long?

The rundown of Paterno's case is here at LA Observed.

Cross-posted at TJ Sullivan in LA


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