Paul Fletcher: Execution process shouldn’t be secret

SPJ president-elect Paul Fletcher speaks out on "execution secrecy" in Virginia.

SPJ president-elect Paul Fletcher

SPJ president-elect Paul Fletcher has been following the Virginia legislature as it debates the merits of making the execution process more secretive in that state. Senate Bill 1393 was passed by the Senate, and is now being considered by the House of Delegates. Fletcher offers this editorial, originally posted on Virginia Lawyers Weekly where he is the publisher and editor-in-chief:

The Virginia House of Delegates will have the chance to cure a mistake by the Senate: The House can and should reject a bill that would shroud the Virginia execution process in secrecy and darkness.

Senate Bill 1393, filed by Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, D-Fairfax, allows the state Department of Corrections to contract with any “external entity” to compound the drugs used for execution by lethal injection.

But a provision of this bill exempts the contracting process, the identity of any providers and the drug components used for execution from the Freedom of Information Act.

Saslaw told the Senate Courts of Justice Committee last week that the bill was prompted by difficulty getting the lethal drugs from overseas manufacturers. Virginia and other states that execute by lethal injection have faced shortages of the compounds needed to complete the process.

And manufacturers, which have been the targets of protests and pressure from anti-death penalty groups, apparently want the black-out. A Department of Corrections spokeswoman told The Washington Post that the measure would give drug manufacturers “security” from “harassment, threats or danger.”

Seems like there are less extreme ways to protect companies from protests than turning out the lights on the whole process.

If there is any solace to be taken, Saslaw’s original bill was worse – the whole process would have been secret. A condemned person, or his or her family, could not find out the details about the state-imposed death.  But an amendment took out wording that would have exempted from FOIA all information relating to the execution process, including details of the buildings used during an execution and all records about the equipment used.

SB 1393 squeaked through Senate Courts by a 7-6 vote and passed the full Senate 23-14. After crossover day Feb. 11, it is in the hands of the House.

This isn’t the first attempt to take lethal injection execution out of public view: A similar measure was introduced in the Ohio legislature, and worked its way to passage in December, despite protests about the secrecy of the process. The new law now is being challenged in federal court in that state.

Although he is a Catholic opposed to the death penalty, Gov. Terry McAuliffe is backing SB 1393. Support has been bipartisan.

Richmond lawyer Craig Merritt testified at the Senate Courts meeting on behalf of the Virginia Press Association, and he has it right: “What this is doing, is placing it on very separate footing from pretty much anything else the Commonwealth or its subdivisions procure.”

Merritt added, “It puts a blanket over how we get this, what we spend for it, who is providing it. That is a serious concern when it comes to transparency.”

The state has no more grave or solemn duty than ending the life of someone for crimes so heinous that they warrant the death penalty. The execution process should not be fogged by secrecy.

We urge members of the House of the Delegates to reject this bill.

 

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

A cautionary tale: Brian Williams “misremembers” enemy fire

Updated, Feb. 10, 2015, 7:15 p.m. Pacific time — Brian Williams has been suspended from NBC Nightly News for six months without pay. Lester Holt will fill the anchor desk in Williams’ absence.

Updated, Feb. 6, 2915, 12:45 pm Pacific time — Clarified Andrew Seaman’s title as Ethics Committee Chairman and added italics for emphasis to lines in the SPJ Code.


220px-Brian_Williams_2011_Shankbone
This week was a tough week for Brian Williams, anchor of NBC Nightly News, who recanted and apologized for “misremembering” that he’d been on a helicopter that had been shot down by a rocket propelled grenade in Iraq in 2003. Williams was on another helicopter that arrived on the scene 30 to 60 minutes later. Since the admission, Williams has been called out, ridiculed, and become the butt of an endless stream of jokes – making him a real life Forrest Gump. Williams has also been compared to Hillary Clinton who was accused of a similar claim in 2008.

The news anchor’s credibility and that of NBC News has been called into question. How could such a tall tale go on for more than a decade without discovery, and how could it have gotten so out of hand, growing more dramatic with each retelling? Though a difficult time for Williams, it has been even tougher for those who feel betrayed – the military, the public, and the journalism industry. If one of the industry’s most respected journalists could perpetuate such a falsehood, intentionally or otherwise, who can we believe?

Perhaps after so many years, Williams doesn’t know the truth any more. Maybe it was deliberate, but maybe there is an explanation for his actions, as SPJ Ethics Committee Chairman Andrew Seaman explains in this blog post. I’m not going to try to guess what really occurred or pass judgment on Williams, though I am personally disappointed in the entire affair. Instead, I’m going to look at this as an extreme example of what happens when we ignore ethical principles as outlined in the SPJ Code of Ethics.

Here are some reminders from the SPJ Code that could have helped Williams and NBC News avoid the situation and to guide them in their damage control:

Journalists should:

  • Take responsibility for the accuracy of their work.
  • Verify information before releasing it.
  • Remember that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.
  • Provide context. Take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing or summarizing a story.
  • Gather, update and correct information throughout the life of a news story.
  • Never deliberately distort facts or context, including visual information.
  • Respond quickly to questions about accuracy, clarity and fairness.
  • Acknowledge mistakes and correct them promptly and prominently. Explain corrections and clarifications carefully and clearly.
  • Expose unethical conduct in journalism, including within their organizations.
  • Abide by the same high standards they expect of others.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the weeks to come and if Williams and NBC Nightly News can rebound from this huge hit to their credibility. Some say the incident will blow over; others expect career-ending backlash. I can’t predict what will happen to Williams or his employer, but I hope that all journalists and media organizations will take a moment to remind themselves how valuable our credibility is and that acting ethically with each and every story is the only way to preserve it.

The above post represents my opinion only and does not necessarily reflect that of the Society of Professional Journalists. At this time, SPJ has chosen not to make an official statement on behalf of the organization.

~ Dana Neuts, SPJ president

 ()

 

 

 

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

Executive Committee Mtg. Summary, Jan. 31

8Z4A1316

Photo by Jack Pagano

On Sat., Jan. 31, SPJ’s Executive Committee met in Orlando, Florida, the site of the 2015 Excellence in Journalism Conference, co-hosted by SPJ, RTDNA and NAHJ.

The executive committee includes president Dana Neuts, immediate past president Dave Cuillier, president-elect Paul Fletcher, secretary-treasurer Lynn Walsh, vice-president ofcampus affairs Sue Kopen Katcef and at-large members Bill McCloskey and Joe Radske. If you missed the live stream, here are highlights from the day-long meeting:

SDX grant requests: Three grant requests were submitted for the executive committee’s review. We voted to approve the requests, which will now go to the SDX grants committee and then to the full SDX board for a vote in April.

International statements: We will handle international journalism incidents on a case-by-case basis.

Online Legal Defense Fund (LDF) auction: The executive committee directed executive director Joe Skeel to explore the possibility of adding an online auction component to our annual silent and live LDF fundraisers. Skeel will report to the full board in April.

Job bank recommendations: The executive committee directed Joe Skeel to contact our job banks vendor to discuss supplementing our current offerings.

Awards and honors: The executive committee discussed recommendations submitted by Lynn Walsh, Sue Kopen Katcef and Andy Schotz for changes to our current awards nomination and selection processes. Some recommendations were accepted; some were not. All recommendations will be submitted to the full board in April for a vote. Any approved changes will be effective for the 2016 awards season. Of note was the discussion of the Wells Key award. The executive committee will recommend to the full board that the entire executive committee select the winner, rather than just the officers.

Membership representation: Paul Fletcher reported that 41 percent of SPJ’s members are not affiliated with a chapter, meaning they do not have delegate representation at convention. I appointed a task force to be chaired by Fletcher to do additional research and to prepare a report for the April board meeting.

Delegate update: Bill McCloskey will work with others to discuss delegate votes at convention and make recommendations to the board at its April meeting for any improvements or changes that should be made.

Tech upgrade: HQ staff is working on data clean-up to prepare for the tech upgrade which will begin after the awards entry season concludes.

Strategic communications update: I gave a report on our progress since hiring Jennifer Royer as our communications strategist last August. We have been able to improve our communications, develop processes and procedures, and become more proactive planning events like Sunshine Week and Ethics Week.

Fellow of the Society: We adjourned to executive session to discuss nominees for the Fellow of the Society award. We will take two more weeks to consider nominees before making a decision.

Joint SPJ & RTDNA meeting: RTDNA chair Amy Tardif and I held a joint meeting of the organizations’ executive meetings to discuss diversity, EIJ programming, partnership opportunities, etc.

For board meeting materials and a link to the meeting video, visit http://spj.org/board-meeting.asp. Please contact me if you have any questions. Thank you.

~ Dana Neuts, SPJ President

 

 

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

Congratulations to our new community leaders!

We have just completed our first elections for the SPJ Freelance and Digital Communities. Congratulations to our new leaders!

SPJ Freelance Community

Chair: Anna Pratt
Vice Chair: Michelle Donahue
Events Coordinator: Amy Ritchart
Resources Coordinator: Hazel Becker
At-Large:  Michael Fitzgerald and Michelle Sandlin

SPJ Digital Community

Chair: Alex Veeneman (incumbent)
Facebook Coordinator: Michelle Sandlin
Twitter Coordinator: Beth O’Malley
LinkedIn Coordinator: Brandi Broxson
Google + Coordinator: Brandi Broxson
NetWorked Blog Managing Editor: Brandi Broxson

The terms for each of these positions begins Feb. 1 and runs through the next election cycle at EIJ15. Thank you to all who ran for positions and who serve SPJ so passionately! I look forward to working with all of you.

~ Dana Neuts

 

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

Why students should get involved with SPJ communities

Guest post by Alex Veeneman, community coordinator and chair of SPJ Digital

In this ever changing media environment, students need to do more to stand out, from work placements and student media opportunities, writing on the side, either on a freelance basis or with online or print publications. As students try to build their brand and get their foot in the door of journalism, SPJ can help, especially through participation in our communities.

An SPJ community is a unique way to get involved with SPJ and to make it your own. Inside an SPJ community, you can get insight on how to improve your craft, or get a new perspective on how to approach a subject. You might find new ways of doing things that will bring both personal and professional benefits in the long term. This can be invaluable for students, from networking to potential leads for employment after you graduate.

SPJ benefits too. You can lend your expertise on a particular subject and help make journalism better for you and your peers in the industry. You can also get involved regardless of if you are affiliated with a chapter. Important discussions can be conducted about issues in the industry, programming can be created, and resources can be made available that will bring significant benefits to journalism as a whole.

Recently, we unveiled our student community, dedicated to tackling issues concerning student journalists and student journalism. This community brings many benefits to the SPJ’s student membership, by tackling issues important to students and helping bring different student media perspectives to help students get ready for the ever changing world of journalism.

In addition to our student community, we have a digital community, a freelance community, an international community, and Generation J will be turning into a community. All of these communities rely on enthusiastic volunteers, collaboration and ideas, and can also help play a role in getting students ready to enter the industry.

Being involved in a community is an incredible opportunity. You can let your voice be heard and also make a significant difference in the future of your SPJ, and I want to make that opportunity possible for all SPJ members, especially students.

I implore you to get involved, and help build your career with your SPJ. You won’t regret it.

Alex Veeneman, a recent university graduate, is SPJ’s Community Coordinator and interim chair of SPJ Digital. Veeneman also serves as Deputy Editor and Media Editor for Kettle Magazine (www.kettlemag.co.uk), an online publication in the UK. He is based in Chicago.

To get involved with the communities, you can email (alex.veeneman01@gmail.com) or tweet Alex (@alex_veeneman) for more information.

 

 

 

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

Highlights thru Dec. 4, 2014

Hello, all. It has only been a few weeks since I posted the last update, but we’ve accomplished so much that it is almost baffling. I am so proud of SPJ staff and volunteers for their hard work and dedication to the cause. Here are some of the projects we’ve been involved in over the last few weeks (you might want to pull up a chair – there is a lot of good stuff here!):

  • Community elections for SPJ Digital & Freelance were launched. Details here.
  • SPJ Georgia attended two separate hearings of Atlanta journalists who were arrested last week during the Ferguson protest. Charges have been dropped in both cases. Reps from SPJ Georgia plan to attend a roundtable discussion tomorrow with Atlanta PD. Thanks to SPJ Georgia for staying on top of this issue and keeping us informed!
  • We sent a letter to the EPA protesting the limitations put on scientists, preventing them from speaking directly with the media:
  • Alex Veeneman was named our first community coordinator to help me manage the workload. Thank you, Alex, for stepping up! Alex is the current leader of SPJ Digital, so he knows first hand the work involved in setting up a community and keeping it going.
  • The Ethics and International Committees are working together to get the Code of Ethics translated into other languages.
  • I had a call with national board members Patti Newberry, Sue Kopen Katcef, Brett Hall and Jordan Gass Poore last week to discuss student internships and the formation of a student-based community. Brett and Jordan agreed to lead the community and Patti & Sue agreed to serve as advisors. I need to get some input from our legal counsel since some of the internship issues we are discussing involve labor laws.
  • I have selected SPJ’s EIJ15 programming committee volunteer – Athima Chansanchai (“Tima”) from the W. Washington Pro chapter. Tima was a diversity fellow this year and has helped with programming for the AAJA national convention several years ago. She will oversee the programming subcommittee that includes Paul Fletcher, Lynn Walsh and Patti Newberry.
  • Amy Tardif of RTDNA scheduled a pre-planning EIJ15 programming conference call for early January to discuss EIJ14 successes, areas for improvement and goals for EIJ15. Scott Leadingham, director of education, is scheduling his first EIJ15 planning call before the holidays.
  • We updated our statement speaking against Ohio legislation HB663, the secret executions bill, which went before the Ohio Senate Tuesday and today. Past president Kevin Smith attended on SPJ’s behalf.
  • SPJ Freelance Chair Michael Fitzgerald and I spoke regarding the Freelance Community to discuss the election process.
  • SPJ hosted a Digital Tools webinar taught by Kim Bui.
  • SPJ has made an agreement to provide services to another journalism organization and has put a call out to hire a part-time communications person to help with that work.
  • SDX did a big fundraising push this week, including a mailing and an email campaign. SPJ members are encouraged to set up monthly donations or make a one-time donation to help fund SDX’s efforts. Donate here.
  • New member benefits are forthcoming. Linda Hall has been working hard to develop new relationships and acquire new benefits for our members. SPJ HQ will announce those new benefits soon, so stay tuned!
  • We are trying to finalize all of the spring conferences. Some dates and locations are still tentative. The info. that is known can be found here.
  • Joe hired a replacement for the part-time membership retention coordinator. We are eager to welcome him aboard!
  • Tara Puckey was promoted to membership strategist to help further SPJ’s long-term mission and to address our changing membership needs. Linda Hall will continue to provide our members with the great service she always has. Congrats to Tara for this well-deserved promotion!
  • FOIA chair Dave Cuillier issued a statement urging the U.S. Senate to pass the FOIA Improvement Act. SPJ tweeted this tonight. Senator Jay Rockefeller has put a hold on the bill.
  • Butler Cain, J Ed committee chair, held a meeting with his committee yesterday to discuss providing resources, guidance and a list of experts to help support high school journalists and educators.
  • Robyn Sekula, membership chair, is accepting nominations for the December Volunteer of the Month (deadline is tomorrow) and finalizing the committee’s strategic plan for the year.
  • Carlos Restrepo and the International Journalism Community are also finalizing their goals for the year and selecting their assignments and projects. We have an enthusiastic bunch here – I am excited to see them move forward!
  • Sarah Bauer, contest advisory group coordinator and co-chair of the Awards & Honors committee, is in the process of matching up SPJ contest swap partners across the country. This is a thankless task, but an important one. Thanks to Sarah for taking the lead!

Thanks to everyone within SPJ and SDX – staff, leaders and volunteers – who have contributed in some way to our success and mission. It truly takes a village, and we’ve got some big goals to tackle this year. I appreciate your enthusiasm and support.

As always, if I left something out, it was unintentional. My head is spinning with all of the activity, but if I omitted something, let me know, and I’ll update this post.

Til next time,

Dana Neuts
SPJ President

 

 

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

It’s election time for the SPJ Digital & Freelance Communities!

It's election time for the SPJ Freelance & Digital Communities.Now in full swing since the summer, our SPJ Digital and Freelance Communities are ready to hold elections for community officers and leaders. Here’s how the elections will work:

  1. Nominations for community leaders are open Dec. 1 – 31, 2014. Nominees must be SPJ members and members of the Freelance or Digital Community to be considered, but you can join at any time. To join SPJ, click here. To join the Freelance Community, click here. To join the Digital Community, click here. {Note: To join the communities, you need to be logged into your SPJ account.}
  1. It's election time for the SPJ Freelance & Digital Communities.Nominations are free form, so be creative with your nomination. Tell us why you are passionate about SPJ and your favorite community. Show us your personality and tell us why you are the perfect fit for a leadership role. To nominate yourself for the Freelance Community, click here. To nominate yourself for the Digital Community, click here.
  1. Each nominations page has a list of the open positions and the responsibilities that go along with them. If you have questions about the Freelance positions, contact Michael Fitzgerald, acting chair. If you have questions about the Digital positions, contact Alex Veeneman, acting chair.
  1. Complete the required fields on the nominations form, upload any supporting files (e.g., videos, photos, documents) and click Upload Files.
  1. After Dec. 31, we will confirm the membership status of the nominees and open the voting process by Jan. 7, 2015.
  1. Members of each community will receive a voting link and will have two weeks to vote. Only community members are eligible to vote.
  1. Results will be announced the week of Jan. 19.
  1. Elected officers/leaders will begin their terms Feb. 1 and the term will extend through Sept. 20, the last day of EIJ15.
  1. Future terms will be one year, and election cycles will run from convention to convention.

If you have any questions about this process, please contact me or our new community coordinator Alex Veeneman. If you have questions about your membership status in SPJ or the communities, contact Linda Hall.

These community roles are important to the success of the communities, and we need enthusiastic, proactive volunteers to lead the charge. If you are interested in nominating yourself or another SPJ member for a leadership role in one of our SPJ communities, submit your nomination by Dec. 31. Thank you!

 

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

Highlights thru Nov. 18

It’s been about a month since I wrote my last “highlights” post. There is so much going on within SPJ, but also in the news industry that it is hard to keep up with it all…and to remember to keep you up to date. Here are some of the latest developments in our world, in no particular order:

– Today the national SPJ board approved a $32,000 expenditure (to be paid from surplus from the last fiscal year) for a much needed tech upgrade. Spearheaded by Tara Puckey and Billy O’Keefe after months of research, we have a thorough plan of action to update our database and website. We approved a three-phase plan that will take place over the course of the next year. We’ll keep you informed of our progress, changes that will impact you, etc. Bottom line: this is an exciting opportunity for SPJ to upgrade its technology to better serve our members and website visitors.

– Today we issued a statement, along with Region 4 SPJ leaders and the Ohio Newspaper Association, urging Ohio lawmakers to vote “no” to Ohio’s proposed HB663, legislation that is being shoved through to try to protect medical professionals who carry out executions and drug makers who make the drugs used in executions, as well as to make all information and records related to an execution or death sentence confidential.

If passed, the legislation will ignore sunshine laws, eliminate transparency in executions and make covering capital punishment that much more difficult for journalists.  This legislation is a travesty on a variety of levels. If you’d like to help fight the legislation, which could be voted on tomorrow, Nov. 19, see the bottom of the statement for ways to oppose the bill. A big thank you to regional director Patti Newberry for spearheading SPJ’s efforts on this!

– Last week I attended the sentencing of former regional director Scott Cooper who embezzled $43,220 from the Oklahoma Pro SPJ chapter. I made a statement about the sentencing on Friday, and posted my reaction to the hearing on Saturday.

– On Nov. 3, SPJ issued a statement about the FBI’s impersonation of an AP reporter and the alleged actions of the St. Louis County Police Department to get the FAA to impose a “no fly zone” in Ferguson, Missouri to keep the press out. These issues underscore the need for a broader conversation between journalists and law enforcement agencies across the country to figure out a way to better understand our respective roles and to ensure freedom of the press.

– SPJ leaders wrote about #Pointergate, Free Speech Week, Freedom of the Press and Freelancing in blogs over the last week.

Pashtana Usufzy of Las Vegas was named SPJ’s Volunteer of the Month for Nov. 2014. Congratulations!

– SPJ Announced a Free Webinar for Tues., Nov. 25 at 1 pm (ET) – Beyond Facebook and Twitter: Digital Tools for all Journalists taught by digital journalist Kim Bui (@kimbui) and co-founder of #WJCHAT. Register here.

Region 12 Director Tony Hernandez has accepted a position at The Oregonian. He will remain on the board up to six months after his move, as allowed by SPJ by-laws. In the spring, we’ll put a call out to accept nominations and applications for a replacement. If you have questions or are interested, contact Tony directly.

Nominations were opened for the Sigma Delta Chi and Mark of Excellence awards and for the national high school essay contest.

Gen J will become a community! Learn more here. Want to get involved? Contact Gen J chair Claudia Amezcua.

There is so much going on at SPJ HQ and around the country that I have undoubtedly forgotten some big news. If so, I apologize. It is unintentional. Please post your update in the comments or email me, and I can include it next time.

Thanks to all of our dedicated volunteers for their hard work and commitment to SPJ!

~ Dana Neuts, President

 

 

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

Scott Cooper Sentencing: Justice Served, Lessons Learned

Thursday I did something I hope no other SPJ president will ever have to do. Testify against a former SPJ board member who embezzled money from a local SPJ chapter.

Scott Cooper sentenced to 10 years probation, 4 weekends in jail and additional work & community service to repay $43,000 debt to SPJ.I flew to Oklahoma on Wednesday to attend yesterday’s sentencing of Scott Cooper, former region 8 director and secretary-treasurer of the Oklahoma Pro SPJ chapter, in Cleveland County District Court. In 2012, Cooper confessed to stealing $43,220 from the chapter over a period of several years. According to Cooper, he used the money to cover gambling debts and pay personal bills.

In his court testimony, Cooper said a “slight gambling problem” escalated into a large gambling problem due to his own stupidity and bad judgment. His theft was discovered when a series of bad checks bounced following the chapter’s annual awards banquet. Once confronted, the former national board member confessed to falsifying the chapter’s financial records to cover up his crime. He offered the chapter $500 a month to repay his debt, but never followed through.

During his testimony, Cooper said, “I deeply, deeply want to repay what I have taken. My number one priority is to pay this money back.”

Despite that claim, in the 21 months since Cooper was caught, he had not repaid any of the stolen money until Thursday when he produced a check for $3,000. In addition, Cooper just started counseling and community service in October 2014, perhaps in an attempt to mitigate his punishment. Cooper said he attended Gambler’s Anonymous weekly for a while, but said it was too hard to make the meetings given his work schedule at the Farmers Insurance National Document Center in Oklahoma City where he is a document clerk making less than $20,000 a year. Cooper said he resumed the GA meetings three months ago.

Following closing arguments, Judge Greg Dixon deliberated and imposed the following sentence:

  • 10 year deferred probation, without a felony conviction
  • 4 consecutive weekends in county jail, beginning Nov. 14 (Fri., 6 pm to Sun., 6 pm)
  • Monthly payments of $350 beginning Dec. 15 for 10 years
  • Eight additional hours of work or community service every weekend, beginning Dec. 8
  • Prohibited from visiting any casinos
  • Payment of all court fees and service fees related to his sentence
  • Miscellaneous standard probation provisions (can’t leave the state without permission, possess a firearm, consume alcohol, etc.)

If Cooper violates any of those terms, he will return to court to face the consequences which could include prison time and a felony conviction. Some have asked why Cooper wasn’t charged with a felony. The rationale behind that decision is Cooper would be required to report a felony to his employer, likely resulting in his termination and making it difficult to find another job. Without employment, Cooper would be unable to repay his substantial debt to SPJ.

In his closing statement, Judge Greg Dixon told Cooper he was prepared to impose a harsher sentence, but changed his mind after hearing chapter attorney Bob Sheets’ statement that his main priority was repayment, not punishment. Sheets wanted to create an environment for Cooper to remain gainfully employed, so he could stick to a repayment plan to make the chapter whole.

Judge Dixon said he wouldn’t impose counseling on Cooper, because he was not convinced that Cooper had made the choice yet to turn his life around and, until he did, counseling would be of no value.

“You need to toughen up,” Judge Dixon said. “You’ve got a family to take care of.”

This is the official record of the case. I have also made an official statement on behalf of SPJ, much of which comes from the statement I gave during my court testimony. Formal statement aside, I’d like to share my observations.

It was a sad moment for SPJ. Cooper stole more than $43,000 from us. He damaged our reputation and wasted valuable time and resources that could have been better spent fulfilling our mission. He embarrassed an organization that fights for openness, transparency and accountability and damaged our credibility. While many members, volunteers and supporters stood behind us, our critics called us hypocrites.

I first met Cooper when we served as regional directors on the national board together in 2010 or 2011. I remember the first board meeting he missed because he’d been caught. With Cooper’s board seat ominously empty, the SPJ leadership team explained the theft, how it occurred and what SPJ could do about the situation. Imagine 20 jaws, give or take, drop in unison, shocked that a seemingly engaged, passionate journalist could steal from us – right under our noses. It was devastating and far reaching. SPJ went into damage control mode, and we began formulating best practices to prevent this type of incident from occurring again.

When I heard that a sentencing hearing for Cooper had been scheduled, I knew I had to attend. I wanted to support the local chapter, but I also wanted to look him in the eye and tell him how he’d violated his fiduciary responsibility to put SPJ first. When I testified before the court, I had that chance. I gave him my “don’t mess with Mom” stare that every parent reserves for such occasions. To his credit, Cooper made eye contact and seemed to listen.

Throughout the hour-and-a-half hearing, I felt a mix of emotions – anger, sadness, betrayal, disappointment and, surprisingly, pride. I was angry that Cooper could do this to SPJ, but also that he seemed smug and unremorseful. There was little evidence he had made any attempt to change his life and make this right. Instead, I heard a series of explanations and excuses, none of which helped to absolve his theft.

Cooper complained that he’d lost his career in journalism, and he was in a job that didn’t utilize his education and that required an hour commute each way. He blamed the state for allowing casinos, he complained he had other bills to pay besides SPJ (though his wife had bought a car since he pled guilty), and he brought up his autistic daughter’s need for stability several times. Cooper even recounted a story of having to cancel his family’s plans to attend a holiday party last year, because someone affiliated with the local chapter would also be in attendance. One of his daughters had bought a new dress for the party and was devastated she couldn’t attend the party because of her father. Looking past the complaints, I didn’t see a man willing to take responsibility for his behavior; I saw someone who wanted to place the blame elsewhere.

Based on both fact and emotion, I agree with the judge. I don’t see that Cooper has made a real attempt to transform his life, to show remorse or to make this situation right. Prior to yesterday, he made no attempt to repay the chapter and blamed the chapter’s lack of a response to his offer of monthly payments as his excuse for not having paid them anything. Despite his words, I saw no sign of remorse…fear maybe, but he wasn’t even resigned to the fact he was going to jail or would spend the next 10 years of his life working hard to pay the chapter back. He is sitting in jail this morning as I post this. Perhaps this will be the wake-up call he needs.

On the plus side, I was so proud to be an SPJ member and to serve the organization as president. Seeing how the local chapter worked together to right a wrong was inspiring. Accepting responsibility for their part in Cooper’s deception, board members combed through the bank records, check book and falsified treasurer’s reports to calculate the extent of the damage. They banded together to get through a difficult situation. Chapter president Jaclyn Cosgrove testified on the chapter’s behalf, and past and present board members including M. Scott Carter and Carol Cole-Frowe were in attendance.

I was also proud when the assistant DA, the chapter attorney and the judge all commented on the good work that SPJ does and how it is important to repay the money so the chapter can continue to provide education and training, offer scholarships and do journalism advocacy work.

Though a harsher sentence could have been imposed, I feel justice was done. For the next 10 years, Cooper will have to work incredibly hard to meet the court’s conditions or risk even harsher punishments. He will have to face himself every day and remind himself that this was a choice – his choice.

At the same time, the Oklahoma Pro SPJ chapter can rebuild and other SPJ chapters can learn from this experience. I hope Cooper can do the same with the second chance he has been given. It is up to him to decide what he does with it.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

Gen J to become a community!

I’m excited to share that Generation J, one of SPJ’s active committees, has decided to become a community. We are working out the details for the launch, but committee chair Claudia Amezcua shared the news with me last week. Claudia made the announcement on the Gen J blog last week. She also shared Gen J’s goals for the coming year which include broadening their reach to journalists at all levels of their career and to partner with other committees and communities. You can read about their goals here.

If you are interested in becoming part of the community or learning more, you can reach Claudia via email or on Twitter.

This brings our community count to four:  Freelance, Digital, International and Gen J! The SPJ family is growing. Want to be a part of it? Contact me for details.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit


Newest Posts

Women Who Lead: Newsroom and Beyond March 28, 2015, 3:52 pm
Some forthcoming changes to SPJ Digital March 27, 2015, 12:08 pm
Facebook: The newest content platform? March 27, 2015, 12:01 pm
Last chance to register for Region 5 at regular conference rates March 24, 2015, 1:29 am
And the winners are… March 23, 2015, 8:24 pm
Bethany Bella is the March volunteer of the month March 23, 2015, 1:44 am
500 tweets from Athens March 22, 2015, 7:23 pm

Copyright © 2007-2015 Society of Professional Journalists. All Rights Reserved. Legal

Society of Professional Journalists
Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Center, 3909 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46208
317/927-8000 | Fax: 317/920-4789 | Contact SPJ Headquarters | Employment Opportunities | Advertise with SPJ