Press release: Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press announces Local Legal Initiative launch in Tennessee

Local Legal Initiative will place lawyers in total of five states — Colorado, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Tennessee —  to provide local news organizations with pro bono legal support

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.

“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.”

Local Legal Initiative will employ a lawyer in each state

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.

“This will make a big difference to journalists in Tennessee, especially as it relates to enforcing the law on public records,” said Deborah Fisher, executive director of Tennessee Coalition for Open Government. “The only way to enforce the law in Tennessee is to file a lawsuit, and that can cost thousands of dollars. It’s no secret to government officials who are wrongly withholding or delaying records that most news organizations don’t have thousands of dollars lying around to constantly go to court. This legal support should help change the calculus and support the public’s right to know.”

Five states chosen from more than 45 applicants

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 last year 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.”

“The Reporters Committee has always supported journalists nationwide, and we are thrilled to take this new step of placing attorneys in various locations across the country where they can serve local journalists on the ground,” said Stephen J. Adler, chair of the Reporters Committee. “Each of the launch states has demonstrated enormous enthusiasm for addressing reporters’  legal challenges, and we believe this exciting initiative will make an important difference in driving high-impact enterprise and investigative reporting.”

Learn more about the Local Legal Initiative.

What do you think?