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Posts Tagged ‘SLAPP suits’

The Cost Of Candor — $3,150

In behavior, business, Media, Money, news, politics, religion, science, sports, Technology, work on October 26, 2010 at 10:33 pm
Albion Press printing press

Image via Wikipedia

That’s the quote I received this week for the liability insurance I plan to buy. It covers my new book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” (Penguin/Portfolio, April 14, 2011) and freelancing for print and blogging for this site. It carries a $5,000 deductible.

While three grand is a petty sum to many people, it is not to me. It is a bloody fortune. But the drama and stress of being sued is so not worth it to me.

The fear of being sued is why most blogs are all about puppies and kittens and sex and recipes — safe stuff no one will come after you for.

Which is why most blogs have this effect on anyone hungry for serious, in-depth news, analysis or reporting: zzzzzzzzzzzzz. No one in their right mind is itching for a lawsuit and Americans are deeply addicted to the lottery ticket of a big fat win.

Not to mention the fear of SLAPP suits. These are Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, aka muzzles. If you piss off just about anyone, they can come after you and sue you to shut you right back up. Freedom of what?

In an era of staggering, growing income inequality, you can rest assured that anyone eager to rake muck is making a whole lot less money — maybe 1 percent? — of the people they might want to write about critically. This is, hmmm, how you say, de-motivating in the extreme. Do readers even know this?

Do they — you — even care?

Very few writers of any ambition want to keep biting their tongue, self-censoring, sitting on what they know to be a potentially explosive story. But, why bother? What’s the upside of being the writer or blogger best-known for becoming a cautionary tale? Oooops, s/he took a risk. Look what happened!

The irony is that everyone now thinks that being able to blog at will means being able to say anything you want. Mwahahahahahaha.

As if.

It really means you have all the freedom in the world, certainly if you have little to no understanding of media law, to get your ass sued.

It used to be said that freedom of the press belonged to those who owned one. Now that freedom only truly resides in the deep(er) pockets of those who can afford to get sued and defend themselves — people who work on staff for major news organizations with in-house counsel. More importantly, their copy is “lawyered”, vetted carefully before print or broadcast to avoid such debacles, a luxury — when top New York attorneys can command $700+/hour — most bloggers and freelancers can only dream of.

So, instead of muckraking and investigative work, the sort of thing you’d expect from someone independent, free of corporate ties, most freelancers are stuck cranking out polite, celebratory crap.

This is progress?

Wanna Hear What I Really Think? Got $6,000?

In business, Crime, Media on May 13, 2010 at 3:06 pm
Money

Image by AMagill via Flickr

So much for “free” speech.

Just got off the phone with an agent who sells “E and O” — errors and omissions insurance — as I start to figure out how to protect my ass(ets) as a writer. He’s sending me several applications, one of which, the multimedia version, is really long. Of course it is!

The joy of “independent writing”? Anyone can sue us anytime. The latest darling of the suit-happy are SLAPP suits — Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. Which means, unless you work on staff for a Big Media Company (with in-house staff attorneys whose highly-paid job it is to protect you and, more importantly, your employer) you’re toast, baby.

More and more, writers are strong-armed into signing contracts that leave us holding the bag in case someone we cover sues the media outlet for whom we’ve done the — freelance — work.

There’s no better way to make sure we write about puppies and kittens and rainbows than knowing one false move can mean our IRAs are going to get garnisheed in a settlement. The saber-rattling by those with very deep pockets – hmmmm, the wealthy and powerful? — means many of us slap duct tape over our mouths every morning, no matter what madness and malfeasance we discover.

“Independence” is a relative term.

One lawyer I spoke to, knowing the writing life, (beyond lucrative TV and film), delicately inquired, “Do you have any assets?” The answer, having worked long and hard and been really disciplined about driving clapped-out old cars and wearing (mostly) consignment shop shoes is “Yes.” I save 15 percent of my income every year, even when that income is so small I think: “Why bother?”

And, this being the U.S, a nuisance lawsuit is both nauseating and much more probable than I’d like.

Suiting up, then, is quite the challenge, requiring the (paid) services and advice and expertise of my accountant (becoming a company); an attorney (making sure it’s all done properly) and an insurance agent. Unlike car or home insurance, I can’t cough up that dough each month — it’s one lump sum, on my income, a fortune. There is cheaper insurance but — funny thing!– it’s capped at a much lower amount.

Why should you care?

Every day, there are posts I don’t write — or write and don’t publish — because, who needs it? Like many of my colleagues, I’ve got other things to worry about without some $$$$$-mad aggrieved plaintiff ruining my life. That costs you, dear readers, because there’s all sorts of (interesting) stuff it simply isn’t worth mentioning, for fear of such a suit. I know, personally, other independent writers backing away slowly, if regretfully, from smart, incisive, tough, investigative work for this very reason.

Believe it or not, not every writer wants to focus on all-fluff-all the time. But without a safety net, you can’t safely leap too far.

I’m thinking of setting up a Paypal account — you really want my unvarnished opinions? Help me speak truth to power, and not lose my home/assets/savings in the process.

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