LETTER: Seattle’s independent journalists oppose SPD subpoena

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    When people ask us if WSB has an op-ed section, we note that the Community Forums are the closest thing we have. We seldom publish anything on our own behalf but we have chosen to sign on to this letter by Seattle’s independent-journalist community, of which we’ve been a proud member for 13 years. Many of the signers are publishing it on their respective sites, too.

    We are independent news organizations, editors, reporters, photojournalists, and freelancers working in Seattle, and we are coming together to oppose the Seattle Police Department’s subpoena seeking unpublished photographs and video taken by journalists at the Seattle Times, KIRO 7, KING 5, KOMO 4, and KCPQ 13.

    This is not the Trump Administration pursuing these subpoenas. It is the Seattle Police Department, charged with serving and protecting our city. Those duties should include protecting our free press rights.

    We believe that a democratic society requires a truly free press, and that the Constitution protects the rights of journalists to work independently from the power of the state. That obviously includes independence from the Seattle Police Department. Journalists cannot safely and effectively do our work if authorities can seek our unpublished notes and images as evidence. We cannot gain the trust of sources, including protest participants, if we are seen as collaborators with the police. Some of us already have been targeted with that allegation as a result of the subpoena. We cannot hold government agencies accountable if our unpublished notes and images can be scooped up and used as evidence in criminal cases.

    As the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild wrote in a statement, “Journalists and their work product are not the agents and tools of the police.”

    “We disagree in the strongest possible terms,” the Guild continued, referring to a June court decision largely in SPD’s favor. “This move by SPD and decision by Judge Nelson Lee undermines the credibility of local journalists and puts us at risk for danger.”

    We stand with the Guild, the news organizations fighting the subpoenas in court and the individual journalists who may end up in an impossible position to either betray their values of journalistic integrity or face potentially serious charges.

    The ongoing court case is frightening for our counterparts at these major news organizations. But it is terrifying for us, independent journalists without the financial and legal backing of a major media corporation. If SPD is successful in this case, there is no reason to think that independent journalists won’t be targeted next.

    As newsrooms across our city have shuttered or shrunk, independent outlets and freelancers have become more and more vital, watchdogging government and telling a wide variety of stories about life in Seattle. Unless some business model comes along to revitalize or build large local news organizations, independent journalists will only become more important in the future.

    SPD Chief Carmen Best is the person who can most easily stop this case, and we urge her to do so. There is no piece of evidence that the police might discover in journalists’ unpublished videos, photographs, notes or audio recordings that justifies this violation of fundamental press freedoms.

    We also urge Chief Best, Mayor Jenny Durkan and the City Council to create clear policies to prevent another similar case in the future. Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda has introduced Resolution 31961, which calls on police to stop arresting and harming journalists during protests and urges the City Attorney to stop supporting SPD’s subpoena. That’s a good start.

    But the city should also develop legally binding policies to prevent or severely restrict police subpoenas of journalists’ unpublished work in the future. At its most basic level, journalism is a two-part process: Gather information, then choose what to publish. Both of these steps are vital, and both have faced SPD attacks in recent months.

    When the state starts threatening journalists, democracy itself is threatened, too.


    Erica C. Barnett, The C Is for Crank
    Carolyn Bick, freelancer, South Seattle Emerald
    David Calder, photojournalist
    Justin Carder, Capitolhillseattle.com
    Susan Fried, freelance photojournalist
    Tom Fucoloro, Seattle Bike Blog
    Alex Garland, freelance photojournalist and reporter
    Nate Gowdy, photojournalist
    Marcus Harrison Green, South Seattle Emerald
    Sarah Anne Lloyd, freelance journalist
    Renee Raketty, writer/photojournalist
    Tracy Record & Patrick Sand, co-publishers of West Seattle Blog
    Kevin Schofield, SCC Insight
    Elizabeth Turnbull, freelance reporter
    Katie Wilson, columnist at Crosscut



    Thank You, WSB.

    I continue to be Grateful and Proud that you are OUR local News Organization…




    Well done, important stance to take.

    Like Mike said, it makes me proud to have WSB as the local news source sine qua non.



    What there to hide and afraid of ? after all it is the taxpayers’assets that the protesters destroyed,it is OUR money.
    So help catch those evil protesters and put them in jail…
    They are thugs!!



    Why not use your real name? Why hide behind gxnx? What are you afraid of?

    A glib point, I admit, but something to think about.

    As to your comment more specifically… In your usual inscrutable fashion you leave us wondering what you actually meant. Are you curious why someone might not want journalists to share information with the police? Or are you curious why journalists themselves don’t want to be forced to share information with the police?

    They are both reasonable questions, and are both easily answered–so easily answered in fact that it makes me stop and wonder why you haven’t done any work here in answering them. You seem to have plenty of free time, so that’s your assignment: figure out why WSB and so many others are concerned about this issue.



    Thank you for standing up for the freedoms and protections of the Fourth Estate. You’re in good company.



    Absolutely! Let’s hear it for the free press — without which we are lost! Thank you, WSB, for standing with integrity once again.

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