Prosecutors are appealing a Minnesota appellate court ruling holding that a reporter did not have to turn over unpublished notes of an interview with a man who killed two police officers and took his own life after a standoff one year ago.
The trial court judge initially ordered Mankato Free Press reporter Dan Nienaber, one of the last people to speak with Jeff Skjervold, to provide his notes to county prosecutors investigating the incident. But last month, the state appellate court overturned that ruling, holding that prosecutors needed to be far more specific to overcome the third prong of the state’s shield law, which allows such disclosures only when necessary to prevent an injustice.
In their appeal, prosecutors wrote that “withholding the information protects no one. Skjervold is dead. (The Free Press) cannot argue that they need to withhold the information to protect their source.”
The prosecutors are right: there is no source to protect. Unfortunately though, they’re missing the point. Reporters should not be used as an investigative arm of the government and turning over Nienaber’s unpublished notes tramples all over the editorial process. The state legislature recognized those concerns in enacting the shield law. It’s time for the prosecutors to follow suit.