Journalists’ ability to protect sources, newsgathering materials receives favorable outcome in California federal court

A journalist is only as good as his word. When a source considers sharing information with a journalist, the source often assesses its faith in the reporter. Trust becomes the currency exchanged between the two parties.

The reporter’s privilege — a journalist’s right to refuse to comply with subpoenas seeking documents or testimony from their sources or newsgathering materials — is an important tool used by those in the media to secure the trust of their sources. However, the reporter’s privilege is not absolute.

The reporter’s privilege is a strong but also fragile tool to ensure trust with sources. The privilege, emanating from common law, the First Amendment, and state law in many jurisdictions, can be waived if a journalist shares some information with a party in a lawsuit.

What constitutes a waiver and what a waiver actually means has not been ironed out in most states. But a California federal court recently found that waiver of the privilege did not occur even though the journalist complied with a portion of the subpoena. Although this is only one decision from one lower court in one state, it is a welcomed sight for journalists and media lawyers.

For more, please read my article on the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press’ website here.

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From admirer to journalist to legal fellow: The road to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Surreal.

Surreal is the most fitting word to summarize my first week working for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Washington, D.C., as the new Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Legal Fellow.

Growing up in New Orleans, Louisiana, I was not a traditional child. Among the many reasons I was different was my addiction to the media at an early age. Unlike many of my childhood friends, instead of peering into the television watching cartoons in the morning, my nose was deep into the daily newspaper. At night, rather than loudly singing along to pop tunes in the shower, I would turn on talk radio and quietly listen to news updates, bombastic opinions, and commentary from many “longtime listeners, first time callers.”

Journalists were my heroes. As a young man I looked up and admired those that graced the front page of the newspaper – not those featured in the headlines and photos – but rather the ones acknowledged in black-and-white minuscule print in the byline. I recognized the names of those reporting the news more easily than the names of the ones making the news.

Journalists embodied everything I was not growing up. While I was a shy child afraid to challenge authority, journalists fearlessly held those in power responsible and provided a check on the government as the fourth estate. While I felt my speech chilled and my true feelings often suppressed, journalists boldly gave a voice to the voiceless, pushing the envelope and challenging the status quo. The authentic and courageous nature of journalists were characteristics I wanted to exemplify as an adult.

Once I reached the point where I began paving a career path for myself, I decided to major in journalism. I saw being a journalist as a way for me to come out of my shell and create my own independent identity separate from the one given to me in my youth.

I distinctly remember the first time I told my parents I wanted to study journalism at the Louisiana State University Manship School of Mass Communication. My CPA mother and businessman father did not know quite how to react, but lovingly, they supported my decision. I wish I could have captured the thoughts going through their mind at that moment I announced my intention to become a journalist. I know it was not what they expected or maybe hoped, but their trust in my decision meant the most.

My parents had lofty expectations for me after I graduated third in my high school class (“Thirdatorian” as I dubbed it in my school’s newspaper, The Raider’s Digest). To many people, achieving academic success meant you were expected to pursue a more traditional, stable, and lucrative career route, such as medicine, engineering, or business. But my life has never been traditional. I saw being a journalist – although unorthodox and underappreciated – as a job in which you stood for a greater cause. To me, being a journalist – pursuing and sharing the truth with the world – was a noble career.

After four years of studying the ins and outs of journalism at Louisiana State University, I graduated in 2012 with a B.A. in mass communication with a concentration in journalism. More importantly, I gained invaluable experience during those four years working as a journalist for The Daily Reveille, FoxSports, SportsNola.com, and as a radio reporter for WGSO 990 AM and KLSU 91.1 FM. I was fortunate enough to do the same job as those I looked up to as a child, and in doing so, I gained an even greater respect for the journalism profession.

After spending time as a journalist myself, I am now helping journalists pursue the truth, disseminate the news, and exercise their First Amendment rights. It is a sincere honor and privilege to begin my legal career in Washington, D.C., with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

The Reporters Committee, which began in 1970, provides legal resources, support, and advocacy to protect the First Amendment rights of the press. As the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Legal Fellow, I focus specifically on the issues of defamation, invasion of privacy, protection of confidential sources, and newsgathering. I will compose amicus briefs (friend-of-the-court briefs) on behalf of the press to various courts throughout the country, provide legal resources for journalists by writing informative articles for the Reporters Committee’s Web site and quarterly publication The News Media and The Law, and assist journalists with their legal questions and concerns through the Reporters Committee’s legal defense hotline.

The young man who admired journalists from afar eventually became one himself and is now assisting them with their legal needs and fighting for a cause he has held dear for years. It is, indeed, surreal.

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Joining the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in the fall

11113705_10153259806794224_5443142071514106716_nIt is my pleasure to share the news that I have accepted the 2015-16 Ethics & Excellence in Journalism Legal Fellowship with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.  I am humbled and honored to have received this opportunity from the nation’s premier organization fighting to protect the First Amendment and freedom of information rights of journalists in the United States. During my fellowship I will focus on the areas of defamation, invasions of privacy, and reporter’s privilege. Expect to see more updates from these particular topics on MLonML.com in the coming year.

As a journalist and student of journalism, beginning my legal career advocating for press freedoms is a perfect fit. During my 1L summer studying in Lyon, France, I asked my mentor and media law professor Kelli Sager how to become a media lawyer. Without hesitation she said to apply for a fellowship with the Reporters Committee. That afternoon I bookmarked the Reporters Committee fellowship application on my laptop. A year and a half later I applied for a fellowship, interviewed in Washington, D.C., and soon after, accepted a fellowship position, fulfilling an almost two-year-old dream.

I am thankful to everyone at the Reporters Committee for giving me this opportunity. I look forward to moving to D.C. in August and beginning my legal career with some of the greatest First Amendment advocates in the nation.