A shift in liability for public-interest exposés
FIRE’s new legal services has already helped four reporters undo indemnity clauses to report their public-interest stories.
Too many freelancers shy away from sensitive investigations because they burden the reporters with all the liability for the stories. FIRE's contract-related legal assistance, supported with $75,000 from Craig Newmark Philanthropies, is designed to address the trend.
It starts with reporters like freelancer Alexandria Bordas, who approached FIRE in early 2021 with concerns about her sensitive sexual-assault exposé for the San Francisco Chronicle. With FIRE's legal assistance, Bordas nudged the Chronicle into protecting her, which gave Bordas the confidence to go through with the story. The result: a multi-part exposé with major public-interest impact.
Bordas was not the only one.
In the weeks after Bordas engaged FIRE’s legal assistance, the team also helped three additional reporters liberate themselves from almost identical indemnity clauses, arranging full protection and some intellectual property rights. (A fifth reporter is awaiting resolution.)
Those other reporters remain anonymous, at work on their stories, though a few have offered their own testimonials.
But like Bordas, they succeeded at protecting their stories, themselves, and their independence as investigative freelancers—to hold the powerful to account. In Bordas' case, it wasn't easy. She was reporting on a rising political star who could be expected to sue over the airing of alleged sexual assaults. After Bordas' former editors declined to commission the story, she pitched the Chronicle.
“Freelancing has given me the freedom to pursue stories that I couldn’t pursue as a staff reporter in a newsroom,” Bordas said. “It was hard, it was isolating, but it gave me as much time with my sources as I needed, without the pressure of a newsroom or deadline.”
It also brought vulnerability, as every freelancer could attest. In the end, the Chronicle responded in everyone's interest. But Bordas was grateful she was not alone and was presented with “ways to move forward,” she said. With a solution to her legal exposure, she gained the confidence to deliver her story, Bordas said. "I couldn't have done it without FIRE."
For more on Bordas' story, visit here.