Courts, cops and meetings! Oh my!

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DSC03066Note: This is one of several blog posts written by Shorthorn staffers about the conferences or training they received. Today’s blog post written by reporter Sorayah Zahir about what she learned during a recent Society of Professional Journalists workshop. 

An issue that has come to light in the media recently is reporter’s rights, especially in the ongoing Ferguson issues. The right to gather news is something that not only journalists have, but also the public as instituted by the First Amendment right to Freedom of Speech, according to attorney Paul Watler. Anyone, including journalists, have the right to record news in public areas, such as a police officer conducting his work on a sidewalk or what have you. Reporters in Ferguson are having to fight for this right as law enforcement sets barriers to hinder their work. An important thing for journalist’s to know is we have rights and even if the law doesn’t recognize that, we should stand up for ourselves, to a point, and claim our right to gather news.

Journalists have many rights, including the right to withhold unpublished materials from law enforcement; while we are student journalists and don’t deal with major roadblocks from law enforcement, it is valuable to know when we are out and about on campus, we can stop and gather news wherever because this is public property. The police can not, for the most part, regulate our content. But of course, when dealing with authority, use common sense. We’re journalists, we don’t want to end up in jail.

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Another important aspect of the workshop was covering public meetings. The key here is public. A journalist has every right to sit in at any sort of board, council, etc. meeting according to the Texas Open Meetings Act. This act outlines what an open meeting is a gathering of all members of the executive board that is conducted in public that must post an agenda with all items that will be discussed before. This is important for us to know because student journalists cover meetings from Student Council to Arlington city council meetings and they can not be told to leave. You also have the right to tape or photo meeting, fyi. If you have any more questions about open meetings, you can refer to the Texas Open Meetings Handbook on the Texas Attorney General’s website. Teicher said it is very user friendly and will cover any questions you may have.

The lawyers also discussed courtroom proceedings but, while it was interesting, it’s not something we particularly have to deal with.

After the talk, some Shorthorn staffers asked about getting sources on campus to talk to us. The most important thing Watler said is that we gain the trust of a source so that they will consent to an interview and be more comfortable speaking to The Shorthorn.

Over all, I found the workshop to be very valuable as a journalist.

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