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SPJ calls on journalists to assist Wakefield


CONTACT:Gordon D. "Mac" McKerral, President, at 813/250-9269 or gmckerra@tampabay.rr.com
Charles N. Davis, Freedom of Information Committee co-chair, at 573/882-5736 or daviscn@missouri.edu

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Society of Professional Journalists, the nation's largest association of working journalists, is calling on journalists across the country to help one of their own facing legal sanctions for refusing to reveal confidential sources.

A group of Minnesota journalists led by the Minneapolis Pro Chapter has established a fund to raise money to help pay the court-imposed fines for Wally Wakefield, a suburban Minneapolis newspaper reporter who has been compelled to reveal his confidential sources. Last fall, the state Supreme Court ordered Wakefield of the Maplewood Review to turn over the names of anonymous sources from an article he wrote in January 1997 about the North St. Paul Maplewood school district's decision to not renew the contract of Richard Weinberger, the football coach at Tartan High School.

Weinberger later sued school district officials for libel, and the judge overseeing the trial ordered Wakefield to start on April 12 paying fines of $200 a day until July 19, the day a defamation trial opens in Ramsey County. It could cost Wakefield up to $20,000 to pay the fines.
Wakefield is not named in Weinberger's lawsuit against the district and four school officials.

"Mr. Wakefield is standing up for a principle that SPJ and its members hold very dearly: that journalists should not be forced to reveal confidential sources," said Charles N. Davis, co-chair of SPJ's Freedom of Information Committee. "He faces daily fines for what any journalist would do in a heartbeat, we'd hope."

A group of reporters led by Steve Brandt and Randy Furst of the Star Tribune is trying to raise money to assist Wakefield. A board to oversee the account is being assembled, Furst said.

"I think many judges realize that journalists are and always have been willing to go to jail to protect the identity of confidential sources who help them report on stories that have widespread public interest and value to the community," said Mac McKerral, SPJ's national president. "So instead, judges hit reporters in the checkbook, a place that unlike jail, many reporters cannot afford to deal with. And where did the court come up with $200 a day? It's arbitrary and usurious. That's not just.
It's vindictive."

An account has been opened at the Star Tribune Credit Union. Make checks payable to:

The Wally Wakefield Defense Fund
P.O. Box 8115
Minneapolis, MN 55408

For more information, please contact SPJ Region 6 Director Dave Aeikens at daeikens@spj.org or by telephone at 320/255-8744.

The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. SPJ is dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, and based in Indianapolis, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed public, works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists, and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.

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