Journalists aren’t always the most popular people.
We ask questions at crime scenes, demand answers from elected officials, and shed light on actions such as mismanagement of taxpayer money.
We do this because our highest priority is our readers, and our job is to provide them with what they need to know to make informed decisions, demand change and hold public officials accountable.
That’s what Joseph Hosey, a reporter for the AOL website Patch in Joliet, did when he reported details about the January double murder of Terrance Rankins and Eric Glover. Four people have been indicted on charges of killing the two men.
Hosey confidentially received police reports on the crime and shared details – many of them gruesome – of the crime not publicly released.
Defense attorneys filed motions to determine how Hosey obtained the reports, charging that disclosing those details might have violated the defendants’ rights to a fair trial.
Last week, Will County Judge Gerald Kinney found Hosey in contempt of court for not revealing his source. Hosey faces daily fines and possible jail time if he doesn’t say who gave him the documents.
Hosey shouldn’t have to reveal his source. The state’s shield law protects reporters from revealing confidential sources. A judge can require a journalist to unveil a source only if all other means of obtaining the information have been exhausted and doing so is essential to the public interest.
Kinney believes that has happened since more than 500 police officers, attorneys and other law enforcement officials have signed affidavits stating they were not the reporter’s source.
We disagree with his ruling, as does the Society of Professional Journalists.
“This is clearly not an issue of a reporter accessing protected information. It’s a witch hunt to discover who leaked documents to Joey Hosey, who is just doing his job as a reporter,” SPJ’s national FOI committee chairwoman Linda Petersen said. “That Judge Kinney feels justified under the law is appalling. Illinois’ shield law clearly protects Joey Hosey in this situation, and Kinney’s manipulative interpretation of that law is a farce.”
The forcible naming of sources will cause sources to dry up. When sources dry up, important information never sees the light of day.
And the only people who benefit from that is those who wish that information stays in the dark.