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Expert journalism witness in Gawker sex tape trial acknowledges times have changed

ST. PETERSBURG — Attorneys for the website Gawker got their chance Thursday to question an expert witness for the former wrestler Hulk Hogan, and they used their time to make him appear as out-of-touch with modern journalistic practices as possible.

The questions began innocently enough. But within a few minutes of taking the stand, University of Florida journalism professor Mike Foley was forced to acknowledge it had been 43 years since he was a reporter and nearly two decades since he worked in a newsroom.

There were repeated references to "back in the day," when he was the executive editor of the Tampa Bay Times in the early 1990s.

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"When you were last in a newsroom, there was no Facebook, right? There was no YouTube, right? There was no Twitter?" asked Gawker Media attorney Michael Sullivan. "You're familiar with Twitter?"

Foley has a Twitter account, but the point was made.

"Things have changed," he allowed.

A day earlier, Foley testified that when Gawker published an excerpt of a sex tape featuring Hogan in 2012, it had violated the Society of Professional Journalists' code of ethics and the former wrestler's right to privacy. Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, is suing Gawker for $100 million in damages.

Although the existence of the sex tape was news, Foley said, the tape itself was "not newsworthy." Publishing even one-minute and 41-seconds, as Gawker did, was gratuitous.

On Thursday, Gawker's attorneys reminded Foley that when he worked for the Times, he defended the newspaper's decision to publish a nude photograph of actor Demi Moore that had stirred controversy when it ran on the cover of Vanity Fair.

In a column, Foley rationalized the choice, writing: "It's interesting and people were talking about it."

Gawker had defended itself similarly, arguing that because Bollea boasted about his sex life in graphic detail on TV and radio shows, he had made the video fair game for the press. But Foley said the two incidents had little in common. Unlike Moore, who willingly posed for the photographer Annie Leibovitz, Bollea says he did not know he was being recorded.

"Is it as wrong today to post pornography as it was in 1992?" asked Bollea attorney Charles Harder.

"I don't think things have changed that much, if at all," Foley replied.

Contact Anna M. Phillips at aphillips@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3354. Follow @annamphillips on Twitter.

Expert journalism witness in Gawker sex tape trial acknowledges times have changed 03/10/16 [Last modified: Thursday, March 10, 2016 6:23pm]
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