Guide to Laws for Journalists in the U.S.

There are a few areas of law that are essential for journalists to know about. In particular, they relate to the information they can and can’t obtain from individuals and the government, and the right to publish this information.

This page is an overview of our Legal Guides (and some external sources) relevant to reporters, investigative journalists, news bloggers, and anyone who reports or investigates the news.

1. Free Speech

Every journalist needs to know about laws related to free speech and expression, of course!

2. Journalists Privilege or 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

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

9. Blogs and Websites

If you have your own blog or website, here are some important laws to know about.

10. Freelancer and Employee Laws

Whether you are a freelance journalist or employee, you should know your rights.

Related Pages

Photo credit: Image by freepik


Share the Legal Info With Your Friends: