Sunshine Week At The Capitol March 11th – 15th
March 11th is Newspaper Day at the Nevada Capitol, and March 11th-15th is Sunshine week in Nevada. During Sunshine Week, journalists reflect on the legal tools and personal obligations we have to report on things that happen in the Silver State.
As Sunshine week unfolds across Nevada, I find myself swirling in the midst of a maelstrom that has attracted national attention. This controversy takes aim at our First Amendment Rights as journalists and more importantly as citizens. This question has many of my journalism brothers and sisters outraged nationwide.
On Monday, March 4th, First District Court Judge James Wilson issued an order forcing me to reveal confidential sources for a story I published on October 16th, 2017. I now have to choose between revealing sources I promised to keep confidential or going to jail and being fined.
A little about the (complicated) case.
I operate The Storey Teller, an online newspaper (not a blog) in Storey County. I report on ordinary public interest items as well as matters of County budget & finance, the actions of our elected and public officials, and events at Tahoe Reno Industrial Park (home to Tesla and Google) in Storey County.
Some articles focus on the actions of Mustang Ranch Brothel owner, Tahoe Reno Industrial Center Executive, Blockchains LLC Government Relations Executive, and Storey County Commissioner Lance Gilman.
Gilman, one of the wealthiest men in Northern Nevada, insists he lives in a doublewide trailer with another man and woman behind the swimming pool at the Mustang Ranch Brothel, and not the home he owns in Washoe Valley. Evidence and interviews I conducted suggest otherwise. In order to be a Storey County Commissioner, you must reside in the district you represent.
Nevada’s Shield Law. The Toughest In The Nation
In December 2017, Gilman served me with an 8 count defamation lawsuit. Judge Wilson dismissed 7 of the 8 counts but allowed limited discovery on the remaining one.
In May 2018, Gilman’s attorney insisted I reveal the confidential sources who told me Gilman doesn’t live in the doublewide. I refused to answer those questions and invoked Nevada’s Reporter Shield Law.
Gilman insisted I am not a journalist and that my news site is not the modern-day equivalent of a newspaper. He filed a motion with Judge Wilson who granted a hearing to consider my journalistic credentials.
The hearing, which was scheduled and then rescheduled twice over the course of six months, was by Monday’s surprise ruling. In his ruling, Judge Wilson declared:
Can A Journalist Be a Journalist Without a Printing Press?
- I am a journalist solely because I joined the Nevada Press Association (NPA).
- The Teller is not a “newspaper” because the NPA did not classify it as such on it’s website and I don’t put ink to paper.
This ruling should concern every online news source in Nevada and is the source of angst across the country. How many online-only newspapers expect to be shielded from revealing whistle-blowers in the course of practicing journalism? In our estimation, this ruling simply doesn’t reflect the landscape of our industry in 2019.
Why This Matters
In the last 10 days, I have been contacted by three separate individuals with information that could break important stories surrounding alleged misdeeds in Storey County. These people could lose their jobs, their families or worse if exposed. I promised to maintain their confidentially. I told them I would go to jail before I revealed them as the source of the information I report.
Integrity is the most precious currency we have as journalists. Without it, the public would not entrust us with the information we need to help protect society from wrongdoers.
I will be conferring with journalists, legislators and other stakeholders around the state to discuss the best way to bring the Nation’s strongest Shield Law into the 21st century during the 2021 Legislative Session.
If you have any thoughts on the best way to do this, please reach out to me via my news site.
Meanwhile, I’ll be asking the Sheriff to dust off the VIP suite at the Storey County Hoosegow.