The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press announced today that it will launch its Local Legal Initiative this year in Colorado, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Tennessee to provide pro bono legal support to local journalists and news outlets throughout the states pursuing enterprise and investigative journalism.
OPB and Oregon’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists spearheaded the Oregon proposal that came from a coalition of more than a dozen media organizations across the state plus the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. It was also supported by Ginger McCall, the former state Public Records Advocate who battled entrenched government resistance to transparency.
The Reporters Committee's expansion to provide direct legal services to more journalists at the local level follows a $10 million investment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced last year as part of the foundation's pledge to double its commitment to strengthening local journalism.
“We are eager to expand our legal services to help more local journalists pursue stories that inform and strengthen their communities,” said Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee. “We are looking forward to working closely with our partners in each of these states to support thriving local journalism.”
Through the Local Legal Initiative, the Reporters Committee will employ a lawyer in each state to help local media defend against legal threats and lawsuits, assist with public records and court access efforts, and provide pre-publication review and other legal services.
“As OPB expands its newsroom and seeks to help connect the work of news organizations across the state, having access to a dedicated legal resource will allow us to continue pursuing important stories. RCFP’s legal assistance promises to help open doors to public records and meetings so that critical information that might otherwise stay in the shadows reaches the public at large,” said Morgan Holm, Senior VP and Chief Content Officer, OPB.
University of Oregon’s School of Law has committed to providing externships for law students to partner with the RCFP attorney, expanding the Initiative’s potential reach.
“As the state’s only public law school, the University of Oregon School of Law has a rich and longstanding tradition in public interest and public policy. So, we are thrilled by the prospect of our law students supporting the work of the Reporter’s Committee in our community. The opportunity to engage in experiential learning, while working on legal matters that are central to our system of democratic self-governance, will be an invaluable education for our future attorneys,” said Mohsen Manesh, Associate Professor and Portland program faculty director.
The five launch states were selected from more than 45 submissions that the Reporters Committee received from over 30 states, regions and territories nationwide as part of a proposal process the organization conducted last year after the announcement of the Knight Foundation’s investment.
“The enthusiasm and responses we received from across the country make clear that there is a significant need for pro bono legal assistance for local journalists nationwide,” said Katie Townsend, legal director for the Reporters Committee. “At a time when important local reporting is routinely stymied, we stand ready to help journalists and news organizations overcome the legal roadblocks they too often face.”
“The Reporters Committee has always supported journalists nationwide, and we are thrilled to take this new step of placing attorneys in various locations across the country where they can serve local journalists on the ground,” said Stephen J. Adler, chair of the Reporters Committee. "Each of the launch states has demonstrated enormous enthusiasm for addressing reporters’ legal challenges, and we believe this exciting initiative will make an important difference in driving high-impact enterprise and investigative reporting."