Saturday, October 24, 2009

Are Student "Journos" Protected?

convicted murderer Anthony McKinneyA US university class project may just have been too successful.
Journalism students investigated the life-sentence murder conviction of Anthony McKinney. They posted their findings online, including key witnesses recanting trial statements, allegations of police intimidation and two potential suspects named by a man who says he was at the murder.
In response, the state has reopened the case...andsubpoenaed a range of material from the university, including off-the-record interview notes, student memos, even the grades of the Investigative Journalism class.
The uni says the students should be considered "reporters" and therefore be protected from having to divulge such information. It will fight in court to only hand over on-the-record documents and statements — not background information or any private grades.
The state calls the students "investigators" not reporters, and wants to ensure students did not approach the case with a bias, and that grades were not linked to the investigation's results.
(This university project has an impressive record: since it started in 1999, student reporters have helped exonerate eleven convicts, including five on Death Row.)
But if the case goes against the students, could this place the growing phenomenon of "citizen journalism" on legal thin ice? Would Joe Public still be allowed to capture/distribute a news-worthy event with a video-camera or mobile phone? How much news would we have missed, had it not been for "citizen journalists"? Remember the Rodney King police beating (1991)...the London Underground bombings (2005)...the Indonesian Tsunami (2004)...these "social voyeurs" have established a movement which would surely now be impossible to stop.
Rodney King beating 1991 Indonesian tsunami 2004 London Underground bombing 2005

1 comment:

Maggie Thorensen said...

Would they not still be classified as "students" until they graduate as "journalists"? If so, then they would not be legalled covered in the same way as journalists. Anyone who writes online has to be aware they are not legally safeguarded either. Anything they write on the web is permanent and could return to haunt them.