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Society Asks Missoula Officials to Drop Legal Battle Against Student Journalist


Contacts: Ray Marcano, SPJ president, 937/225-2323; Ian Marquand, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee chairman, 406/542-4400; Christine Tatum, SPJ Legal Defense Fund chairwoman, 312/222-5184 or ctatum@tribune.com

INDIANAPOLIS - A University of Montana student journalist is entitled to the same protections afforded professionals, says the Society of Professional Journalists.

The Society is urging Missoula, Mont., city officials to drop their unwarranted case against student Linda Tracy.

In late July, Tracy shot footage during a visit by the Hell's Angels motorcycle club to Missoula. The event ended with a violent clash between police and citizens on downtown streets that led to more than 60 arrests. Tracy edited her footage to a 20-minute video documentary that has been publicly available and was carried on Missoula's community access television channel.

In October, Missoula law enforcement officials subpoenaed all of Tracy's unedited tapes to identify "known and unknown" lawbreakers. City officials claim Tracy's raw footage is not protected under Montana's reporter shield law because she has not yet earned a journalism degree and does not work for a media outlet. District Judge Doug Harkin has not ruled in the case.

"Linda Tracy deserves our support just as much as if she were an established free-lancer or a raw intern shooting her first video for a network affiliate," said Ian Marquand, chairman of the Society's Freedom of Information Committee and special projects coordinator for the Montana Television Network. "The fact that she is at the beginning of her career and works independently, outside of established organizations, makes her no less of a journalist."

The Society's Legal Defense Fund has given Tracy a $1,000 grant to defend her status as a journalist and to help with her mounting legal costs.

"The fishing expeditions on which lazy attorneys frequently embark never cease to amaze me," said Christine Tatum, chairwoman of the Legal Defense Fund and an employee of Tribune Interactive. "The Society is committed to standing behind Linda Tracy's decision not to relinquish her unbroadcast, unpublished work product. Journalists are fact-finders, but they're not working for police or the courts and should never, ever be perceived as doing so. It's incredibly important that journalists everywhere band together and tell the courts that this egregious abuse of power must stop."
Tracy's attorney, Frederick F. Sherwood of Helena, Mont., said SPJ's support is vital in this legal battle.

"The financial support is particularly needful since Linda is a student at the journalism school at the University of Montana," Sherwood wrote in a letter to the Society. "The case is very important, though, in the precedent it will set as to the degree of protection afforded to the work product of all journalists in Montana. I also believe that it may have a degree of interest outside this state, in its address of First Amendment issues."

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