"In Alabama, Another Small-Town Paper Hit In ‘Open Season’ On Free Press"

"It’s an increasingly familiar drama: Local authorities go after journalists and publishers of small papers, which find themselves on the First Amendment’s front lines."

"ATMORE, Ala. — When Don Fletcher checked the mailbox outside his newspaper’s office on Main Street in late September, he found a little gold mine waiting for him.

Folded up inside was a copy of a grand-jury subpoena served on two employees of the local school system. The confidential document indicated that a criminal investigation into potential financial abuse was underway — a solid lead for a veteran reporter like Fletcher.

It took a couple of weeks to confirm, but Fletcher soon broke the news in the weekly Atmore News that officials were probing the Escambia County Board of Education’s handling of federal covid-19 relief funds. What happened next, though, lifted Fletcher’s story far beyond this town nestled amid cotton fields north of the Florida panhandle.

Days later, the local district attorney ordered the arrest of Fletcher and his boss, Sherry Digmon, the News’ publisher and co-owner. He charged both with violating a state law that prohibits the disclosure of grand-jury information — a felony punishable by up to three years in prison."

Paul Farhi reports for the Washington Post November 27, 2023.

Source: Washington Post, 11/28/2023