Skip to main content
The New Abridged Reporter's Privilege: Policies, Principles and Pathological Perspectives
Ohio State Law Journal (2010)
  • Erik Ugland, Marquette University
This Article contends that contemporary arguments about the reporter’s privilege are increasingly situated within a divided framework in which protections for confidential and nonconfidential information are treated as separate interests that lack a shared theoretical justification. This is both a cause and consequence of a broader tendency among judges, legislators, journalists and lawyers to emphasize policy-based conceptions of the privilege that are focused on case-specific calculations of harms and benefits, rather than principle-based conceptions focused on journalistic autonomy and the need for a structural separation of press and government. Policy arguments present the privilege as a narrow, utilitarian device for eliciting public-interest disclosures from sources, not as a fundamental right tied to journalists’ investigative and expressive autonomy. As a result, policy-based conceptions of the privilege are more vulnerable to ad hoc manipulations, more likely to be reserved for particular types of proceedings, more likely to be balanced away in the face of competing social concerns, and more susceptible to cramped applications that exclude non-traditional journalists. In addition policy-based conceptions devalue the newsgathering dimensions of the privilege by fixing its value to the preservation of sources’ expression while at the same time minimizing the effect of subpoenas on reporters’ expression. This Article shows that lawyers and legal scholars have also narrowed their conceptions of the privilege—sometimes unwittingly and sometimes as part of a deliberate, “pathological” effort to preserve some core protections by surrendering others. In doing so, they have contributed to the broader conceptual compression that is evident in the scholarly literature, in public discourse and in the debates over proposed state and federal shield laws, in which the privilege is reduced to a protection for confidential sources or is otherwise laden with exceptions.
  • first amendment,
  • newsgathering,
  • reporter's privilege,
  • gather news,
  • media,
  • press,
  • freedom,
  • pathological,
  • fourth estate
Publication Date
Citation Information
Erik Ugland. "The New Abridged Reporter's Privilege: Policies, Principles and Pathological Perspectives" Ohio State Law Journal Vol. 71 Iss. 1 (2010)
Available at: