Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Paper's Lawsuit Against 'AJR' Reporter Draws Criticism

By Joe Strupp
Editor and Publisher

NEW YORK A lawsuit filed by publishers of the Santa Barbara News-Press claiming that an American Journalism Review writer defamed the newspaper's owners in a recent article has drawn harsh criticism from newspaper industry leaders, who said such an approach is counter to journalistic practices.

"I am surprised that any publisher would do this," said Gene Roberts, the legendary former editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer and part-time instructor at the University of Maryland, where AJR is published. "It's pretty clear that there is an owner there with no sense and no respect for newspaper traditions and for the First Amendment."

Alex Jones, director of the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University, agreed. "It is outrageous," he said. "It is especially a betrayal of the principles that most journalists understand for a libel suit of this kind to be filed. It is apparently a grudge."

Some observers noted that it was unusual for the newspaper to target the writer of the story and not the publication. "It is colossally odd," said Charles Tobin, former in-house counsel for Gannett and currently a media lawyer in Washington, D.C. "She is really trying to chill the journalist personally. It is atypical to go after the journalist alone -- they don't have deep pockets."

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