“My reputation as a journalist will be irreparably tarnished among my colleagues and perhaps more importantly my future sources.” – Jana Winter
FoxNews reporter Jana Winter is under pressure for withholding the name(s) of the source that tipped her off about James Holmes’ notebook depicting the attack, including gross details about how he planned to kill people, and a drawing of a gun-wielding stick figure shooting other stick figures. This piece of information came to surface only a short amount of time after word about the shooting itself had gotten around.
The judge had given out a gag order, forbidding law enforcement to talk to the press about the investigation. Obviously, the source is initially at fault for not following orders, but overall, Winter had the choice to not report the story. (Some of you are definitely thinking, “Perish the thought!”)
At the moment, the judge hasn’t decided whether the notebook will be used in Holmes’ trial (so Winter can somewhat relax). If the notebook does become involved, she will have to testify in court and reveal her source. Should she refuse to cooperate, she will subject to six months in prison. The Shield Law that usually protects journalists cannot help her.
My View as a journalist
As an aspiring journalist, I have many things to say about this matter, but I’m going to stick to three big things.
1) CNN mentioned in their article that the outcome of this issue may change how journalists will work in the future. If Winter gets jail time for her story, it might make other reporters hesitate to go after “the hot thang” (not a typo) only because someone was burned before. I don’t think my fellow journalists should grow weak in the knees if they know that they’re doing their job honorably (or as honorably as it can get in this business), because if the people need to hear the story, tell it.
2) Which brings me to subject number two: Winter is an idiot. I am all for digging in the dirt, opening the can of worms, pulling hypocrites and corrupt leaders out of the dark, barking about injustice and so forth. BUT… I don’t think it was her place to report about the notebook if there was a gag order. Yes, it’s an interesting fact and yes, I don’t like hearing the words “confidential” or “secret” either, but I would never cause trouble in an ongoing investigation. Especially not in this case. Winter might not have known or foreseen the importance of the notebook at the time, but remember, it was a piece of evidence. Prosecutors need EVIDENCE in order to put criminals in prison. Simple and clear. If anyone watches Law&Order, they know that defense lawyers will jump at any chance to keep crucial details out of the courtroom.
Going back to number one, ask yourself the question: Did the people really need to know about the notebook? Yes, perhaps, but did we need to know about it at the time Winter reported it? Were the lives of the moviegoers depending on it? No. We would have found out about it later during the trial (just like we’re hearing all kinds of things during Jodi Arias’ trial). Except in that scenario, Winter wouldn’t get credit for it.
3) That’s one thing to think about when you’re working for the press. Is this necessary information for the public? Unfortunately, it’s too late for Winter to go back and change her mind, so what now? Personally, I would go to jail. Revealing so much as one source during my career will make people hesitate to talk to me later on. Since I plan to write mostly about crime, I want people to trust me. Even if I wasn’t interested in that area in the newsroom, I got enough reason to believe that ‘silence is golden.’ Only under very extreme circumstances, I would sacrifice myself for the greater good.
Otherwise I could live with that criminal record. All in the name of journalism.
My classmate Calli has a different take on the situation:
**This blog entry was written for ‘Writing for Mass Media,’ JRN202, at Central Michigan University.