Posts Tagged ‘First Amendment’


Journalists Are Journalists Because They Like Our Country

Constitution Of the United StatesMost people in New York City carry some type of bag to work or the market. Bags are incredibly useful in a city that requires a lot of walking. What I carry in my bag changes from day to day, but one item is always tucked inside a pocket: a worn copy of the Constitution of the United States of America.

My copy of the Constitution dates back to 2007 when I was just finishing my freshman year of college. A stack of the tiny blue books sat on a table at some conference. I picked up a copy and put it in my bag. The bags changed over the years, but not the little book.

Until yesterday I never worked out in my mind why I carry a copy of the Constitution with me wherever I go. Until yesterday my little blue book was like a lucky penny or prayer card a person tucks away in their wallet. Until yesterday no president of the United States ever accused me of not liking the country, however.

“You have some very fair journalists,” President Donald Trump told a group of his supporters in Phoenix. “But for the most part, honestly, these are really, really dishonest people, and they’re bad people. And I really think they don’t like our country. I really believe that.”

My heart broke a bit when I heard his accusation because I honestly believe good journalism is the cornerstone of democracy. I am a journalist because I like and love our country. I know the vast majority of journalists share that feeling.

Thousands and thousands of journalists around the United States show up for work each day to tell their fellow citizens about the world. People can then use that information to make decisions. Sometimes that decision involves buying a car and sometimes that decision involves electing someone to be president.

The Constitution peaked out at me from my bag’s front pocket last night as I got my papers ready for today. I asked myself why I carry this little book around with me wherever I go. I rarely refer to it in my day-to-day life. Plus, I already memorized my favorite part.

Constitution Of the United StatesMy favorite part of the Constitution is its First Amendment. The whole document is important, but the 45 words of the First Amendment are so vital to everyday life. The small section guarantees everyone within the United States the freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition.

Freedom of the press is obviously near and dear to my heart as a journalist. For as flawed as our founding fathers were, they had the foresight to know that a free press is vital to the health and future of the nation. My profession and my life are intertwined with the foundation of the United States and its ideals.

Carrying a copy of the Constitution around in my bag turns out to just be natural. Through my work, the document really is a part of who I am and I am a part of it. Leaving home without it would be like leaving a piece of me behind.

The president is wrong. Journalists do like our country. I like our country. In fact, we like it so much we chose to continue a mission so important that the country’s creators protected it in the nation’s foundational document.

President Trump probably won’t hear me out, but I won’t let that stop me from telling other people why it’s important to support good journalism. I’ll have my little blue book handy to help make my point.


Andrew M. Seaman is the chair of the Society of Professional Journalists‘ ethics committee.

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NJ Press Should Rally Against Unconstitutional Order

Screenshot illustration of The Trentonian’s website.

Journalism is a competitive business. Reporters and news organizations try to get scoops for praise or financial gain. Certain circumstances require cooperation and unity to prevail over those rivalries, however.

An injunction imposed by a New Jersey Superior Court Judge Craig Corson is currently preventing The Trentonian and its reporter Isaac Avilucea from reporting on a document issued by the state’s child protection agency. The case is complicated and sensitive, but Avilucea handled the story with care.

If there was ever a time for cooperation and unity to prevail among the press in New Jersey, it’s now.

The order against The Trentonian and Avilucea can’t be allowed to seep into the nation’s proverbial water supply and embolden judges across the country to impose similar unconstitutional restrictions on the press for every leaked government document.

Other news organizations and journalists in New Jersey and surrounding areas should show solidarity by responsibly covering the story at the heart of the document. A dozen or so ethically reported stories on the issue will show Judge Corson he cannot stop a valid news story from seeing the light of day.

Additionally, the editorial arms of news organizations should continue to show support for The Trentonian and Avilucea by explaining to their readers, viewers and listeners why prior restraint is unconstitutional and a blow to foundational elements of our democracy.

The Society of Professional Journalists states in its Code of Ethics that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough.

The Society and its professional chapter in New Jersey issued a statement this afternoon against the order.

As the Bill of Rights enshrines the freedoms of speech and press into the U.S. Constitution, so does the state constitution of New Jersey.

“Every person may freely speak, write and publish his sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that right,” according to the document. “No law shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or of the press.”

The order of prior restraint levied against The Trentonian is not only an attack on core American values; it’s also an insult to those New Jerseyans hold close to their hearts.

Journalists in New Jersey should realize the danger this order poses to their news organizations, colleagues around the country and democracy. They should diligently work to make sure this story is not silenced and this order does not stand.


Andrew M. Seaman is the ethics committee chairperson for the Society of Professional Journalists.

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What Should Journalists Learn From Gawker’s Demise?

image1Gawker launched in 2003, but didn’t come into my orbit until three years later during my first year of college. I don’t remember the first Gawker post I read, but the website quickly became one of my daily sources of entertainment and – yes – information.

Now, Gawker is closing up shop after its sale to Univision, which purchased the website’s parent company at a bankruptcy auction earlier this week. The company’s downfall was instigated by a judgment that awarded $140 million to Terry Bollea, who is better known as Hulk Hogan.

Gawker posted secretly recorded video in 2012 of Bollea having sex with a friend’s wife. Tech billionaire Peter Thiel, who Gawker reported as gay in 2007, bankrolled Bollea’s lawsuit as revenge. He openly offered to do the same for other people wronged by Gawker.

A quick Google search will show that the Society of Professional Journalists had an interesting and strained relationship with Gawker during its existence. Last year, the Society stood with the website as it battled a $79,000 bill to fulfill a Public Information Act request. Less than two weeks later, I wrote a post for this blog criticizing Gawker for publicly outing a married man with children for no specific reason.

As the Society’s ethics committee chairperson, I shouldn’t like Gawker. Many of its actions stood in direct opposition to what the Society considers ethical and moral behavior for people in the media. Yet, I rooted for Gawker and that made its missteps all the more painful.

Gawker was bold and brave, but it wasn’t smart enough to save it from itself.

Over the past few months, I gave a lot of thought to what lessons people should take away from Gawker’s legal troubles. Now, I wonder what people should learn from its demise.

Looking back on the events that led to the shuttering of the website, I think the message is that responsible journalism is a good investment.

While people can place blame with Bollea and Thiel for dealing the deadly blow to the website, the truth is that Gawker died from a thousand self-inflicted cuts.

The website shrugged and recoiled time and time again at journalism’s best practices. Time is the only thing that stood in the way of Gawker acting outside the bounds of the law, too.

For example, anyone taking a basic journalism ethics course could see it was an unacceptable act for Gawker to out Thiel in 2007. The post was not illegal, however.

As a jury decided earlier this year, its posting of Bollea’s sex tape in 2012 was illegal. Obviously, posting a sex tape irrelevant to the public is unethical in the eyes of the Society’s Code of Ethics, too.

The bottom line is that Gawker likely would still be publishing next week if it adhered to at least some basic journalistic principles.

Those principles are not meant to make media organizations play it safe. Instead, they’re to show which fights are worth the battle. When journalists follow those principles, the journalism community will rally around their cause. Publishing irrelevant rumors and sex tapes fall outside that realm, however.

This post is not meant to kick Gawker or its employees while they’re down. Instead, it’s to remind other media organizations to use Gawker’s rise and fall as an education. Being bold and brave is not enough. Media organizations need to be responsible, too.


Andrew M. Seaman is the chairperson of the Society’s ethics committee.

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Get the Story Even in ‘Media Free’ Zones

Flickr Creative Commons

Flickr Creative Commons

Despite a long history of protesters craving the attention of journalists, those calling for change on campuses across the U.S. are now attempting to ban media access and coverage of their campaigns.

Most recently, The Republican in Springfield, Massachusetts, quoted a sit-in organizer at nearby Smith College as saying journalists may only cover their protest if they “participate and articulate their solidarity with black students and students of color.”

While I could spend this post numerating reasons why protesters and colleges should allow media access to their gatherings, I’ll simply recommend that they read Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff’s The Race Beat, which details the crucial role of responsible journalism during the civil rights era.

Instead, this post is directed at the journalists who are faced with signs and people turning them away at protests and gatherings – which are not uncommon occurrences.

The first step is to lobby for access. Lobbying may require talking to several people and being creative. In some cases, there are legal actions that permit journalists to enter or observe locations, but that’s outside my proverbial wheelhouse.

If journalists can’t gain access, it’s important for that information to be explained in whatever story eventually emerges from the reporting. The story should detail who blocked access and why. All information should be attributed to a source.

Additionally, journalists may still be able to report on the protests through other channels. For example, what are the thoughts and comments of those who are the object of the protesters’ demands? Who is allowed in the protest or gathering space and why? What can people elsewhere say about the protests and gatherings? Do other students know what is going on inside the space?

Even though they are likely aggravated, journalists should also make sure their reporting is fair and balanced. Thorough, ethical and responsible reporting is always the best defense and character reference for journalists.

At the end of the day, journalists still need to be responsible and dogged in their reporting – even in the face of opposition.


Andrew M. Seaman is chair of SPJ‘s ethics committee.

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No Excuse for Assaulting, Threatening Journalists at University of Missouri

Screen capture from video showing woman assaulting and threatening journalists are the University of Missouri in Columbia.

Screen capture from video showing woman assaulting and threatening journalists at the University of Missouri in Columbia.

If there is any place in the U.S. that should support the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment and the Society’s Code of Ethics, it’s the campus of the nation’s oldest journalism school. Unfortunately, protesters and some faculty members at the University of Missouri in Columbia disagree.

Students linked arms to keep journalists — namely Tim Tai — from other students protesting the school’s administration and its lack of response to ongoing discrimination on campus, according to Slate. To make matters worse, professors — supposedly from the university’s communications school — blocked and threatened student reporters from covering their own campus.

After assaulting a reporter’s camera, a red-headed woman identified by media outlets as a communications professor, walks toward a group of protesters and asks for “some muscle over here” to remove Mark Schierbecker, who identified himself as a reporter and uploaded the video to YouTube.

There is no explanation and no excuse for professors – whether they teach communications or physics – to assault and physically threaten students. No one deserves that treatment – especially journalists trying to tell protesters’ stories. Whoever assaulted and threatened the student journalist should be ashamed and held accountable for their actions.

The student journalists in the video, on the other hand, should be commended for the responsible behavior throughout a clearly evolving and intense situation.

The bottom line is that the same First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that protects the freedom of assembly also guarantees the freedom of the press.


Andrew M. Seaman is the chair of the Society’s ethics committee.

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All Student Journalists Need the First Amendment

Flickr/Ed Uthman (http://bit.ly/1KHZL70)

Flickr/Ed Uthman (http://bit.ly/1KHZL70)

Few actions are more offensive than educational institutions stomping on the First Amendment rights of students.


Those breaches include the all-too-frequent contamination of student media by administrators and marketing officials.

Butler University, a private school in Indianapolis, recently removed and replaced the faculty adviser of its student newspaper with one of the institution’s spokesmen, according to the Indianapolis Business Journal (IBJ).

While the reason for her removal wasn’t explained, Loni McKown told the news organization she believes it’s due to accidentally forwarding a confidential email to the paper’s student editor. McKown remains on the faculty of the university, but was told termination is possible if she advises students working for the paper, according to the IBJ.

Regardless of the reason for McKown’s removal, Butler University should be ashamed and embarrassed for replacing her with its own spokesman. There are obvious lines in what is and is not acceptable in journalism, and one must wonder whether the people making decisions for Butler University’s school newspaper and journalism school understand those very basic principles.

Educational institutions are small ecosystems that mimic the larger world. The administration and its student government are the politicians of that system, and the student media is its proverbial fourth estate. No U.S. citizen should accept the government restraining the press, and that should not stop at the grounds of any educational institution.

Student media at educational institutions serve two very important purposes. The first purpose is to inform the university community about events – both good and bad – impacting their lives. The second purpose is to train students who will someday go on to become journalists and news consumers. People should question an intuition’s motives and value if it ever tries to disturb either of those missions.

In this case, the IBJ writes that the Butler University spokesman appointed as the new adviser offers an impressive resume that includes decades of experience at one of the U.S.’s great newspapers and a year serving as the school newspaper’s public editor. Still, would the average person feel comfortable with one of President Obama’s press secretaries editing the New York Times?

Student media are the laboratories for many of the U.S.’s future journalists, who are the torchbearers of public enlightenment. The Society of Professional Journalists firmly states in its Code of Ethics that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy.  If people allow the education and training of the country’s future journalists to be compromised, they are taking a sledgehammer to one of the tenets of democracy.


Andrew M. Seaman is the chair of the Society’s ethics committee.

 

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