E-mails make stormy weather for reporter p.20

By: David Noack A reporter for The Dallas Observer is refusing to reveal her sources over a story detailing internal management and financial problems at a software gaming company.
Christine Biederman was subpoenaed Jan. 15 by attorneys for a Dallas-based software development firm, ION Storm, over an article with the headline "Stormy Weather" which appeared in the Jan. 14-20 edition of the alternative weekly, which is owned by New Times Inc.
Part of the story was based on internal e-mails from company CEO Todd Porter, which were obtained by Biederman. Company lawyers say the e-mails were illegally obtained from the software maker. Some of the e-mails are also posted on the newspaper's Web site. The paper vigorously denies the e-mails were illegally obtained.
An attorney for the software firm did not return telephone calls for comments.
Biederman invoked a reporter's privilege in declining to reveal who gave her the e-mails, along with other information. A motion was filed to quash the subpoena, but denied.
Texas does not have a reporter's shield law, which typically protects journalists from having to reveal confidential sources.
The lengthy Observer piece chronicled myriad business, per-
sonnel, financial, and management woes at the company as they were preparing to launch an elaborate "shoot 'em up" computer game called "Daikatana."
Biederman, 38, based part of her story on e-mails she obtained on a computer disk, as well as other information gleaned from underground gaming Web sites and e-mails from former and current ION Storm employees.
Before the story being published, Biederman asked company officials for comments based on some of the internal e-mails. The company declined to respond and alleged the e-mails were illegally obtained, contained proprietary information, and should not be used in the story.
Biederman says that more than 1,000 e-mails to and from company CEO Porter were given to her on a computer disk. She says Porter's e-mails were available to most anyone at the company because they were housed in an accessible area on the company's internal computer network, where anyone had access to them and could have copied or transmitted them electronically.
"As far as I know at least two sets of [Porter e-mails] are circulating. One of them was posted on the Internet. My understanding is the CEO messed up and posted these things in an area of the company's computer network where it was generally accessible to all employees. I have spoken to dozens of employees who said they read them there," says Biederman.
In her story, Biederman notes that prior to Porter going out to be deposed regarding a suit against the firm filed by a former executive "? [Porter] apparently posted his e-mails to the company server to be disposed of, but somehow forgot to hit the 'delete' key before the employees got there."
"They were posted to the main server where someone found them, and told other people, and everybody in the whole company started reading," a former ION employee is quoted as saying. The e-mails include comments about personnel and business plans.
Observer editor Julie Lyons says the paper intends to fight any attempt to force Biederman to reveal her sources.
In a Jan. 14 letter to Steven P. Suskin, a New Times company attorney in Phoenix, Ariz., Perkins, the software company lawyer, warned the Observer if the e-mails were published, the paper would be doing so at "its own peril."
"Based upon a review of the article which appeared yesterday in both hard copy and on the Internet, the Observer clearly chose to disregard my clients' proprietary and protected communications as evidenced by the fact that excerpts of those communications are included throughout the article. In addition, we are aware that the Observer intends to provide an Internet link which promises further access to the fruits of this illegal activity," wrote Perkins.
Suskin says he understands the company doesn't like this kind of publicity.
"They want to know where she obtained this information, and they wanted to know the circumstances beyond that, where her sources obtained the information. Their contention being that these e-mails she obtained were the fruits of a crime," says Suskin, who maintains the
e-mails were not illegally obtained.
Jane Kirtley, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Arlington, Va., says Texas is not a reporter-friendly state when it comes to a journalist' privilege.
"Texas is not a great state in which to try to assert a privilege. There's no shield law, and the state courts have steadfastly refused to recognize much of a privilege based on common law or the Constitution. Texas criminal court judges have sent many reporters to jail for refusing to reveal confidential sources; in a few cases, a federal judge has granted 'habeas corpus' petitions to release them," says Kirtley.

?(Dallas reporter Christine Biederman (left) refused to reveal the sources used in the Observer's cover story (below) on ION Storm.) [Photo & Caption]
?(Editor& Publisher Web Site: http://www.mediainfo. com) [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher January 30, 1999) [Caption]


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