Not your average Joe

This is going to sound ridiculous at first.

An SPJ chapter in Florida is raising money for a troubled reporter in Chicago – even though he hasn’t asked for the help, and even though a judge might not allow it.

Then again, that’s not nearly as ridiculous as what got us to this point.

On Friday, a county judge in Illinois declared Joe Hosey in contempt – because the 10-year veteran reporter won’t reveal his sources in a double homicide dubbed the Hickory Street Murders.

Thing is, Hosey hasn’t published any information the cops and court don’t already know. In fact, all he’s reported are some grisly details from police reports that weren’t made public. Nothing Hosey has written hurts the case at all.

And that’s not my opinion. Last week, the Crystal Lake-Cary Patch reported…

Will County Assistant State’s Attorney Marie Czech said during the hearing that the grand jury proceedings in the Hickory Street murder cases were not compromised by Hosey’s articles, nor was evidence compromised.

Even so, a judge ruled Hosey in “minor direct criminal contempt” – and socked him with a major fine of $1,000 and $300 per day. The judge also threatened him with jail.

That pisses off Jason Parsley.

Parsley is president of SPJ Florida. Over the weekend, he and his chapter’s officers decided to pay for one day of Hosey’s fines. And they challenged the rest of SPJ – and every other journalism organization in the country – to do the same.

Here’s what the challenge looks like.

“It’s appalling that this reporter could face more than $50,000 in fines and jail time for not revealing a source,” Parsley says. “This ruling by the judge is ironic since Illinois has a shield law that’s supposed to protect reporters from this exact situation.”

The chapter’s challenge comes after SPJ National wrote a press release last Monday and another on Friday. Chapter vice president Brandon Ballenger says journalism groups needs to stand up and not just speak out.

“The most sordid part of this case – which according to police reports involved people having sex on dead bodies – is that an intellectually bankrupt judge thinks a reporter should be fined hundreds of dollars a day for doing his constitutionally protected job,” Ballenger says. “While it’s a bit sad that justice costs $300 a day, we’ll do our part to see it done and hope other organizations will as well.”

But SPJ Florida hasn’t spoken to Hosey. Neither has anyone in SPJ National. And in other cases like this, judges have banned those charged with contempt from spending donated money.

Doesn’t matter to Parsley and Ballenger.

Because if Hosey turns down the money, it’s there for the next harassed reporter – and there will be a next one.

“Our $300 is a drop in the bucket compared to what he faces,” Parsley says. “So I can only hope that this small gesture of support will encourage others groups, including our parent organization, to step in as well.”

So Joe, email me and I’ll introduce you to SPJ Florida. Even if you don’t want the cash, might as well meet some supporters who are willing to put their money where their mouths are.

Defending the First Amendment and promoting open government are more crucial now than ever. Join SPJ's fight for the public’s right to know — either as an SPJ Supporter or a professional, student or retired journalist.


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