Bar association addresses journalism in digital age

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ALBANY – The New York State Bar Association (NYSBA), the largest voluntary state bar association in the country, announced a groundbreaking initiative to tackle the crisis of local journalism in the digital age and make recommendations on how New York State, the legal and business sectors can protect local news and define the future of local media in not only New York but throughout the country.

NYSBA has established the” Special Committee on Free Expression in the Digital Age” to study the issues surrounding local journalism.

According to Brendan Kennedy, spokesperson for the NYSBA, the initiative will focus on, among other things, the highlighting the crisis of local journalism in the digital age, providing a legal perspective on the various issues facing journalists today, and bringing together a regionally diverse coalition of thought leaders in the media.

Mark Starkman, a member of the NYSBA, Orange and Dutchess County Bar Associations, said the various bar associations and local media both provide essential services to the community. The bar associations provide free legal services and attorney referrals to those in need and the local media helps make the community aware of the services.  “We need to get the word out about our programs and the only way to do that is through local media,” said Starkman, who serves as the NYSBA vice president for the Ninth Judicial District.

Starkman implied that local media plays an integral role in society.  The lawyer said that communities need local media to provide coverage of local government and politics which are not covered by national news.  “Changes to local laws need to be covered by the local press so that the community knows about it,” said Starkman.  New York has been directly impacted by the loss of local, hometown journalism. The number of newspapers in New York State has decreased by 34 percent since 2004, according to a study by the University of North Carolina. Were this any other critical industry, government would be called upon to find solutions.

“However, because of the special nature of the news business, starting with the constitutionally enforced wall between government and media, the role of the law in responding to the crisis has not been obvious,” said committee co-chair David McCraw, deputy general counsel for The New York Times. “With a foundational element of democracy and civic culture in jeopardy, there is a compelling need to consider whether there are appropriate legal responses to the crisis.”

NYSBA has for decades formed task forces and committees to examine current issues in the law and the legal system, and then make recommendations to address these issues.  Committee hearings will be scheduled in the coming weeks, and are planned to be held in New York City, Albany, and Syracuse.   The Special Committee on Free Expression in the Digital Age will make recommendations that they hope will shape the future of local journalism.  The task force is expected to present its report and recommendations in 2020 to NYSBA’s Executive Committee and House of Delegates.