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Eliminating The Paper Trail

(AP / CBS)
As legal battles in which the government is seeking out reporters' confidential sources have become more prevalent recently, news outlets are beginning to focus on more practical ways that they can protect those sources. At least that's what's going on at The New York Times, according to New York Observer. During this year's series of legal seminars for reporters, conducted by the paper's lawyers, the focus will be on those concerns. Craig Whitney, the Times' standards editor, told the Observer: "The main worry these days is not libel, or proving that you actually quoted something accurately. It is being subpoenaed." And what are the paper's lawyers advising?
Mr. Barstow said he suggests disposing of story drafts and cutting back on telephone and e-mail contact with sources—or using disposable cell phones for important calls. Reporters should be wary of meeting sources at their offices, Mr. Barstow said, so as to avoid sign-in sheets and security cameras.

In another point of conflict between bureaucracy and confidentiality, Mr. Barstow said he has recommended altering Times expense-sheet forms so that a reporter does not have to list the names of sources who have been taken out for lunch or dinner.

As far as federal investigations seeking reporters' sources, the CIA leak investigation surely garnered the most attention, culminating with Judy Miller's trip to prison. And the more recent investigation into who leaked information from a grand jury proceeding in the BALCO case to two San Francisco Chronicle reporters might just result in prison time for those two journalists. Indeed, the consequences are very real for reporters. One Times lawyer, David McCraw, told the Observer: "I think people are more concerned because of the fallout from all the high-profile cases—BALCO, Judy Miller and others. You have decisions that have cast doubt on reporters' rights to hold confidential sources. There is a lot of uncertainty."
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