A Nevada judge says online new sites not recognized by the Nevada Press Association can’t rely on state shield laws, which protect journalists from revealing their sources.
Sam Toll, the editor of the online news site the Storey Teller, was sued for defamation in 2017 by brothel owner Lance Gilman for a series of articles criticizing him.
While First Judicial District Judge James Wilson sided with Toll on most of the charges, he ultimately ruled against him and said the journalist must reveal his sources. His reasoning: Toll isn’t protected by the state’s shield laws because the Storey Teller, as an online site, isn’t a newspaper and “the news media privilege is not available to Toll under the ‘reporter of a newspaper’ provision of (Nevada law).”
UNR’s Reynolds School of Journalism Professor Patrick File told ThisIsReno — another online news site — “the ruling is not consistent with the spirit of the law to protect journalists.”
“(The judge) determined that a newspaper is something that’s printed,” he said. “There are a lot of independent journalists who don’t publish in print that I think would be alarmed to learn they are not covered by the Nevada shield law.”
The Nevada Press Association tweeted: “This was an unfortunate decision that appears to have been based in part on a complete misunderstanding of our membership rules and why they were enacted.”
This isn’t the first time online news sites have had to fight interpretations of Nevada law.
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, referring to its understanding of Nevada law, had previously blocked Nevada Current from obtaining public records. In 2017, the legislature approved an amendment requiring reporters to be affiliated with “a newspaper, press association or commercially operated, federally licensed radio or television station” in order to obtain “a record of a named person or information for statistical purposes, excluding any personal identifying information…” Former state Sen. Richard Segerblom said the legislation “was never intended to restrict legitimate news organizations and reporters – whether they publish on paper or the Internet – from obtaining criminal records.”
The Current is a member of the Nevada Press Association.
This story has been corrected to clarify that Patrick File is a professor at UNR’s Reynolds School of Journalism not UNLV Media Law