They called her the “girl editor” and a judge fined her for contempt, but Annette Buchanan by courageously protecting her sources inspired Oregon to strengthen the freedom of the press.
Buchanan was just 20 when she was named editor of the University of Oregon's Daily Emerald in 1966. Three months later she interviewed seven students who said they occasionally smoked marijuana.
The story, under the headline "Students Condone Marijuana Use," quoted the unnamed students as saying pot was not harmful and smoking it was a pleasant experience. This, of course, raised the hackles of local law enforcers and Buchanan soon received orders from a district attorney and a judge to reveal her sources. She refused.
Divulging her sources would violate a confidence, she said. Without a reporter privilege of confidentiality, sources would be afraid to reveal instances of graft, scandal or wrong-doing, she continued. She refused a second time before a grand jury, and was ordered to stand trial.
A month later a judge ordered her to reveal her sources and again she refused. The judge fined her $300 for contempt, but she avoided a potential jail sentence.
Buchanan appealed the verdict to the Oregon Supreme Court, and for the next 12 months her story became a cause celebre. Briefs supporting her decision were written by former U.S. Attorney General William Rogers for the American Society of Newspaper Editors; the national professional journalist society, Sigma Delta Chi; and her own attorney, Art Johnson of Eugene.
Despite the support, the Oregon Supreme Court unanimously upheld the contempt conviction. Associate Justice Alfred Goodwin, a former newspaperman, said the court reached its decision because "Nothing in the state or federal constitution compels the courts, in the absences of statute, to recognize such privilege."
Although Buchanan may have lost the battle, her courage moved the state legislature to action.
In April 1973, The Oregon House passed Senate bill 206 and Oregon joined a growing number of states with shield laws. The law protects reporters from being compelled to disclose a source of information or disclose unpublished information. It also protects reporters from searches.
According to Charles Hinkle, a media attorney for the Portland law firm of Stoel Rives, Annette Buchanan was a pioneer in the history of freedom of the press in Oregon. Her courage in fighting her conviction to the Oregon Supreme Court, and that court's ruling against her, led directly to the Oregon legislature enacting the shield law, he said.
Annette Buchanan Conrad went on to work for the Oregonian as copy editor from 1975 to 1997. She recently passed away at age 67.
Source: the Oregonian