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Legal Blog and Journalism Leaders Discuss 'New Media & the Law'

Last night at Georgetown University Law Center, several leaders in the legal blogging and journalism world met to discuss "New Media & The Law." The panel featured David Lat (center in the lousy photo from my camera phone below) from Above the Law, Tony Mauro (right) from the National Law Journal and the Blog of the Legal Times), and Matt Welch (left) from Reason Magazine. Eileen O’Connor, adjunct professor at Georgetown and a former reporter and bureau chief at CNN, moderated. The audience included ABA Journal editor and publisher Ed Adams and his Legal Rebels crew, who recently featured Lat as a "Legal Rebel" and arranged for him to interview American Lawyer-founder Steve Brill.

Newmedia1

Mauro, a veteran journalist with 30 years of experience covering the Supreme Court, offered several observations on the changes he has seen in legal journalism. He said that for many years the lawyers he covered simply would not speak with reporters. That changed in the 1980s thanks to publications like The American Lawyer. Today, when important Supreme Court decisions come down, Mauro receives no fewer than 10 to 30 pitches from lawyers (and lawyer marketers) vying to provide him with their comments on the case.

Mauro is a fan of blogs and is an active participating author of the Blog of the Legal Times. His one real concern about blogs and other even shorter forms of journalism, such as Twitter, is that in the rush to churn out information, journalists may miss out on the opportunity to be more reflective and put a story into context. He said that in the Sotomayor hearings, for instance, he and his colleagues were feverishly blogging, tweeting and making videos of the day's events, but did not have always have time to be more thoughtful on what was occurring.

Lat acknowledged that legal bloggers in an operation like Above the Law, which is supported by advertising and currently receives approximately 10 million page views per month, do need to publish a certain number of posts each day to "feed the beast." ATL's target quota is 10 to 12 posts per day, which on slow news days can be a challenge, sometimes requiring Lat and his colleagues to admittedly "put stuff out for the sake of putting it out." Lat said that ATL has a lean staff and operates on a lean budget, with one full-time editor (Elie Mystal); one part-time associate editor (Kashmir Hill, who also writes for another publication called True/Slant); and Lat himself, who spends a good bit of his time working for ATL's parent company Breaking Media and even serving as in-house counsel on legal issues. Happily, Lat says, ATL has never been sued.

Lat also explained that in today's law firms, associates and others are very willing to share what was once regarded as confidential or sensitive information with ATL. Even when law firms try to make sharing this information painfully difficult, people find a way to get ATL the information, whether it be by transcribing voicemail messages or taking pictures of "unforwardable" e-mails with their camera phones!

Welch, a former assistant editorial pages editor of the Los Angeles Times, focused on the plight of newspapers in the digital age. Welch said that newspapers "get a bad rap and they deserve every bit of it." He compared the output of his 10-person publication (which includes a print edition, a Web site with daily content, a blog with 15 to 20 items each day and a video operation) with that of his 27-person L.A Times "Opinion" division that created just two pages each day in the newspaper, the majority of which was written by others and read by no one, he says.

Posted by Bruce Carton on September 24, 2009 at 11:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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