seattle times

Program of free legal services to journalists expands nationwide

One consequence of the local journalism crisis is the loss of legal support available to reporters and news outlets.

Hiring lawyers to review major investigative stories before publication or help secure public records used to be common at regional outlets.

Now it’s a rarity as nearly every local newspaper struggles to cover costs, upgrade for digital competition and retain what’s left of their gutted newsrooms.

That further reduces the amount of government transparency and hard-hitting accountability journalism.

So it’s especially welcome to see a program providing free legal services to journalists expand from a pilot project in Washington and California to a national service.

Attorneys at Microsoft and Seattle-based law firm Davis Wright Tremaine started this in 2020.

They work together providing pro-bono legal services to local journalists at all types of outlets. As of May 2022, the program provided about 386 hours of services worth $240,000, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a nonprofit that’s now coordinating the program.

This week, the Knight Foundation announced a $1.3 million grant over three years to expand the program, called ProJourn.

“ProJourn empowers local journalists and journalism organizations by providing accessible legal assistance to carry out their work effectively,” foundation CEO Alberto Ibargüen said in the announcement. “The law can be a weapon and a shield; journalists need both in a healthy democracy.”

A bevy of white shoe law firms are also joining the program, including BakerHostetler, Covington & Burling, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP, Kilpatrick Townsend and McGuireWoods.

In turn, the firms will work with their corporate clients’ in-house lawyers to provide pro-bono service to local journalists, following the model of DWT and Microsoft.

Full disclosure: DWT has long represented The Seattle Times and Microsoft supports several of its journalism initiatives, but neither pitched this

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