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Origin of the Reporters Committee

From the Winter 2002 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 6.

From the Winter 2002 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 6.

Origin of the Reporters Committee

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press was created in 1970 in response to the threat posed by the Justice Department’s subpoena policies. One case in particular led to the birth of the Reporters Committee. New York Times reporter Earl Caldwell was ordered to reveal to a federal grand jury his sources in the Black Panther organization, threatening his independence as a newsgatherer. Caldwell’s case became one of the trilogy of cases that the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Branzburg v. Hayes.

Caldwell’s dilemma prompted a meeting of journalists at Georgetown University in March 1970 to discuss the need to provide legal help to reporters when their First Amendment rights are threatened. The journalists at the meeting formed the Reporters Committee, which initially operated part-time from a desk in the press room at the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the last 32 years, the Reporters Committee has emerged as a major resource in free speech issues, disseminating information in a variety of forms, including a quarterly magazine, a biweekly newsletter, a 24-hour hotline and various handbooks on media law issues.

The Reporters Committee also provides legal guidance and research and files friend-of-the-court briefs. It has played a role in virtually every significant press freedom case that has come before the Supreme Court, as well as in hundreds of cases in federal and state courts.