The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press said it will launch its “Local Legal Initiative” this year in Oklahoma, Colorado, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Tennessee to provide pro bono legal support to local journalists and news outlets. This announcement follows a $10 million investment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation as part of the foundation’s commitment to strengthening local journalism. Through the Local Legal Initiative, the Reporters Committee will hire a lawyer in each state to help local media defend against legal threats and lawsuits.
The Reporters Committee reported it received more than 45 submissions in their 2019 proposal process. “Having access to a pro bono attorney courtesy of Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press will strengthen our fight for transparency and accountability in Colorado,” said Colorado Press Association CEO Jill Farschman in an article with the Ark Valley Voice.
The Pennsylvania Newsmedia Association was one of the media organizations that applied for the Local Legal Initiative. This is particularly important because Pennsylvania law doesn’t force government agencies to cover the legal bills of organizations that have to sue to get records of information that they’re entitled to have. Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania Newsmedia Association, told The Tribune-Democrat that “Pennsylvania’s open records law has allowed a culture of secrecy to develop because it’s easy for government employees to deny records requests and difficult for members of the public to successfully appeal the decision when they’ve been refused records.”