Brew testifies in Annapolis on bill to expand “reporter’s privilege”

shield law ellen valentino

Lobbyist Ellen Valentino outside the Judiciary Committee hearing room, where her client, the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association, testified in favor of the bill.

Photo by: Fern Shen

Are lawmakers in Annapolis going to get to define who is and isn’t a journalist, what is or isn’t a news organization in Maryland?

It seems so, judging by what transpired at a House of Delegates Judiciary Committee hearing attended Wednesday by Baltimore Brew editor and publisher Fern Shen.

The hearing was on HB385, a bill aiming to expand the “reporter’s shield” privilege – the provision of state law that guarantees the right of journalists to refuse to testify about  information or sources of information obtained during their news-gathering.

In her testimony, Shen said news websites like the online-only Brew are equal members of the news media community and deserve the same legal protection.

Possibly, said one member of the committee, who nevertheless found the bill “troubling.”

Introduced by Delegate Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg (D-Baltimore), the measure expands the state’s shield protection beyond those “employed by the news media” to also include “an independent contractor or agent of the news media in any news gathering or disseminating capacity, including a self-employed journalist.”

Calling it “overbroad” and “loosey-goosey,” Del. Luiz R. S. Simmons (D-Montgomery) asked whether it wouldn’t extend the privilege to any self-declared journalist with a blog or Facebook fanbase.

Does the bill go too far. . .or simply acknowledge the reality of modern media, where expanded web capabilities, harsh industry economics and new thinking about who can commit journalism have blurred old distinctions?

Supporting the bill along with Shen was a representative from one solidly mainstream corner of the media universe, Washington Post general counsel James McLaughlin, a member of the board of directors of the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association.

To read more about the legal issues in play and about Wednesday’s testimony, go HERE, to Shen’s post about it on The Brew’s in-house blog, Below the Fold.

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  • ushanellore

    Ah Brew editors,
    I love the way you say, “commit journalism” like commit robbery or may be commit to a mental asylum. I also love how poetry burgeons even in the mouths of politicians–loosey, goosey? I say to Del.Luis Simmons,


    It is neither loosey goosey,
    nor cloudy woolly,
    neither boozy woozy
    nor foggy hazy,
    to extend to anyone
    willing to commit journalism
    the right to secrecy.

    “Who told you this,
    when, where and how did
    he-she told you this,
    why told you this,
    why not told me this,
    why not in broad daylight,
    you tell me what this
    something told to you is…

    There is no special privilege
    in being a journalist
    unless a lawyer gavels a table
    with his fist and
    defines you as a journalist
    you’re no journalist,
    you’re simply grist
    for the political mill,

    Until you fit in a square
    within a precise circle
    within a rectangle
    and you can show that
    by writing a blog,
    by typing a tale,
    by chasing a story
    all by your lonesome self,
    by working the streets,
    picking the venues,
    wheedling the reluctant
    to spill the beans
    all by your lonesome self,
    by nosing around
    and digging up dirt,
    by rushing to your computer
    to break a story first,
    all by your lonesome self
    you’re no journalist–

    Until you travel in a pack of wolves,
    until you bay to the moon,
    and hum an ingratiating tune
    to lawmakers
    who can capture late
    or capture soon for you
    the synopsis of who is a journalist–
    you’re no journalist.”

    So says who?
    So says Luis Simmons,
    Why says Simmons so?
    Says so Simmons because
    Simmons likes organized,
    Simmons likes one answer to one question,
    Simmons wants one circle blackened
    with a number two pencil and the instructions
    to read, “Pick the correct answer!”

    This would bother Simmons-
    Like who is a doctor,
    who knows who?
    Could be a shaman,
    an osteopath,
    a naturopath,
    an acupuncturopath,
    a puncturopath,
    a homeopath
    or a psychopath
    a man from chiropractry,
    a woman from allopathy,
    an endless array of winners,
    losers and users,
    of smug sanctimonious abusers–

    This would bother Simmons–
    Never neat who is who or what,
    or why someone is entitled
    to claim a trade
    or a trade is entitled
    to claim a someone.
    Never clear in a world of fluidity
    where the witty play at cheating,
    and virtual reality is more reality
    than actual reality —
    taking a back seat– bowing
    to the confusion,
    accepting that fluctuations
    rule –change is constant,
    gender is not always
    in the phenotype,
    could be in the genotype
    or in the karyotype.

    This would bother Simmons–
    when neither here nor there
    is the norm,
    when either here or there is possible,
    a person could be girl and boy,
    could be two and three,
    could be a writer by day,
    actor by night, painter at high noon,
    could be a journalist
    who came to be a journalist
    after being a venture capitalist
    and now wants to slam
    all capitalists–
    waiting to get on board
    spies and counterspies,
    double agents practicing
    triple jeopardy,
    lying like leopards in wait
    who knows who is who
    in a ballroom masquerade–

    This would bother Simmons,
    while seeking exact definitions from inexactitude
    and trying to extract as narrow as possible
    a law to apply to as narrow as possible a group
    but being defeated– the group growing larger,
    wider, broader
    and the law spilling beyond a page
    to pages and pages
    bus boys and waiters,
    eligible for coverage, under the law,
    housekeepers and nannies,
    empty heads and brainies–
    all on board dressed up in armor,
    shield in hand–
    this would bother Simmons…

    Hence Simmons says,
    “It’s loosey goosey,
    not to know who is a journalist
    for all practical purposes that should
    be the place to start!”

    I say it’s loosey goosey
    for Simmons to say loosey goosey,
    and it’s loosey goosey not to say,
    “Come one, come all,
    come and get your shield
    and wield it standing tall for
    your right to speak, write
    and assemble in any square,
    sidewalk or mall–
    for your right to protect
    who told you what,
    that’s the place to start.”

    Usha Nellore

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