Tag Archives: media law

My First ‘Almost Law Suit’

Alright, so I didn’t technically almost get sued, but I finally had my first “stepping on the wrong people’s toes” moment in my journey to journalism (yikes!).

It all started with a normal feature page idea for my school’s newspaper – coming up with our own secret menu for our on-campus coffee spot, Java City. One of the editors had halfheartedly suggested it and somehow, we decided to run with it and see where it took us. Everyone in the office had a lot of fun looking at all the syrups, flavor shots, and add-ins, creating their own unique drink, naming it, and taste-testing their new concoction. By the time the feature was finished, we had created six Houston Baptist University/Collegian themed drinks.

Then, publication day came, and well, to put it lightly, the head of food services at my university was a little surprised. Although we intended to notify him ahead of time, there was some miscommunication and, long story short, he had no idea we were making these new drinks until he saw it in the paper. Not to mention, he was not too happy about our use of the Java City logo on the front page. Thankfully, when it all came down to it, he just was caught off guard and understandably wished we had filled him in ahead of time.

The infamous "secret menu" feature.

The infamous “secret menu” feature.

All in all, it wasn’t really bad; I wouldn’t even say it was a “close call,” but it definitely had the potential to turn into a big mess. What started as a fun project could have ended up as a huge problem for the newspaper. I’m glad we at least took the precautions to make sure that all our “secret menu” drinks wouldn’t interfere with the way Java City normally charges for drinks and flavor shots. In fact, it might have increased their revenue here on campus.

In the end, the workers at our Java City have the feature page behind their counter and even refer to the new drinks by the names we came up with! It was kind of cool to see journalism, even on a small scale, having an impact like that and actually creating something that became adopted and implemented (that’s the power of the media for you). So, two lessons learned, or rather, relearned.

  1. It is terrifyingly easy to get into trouble that could have been prevented by better communication or verification. Although it can be tedious and time-consuming, being extra careful in ensuring you have permission and rights before publishing something can be the very thing that prevents your fun, innovative idea from becoming a legal issue.
  2. Media is powerful. There’s somewhat of an adrenaline rush that comes from the realization that through something like a student newspaper, one can create (or destroy) something. *insert evil laugh here* Which is why, going back to the first lesson, it can not be emphasized enough how important it is to be careful. Whether publishing on a personal blog or a renown publication, you never know what will be the one thing that makes an impact on the world you live in, for better or for worse.

 

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So… I have to become a lawyer too?

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Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending the 28th Law and the Media Seminar put on by the Houston Bar Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the Houston Press Club. It was a great, eye-opening experience that made me realize journalists not only need to be photographers, editors, and writers, but also lawyers. 

The conference covered the roles of the news media and law when it comes to campus crises. With the recent Purdue shooting and the many on campus incidents that have happened in the past year, it was a very appropriate and fitting topic. 

In the first session, one of the topics brought up was the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) which has a lot of restrictions concerning what type of student information school administrations can and can’t release to the public and to parents. Through the discussions and Q&A on this topic, I realized just how easy it is to break the law simply out of ignorance. Some of the laws are so restrictive and specific that if you are not aware of your boundaries, you could be one tweet away from committing a crime. 

Speaking of tweets, again, I’m seeing more and more how much social media impacts our society. I could probably start a whole other blog with just posts about the problems and solutions that social media creates for journalists. About a decade ago, there was no such thing as “Facebooking” and “tweeting,” but today it has become a part of our lives. One of the things discussed in the seminar was the fact that technology moves so much faster than we do. Breaking news can literally change by the minute and keeping up with all of it while remaining ethical and respectful is a lot to juggle. 

I could go on and on, but I think I’ll stop there. Long story short, this major (journalism) is turning out to be a lot more complex than I anticipated. I guess that’s what makes it so great. There is so much to learn and do through this one industry and I can’t wait to dive into all of that, but for now, I have some reading to do for my Media Law class…