Not having been brought up in the United States, I get rather confused by bills and houses and senates and all this, so I had to ask Scott what it actually meant that a bill was “approved Wednesday by the House Judiciary Committee“. Does that mean it’s now the law? (Disclaimer: I doubt we learnt that kind of detailed stuff about US governance in school in Norway, and if we did, well, I forgot it.)

Scott kindly explained the situation by finding me this song, I’m Just a Bill (update: that was the lyrics, YouTube version below thanks to Steven!), which apparently is taught in American primary schools. Or grammar schools or whatever they’re called. Impressively enough, it both has a catchy tune and explains what bills are and how they become laws quite beautifully. I love it.

This bill, the Free Flow of Information Act of 2006, is intended to encourage the free flow of information by, among other things, allowing journalists to shield their sources. It’s of interest to bloggers, because it provides a definition of journalist that is broader than previously:

a person who, for financial gain or livelihood, is engaged in gathering, preparing, collecting, photographing, recording, writing, editing, reporting, or publishing news or information as a salaried employee of or independent contractor for a newspaper, news journal, news agency, book publisher, press association, wire service, radio or television station, network, magazine, Internet news service, or other professional medium or agency which has as one of its regular functions the processing and researching of news or information intended for dissemination to the public. (PDF)

It’s that “for financial gain or livelihood” that gets people. The journalists are worried about this because it doesn’t include, say, student journalists. Bloggers are worried about it because what about bloggers who don’t receive financial gain from their blogs?

I think that this particular bill is up to here in the song:

Now I go to the House of Representatives, and they vote on me.
Boy: If they vote yes, what happens?
Bill: Then I go to the Senate and the whole thing starts all over again.
Boy: Oh no!
Bill: Oh yes!

And then to the White House. Could take a while. But isn’t that a great song?

8 thoughts on “what a bill is and what a journalist is

  1. Martin

    There’s a great scene in an early episode of Friends where they’re in the coffee
    shop, talking about Rachel, and she walks in, and Chandler says, loudly “And so basically, that’s how a bill becomes a law.” I happened to see that episode while trying to learn how the american system worked. I was taking “American Studies” while living in California, and it felt nice that actual grown-ups didn’t undestand it either.

  2. Michael Clarke

    Great (and informative) song! But they missed out the verse about lobbyists and barrel-loads of cash.

  3. Steven D. Krause

    Ah yes, School House Rock! Back in the 70’s, back in the day when Saturday mornings in the U.S. meant watching cartoons (this is long LONG before cartoon networks, of course), and the School House Rock series of cartoons were kind of like public service announcements of their day. I think it was the ABC network– I can’t remember which– but they would run one or two of these a morning between the half-hour shows. Anyway, they used to have all kinds of little lessons. I remember one about Paul Revere, about the preamble of the U.S. Constitution, etc., and a lot about math and grammar.

    BTW, lots of these things are on YouTube. For example, here’s a link to “I’m Just a Bill.” Personally, my favorite one of this series was “Conjunction Junction.”

  4. Jason Mittell

    And if you want a slightly more cynical lesson on how the Constitution gets amended, check this out (from The Simpsons).

  5. Jill Walker Rettberg

    Oh thank you Steven – I grabbed the YouTube video and embedded it 🙂 And Jason, I’m glad to have the knowledge to now appreciate that parody from the Simpsons. Oh dear.

    Now I’m starting to wonder whether I really know how Norwegian laws become laws…

  6. JoseAngel

    The message is clear. If you do it for money, you can shield your sources. If you’re just an amateur commentator or reporter, you have no business meddling with investigative journalism.

  7. Mark Marino

    Hey, Jill,

    Now that you are increasing your useless this American pop culture IQ, you are now a target audience for this “Classic Bunk” piece on “I’m just a Bill.” A bit dated, but I think you’ll enjoy it. http://www.bunkmag.com/shr/

    Congratulations to you and Scott!

  8. jill/txt » journalists can publish

    […] This is an interesting distinction, particularly because it relates to the question of what journalism is. In the US, journalists are legally permitted to protect their sources and not even give their names in a court of law. Right now, there are moves to change the wording of the law so that bloggers will also be seen as journalists in this respect – with some limitations. So the question of “are bloggers journalists” is actually an important question in this case, with very real effects. Perhaps in Norway a blogger will publish a database of personally identifiable material and claim that it was done as journalism – and we’ll have our own court cases to test whether blogging is (sometimes) journalism. Hm. I don’t have time to read the full text of the law right now (I only have 48 hours left to finish my book manuscript!) but I notice that it actually says “for artistic, literary or journalistic purposes”, so it’s not just about journalism. Hm. Viser til din e-post av 4. oktober 2007. […]

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