Lawyers for Reporters is a nonprofit public interest firm that provides pro bono legal services to local reporting organizations creating, curating, and disseminating independent journalism and research for government and corporate accountability and an informed citizenry.
- The Issue: Local new organizations are disappearing and with them civic awareness, government accountability, and democratic engagement. The steady consolidation of the media sector extracts resources from local news organizations in the pursuit of earnings, shareholder value, and opportunistic private equity profits. Advertising revenue continues to plummet, even faster in the pandemic. While small, independent digital news organizations are beginning to emerge, they lack resources, including basic legal services to support initial formation, basic operations, good governance, risk avoidance, and, importantly, sustainability.
- The Solution: Lawyers for Reporters provides pro bono legal services to local reporting organizations. Clients include print and online publishers, radio, television, and Internet content providers, freelance writers, photographers, documentarians, and videographers as well as investigative, advocacy, and academic publishers of public interest content. Lawyers for Reporters represents individual reporters through their employers or commissioning organizations. Non-profit clients of the Firm receive pro-bono services; for-profit clients receive information through non-profit intermediaries and/or representation based on negotiated fee arrangements.
- Key Services: Lawyers for Reporters provides legal services that news organizations need to support the business of journalism – corporate, transactional, employment, real estate, tax, and non-profit formation and governance advice. It provides counseling services such as pre-publication review, copyright and trademark clearance, licensing, and newsgathering advice. It offers legal support when its news organization clients face libel, privacy, copyright or other litigation threats. To provide these services, Lawyers for Reporters has a staff of in-house lawyers and a network of law firms nationwide which provide quality pro bono services.
- Founders and Partners: Lawyers for Reporters is a collaboration of the Press Freedom Defense Fund of First Look Media Works and the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice of the New York City Bar Association. Rather than duplicate resources, the Firm refers its clients to other organizations when they have the expertise to handle a matter more effectively, including Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders
Lawyers for Reporters is a joint project of the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice and the Press Freedom Defense Fund, providing pro bono legal assistance to local journalists and media organizations in the United States.
- We are preparing a manual for for-profit media companies to convert into nonprofits. Once specific organizations identify their needs, Lawyers for Reporters will help them to find lawyers in their states to assist with the conversion on a pro bono basis. We are working with two national associations of local news organizations to make the manual available to their members.
- We helped to establish the Asheville Watchdog, a nonprofit news site in North Carolina founded by experienced journalists and editors. The law firm King & Spaulding was our partner law firm. We now are helping the Asheville Watchdog with an investigation and providing pre-publication defamation review.
- We are working with the Local Independent Online News Publishers (LION) to provide its members with pro bono legal assistance on a range of matters for itself and its members. So far, three LION members have sought our assistance, two for conversion into nonprofit status and another for pre-publication defamation review.
- We are helping two organizations to incorporate as a nonprofit and obtain 501(c)(3) status and/or fiscal sponsorship, including the Center for Collaborative Investigative Journalism, which convenes and leads global investigations that are grounded in strategic mentorship and equal partnership between investigative, data and visual journalists.
- We are advising two Venezuelan journalists-in-exile to defend against defamation claims.
- We are advising two local newspapers in the Southwest considering converting to nonprofit status and expanding their revenue sources.
What We Can Help Local Media Companies To Do
- Help convert your organization from a for-profit to a nonprofit organization.
- Get your new nonprofit organization fiscal sponsorship and/or federal tax-exempt status.
- Identify and obtain necessary registrations, licenses, and insurance for your nonprofit organization.
- Propose required and recommended compliance policies and procedures.
- Negotiate office leases and other agreements.
- Set up procedures for pre-publication legal review of content.
- Respond to takedown and litigation threats.
- Assist your nonprofit organization in the retention of defense counsel for lawsuits.
- Make referrals to access-to-information lawyers.
Our own lawyers and law firms we find will help you on an entirely pro bono basis. You may need to pay government, corporate, and/or filing fees, but will receive notice of these fees in advance.