W. Va. passes reporters’ shield bill that includes student journalists

Legislators in West Virginia on Saturday unanimously approved a bill to protect journalists’ confidential sources — a bill that now includes student reporters.

A floor amendment in the state senate added student journalists at “accredited educational institutions” to the definition of “reporter” in the legislation. An earlier version of the bill would have applied only to those engaged in journalism “for a substantial portion of the person’s livelihood or for substantial financial gain.” As the SPLC’s Frank LoMonte wrote in the Charleston Daily Mail on Thursday, students need the shield as well:

With the ranks of full-time salaried journalists shrinking, unpaid college students increasingly are providing the news coverage that communities rely on to stay informed.

Student journalists assume all of the same risks and responsibilities that professionals do, and they should be entitled to all of the same protections.

The bill prevents West Virginia journalists from being compelled to reveal their confidential sources in state courts, grand jury proceedings and administrative hearings, unless the testimony is needed to prevent “imminent death, serious bodily injury or unjust incarceration.”

LoMonte on Monday said the amended bill would make West Virginia’s shield law among the strongest in the nation for student journalists.

HB 2159, sponsored by Del. John Doyle, now awaits action by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.