The Justice Department in Washington (Jim Lo Scalzo/European Pressphoto Agency)
The Justice Department in Washington (Jim Lo Scalzo/European Pressphoto Agency)

At what point will Poynter.org organize a media seminar run by longtime drug dealers?

If the recently publicized probes by the Justice Department into the activities of media organizations deliver one lesson, it’s that news outlets may want to review how they handle communications with their most precious sources. Efforts by the Erik Wemple Blog to determine what newsrooms are doing along those lines haven’t had much success just yet. For example, Wall Street Journal Washington Bureau Chief Jerry Seib noted that “there are a lot of things I’m happy to talk about — but I don’t think that’s one of them! Gets to the heart of our newsgathering process, which we don’t usually discuss.”

Especially over phone lines or a third-party e-mail provider!

We’ll keep plugging to see how news orgs are approaching — or not approaching — their sources in light of the investigations.

In the meantime, behold some nice writing from the landmark government-v.-media case New York Times v. Gonzales. In this passage from the case, dissenting Judge Robert Sack contemplates a world in which journos couldn’t keep the government from going to telecom companies to fetch records:

Without such protection, prosecutors, limited only by their own self-restraint, could obtain records that identify journalists’ confidential sources in gross and virtually at will. Reporters might find themselves, as a matter of practical necessity, contacting sources the way I understand drug dealers to reach theirs — by use of clandestine cell phones and meetings in darkened doorways. Ordinary use of the telephone could become a threat to journalist and source alike. It is difficult to see in whose best interests such a regime would operate.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.