As investigative and watchdog reporting is increasingly provided by independent media, there is a critical need for robust defense against unfounded legal attacks and harassment, and to protect public access to information. INN has worked to amass a range of pro-bono and discounted legal services, a nationwide legal referral service, guides and other resources so that our members can get help and advice when they need it most.
To help our members find pro-bono or low-cost legal help, INN has partnered with the Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press, a nonprofit organization that has been helping journalists secure legal advice since 1970.
RCFP’s mission is to protect the right to gather and distribute news; to keep government accountable by ensuring access to public records, meetings and courtrooms; and to preserve the principles of free speech and unfettered press, as guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In addition to expert legal advice and referrals to volunteer media counsel around the country, the Reporters Committee offers:
- A Legal Defense Hotline: Available to working journalists in any medium and media lawyers 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
- Amicus Briefs and Statements of Support: Both alone and in conjunction with major news and transparency organizations, the Reporters Committee files or participates in more than 20 briefs each year with the U.S. Supreme Court and in federal and state courts. It is a voice of support for the right to freely gather and disseminate information in any form.
- Publications and Resources: Available free online on topics ranging from state and federal open government laws, access to electronic records, reporters’ shield laws around the country, access to court documents and proceedings, and more.
- Rapid Responses to reporter inquiries on media-law stories.
- Regional Training Seminars to help emerging and established online investigative news sites navigate the legal issues particular to electronic newsgathering.
- Special Events Reporters Hotlines for reporters who might encounter difficulties covering events such as presidential inaugurals, the Olympics, political-party conventions and the like.
- Fellowships and Internships for the next generation of free-press reporters and lawyers. Legal fellows handle hotline calls and other queries, draft briefs and write for Reporters Committee publications.
- Niche law guides on topics ranging from FOIA appeals to American Indian law.
LEGAL CONNECT Referral Service
INN has partnered with the Media Law Resource Center on a referral service to help nonprofit news media obtain legal help. The service is intended to help member organizations find affordable media law specialists for cases that exceed what they can access from pro bono legal services, state press or other news association services. These specialists will be experienced, young attorneys who will be supervised by the senior lawyers in their firms.
To access the MLRC network of attorneys, INN members should complete and submit an INN Legal Connect Request to the MLRC. The MLRC will screen for confidentiality and potential conflicts of interest, then distribute the request to media law firms in the news organization’s state or region. Interested attorneys will contact the news organization directly. It should be noted that all agreements are made between the news organization and the attorney, not INN nor MLRC. It is important to note that attorney fees differ by state, but an average rate across is the U.S. is $250-$450 per hour.
INN is also partnered with the Student Press Law Center. The SPLC offers legal support for campus-based journalism, including:
- A network of 190 pro-bono referral attorneys on call to assist with matters from prepublication review to open-records denials.
- A library of teaching and reference materials covering a wide range of media-law topics including copyright, libel, privacy and access issues.
- An automated fill-in-the-blanks letter generator keyed to each state's freedom-of-information statute.
- Email news alerts about developments in the courts and legislatures affecting press freedom and access to records and meetings.
The INN’s Legal Best Practices Guide is designed to help nonprofit news organizations reduce their legal liability by providing sample policies to be included on organization websites, sample contracts to be used for freelancers and other third parties, and other resources available to help alleviate legal risk.
Template documents include: