Posts Tagged ‘shield law’

The Other Shoe Drops in Dodge City, KS

The Dodge City Globe has fired Claire O’Brien, the reporter who found herself in the eye of a legal storm over her refusal to reveal the identity of a confidential source. Here’s an excerpt from the AP story (via the Topeka Capital-Journal):

Reporter Claire O’Brien said her firing on Friday from the Dodge City Daily Globe stems from comments she made to media outlets after she was found in contempt for failing to appear at an inquisition, the Kansas equivalent of a grand jury.

O’Brien told reporters at the time that the newspaper’s corporate owners had refused to pay for her legal representation and scuttled her efforts to find independent legal help unless she testified claims that GateHouse Media Kansas Holdings, which owns the newspaper, has denied.

On Sunday, O’Brien said she was fired in “retaliation” for making those public comments.

Claire will be a featured speaker at the SPJ Region 7 Conference, in a “super-session” on Saturday, April 10 at the Doubletree Hotel in Downtown Omaha.

Dodge City — Update

The showdown over a confidential source in Dodge City is over, although the larger issue of journalistic ethics versus Kansas state law is not.  Reporter Claire O’Brien is no longer being fined $1,000 a day for contempt, but this excerpt from the Kansas City Star sums it up pretty well:

“Hopefully it will show the Legislature how hopelessly tangled this situation can become without a clear statute showing the way,” O’Brien said after the hearing.

Doug Anstaett, executive director of the Kansas Press Association, said his group has been approached by some legislators who want to help. He said the KPA will work with them in the coming weeks to make sure Kansas joins the 35 other states with a shield law to protect reporters.

“This episode has awakened members of the Kansas Legislature to the sad fact that reporters have no protection under state law,” Anstaett said in a phone interview. “Who is going to go out on a limb as a reporter if the courts and prosecutors are just going to be standing there with a chain saw to destroy the very tools a reporter uses to report the news?”

If reporters don’t have the ability to talk to people anonymously, valuable investigative reporting will go away, he said.

We have invited Ms. O’Brien to talk to fellow journalists at the upcoming Region 7 Conference in Omaha.  She’s a passionate, dedicated journalist with a story to tell.

Showdown in Dodge City

Have you heard about Claire O’Brien, a reporter at the Dodge City Daily Globe in Kansas?  Ms. O’Brien finds herself fighting Kansas prosecutors over her decision not to reveal information from a confidential source.  She spoke to me at length about her case via telephone this morning.  Going forward, I plan to keep members posted.  In the meantime I wanted to let you all know SPJ is keeping tabs on the case. For one thing, our Legal Defense Fund Committee chair David Cuillier is already in touch with Ms. O’Brien and the attorney for the Daily Globe and publisher Gatehouse Media about a letter in support of her cause.

Ms. O’Brien was supposed to testify at what Kansas calls an “inquisition” today, but there has been a postponement.  She told me she did what reporters do in the course of their duties; she gave her word to a source linked to a murder case.  Now she’s willing to go to jail to protect that source and live up to her ethical commitments.  Still, she’s only human and seems to have given her obligations and actions plenty of thought.  Here are two quotes she gave the Associated Press:

“If I truly felt I had information about the murder of a human being on which part of a case could turn, it would be very sobering,” O’Brien said. “I would have to think long and hard and I am not sure I would withhold that, but the fact is I am absolutely sure in my mind the prosecutor is bullying me.”


“I think the reporter’s only currency is her word  and I really did give it,” O’Brien said. “Every time I try to work myself through giving the information, I just can’t imagine myself being able to compromise my professional reputation to that extent. … Who would trust me again?”

Ms. O’Brien has been working for the paper for about nine months.  She moved to Kansas from Illinois after layoffs at her Gatehouse paper there.  Originally from Boston, Ms. O’Brien has twelve years of reporting experience under her belt.  She is understandably unnerved by her situation; the Kansas Supreme Court is going to look at her case.  She wonders what her decisions will mean for her career down the line.  While she’s willing to go to jail, she’s hoping it doesn’t come to that.

This is a complex case with very broad implications.  I hope to interview the Gatehouse Media attorney William Hurst for his take.  Again, I will keep you all posted on this.

Save the Date: Region 7 Spring Conference

I am starting to get excited about the Region 7 Spring Conference!

When: April 9-10, 2010

Where: Omaha, NE at the Doubletree Hotel downtown

Keep in mind, we are in the early stages of getting this together, so our plans are subject to change.  Still, I wanted to give you an idea of how things are shaping up!

We’ll kick things off Friday night with SPJ’s very own “Ethics Hold ‘Em,” a version of the game where everyone wins (ethically speaking)! See this link from a South Florida Pro chapter event for more

Folks in the region, Heather Porter at SPJ headquarters in Indianapolis, and I have come up with the following subjects/topics for our sessions:

Multimedia –  Ron Sylvester of the Wichita Eagle who will showcase some great ideas for taking traditional journalism forms to the next level.

FOI/SunshineCharles Davis and Randy Brown of the The National Freedom of Information Coalition and the FOI Advocate have a great presentation that will open your eyes to open records.

Diversity from the ground up: Hiring and beyond — I am assembling a panel that includes SPJ Diversity Committee Chair Pueng Vongs.  Looking for at least one more panelist!

Federal Shield Law — Working on a great keynote speaker who can enlighten us, whether we have a law by April or not.

First Jobs — Early career journalists talk about the strategies that worked for them when they embarked on their post college job hunt.

Entrepeneurship for Journalists — Carla Kimbrough-Robinson (you may have read her regular Quill column on career development) will share her strategies.

Of course the Mark of Excellence lunch where we honor student journalists from the region will be a highlight on Saturday!  We’ll wrap up the conference Saturday afternoon with a business session.  I hope we can rope in some Nebraska journalists to start a professional chapter!  If you know you are interested in getting in on the ground floor, it’s not too early to let me know.

You’ll notice that we are not building the conference around traditional media “tracks.” No broadcast-only or print-only sessions.  I expect multimedia and media convergence themes to be part of every session in one way or another.  Many of us are already working across two or more platforms.  As Ron Sylvester says, one day soon it’s likely we will ALL be multimedia journalists.

With all of the above in mind, any ideas for a tag line or conference “theme?” I await your ideas!  Watch this space for information about registration, hotel room rates and more.


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