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Undergraduate Spotlight: Courtney Douglas

Courtney Douglas graduates with a bachelor's degree in English. 

Jun 12 2020
Diana Aguilera

Courtney Douglas is certainly leaving her mark at Stanford. She has served as editor and writer for The Stanford Daily, immersed herself in the press freedom advocacy arena, and worked as a peer advisor in the English department. Douglas also participated in the Ethics Center's Undergraduate Honors Program, writing a thesis on strengthening protections for journalists against unlawful intervention. Before she starts working at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, we asked Douglas about her experience as one of our honors students.

Why did you decide to participate in the Honors Program in Ethics in Society?

I knew I wanted to write an honors thesis — I hoped to embark on some seminal academic project my senior year. As I spent more time at The Daily, I became interested in how to merge my seemingly separate interests in journalism and law. I sought an interdisciplinary program that could help me make this work, and Ethics in Society turned out to be a great fit. My internship experiences really helped me flesh out my relationship with the press freedom advocacy community. And I am fortunate to have had the support of the program throughout my discovery process. 

In a few sentences, give us a sense of what your honors thesis research was about.

My honors thesis tackled the legal issue of when and under what circumstances a journalist may keep confidential materials and sources. It considered enhanced protections for journalists, especially independent reporters, against unlawful searches and seizures. I examined this issue through the lens of the San Francisco Police Department’s raid on Bryan Carmody’s materials in May 2019. 

What was the single most rewarding aspect of writing your honors thesis?

Speaking with leaders in the press freedom advocacy community about the issues at play in my work was the most rewarding aspect. First Amendment Coalition Executive Director David Snyder conveyed crucial perspectives on the Carmody case. Felicity Barringer, who was the editor-in-chief of The Stanford Daily when Palo Alto police officers raided the Daily’s office in 1971, offered historical context and wisdom that helped me shape my second chapter. Also, it was so much fun to share my research with mentors, colleagues, and loved ones at the presentation.

Beyond your thesis, what are some of the most memorable moments of your Stanford undergraduate experience?

The Stanford Daily was the most transformative element of my college experience. The Daily taught me the great sense of responsibility that newsroom leaders must shoulder as they make decisions about how to tell the stories that define a community. During my editor-in-chief volume, I gained a thicker skin, a greater capacity to process and respond to criticism, and a sense of camaraderie with my fellow student journalists committed to a shared mission. Above all, The Daily introduced me to my best friends and future bridesmaids at my future theoretical wedding. 

I’m grateful for the Stanford-in-Washington program, which gave me the opportunity to work at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and in the media litigation division of Davis Wright Tremaine. My first day at the Reporters Committee was the Monday after the Bryan Carmody raid, which was central to my honors thesis. That first day taught me a lot about the nationwide “chilling” implications of one egregious press freedom violation, and the sense of urgency that fueled the Reporters Committee in the aftermath of the Carmody search energized me throughout my internship and thesis process. I’m also grateful for Stanford’s Center for Human Rights and International Justice, which generously funded my summer fellowship at the First Amendment Project.

What opportunities would you like to pursue within the next five years?

This summer, I will continue my work for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a D.C.-based organization that provides pro bono legal services for reporters. In August, I will begin my job as a research assistant at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, working for Professor Philip Taubman of Stanford University and Professor William Taubman of Amherst College. After, I hope to attend law school and begin my career, either as a practicing press lawyer who teaches media law as an adjunct or as a media law professor who is involved in pro bono clinical work in service of reporters. Before I begin law school, I’d like to run a marathon and finish a collection of creative nonfiction pieces I’ve been working on for the past two years.


"The Buzz" is the McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society's media portal for ethics-related news on campus and beyond. We review events and speakers, and we feature initiatives that are of broad interest. A wide range of voices author the articles, including undergraduate students.