Having been a journalist in a former life, I try to keep my nose in the game by subscribing to press release services. It’s an interesting way to see the news cycle and journalists’ judgement in action, since reportage from many media outlets can be recycled or augmented press releases.
For the science beat, that means EurekAlert, which is how I got hold of this little gem:
It is about a study to be released in PLoS Medicine which argues we just don’t know if circumcision will hinder HIV transmission rates in the United States. Boiled down, Africa and America are two very different places with very different disease vectors, which means public health data from the former won’t yield predictions about the later.
I got all that from the press release. I haven’t read the paper, which has the following citation:
- Sullivan PS, Kilmarx PH, Peterman TA, Taylor AW, Nakashima AK, et al. (2007) Male circumcision for prevention of HIV transmission: What the new data mean for HIV prevention in the United States. PLoS Med 4(7): e223.
The reason I haven’t read the paper, and can’t give you juicy quotes (theirs) followed up with bloated analysis (mine)? The press release links to:
PRESS-ONLY PREVIEW OF THE ARTICLE
The all-caps aren’t mine, but they have sufficient emphasis that I gather a hands-off approach is encouraged if you aren’t a journalist.
This brings me to ask the big question which crosses the mind of a serious blogger at least once: Do I count as press?
I could put on my freelancing hat and say, ‘Yes, I am.’ I could even send off an email and ask permission. But that’s just avoiding the bigger question of when a blogger counts as a journalist and is entitled to the same treatment.
My intuition is that anyone who picks up a pen can be a journalist for the purposes of any given story. Amateur or professional, it matters not a whit as long as you behave responsibly. That’s why excluding bloggers from press galleries should rankle everyone – even graduates of journalism school.
I suspect Canadian courts would see it the same way, since they don’t elevate the rights of journalists over those of citizens. Here are two statements to that effect:
Journalists have no more right to information, or to disclosure or even to access to information than the ordinary citizen. Freedom of the press as a concept does not confer any special status on media people. MacLeod v. de Chastelain,  1 F.C. 114 (F.C.T.D.).
Canadian courts have stated emphatically that the press enjoys no privilege of free speech greater than enjoyed by a private individual and that the liberty of the press is no greater than the liberty of every subject. Coates v. The Citizen (1988), 44 C.C.L.T. 286 (N.S.S.C.). [ed: the irony of the newspaper’s name should not escape us]
Even so, I’ll wait to read the article. Unless the story merits confrontation, a journalist should be polite and err on the side of caution.