Wednesday, December 08, 2004

All the News That's Fit to Link

I received an email from a friend who asked whether I could find a copy of the lawsuit that The Baltimore Sun filed in federal court against Governor Robert Ehrlich. The lawsuit has attracted national attention (since Ehrlich's action is a local example of the national trend of Republican Party elected officials using the power of their offices to attempt to cow the press), but for some reason the complaint itself was not freely available on the web.

I downloaded a copy of The Sun's complaint via PACER (a service of the federal courts that charges a relatively small fee) and you can see the complaint, together with Exhibit 1 (Governor Ehrlich's memo that set off the dispute) here. I will, as the case progresses, post and link to other documents that seem to me to be of general interest.

One question: Why didn't The Sun post the complaint? Certainly, the story is newsworthy. And, the Sun could hardly be accused of bias if, as I intend to do, it posted and linked to all important filings in the case. Going one step further, why don't all media outlets that publish on the web provide links to all available source documents pertinent to stories that they're covering?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

News organizations generally do not provide sufficient information in a story for a reader to draw a conclusion. The mainstream press are very adept at regurgitating press releases in order to provide balance, but they are ill-equipped to deal with substantive issues.

Take for instance, which has consistently exposed overwrought and under-researched reporting on legal issues, primarily concerning litigation launched by SCO. The ready accessibility of source documents in that litigation has shown how even legal novices can readily comprehend complex legal issues, (though much of that credit belongs to the superb writing of the various defendants' counsel.

Also, copyright and similar legal restrictions can prevent the free posting of source documents. As much as I'd like to read that fascinating new story in Nature, I'll have to buy the journal or go to a library due to restrictions on republication.

Finally, PACER documents are not free, that's why there is usually a charge for them. Of course, electronic filings are readily amenable to massive P2P copying, but there are insufficient reputational mechanisms to avoid the propagation of bad documents.