UNC Center for Media Law and Policy Research Fellow Dean Smith is the author of a new book, “A Theory of Shield Laws: Journalists, Their Sources, and Popular Constitutionalism,” published in June by LFB Scholarly Publishing.
In his book, Smith shows how the debate over confidential sources evolved over the 115-year history of statutory shield laws, and he examines how First Amendment values drove the debate in both the courts and in legislative bodies. He corrects some long-standing errors in the historical record.
The book also is a textual analysis of enacted and proposed shield laws and cases that tracks the evolution in thinking on the journalist-privilege issue. Finally, it is a reappraisal of Branzburg v. Hayes that suggests a fresh way of seeing that familiar Supreme Court case: as neither a beginning nor an end, but as a midway point in a conversation the courts are having with the American people.
His use of the emerging concept of popular constitutionalism as a theoretical framework led Smith to new and important insights about this area of law, including the fact that legislative and judicial decision-making were intimately intertwined. Drawing on contemporary legal scholarship, Smith used the reporter’s privilege issue to test constitutional-law scholar Michael Gerhardt’s theory of “non-judicial precedents,” and he has shown how, true to the theory, people acting outside the courts help give meaning to constitutional principles such as freedom of the press over time.
Smith earned his Ph.D. from the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication in 2012. He has presented award-winning papers at academic conferences and published in scholarly journals. Smith also has written two white papers for the media law center. The first paper summarized the findings of a center-sponsored conference on how to meet the information needs of communities. The second report described the benefits of state public affairs networks (SPAN systems) that cover state government.
Smith spent the past academic year teaching media law and newswriting at N.C. State University and High Point University. This fall he will begin work as an assistant professor at High Point University.
Before coming to UNC, Smith worked for The Charlotte Observer (1990-2004) and The (Raleigh) News & Observer (2004-2006) as a copy editor, reporter, and editor.