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College journalists included in proposed amendment to Md. shield law

February 3, 2010

MARYLAND -- A bill filed in the Maryland House of Representatives by Delegate Sandy Rosenberg, D-Baltimore City, proposes that college journalists be extended the shield law protections currently afforded to professional journalists.

These protections allow reporters to protect their confidential sources entirely, and protect any notes or unpublished materials unless disclosure is deemed legally necessary. The law in Maryland currently protects journalists "employed" by news organizations. The proposed changes in House Bill 257 move to include any journalist enrolled in college and involved in news "gathering" or "disseminating," not just those employed by a news provider, Rosenberg said.

For Rosenberg, the catalyst for the bill was the situation involving student journalists at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. The school hosts the Medill Innocence Project, run by Professor David Protess, which attempts to use investigative journalism to reexamine criminal cases where there is evidence of a wrongful conviction. Protess received a subpoena last year in connection with his students' investigation of a murder conviction, requesting all notes, electronic communications created for the course, the grades of the students working on the case, a copy of the course syllabus for the Innocence Project class and receipts for expenses incurred during the investigation, among other materials.

Rosenberg said he hopes this law in Maryland will inspire lawmakers in other states to follow suit. Members of other news organizations also believe that college journalists should be afforded these rights.

Whatever records or sources a college journalist obtains should be protected just as they would be for a "commercial" journalist, said Ron Spielberger, executive director of the College Media Advisers.

He added that it should be nationally recognized that college journalists have the same rights as professionals to things like the confidentiality of sources.

Jack Murphy, executive director of the Maryland Delaware DC Press Association said Rosenberg has long been a friend of journalism and that the MDDC Press Association supports the new bill.

Again citing the issues at Northwestern, Murphy said this bill would offer protection to college journalists who may be working on projects that do require a "certain level of confidentiality."

A public hearing regarding House Bill 257 is set for Feb. 10.

By Katie Maloney, SPLC staff writer

© 2010 Student Press Law Center

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