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Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press announces Local Legal Initiative launch in Oklahoma

Local Legal Initiative will place lawyers in total of five states including Oklahoma to provide local news organizations with pro bono legal support

 

January 22, 2020



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.

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. The program will expand to other states, and additional funding will be sought.

The Reporters Committee, based in Washington, D.C., will hire an attorney in each state to work with participating news organizations to bolster their efforts to obtain public records, gain access to hearings and meetings, and defend against legal threats and lawsuits. Each lawyer will also offer pre-publication reviews of content, which is common in journalism for assessing legal exposure, as well as other services.

“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.”

Mark Thomas, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Press Association said the initiative is revolutionary because it will help restore the rights of citizens who want access to records kept by their government, and provide the financial backing to challenge bureaucracy and violations of Oklahoma’s transparency laws and principles.

“It is also right to commend the public servants, past and present, who have tirelessly supported transparency at all levels of government. For those who do not, the Local Legal Initiative will be a ‘Shot Heard ‘Round Oklahoma’ and help Oklahoma become one of the most transparent states in the nation,” said Thomas.

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.

“NAJA is proud to join our partners in providing representation for Indigenous journalists in Oklahoma through the RCFP Local Legal Initiative,” Native American Journalists Association President Tristan Ahtone said. “We believe the opportunity will encourage both mainstream and tribal media to attain the highest standards of professionalism and improve coverage of Indigenous communities.”

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 in 2019 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.”

 

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