RCFP’s Local Legal Initiative powers investigative reporting and chips away at culture of secrecy in state, local government

By Chris Young, Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, March 2022

Two years ago, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press launched its Local Legal Initiative, an ambitious effort to expand free legal support for local enterprise and investigative journalism. Through the initiative, started with generous support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Reporters Committee hired media attorneys in five states: Colorado, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.

Working with Reporters Committee attorneys based in Washington, D.C., they were tasked with addressing the many serious legal challenges facing local journalists in their states, everything from excessive secrecy within law enforcement agencies to problems accessing public meetings and court proceedings. While the work of the Local Legal Initiative attorneys has only just begun, it’s already clear that the program is having a substantial impact on the local journalism landscape. Whether inside or outside the courtroom, the Local Legal Initiative’s work has focused on the most pressing issues of the day — issues that directly affect the daily lives of Americans: law enforcement accountability, elections, school oversight, COVID-19 and more. Thanks to our attorneys’ legal support:

  • Two local journalists in Pennsylvania no longer face the threatof a frivolous lawsuit intended to silence their reporting on a state senator’s campaign;
  • A reporter from a small, coastal newspaper in Oregon never had to bow to the demands of a subpoena for his reporting materials;
  • An Indigenous affairs journalist in Oklahoma could report in depthabout the police killing of a Muscogee Nation citizen;
  • Journalists of color in Memphis now have regular access to media advisoriesabout important city events and actions; and
  • A freelance journalist received the records he needed — at a fraction of the cost he was originally charged — to report on homelessness in Boulder, Colorado.

Read more here:  https://www.rcfp.org/local-legal-two-year-anniversary/