A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

Tag: New York Times

Presidential Concern

Obama playing football

By Ryan Morrison

On January 16, President Barack Obama made it clear that if he had a son, he would have to think “long and hard” before he let Junior play football. This isn’t an attack on the sport, it’s our nation slowly coming to terms with just how dangerous and damaging the game can be to its players.

As a relatively new journalist, I often feel overwhelmed and helpless. There’s so much wrong that needs righting, so much news that need telling, and so much time and energy wasted in shock and awe because Beyonce-lipsyched-the-national-anthem.

So it is extraordinarily inspiring to realize that one journalist, Alan Schwarz of the New York Times, is responsible for effectuating change in a behemoth as powerful as the NFL. Starting with just basic math that no one took the time to check (or that they chose to ignore), Mr. Schwarz painstakingly analyzed the rate of brain injuries in ex-NFL players, versus the rate in the general population.  He wrote story after story.

And the stories led to Congressional hearings, NFL rule changes, and a reworking of our nation’s mindset as we opened our eyes to the true horror story that are concussions.

In this age of cost cutting at every (still extant) newspaper across the country, we’re fortunate to have amongst us dogged investigative reporters like Mr. Schwarz, and his employer, the New York Times.

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Stealing Secrets in the Sky

privacyScr3

By Leah Braukman

The Ethicist, our favorite Sunday New York Times Magazine columnist, recently explored this conundrum faced by “B.C.” of New Jersey:

On a recent flight, my colleague was seated next to an employee of our major competitor. My colleague realized this when the fellow began writing e-mails about possible problems with a significant new product. Is it ethical for us to capitalize on this fellow’s stupidity?

On the morality front, the views of The Ethicist, Ariel Kaminer, were clear. For example, reading your sister’s unlocked diary is a no-no, but reading information about your business competitor’s plans, if left out in the open, is perfectly fine. So if your airplane neighbor is careless enough to work on sensitive information in the close confines of an airplane, then you, the lucky competitor nearby, may profit from his carelessness guilt-free.

With regard to the law, things are a bit more complicated; those words on the passenger’s computer screen could contain a trade secret and therefore be legally protected. Ms. Kaminer wasn’t sure if seeing and then disseminating that secret would land B.C. in hot legal water, so she sought the guidance of an intellectual property attorney.

The verdict:  if the information is left out in the open, it’s no longer a secret, trade or otherwise.

But it’s not always this obvious.  How out in the open does something need to be in order to lose trade secret status?   Is a secret still a secret if someone can eavesdrop via high-tech hearing aid or peer through your bedroom window with binoculars? LASIS took the bait and investigated.   (more…)

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The Unspoken Employment Contract with Your Babysitter

By Ted Wills

Image used under Creative Commons License from Flickr user, "Aidan Jones"

The New York Times Magazine’s resident ethicist, Randy Cohen, recently gave some legal advice about an employment contract between parents and a babysitter. “As an ethical and (as I, a nonlawyer, understand it) a legal matter, the oral agreement she made constitutes a contract, albeit unwritten.” Mr. Cohen is not a lawyer, but I am a law student and he would be pleased to know that his legal conclusion is almost correct.

Mr. Cohen was responding to a letter from a concerned father  in Tacoma, Washington. When they originally negotiated the terms of the babysitting agreement, the father and his wife insisted that the babysitter  commit to baby-sit two days a week until the end of the school year. She agreed, though nothing was put in writing. Then the father lost his job and no longer needed the babysitter. The father wanted to lay the babysitter off. His wife felt that they must pay the babysitter through the end of the school year. The husband wrote to Mr. Cohen asking his advice, quoted above.

(more…)

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