Md. shield law now includes protection for college student journalists

MARYLAND — Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley signed a billupdating the state’s shield law April 13, extending reporter’sprivilege to student journalists working in the state.

House Bill 257 offers college student journalists participating in newsgathering or disseminating in a college-supervised capacity the same shield lawprotections afforded to professional journalists in Maryland, the bill’ssponsor, Delegate Sandy Rosenberg, D-Baltimore City, said last month.

The bill passed unanimously through both the Maryland House of Delegateson March 4, and the Maryland Senate on April 1.

Shield laws typically allow reporters to protect their confidentialsources entirely, and protect any notes or unpublished materials unlessdisclosure is deemed legally necessary. The law in Maryland currently protectsjournalists “employed” by news organizations.

“The key is that those who are not paid but in a supervisedactivity, and there’s specific language in the bill with regard to thatsupervision, those are the people who would now have the protection of theshield law in Maryland and hopefully in other states as well,” Rosenbergsaid.

The law in Maryland is unique because it currently offers protectionsbased on employment by the news media, not a definition of a journalist, saidJack Murphy, executive director of the Maryland Delaware DC Press Association.

“We thought it was important to cover college students who are doingserious reporting and are, often times on big projects, having to grantanonymity or confidentiality to their sources,” Murphy said.

The bill’s language extends protections to those “employed bythe news media in any news gathering or news disseminating capacity,” orto anyone “enrolled as a student in an institution of postsecondaryeducation and engaged in any news gathering or news disseminating capacityrecognized by the institution as a scholastic activity or in conjunction with anactivity sponsored funded, managed or supervised by school staff orfaculty.”

The “news media” covered by the bill currently includes”newspapers, magazines, journals, press associations, news agencies, wireservices, radio, television and any printed, photographic, mechanical, orelectronic means of disseminating news and information to thepublic.”

Rosenberg said he hopes the Maryland bill will set the stage for others topass similar legislation.

“I would hope that other states would follow suit,” Rosenbergsaid. “While each bill is different and each state is different, I thinkwe were able to do this the first year we introduced it, which is the exceptionto the rule in the legislative process, because [of] the back situation inChicago and also because it’s a very logical extension of the shield law.It’s very logical to extend it to college reporters.”

Rosenberg has previously cited the issues involving the Medill School ofJournalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. as a catalyst for hisbill. The school hosts the Medill Innocence Project, run by Professor DavidProtess, which attempts to use investigative journalism as a tool to reexaminecriminal cases where there is evidence of a wrongful conviction. Northwesternreceived a subpoena last year, in connection with his students’ investigation ofa murder conviction, which requested all notes, electronic communicationscreated for the course, grades of the students working on the case, a copy ofthe course syllabus for the Innocence Project class and receipts for expensesincurred during the investigation, among other materials.

Rosenberg said that he had tried in the past to introduce legislation thatwould protect bloggers with no success, but that pending Congress’decision on a federal shield bill, he would consider making anotherattempt.

“I will reintroduce my legislation adding bloggers after theCongress passes a federal shield law that includes bloggers, because thenyou’d have that precedent,” he said.