National Press Club

Federal shield law most needed for local, freelance journalists, reporters to say on June 1

May 25, 2015 | By Sean Lyngaas |

Lisa Abraham will say local reporters need a federal shield law at a National Press Club forum at 6 p.m. on June 1.

Lisa Abraham will say local reporters need a federal shield law at a National Press Club forum at 6 p.m. on June 1.

While a federal shield law would benefit all journalists, those with the most to gain are freelancers and reporters for smaller news organizations, according to two journalists with direct experience in the matter.

Lisa Abraham and Josh Wolf will join with nearly a dozen other journalists who have been jailed for insisting on their rights under the First Amendment at the National Press Club on June 1 to call for national shield law.

The historic two-hour symposium starts at 6 p.m. in the Murrow Room. The event is open to the public and is sponsored in part by the Club’s Journalism Institute and Freedom of the Press Committee. Tickets are $5 for Club members and $10 for nonmembers.

Abraham and Wolf have taken strikingly different paths to arrive at the Club’s podium, but they share an unflinching commitment to their journalistic values.

Abraham has journeyed through the journalism-rich state of Ohio during her career, from the Tribune Chronicle to the Columbus Dispatch, and from politics and crime reporter to food editor.

The Niles native became famous throughout the state in 1994 for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating a county official for misspending money. She spent 22 days in the Trumbull County jail, continuing to report from there. Abraham said she would scrawl out notes on a pad, call collect and then dictate the stories to the Tribune newsroom.

Though it’s been over 20 years since her incarceration, Abraham said she still feels obligated to be a vocal defender of press freedom.

“I don’t think [reporters are] above the law, but I do think we have a special place, and I think the First Amendment guarantees that for us,” she said.

Local reporters, in particular, need support in confrontations with authority “because there are always going to be people advocating for the big guns. The New York Times will always have a cadre of lawyers on their behalf but…you won’t have that for smaller newspapers,” Abraham said.

As a freelance video blogger, Josh Wolf can relate to being resource-strapped in fighting First Amendment battles.

Beginning in August 2006, Wolf spent a record seven-and-a-half months in jail for refusing to comply with a court order to turn over footage of San Francisco protesters.

“As I was sitting in jail, I was sitting there kind of making this determination that I didn’t want to surrender my ability to be involved politically,” Wolf said. And so he ran for mayor of San Francisco not long after being released from prison.

Wolf’s mayoral run, in which he garnered a fraction of the vote, was in some ways a natural progression from his journalism.

“I had always had this…interest in exploring how we react with our civic space from all sides, and journalism is only one way to explore that, and one way to explore catalyzing change,” he said.

Having spent 226 days in jail, Wolf knows something about tests of patience and will, and he said progress in press freedom in the United States was a slog.

"I think that we all get tired of banging our fists against the wall that refuses to budge,” he said.