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David Logan has served as Dean at Roger Williams University School of Law in Bristol, RI since 2003. A graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, Dean Logan clerked for a federal judge and practiced with a major Washington, D.C. law firm, where he represented Native American tribes....



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A Reporter’s Privilege for Twitterers?

Posted by David Logan on 09/30/2009 at 12:00 AM

The hectic life of a law dean leaves little time for scholarly reflection.  Nevertheless, when I was asked to participate in a First Amendment workshop sponsored by the Southeast Association of Law Schools this summer, I agreed because for some time I have been interested in how the law adapts to changes in how news is disseminated.  (I wrote an essay on the “24-hour news cycle” that appeared in a symposium on the impact of technology on Media Law while I was still on the faculty at Wake Forest:

ALL MONICA, ALL OF THE TIME: THE 24-HOUR NEWS CYCLE AND THE PROOF OF CULPABILITY IN LIBEL ACTIONS, University of Arkansas at Little Rock Law Review (2000).

One controversial Media Law issue is whether reporters should have a privilege to refuse to comply with a subpoena seeking the name of a confidential source, an issue put in stark relief by the jailing of New York Times reporter Judith Miller and the home incarceration of RI television newsman Jim Taricani for refusing to comply with judge’s orders.  Although Miller and Taricini worked for traditional media, I am especially interested in whether such a privilege, if available, would apply to reporting via the internet, especially when the source is a “citizen journalist.” This topic seemed especially timely given that users of cell phones and Twitter managed to circumvent the Iranian government’s crackdown on the traditional media during massive pro-democracy demonstrations.

My co-panelists (Keith Werhan from Tulane and James Fleissner from Mercer) debated the need for a reporter’s privilege in federal courts, while I focused on whether the privilege should extend to new media, like blogs and Twitter.  The op-ed published last week in the Boston Globe summarizes my thoughts on the issue.