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Seattle independent journalists stand together to oppose SPD’s subpoena

We are independent news organizations, editors, reporters, photojournalists, and freelancers working in Seattle, and we are coming together to oppose the Seattle Police Department’s subpoena seeking unpublished photographs and video taken by journalists at the Seattle Times, KIRO 7, KING 5, KOMO 4, and KCPQ 13.

This is not the Trump Administration pursuing these subpoenas. It is the Seattle Police Department, charged with serving and protecting our city. Those duties should include protecting our free press rights.

We believe that a democratic society requires a truly free press, and that the Constitution protects the rights of journalists to work independently from the power of the state. That obviously includes independence from the Seattle Police Department. Journalists cannot safely and effectively do our work if authorities can seek our unpublished notes and images as evidence. We cannot gain the trust of sources, including protest participants, if we are seen as collaborators with the police. Some of us already have been targeted with that allegation as a result of the subpoena. We cannot hold government agencies accountable if our unpublished notes and images can be scooped up and used as evidence in criminal cases.

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As the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild wrote in a statement, “Journalists and their work product are not the agents and tools of the police.”

“We disagree in the strongest possible terms,” the Guild continued, referring to a June court decision largely in SPD’s favor. “This move by SPD and decision by Judge Nelson Lee undermines the credibility of local journalists and puts us at risk for danger.”

We stand with the Guild, the news organizations fighting the subpoenas in court and the individual journalists who may end up in an impossible position to either betray their values of journalistic integrity or face potentially serious charges.

The ongoing court case is frightening for our counterparts at these major news organizations. But it is terrifying for us, independent journalists without the financial and legal backing of a major media corporation. If SPD is successful in this case, there is no reason to think that independent journalists won’t be targeted next.

As newsrooms across our city have shuttered or shrunk, independent outlets and freelancers have become more and more vital, watchdogging government and telling a wide variety of stories about life in Seattle. Unless some business model comes along to revitalize or build large local news organizations, independent journalists will only become more important in the future.

The Seattle Police Chief is the person who can most easily stop this case, and we urge the Chief to do so. There is no piece of evidence that the police might discover in journalists’ unpublished videos, photographs, notes or audio recordings that justifies this violation of fundamental press freedoms.

We also urge the SPD Chief, Mayor Jenny Durkan and the City Council to create clear policies to prevent another similar case in the future. Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda has introduced Resolution 31961, which calls on police to stop arresting and harming journalists during protests and urges the City Attorney to stop supporting SPD’s subpoena. That’s a good start.

But the city should also develop legally binding policies to prevent or severely restrict police subpoenas of journalists’ unpublished work in the future. At its most basic level, journalism is a two-part process: Gather information, then choose what to publish. Both of these steps are vital, and both have faced SPD attacks in recent months.

When the state starts threatening journalists, democracy itself is threatened, too.


Erica C. Barnett, The C Is for Crank

Carolyn Bick, Freelancer, South Seattle Emerald

David Calder, photojournalist

Justin Carder, Capitolhillseattle.com

Martin Duke, Seattle Transit Blog

Susan Fried, freelance photojournalist

Tom Fucoloro, Seattle Bike Blog

Alex Garland, freelance photojournalist and reporter

Nate Gowdy, photojournalist

Brett Hamil, political commentator and cartoonist, South Seattle Emerald

Marcus Harrison Green, South Seattle Emerald

Dae Shik Kim Hawkins, Jr., freelance journalist

Sarah Anne Lloyd, freelance journalist

Ari Robin McKenna — South Seattle Emerald

Jessie McKenna, freelance writer & content manager, South Seattle Emerald

Renee Raketty, writer/photojournalist

Tracy Record & Patrick Sand, co-publishers of West Seattle Blog

Kevin Schofield, SCC Insight

Morgen Schuler, freelance photojournalist

MK Scott, Unite Seattle Magazine

Gregory Scruggs, freelance journalist

Joshua Trujillo, freelance photojournalist

Doug Trumm, The Urbanist

Elizabeth Turnbull, freelance reporter

Jill Hyesun Wasberg, International Examiner

Katie Wilson, columnist at Crosscut



If you are an independent or freelance journalist working in Seattle and want to add your signature, email [email protected].

NOTE: This letter was released shortly before SPD Chief Carmen Best announced her resignation. The letter has been slightly edited to change references to Chief Best to “the Seattle Police Chief.”

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18 responses to “Seattle independent journalists stand together to oppose SPD’s subpoena”

  1. dave

    i think it is questionable whether video of people engaging in action is public that could have been taped by anyone but happened to be taped by media should be considered a “source” that needs to be protected. If someone were being interviewed that would be different. It would need to be reviewed by a judge to determine what is and what isnt legitimately withheld on the basis of that distinction.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      I’ll give you that you describe two different scenarios, but the independence of the press covers both. Being in public doesn’t change anything. Surveillance is an act, and anyone engaging in surveillance is doing so with that purpose. This is how a panopticon works. If journalists are de facto surveillance, then their presence changes the scene they are covering. They are no longer third party observers, they are allied with the police (or whatever state agency is seeking the materials). That is a fundamental breakdown in how a free press must work within a democracy.

      1. dave

        interesting point about the panopticon but it think we are all going to be living in one anyway, when technology makes it convenient to do so everyone will record everything that happens around them in public for their own protection, it wont require the operation of any authority

  2. Sean

    @dave, I think you are missing the point. If SPD establishes this as a precedent, then they can potentially request info from the media in non-public settings.It doesn’t matter if the pictures happened in public–it matters who is being asked for the information.

  3. Jene Hensrick

    It’s sad how much effort the press puts out to help crime and ignore the rights of the public and business community needs for safety. Photos in a public place? Seriously? I get you want to help your politics but can you ever think beyond that? It’s sad. The hate is so strong when it comes to law and order. Imagine if the press and public came together to make our city safe for the every day working class people and not just the AntiFa and extremists they love so much.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      If your politics are telling you to sacrifice basic freedoms like a free press, then you need to reassess who you are listening to.

  4. Alcyone Nettels

    If the police are requesting photos they should be given! Chief Best was handed a dirty deal having to constantly defend what she and her department are here to do! Hand over the photos and stop wasting taxpayer money to protect crime!!

    1. Ballard Biker

      Hand over the photos and stop wasting taxpayer money to protect crime!!

      The police COULD have done their job and arrested the people committing violence rather than harassing protestors, exercising their First Amendment rights, but nope, you expect the media, also exercising their First Amendment rights, to do their job for them.

      And people wonder why there’s a movement to shake up police departments…

  5. Dylan

    Yikes, some of the comments here are really disturbing. Apparently most people really don’t support freedom of press. Well, you know what they say, democracy dies with thunderous applause.

  6. gdnt

    Exactly what determines a ‘free lance journalist’? Can anyone claim to be one?

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      It’s a job. You pitch editors on story ideas (sometimes they pitch you), and they hire you to do that work. It’s basically like being a contractor vs being an employee.

  7. LetsBeResponsible

    I’m fine with pushing back on this, but I think it would be honorable of the press to freely give up their photos of people committing crimes in front of the cameras. That would show that they are not in support of the violence at the protests and

    1. Ballard Biker

      The job of the press is to document our world as it is happening. Unless they state otherwise, the press is not in support or opposition of the events they are documenting. Whether they release photos does not imply support nor opposition to the event.

      Honorable? Maybe in some neo-facist state, but not here.

      1. LetsBeResponsible

        My comment got submitted before I could finish my thought and there’s no edit.

        I don’t really know where you’re trying to go with the neo-facist statement. All I’m trying to say is that as citizens of the city, it would be pretty cool if the people who had pictures of people committing crimes during the protests gave them up willingly.

        You can hide behind your ‘press’ title, and say the press is just there for documenting, but that sounds utopian.

        How about just being a concerned citizen who doesn’t think that smashing windows in an urban area is a safe thing and turn them in?

        It’s not about being partial or impartial to the movement.

        Seems like your attitude is “I’m a bystander, IDGAF”

      2. Tim!

        @LetsBeRepsonsible I’m much less concerned about smashing windows than I am about smashing heads. Let’s reassess our priorities please.

  8. There are some disturbing comments here. The SPD has a long history of covert actions. This call for transparency is ironic at best. I support all journalists in their refusal to be collaborators with law enforcement, especially a department as corrupt as the Seattle Police.

  9. dave

    i dont think it will be long before everyone records everything that goes on around them in public

  10. Conrad

    If the SPD were doing their job, people would trust them. When it becomes obvious that you do not have the good will of the majority of the public behind you, and your funding is about to be cut as a result, you might take a hard look about what you are doing. I am guessing Best did, and resigned. I stand with the journalists. Trust me, you will miss them when they are gone and we are living in a fascist police state.

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