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VICTORY! University of Missouri clarifies policy forcing student journalists to name confidential sources

Victims at Mizzou are now free to share their stories with reporters without fear that an interview will launch an institutional investigation.
Mizzou's historic columns with Jesse Hall in the background on the campus of the University of Missouri in Columbia

Kristopher Kettner/

COLUMBIA, Mo., Jan. 12, 2024 — After working with the Student Press Freedom Initiative at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, the University of Missouri System committed in writing that student journalists will not be forced to give administrators the names of sources in sensitive cases like sexual assault.

Under the University of Missouri System’s policy, all employees across its four campuses must report instances of discrimination or harassment to the appropriate Title IX officer. Mandatory reporters are required to pass along all information they have about the incidents — including the names of victims — or face disciplinary action.

The MU policy does exempt “employees with a legal obligation or privilege of confidentiality,” and specifically lists “health care providers, counselors, lawyers, and their associated staff.” But missing from that list was journalists, who often rely on the confidentiality of their sources to publish stories that otherwise would go untold.

In September 2022, MU publicly committed to including journalists on the list of exempt employees. But a year later, the policy remained unchanged. What’s more, SPFI learned that several staff members of independent student newspaper The Maneater underwent mandatory training for other campus jobs, and those students were not told about any exception for journalists.

SPFI wrote to MU in September 2023 and asked that they make the change they promised a year earlier. As SPFI explained, MU failing to exempt reporters wasn’t just a violation of its promises to its students, but its constitutional obligations as well.

“[T]he First Amendment binds public universities like MU,” wrote FIRE Student Press Counsel Lindsie Rank, “yet requiring student journalists to turn over pre-publication information to MU officials constitutes unconstitutional prior review. This practice gives MU officials potentially intimate context about a story that would otherwise be unavailable pre-publication, and impedes journalists in maintaining source confidentiality….”

In response, MU finally made good on its promises. The school’s updated Title IX FAQs now exempts journalists. In correspondence with FIRE, the school promised that the formal policies will be updated in the next round of changes.

MU also clarified that student journalists employed with the university in other capacities (such as resident assistants) are not required to report harassment they learn about in a journalistic capacity. This is an especially important clarification for students in work-study programs, who would otherwise be forced to choose between financing their education or enjoying full journalistic privileges.

“As the home to one of the prestigious journalism schools in the country, we’re excited that the University of Missouri has fully committed to protecting its student journalists,” said Rank. “Student journalists must remain free to investigate and report on sexual assault and other forms of discrimination and harassment, and survivors must remain free to share their stories with reporters without fear that an interview will launch an institutional investigation.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of all Americans to free speech and free thought — the most essential qualities of liberty. FIRE educates Americans about the importance of these inalienable rights, promotes a culture of respect for these rights, and provides the means to preserve them.


Alex Griswold, Communications Campaign Manager, FIRE: 215-717-3473;

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