College journalists included in proposed amendment to Md. shield law

MARYLAND — A bill filed in the Maryland House of Representatives byDelegate Sandy Rosenberg, D-Baltimore City, proposes that college journalists beextended the shield law protections currently afforded to professionaljournalists.

These protections allow reporters to protect their confidential sourcesentirely, and protect any notes or unpublished materials unless disclosure isdeemed legally necessary. The law in Maryland currently protects journalists”employed” by news organizations. The proposed changes in House Bill257 move to include any journalist enrolled in college and involved in news”gathering” or “disseminating,” not just those employedby a news provider, Rosenberg said.

For Rosenberg, the catalyst for the bill was the situation involvingstudent journalists at the Medill School of Journalism at NorthwesternUniversity in Evanston, Ill. The school hosts the Medill Innocence Project, runby Professor David Protess, which attempts to use investigative journalism toreexamine 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, electroniccommunications created for the course, the grades of the students working on thecase, a copy of the course syllabus for the Innocence Project class and receiptsfor expenses incurred during the investigation, among other materials.

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

Whatever records or sources a college journalist obtains should beprotected just as they would be for a “commercial” journalist, saidRon Spielberger, executive director of the College Media Advisers.

He added that it should be nationally recognized that college journalistshave the same rights as professionals to things like the confidentiality ofsources.

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

Again citing the issues at Northwestern, Murphy said this bill would offerprotection to college journalists who may be working on projects that do requirea “certain level of confidentiality.”

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