Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Libel and HTML: In class Tuesday

It goes without saying, I hope you all keep both your textbooks for future reference. They're the best introduction I've seen to the art (not science, notice) of newspaper copyediting, which sets the standard for most commercial writing in the U.S. But if you do sell them back (or even if you don't), you can find a good introduction to defamation on the web. It's called "Understanding Defamation" and it's put up on the web by journalism prof Dorothy Bowles of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. I went to UTK, so I'm biased ... but I still think it's the clearest introduction to the basics around.

In class today, we'll go over Bowles' website, learning five elements of libel ... the things a plaintiff has to prove you did in order to win a libel lawsuit ... and defenses against a libel lawsuit including the common law defenses that all journalism students memorize sooner or later. Why not start now? There's only four.

We'll also learn why it's not libel to say All UT Volunteer fans are racist hillbillies." Be careful (and remember your instructor went to UT). It's not what you think.

More useful, unless you visit Knoxville a lot, is Bowles' list of dangerous words that are especially likely to get you in trouble.

Your assignment in class (you knew there'd be one, didn't you)? Don't expect Barack Obama to sue Robert Novak for what he said about what Hillary Clinton didn't say about him. (Got all that? It's a non-story, anyway.) I want you to post to the class blog your analysis of how Novak's column stacks up against the elements of libel, and which of the defenses against libel he could plead if Obama sued him. In your post, I want you to: (1) include an indented block quote; and (2) link to a story about Novak's item and an appropriate page on Bowles' defamation website.

Not sure how to do a block quote? Well, here's an explanation from Stanford that shows you a block quote. (Ignore the "p" and "slash p" tags! They set off paragraphs in a pure HTML document, but Blogger does that for us.) The blockquote tags are like any other ... "bracket-tag" at the beginning and "bracket-slash-tag" at the end. You use the blockquote tag just like you use an indented paragraph in a college paper. It sets off quoted matter that's more than three or four lines long. And it's a useful thing for college students to know, because you do a lot of quoting in your papers.

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