Guide to Laws for Journalists in the United States

Journalist interviewing politician
Journalists should know about various areas of law, particularly relating to the information they can and can’t obtain from individuals and the government, and the right to publish this information.

1. Free Speech

Of course every journalist needs to know about free speech laws!

2. Journalists Privilege/Shield Laws

Journalists Privilege,” also known as the “journalist shield law,” is the right not to be compelled to testify or disclose sources and information in court.

3. Defamation

Publishing something false and negative about a person could be considered defamation.

4. Privacy

Publishing something private about someone could be considered an invasion of privacy.

5. Copyright

If you are a freelance journalist, you generally have rights to stories you publish (unless you are working under an agreement that says otherwise). If you are considered an employee journalist with a media organization such as a newspaper, you may not have such rights. Either way, you should beware of infringing on others’ copyrights.

6. Obtaining information from the government

Journalists, like everyone else, have the right to obtain access to public records held by federal agencies, with some exceptions including national security related information. See more at our Guide to Open Government.

7. Police Conduct

Journalists often face situations where they interact with the police or other law enforcement.

8. Internet & Social Media

And of course, since almost all journalism and news is online, you should definitely know about laws about the Internet & Social Media.

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