Though many people read newspapers, not many people really think of what it means to be a journalist.
Just in the same way people might not understand what a police officer or a doctor goes through on a daily basis it’s hard to imagine what a journalist goes through if you have never been in their shoes.
As most reporters probably agree, they more often hear from the public when their work is disliked than hear from the silent majority who enjoyed their work.
Like many professions it is a job that comes with a price. Not only does it include long, varying hours, the job can also can mean gag-orders to work around. At the same time, reporters around the world are injured, in some cases kidnapped, killed and jailed for doing their job.
In the midst of the trial of the Aurora Colorado theater shooter, James Holmes, which has the attention of the nation, a smaller case is being launched against a reporter who covered the shooting. The secondary trial is against a female reporter who is not being accused of any crime.
New York-based Fox News reporter Jana Winters is being called upon by Colorado justices to reveal the names of confidential sources that released information that showed the accused mass-murderer had eluded to his psychiatrist at the University of Colorado that he was going to commit the crime.
Winters could face up to six months in jail for not revealing the names of confidential sources which divulged information that Holmes sent a package to the psychiatrist that included a notebook “full of details about how he was going to kill people,” prior to the July 20 shooting, according to a source of Winter’s July 25 article.
The FoxNews.com article also reported the notebook contained illustrations of a massacre, including drawings of gun-wielding stick figures shooting other stick figures. The court believes it is information that could only have come from law enforcement or investigators in the case that were under orders not to talk about the drawings.
Holmes’ attorney claimed the leak compromised his client’s ability to have a fair trial, though Holmes was ready to plead guilty to the crime if prosecutors promised to not go for the death penalty.
Winters is accused only of protecting the identity of confidential news sources while reporting an important development in a major national story.
This information was then picked up by other media and became known to people across the country who were hungry to learn more about Holmes.
Though the officers or whomever gave the information to Winters went against the orders of their profession or office to give the reporter this information, it is Winter’s responsibility as a journalist to remain faithful to the commitment she gave to keep their identity a secret.
For members of the press integrity is easily lost by any one story or bad information given. If Winters had fabricated the information her job would undoubtably be taken away and she would have no future in media. Furthermore, the reporter is protected under Shield Laws, which are in place in 40 states, including New York and Colorado.
Shield Laws are designed to protect reporters’ privilege, or the right of news reporters to refuse to testify to information and/or sources of information obtained during the news gathering and dissemination process.
As of Monday, April 8, a Colorado order for Winters to return to the state to sit before the grand jury was still in effect. A judge in New York has signed off on the order though Winters’ attorney is fighting it.
As you sit here reading this, there are 60 countries involved in a some kind of active war around the world. Journalists risk their lives to be there and report the conflicts, so the rest of the world is made aware of the atrocities taking place.
As of December 2012 the Committee to protect Journalists (CPJ) reported a record number of incarcerated journalists worldwide at 232. The CPJ also reported 70 cases of journalists killed in the line of duty worldwide in 2012.
The media is a watchdog, an advocate, and a voice for the people.
The case against Winters is one of many where a reporter must choose between their personal freedoms or protecting their journalistic integrity. Winters is saying she will choose the latter if need be.
And she should be lauded for it.