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State definitions of ‘journalist’

From the Winter 2002 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 8.

From the Winter 2002 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 8.

Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia have enacted shield laws that give journalists some form of privilege against compelled production of confidential or unpublished information. Of those states, 14 enacted a shield law after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Branzburg v. Hayes.

State shield laws provide important protection to reporters since most subpoenas served on reporters arise in state court proceedings.

The laws vary in detail and scope from state to state, including how they define “journalist.” The state law definitions are not as broad as the First Amendment-based definition used by most federal appellate courts (see story page 7). A sample of definitions follows:

Alaska: A person regularly engaged in the business of collecting or writing news for publication, or presentation to the public, through a news organization; it includes persons who were reporters at the time of the communication, though not at the time of the claim of privilege. (Alaska Stat. § 09.25.390(4))

Colorado: Any member of the mass media and any employee or independent contractor of a member of the mass media who is engaged to gather, receive, observe, process, prepare, write, or edit news information for dissemination to the public through the mass media. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-90-119(1)(c))

Florida: A person regularly engaged in collecting, photographing, recording, writing, editing, reporting, or publishing news, for gain or livelihood, who obtained the information sought while working as a salaried employee of, or independent contractor for, a newspaper, news journal, news agency, press association, wire service, radio or television station, network, or news magazine. Book authors and others who are not professional journalists, as defined in this paragraph, are not included in the provisions of this section. (Fla. Stat. ch. 90.5015(1)(a))

Georgia: Any person, company, or other entity engaged in the gathering and dissemination of news for the public through a newspaper, book, magazine, or radio or television broadcast. (Ga. Code Ann. § 24-9-30)

Minnesota: A person who is or has been directly engaged in the gathering, procuring, compiling, editing, or publishing of information for the purpose of transmission, dissemination or publication to the public. (Minn. Stat. § 595.023)

Oklahoma: Any reporter, photographer, editor, commentator, journalist, correspondent, announcer, or other individual regularly engaged in obtaining, writing, reviewing, editing, or otherwise preparing news for any newspaper, periodical, press association, newspaper syndicate, wire service, radio or television station, or other news service. (Okla. Stat. tit. 12 § 2506(A)(7))