Winter’s predicament was so widely known among her sources that they often only had to write one word for her to know that they would be off limits. Her affidavit includes a screenshot of an iPhone text message conversation between herself and a source, in which the “Colorado [thing]” is cited as the reason for a source’s changing his or her mind about cooperating with Winter on a story. Winter wrote, “there have been countless times over the last several months since the subpoena was served that I have reached out to law enforcement sources in the middle of breaking news who have historically, for many years, been willing to speak to me, and they have told me not to contact them until my subpoena is resolved; some have literally written back ‘subpoena’ or ‘no, sorry. Colorado.”
“Much of my career to date has been devoted to developing a robust roster of contacts in law enforcement and local, city, state, and federal government,” she wrote in her affidavit to the court. “As a result of this subpoena, about 80 percent of these individuals now refuse to speak with me at all.” She described the toll it’s taken: “Not being able to do my job, simply because I did my job, is extremely distracting and emotionally draining.”
One subpoena, stemming from one story, put her entire career at risk. According to her LinkedIn profile, Winter graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in 2006, and has been reporting, first at the New York Post and then at FoxNews.com, for seven and a half years. How long will it take her to rebuild the relationships with her sources that she has built up in that time, and many of which have been damaged this year?
In an interview a few weeks ago, another one of Winter’s attorneys, Dori Hanswirth, reiterated how difficult it was for her to do her job while the subpoena was “hanging over her head”—how Winter was being thwarted at every turn. “As young as she is, she’s a traditional, old-fashioned investigative journalist, who likes to go out and cultivate sources, and she’s having a tough time with it,” said Hanswirth. “Is she filing stories? Yes. Are they the same that they would be if she weren’t under subpoena? I don’t think so at all.”
A look at Winter’s bylines for Fox in the past few months shows Hanswirth may be right. Winter has earned a reputation as an intrepid reporter with a lot of guts (and insider sources). See, for instance, her exclusive on-the-scene scoop about the 6am FBI raid on suspected “Anonymous” members in Long Island and Brooklyn in 2011. (See also this line from her affidavit: “In my career, I have had a gun pointed to my head, been caught in the middle of gunfire, and been chased with an electric chainsaw.”) Her latest FoxNews.com piece, though, filed last week, was something for the TV section about Jersey Shore’s Mike “Situation” Sorrentino, and some trouble he got into involving his taxes. She has done some strong pieces in the past few months, on a hacktivist called The Jester and an interesting back-story about the Navy Yard shooter, for instance. But there are few exclusive scoops to be found, and no anonymous law enforcement sources cited.
When asked on Tuesday what impact the ruling would have on Winter’s reporting and her relationships with her sources going forward, Hanswirth emailed back a response. “Today’s decision from New York’s highest court should send a strong signal to all news sources that their confidential information will be protected,” she wrote. “We fully expect Jana’s sources to continue to work with her, knowing that she fought a hard battle and won a significant victory for freedom of speech.”
Because of Tuesday’s ruling, Jana Winter doesn’t have to go to jail to protect her past sources. But—and perhaps her past and potential future sources will take note—she would have.