Paper must turn over unpublished photographs, judge says

SOUTH DAKOTA -- A circuit court judge recently ordered South Dakota State University's student newspaper to turn over unpublished photographs taken during a power outage on campus last fall.

While the power was out last October, around 500 students knocked over light poles and street signs, said Collegian Editor in Chief Kristina Marthaler. Two student photographers captured the alleged riot, and several of the images were printed in the student paper.

A lawyer for student Braden Anderson, who was charged with two felonies and two misdemeanors relating to the disturbance, filed a subpoena March 7 asking for images of the event that the paper did not publish.

Richard Helsper, the paper's attorney, filed a motion to quash the subpoena so the newspaper would not have to turn over the images. A judge rejected the newspaper's arguments March 14 and ordered the paper to turn over the photographs in an unwritten decision, Helsper said.

Collegian adviser Sherry Fuller Bordewyk told the Argus Leader, a community paper, that the student newspaper decided not to appeal the judge's decision because it was doubtful the publication would have received a ruling in its favor.

Although the paper has already complied with the judge's order, Marthaler said the staff is unhappy with the ruling.

''There's nothing we can do,'' she said.

South Dakota is one of the states that does not have a shield law or a court-recognized privilege, which give reporters in other states legal protection for keeping information confidential.

The case at South Dakota State is an example of the danger that all journalists face in South Dakota, said David Bordewyk, general manager for the South Dakota Newspaper Association.

''We just don't have much in our corner when it comes to trying to fight some of these subpoenas,'' he said.

And in some cases, getting the scoop can make the newspaper an easy target.

''I think they came to the student newspaper simply because they knew that the student paper had a photographer there,'' David Bordewyk said. ''There was so little media covering this [disturbance] it made The Collegian an easy target.''

Marthaler said she was caught off guard and unaware of her rights as a journalist when the attorney came to the newspaper asking for the photographs.

The experience has taught her an invaluable lesson in journalism and press rights, Marthaler said. And it is one that she is passing on to the rest of her staff.

''We're looking at things differently when it comes to future stories,'' she said. ''We're telling our photographers: Be careful what you take, and don't turn over anything unless you talk to us first.''

The effects of decisions like this can possibly hinder a reporter's ability to get confidential and vital information for their stories, David Bordewyk said.

''When a potential source sees a case like this, it weakens the press's ability to have the full confidence of sources for stories,'' he said. ''It erodes the newspapers ability to report.''

Collegian, news, South Dakota, South Dakota State University