This is an untraditional book about libel. It’s not primarily about libel law but about how to spot and remove libelous statements before they are published – in print or on the Internet – or broadcast or even tweeted or posted on Facebook. It is intended for journalists, journalism students, and other writers. It focuses primarily on the craft of reporting, writing and editing and how practitioners can avoid making libelous statements. Bloggers and other Web journalists, typically with much less of a support structure, vitally need this knowledge because they typically lack the editing structure on which old-media journalists rely.
Avoiding libel is, in many ways, similar to crossing a busy street safely. The pedestrian has to look both ways to see what’s coming. The journalist has to look both ways to see who is making an assertion. If the answer is no one, it is the journalist, and his or her employer, who is stating the claim as a fact, often without meaning to do so. Making the writer think about the attribution may push him or her to question the assertion. If the statement is dubious, thinking about the need for attribution may lead the writer or editor to think about the necessity of using it.