Dalglish eager to tackle First Amendment challenges

Friday, November 26, 1999

Lucy Dalglish says her commitment to the First Amendment developed long
before her career in media law, her 13-year stint at the St. Paul Pioneer
or her journalism studies at the University of North Dakota.

The incoming executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the
Press traces her passion for freedom of information to her work on a
grade-school newspaper in Grand Forks, N.D.

The weekly Lake Agassiz Hot-Line, under the guidance of one of
Dalglish's sixth-grade teachers, sold for three cents and attracted not only
school readers but other Grand Forks residents as well. The newspaper staff
included business reporters, a gossip columnist and staff artists who
hand-colored the front page of the mimeographed paper every Friday.

As editor, Dalglish wrote a weekly editorial.

“Kids that age think they know everything, and in a way they do know
everything they need to know,” said Dalglish, who tackled topics ranging from
the Vietnam War to right-to-vote issues to the women's liberation movement.

But it was her article about her father's “poor judgment” in not letting his
daughter watch certain violent television shows that caused her the most grief.
She was grounded.

She pleaded the First Amendment. But her father explained that the First
Amendment applied to governmental entities such as her school, not to her

“He told me, 'What it comes down to is this: I don't care if you disagree
with me. But you don't disagree with me and tell the whole world before you tell

Along with the lesson in fairness, Dalglish learned early on “the importance
of people's ability to say and write what they want and people's need to know
what goes on in the world,” she said.

Although Dalglish's Hot-Line career likely played no role in securing
her new position, her dedication to First Amendment principles won over many
members of the Reporters Committee.

“Lucy's journalism background, legal experience and record of fighting for
press rights and free speech make her the perfect choice to lead the Reporters
Committee,” said John Henry, who now chairs RCFP's executive committee.

An attorney with the Minneapolis firm Dorsey & Whitney since 1995,
Dalglish assumes her new position in January. She replaces longtime director
Jane Kirtley, who — ironically — moved to Minneapolis last summer to assume the
position of Silha Professor of Media Ethics and Law at the University of
Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Perhaps even more ironic is the fact that Dalglish, as a member of the Silha
search committee, was the one who suggested Kirtley in the first place.

“I said that I knew she would be fabulous in the position but that I couldn't
imagine her wanting to leave the Reporters Committee,” she said. “But I knew the
people here would love her and want her to do it. I'm still shocked that she
took it.”

Although search committee members asked her to apply for the Reporters
Committee position, Dalglish says she hesitated at first. Finally she submitted
her application on the last day. She doesn't regret the decision.

“I have always admired the Reporters Committee and its ability to influence
media, lawmakers and the courts,” she said. “They've got some incredibly
important projects going on — internships, FOI and numerous publications — and
I'm tickled to be able to do that.”

Over the past two decades, Dalglish has worked extensively on
freedom-of-information issues, particularly for the Society of Professional
Journalists. Because of her interest in media law, Dalglish enrolled at Yale Law
School in 1987 as a journalism fellow, earning a master's degree in studies in
law. Afterward, she returned to the Pioneer Press newsroom to cover legal
issues; she later became an editor.

But her interest in law won out. In 1992 she enrolled at Vanderbilt
University Law School, working part-time as a research assistant at the First
Amendment Center and as an editorial writer for The

After earning her law degree in 1995, Dalglish joined Dorsey & Whitney.
Half her workload there has involved media issues, representing clients such as
Disney/ABC Inc., the Minnesota Library Association, the Student Press Law
Center, the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union and several newspapers and
television stations. She has also written extensively on media law issues and
has testified before Congress on subjects such as national security

In 1996, she was among 24 journalists, historians and librarians inducted
into the charter class of the National Freedom of Information Act Hall of Fame
in Washington, D.C. The American Library Association last January honored her
for her work representing libraries in the Midwest. Last February, her law firm
gave her its “Scales of Justice Award” for her pro-bono work on various First
Amendment-related cases.

One of the things that makes the Reporters Committee job so attractive, says
Dalglish, is that it allows her to earn a living by doing what she loves.

She cites as one highlight of her career thus far her involvement in SPJ's
effort to force federal Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh to publicly release
his report on the 1980s Iran-contra affair. Since that battle was won, all
independent counsel reports — including the Starr Report — have been open to
public scrutiny.

Former SPJ President Paul McMasters, who now serves as First Amendment
ombudsman for The Freedom Forum, says he recalls long hours working on the issue
with Dalglish. He recalls that she never wavered.

“She was dogged and determined in seeing that case through, although a lot of
people told her it probably wouldn't be successful,” McMasters said. “But it
was, and it proved to be a great headline-making report once it was

Such dedication to First Amendment principles makes Dalglish a perfect fit
for the Reporters Committee job, McMasters says.

“I just don't think this position could be filled by anyone without both a
journalistic and legal background, and Lucy has excelled in both areas,” he
said. “More importantly, she brings to this position a true First Amendment
sensibility, which is paramount.”

From her new vantage point as the Reporters Committee's executive director,
Dalglish will have the opportunity to fight even harder for the public's right
to know.

“I really couldn't care less if some reporter is able to get some juicy
gossip,” Dalglish said. “But you have to uphold those rights, because if you
don't, the whole system crumbles.”