Protecting Local News Outlets from Fatal Legal Expenses
Nicole J. Ligon
As lawsuits targeting the press continue to rise in response to today’s political climate, local news outlets are more likely to find themselves facing unexpected legal expenses. Although the national news media can generally weather the costs of libel lawsuits and subpoena requests, smaller news outlets have gone bankrupt or barely escaped such a fate while paying off legal fees, even when these outlets have ultimately been successful in their legal battles. Because local news outlets serve a critical role in underserved communities and are powerful agents of positive social change, they ought to be protected against fatal legal expenses. This Article examines the important functions of local journalism, explains the recent legal challenges that local news outlets have been facing and their resulting impact, and exposes the problematic gaps of statutory frameworks that fail to adequately protect local news outlets from fatal legal expenses. In so doing, this Article argues that enacting strong state anti-SLAPP statutes and reporter’s shield laws is necessary to combat recent costly attacks against the press and to preserve the vitality of the local media.