Whether you are an old-school journalist looking to move online or a Net native with journalistic aspirations, chances are at some point you’re going to need a lawyer. The Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard’s Berkman Center is aware of that and wants to help.
“We know there is more need out there than we are able to fulfill even with a network like this, which is growing every day with lawyers,” said David Ardia
, director of the project. Ardia and his team have signed up a host of U.S. law firms to provide free legal services to new online publishers. The project, launched last month, is called the Online Media Legal Network
By the beginning of this month, the network had 25 law firms representing some 6,000 lawyers who could potentially be called upon for help ranging from advising a journalist on the paperwork needed to establish an online news site to litigating in a libel suit, he said. “Our core mission is to help small and independent online publishers deal with legal issues from soup to nuts,” he added.
To qualify for assistance, writers must be doing work that meets basic journalistic standards and is in the public interest. At this time, the network is intended for people who have U.S. legal issues, Ardia said. Print or broadcast journalists who have been laid off by media outlets and who want to set up online are part of its clientele, as are employed journalists who just want an online presence.
But Ardia also wants to help the blogger or “citizen journalist” who might run afoul of the law through ignorance or inexperience. “We really want them especially to come to us because they’re the ones who don’t even have the training or the intuition to raise red flags when they are writing a story about a local politician or a local developer,” Ardia said, “and they are very likely to say something that could get them into libel trouble.”