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One less view from Iraq

Kevin Sites, a CNN correspondent currently in Iraq covering the war, was “asked to suspend” writing for his weblog. It’s unclear who asked him to stop. Most likely it was CNN, but could have been his wife for all we know. Many folks are disappointed because news from Iraq that is unfiltered by major news organizations is hard to come by and is a welcome addition to the regular coverage.

Some people in the discussion thread that accompanies his final post are flipping out a little bit…and unnecessarily so. If CNN did tell him to stop, it’s not a case of corporate censorship or crushing the little guy (jeez, talk about paranoia). Kevin is over in Iraq on CNN’s payroll and probably has a contract that doesn’t allow him to report on the war for anyone else, even for himself.

Hopefully he and CNN can come to an agreement to let him keep blogging from Iraq, either on his site or on It would be a good thing for CNN to do to generate some goodwill among online news readers and to give an innovative, experienced correspondent a little freedom to explore new methods of war reporting.

There’s an additional angle here concerning the nature of weblogs and other online writing. When looking at weblogs in a legal sense, is a weblog a personal diary or is it journalism? If Kevin’s site is a personal diary, CNN might not have any right to make him stop, contract or not. But given his occupation and the simple fact that he is publishing information on an open network for anyone to read, that seems to make it journalism. As it stands now, many webloggers want the best of both worlds: the legal protection and benefits offered to journalists combined with the flexibility and freedom of keeping a personal diary. It will be interesting to see how (or if) this changes in the future.

Reader comments

MeganMar 22, 2003 at 12:53AM

Well.. considering that CNN probably paid for his trip to Iraq, and any knowledge he comes by and subsequently publishes in his weblog was because of his status as a CNN reporter and because they paid for his trip, I would have to say it's definitely in their power to ask him to stop writing for his weblog, or at least writing about the war.
However, I don't necessarily think it's in their best interests to have his weblog suspended, it was bringing a new angle to the coverage of Iraq that many people appreciated, and I'm sure CNN can find a way to make it benefit them.
You brought up a great point about the nature of weblogs and online writing. "is a weblog a personal diary or is it journalism?" In most cases I think that weblogs should be considered personal diaries, even when published by journalists, but in this instance, the content of Kevin's site seemed to lean more towards journalism. Altough I think it's a mistake, if it was in fact CNN that sensored Kevin, than I think they have every right to do so. But in the unlikely instance that it was the US government... well... yeah.
anyways.. it's always a pleasure reading your site.. keep doing what you're doing.

AnilMar 22, 2003 at 4:00AM

A side issue is, how much of a factor is immediacy? Clearly, if he kept this blog in a passworded or private site, CNN couldn't complain about him maintaining a journal that way. And presumably, they'd have no claim if that password were removed after he died. But clearly, CNN says he can't release his posts as he writes them.

So the question becomes, at what point between now and their posthumous publication do these entries become fair game? When Sites returns from Iraq?

MartinMar 22, 2003 at 8:40AM

He doesn't seem to be alone.

I had high hopes for the BBC's Reporter's Log, but at the time of me posting this message (1335GMT on Saturday 22 March) they haven't updated it for nearly three days.

MartinMar 22, 2003 at 8:47AM

.....additional to my message above.

They do seem to be updating it, but they've opted not to give the Reporter's Log an index page, or archive, so that you can bookmark the front page and go directly to the latest postings.

You have to sift through the site to find the new stuff.....

TommyMar 22, 2003 at 12:04PM

The only thing that surprises me about this story is that it took CNN so long to take some sort of action. Not only did CNN most likely pay for Kevin to get to Iraq, they own, to a large extent, anything he writes. I am sure his contract states he can not sell another story to FOX News or another non-CNN media outlet.

Plus, and I don’t think anyone mentioned this; Kevin is most likely using CNN equipment (connectivity, computer, camera, etc.) to maintain the blog.

I have a feeling, as blogs start to catch on more and more with “mainstream” users that a lot of lawyers in New York are trying to determine if blogs are an individual’s personal journal or another form of journalism. I would also expect that new language is being written into the contracts of journalists to limit reporters in the field from maintaining a blog related to topics they are covering for their employer.

mathowieMar 22, 2003 at 1:55PM

CNN could have been big about it and asked Kevin to start publishing the blog on

Remember that article at goodexperience about AOL "getting" blogs? I'm thinking they don't have a clue.

essMar 22, 2003 at 4:52PM

As usual, Kottke plays the devil's advocate and gives a number of reason why CNN might ask him to stop. Two other thoughs...

What if there is material in his blog that he was able to get using CNN credentials. There have been a couple of cases of reporters getting access and interviews on the basis of being representatives of a major new organization, and then using some of the material they gathered for their own blogs.

It's also possible that CNN is concerned about a CNN reporter publishing "news" that CNN has not checked and edited. (I don't feel that CNN is particularly cautious about checking and editing, btw, just that they might want use the arguement.)

fredMar 22, 2003 at 5:30PM

I have been following Kevin's blog for the past few days and had some previous questions about its viability also. Diary/journalism--mmmm--don't know, but I do know that I will miss this input from the war front. Perhaps we are witnessing a new way of viewing news! Personally this would be a welcome event.

neurotechMar 22, 2003 at 6:11PM

CNN Expelled from Baghdad by Iraqi Government

CNN may not have many reporters left there, so Kevin may be an even more important source now than originally planned.

On a different note: Salam Pax revealed some very specific information in his blog. If he did not make that up, he could be located and identified extremely easily, especially by a dictator.

salvatoreMar 22, 2003 at 10:33PM

From my point of view the CNN is working for the U.S,
Kevin is just a worker.When you are at war the media play a major role.It can mislead the enemy or even then coalition forces.What you have read doesn't mean IT happens.Just watch "Wag the dog"

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.