She has written about the U.S. Supreme Court, the mafia and just about every aspect of state and local government. After more than 25 years as a reporter, Toni Locy (BSJ, 1981) the 2007-2008 Visiting Shott Chair of Journalism, found herself in the news.
Locy, who joined the faculty last fall, is at the center of an anonymous source case that is making national headlines.
The case began in the aftermath of the 9/11 disaster when anthrax poison was anonymously mailed to various media outlets. While a reporter at USA TODAY, Locy wrote a story naming Steven Hatfill as “a person of interest” in the federal anthrax investigation. In 2003, Hatfill, who was never charged by the government, filed suit against the FBI and Justice Department. Locy and other reporters were subpoenaed and ordered to name their sources.
After getting their permission, Locy named two sources, but she has declined to reveal more names of people she talked to about the case. A U.S. District judge found her in contempt and ordered her to reveal the names of the confidential sources or pay daily fines adding up to more than $45,000. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit blocked the fines while her lawyers are appealing the decision.
While the case was making its way through the courts, students at the School of Journalism got a front row seat to this historical legal battle. In her classes, Locy applied her experience, discussing the importance of reporters being able to offer sources confidentiality.
“I have discussed the case at length during lectures on shielding sources. Bob Dubill, the former executive editor of USA TODAY, by sheer coincidence, was a guest speaker in my media law class the day after I was held in contempt. He basically interviewed me about the case in front of my class. I think the students enjoyed it because many of them jumped in and asked questions, as well.”
A 1981 graduate of the School of Journalism, Locy’s impressive and multifaceted career has included reporting positions at the Philadelphia Daily News, Boston Globe, Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report and The Associated Press.
The veteran reporter-turned-professor uses her years of reporting on the national scene to pass along other valuable lessons to students. She emphasizes basic writing skills and teaches students that fairness and accuracy are the most important attributes of good reporters. She also tells them reporters must be curious and skeptical to serve their readers well.
Locy is the third professor to hold the Shott Chair of Journalism, which was created by an endowment from the Hugh I. Shott Jr. Foundation to honor the Shott family’s 100-year-plus history of leadership in West Virginia’s news media and to enhance journalism education in the state.
The First Amendment guarantees freedom of the press, cementing the media’s role as the watchdog of government, but Locy’s court battle over the protection of journalists’ confidential sources may lead her to a defining role in history on the issue of source disclosure.
Although Locy is more comfortable behind the pen than in front of it, she knows the significance of this case.
“I’m worried that privacy act lawsuits could be used in the future to silence reporters and to keep news organizations from doing aggressive, hard-hitting reporting,” said Locy. “I do believe I’m doing the right thing.”
Locy has accepted a position at Washington and Lee University for the 2008-2009 academic year.