Kent Middleton, professor emeritus of journalism, and Bill Lee, professor of journalism, celebrate the 10th edition of “The Law of Public Communication.” When the first edition was published in 1988, it was the first communication law text to include a chapter on “corporate speech,” a chapter that has chronicled evolving First Amendment rights of corporations to spend money on paid political speech.
Tenth edition of ‘The Law of Public Communication’ published
To have three or four editions of a textbook published is quite an accomplishment. To have ten editions of the same textbook published is very rare.
For Bill Lee, professor of journalism, and Kent Middleton, the founding author and professor emeritus of journalism, publishing the 10th edition of “The Law of Public Communication,” represents nearly 30 years of writing. The third author of the textbook, Daxton Stewart, is an associate dean and associate professor at the Bob Schieffer College of Communication, Texas Christian University.
“I think part of the success of the book has been the fact that it’s always been very timely and has included the latest legal and political developments,” Lee said, explaining the reason the book has been popular over the years.
The first edition, like the tenth, teaches future media practitioners the principles of free speech, the legal limits of free expression and how to understand legal reasoning, Middleton said. “The authors have been gratified over the years,” Middleton said, “that students find the dynamic law of public communication as fascinating as the authors do, and students often say they appreciate the clear and interesting text.
Each edition incorporates new legal concepts while deleting more dated material. For example, the latest edition added material on topics including the Hulk Hogan privacy case, dark money in elections and drones. Although topics like the history of communication law and First Amendment law have stayed the same over the years, a bulk of the book has been re-written over the years.
Lee explained further: “There’s a lot of ebb and flow with communication law. For example, right now we’re in in a state of flux on topics relating to journalist privilege. There aren’t currently any big cases but that could explode very quickly because Attorney General Jeff Sessions just announced that they’re rethinking the Department of Justice guidelines. As another example, when American copyright policy changes, we update the copyright chapter.”
Perhaps the biggest change in the 30 years of writing the book has been legal implications of computers and social media.
“Thirty years ago nobody anticipated the way that social media would explode,” Lee continued. “Nobody anticipated the internet becoming as important as it is and the internet cuts across so many different areas from copyright to invasion of privacy to this right to be forgotten, or dispute content on the internet, which is big in Europe right now.”
Middleton has been involved with every edition of the textbook. The first edition of “The Law of Public Communication” was published in 1988 by Middleton and Bill Chamberlin who has since retired from the University of Florida. Lee replaced Chamberlin as an author in the 2001. Stewart, who is an expert in social media law, joined as an author in the ninth edition in 2017.
In the past 30 years, most Grady College students who have taken Communication Law, a required course, have used “The Law of Public Communication,” as have many students around the country. It is not unusual, says Lee, for a student to email him from another state asking a question in as they prepare for a paper or a test.
“So students all over the country have fallen asleep or have woken up in a puddle of drool face down in the book,” Lee said, partly in jest.
“The Law of Public Communication” has a reputation for not only its knowledgeable content, but for the many unique settings in which the book has been “studied.” Lee likes to challenge his students each semester to submit a picture of where they read the book. The competition that began with providing extra credit to students who took the book on spring or fall break, has grown into a competitive sport of who can present the most unique setting each semester. Pictures of the textbook have been submitted by a gymnast reading it in mid-flip, a swim team member reading it in mid-dive, a student dangling over the edge of a cruise ship. One recurring theme is photos combining the book and Cheez-Its, Lee’s favorite snack.
“The point of the contest is to encourage the students to take the book along on break, naively thinking that perhaps on a long airplane flight or while chilling on the beach, they are going to read their book.”
While the jury is still out on how many students study the book on spring break, the fact that the book is well respected remains intact.
“The challenge is that that we have to write for people for whom this is their first encounter with the law. So, we have to take very complex material and we have to make it accessible to a lay person,” Lee concluded. “Kent is really a master of that and he has a very keen sense of what the students can comprehend. We get good reviews from our readers about clarity of the writing and the comprehensiveness of the book, but that is a difficult thing to take a rather confusing Supreme Court opinion and try and make it understandable to a 20-year-old.
Editor’s Note: #GradyGrit is a new series of profiles of Grady College students who show determination, leadership and outreach to the community. Search “Grady Grit” on the Grady College website for additional profiles. Hometown: Knoxville, Tennessee Year: Junior Degree: Journalism major and Sports Media Certificate Activities and Involvement: The Red & Black, WUOG, Grady Ambassadors, […] learn more