SOUTH DAKOTA –A circuit court judge recently ordered South Dakota State University’sstudent newspaper to turn over unpublished photographs taken during a poweroutage on campus last fall.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 KristinaMarthaler. Two student photographers captured the alleged riot, and several ofthe images were printed in the student paper.
A lawyer for studentBraden Anderson, who was charged with two felonies and two misdemeanors relatingto the disturbance, filed a subpoena March 7 asking for images of the event thatthe paper did not publish.
Richard Helsper, the paper’sattorney, filed a motion to quash the subpoena so the newspaper would not haveto turn over the images. A judge rejected the newspaper’s arguments March14 and ordered the paper to turn over the photographs in an unwritten decision,Helsper said.
Collegianadviser Sherry Fuller Bordewyk told the ArgusLeader, a community paper, that the student newspaper decided not toappeal the judge’s decision because it was doubtful the publication wouldhave received a ruling in its favor.
Although the paper has alreadycomplied with the judge’s order, Marthaler said the staff is unhappy withthe ruling.
”There’s nothing we can do,” she said.
South Dakota is one of the states that does not have a shieldlaw or a court-recognized privilege, which give reporters in other states legalprotection for keeping information confidential.
The case at SouthDakota State is an example of the danger that all journalists face in SouthDakota, said David Bordewyk, general manager for the South Dakota NewspaperAssociation.
”We just don’t have much in our corner whenit comes to trying to fight some of these subpoenas,” hesaid.
And in some cases, getting the scoop can make the newspaper aneasy target.
”I think they came to the student newspaper simplybecause they knew that the student paper had a photographer there,” DavidBordewyk said. ”There was so little media covering this [disturbance] itmade The Collegian an easy target.”
Marthaler said she was caught off guard and unaware ofher rights as a journalist when the attorney came to the newspaper asking forthe photographs.
The experience has taught her an invaluable lessonin journalism and press rights, Marthaler said. And it is one that she ispassing on to the rest of her staff.
”We’re looking atthings differently when it comes to future stories,” she said.”We’re telling our photographers: Be careful what you take, anddon’t turn over anything unless you talk to usfirst.”
The effects of decisions like this can possibly hindera reporter’s ability to get confidential and vital information for theirstories, David Bordewyk said.
”When a potential source sees acase like this, it weakens the press’s ability to have the full confidenceof sources for stories,” he said. ”It erodes the newspapers abilityto report.”