Archive for November, 2006


For the newsie on your gift list

I’m a collector of journalism stuff — and cool stuff made by journalists. This time o’ year, I’m naturally trolling for presents for family, friends — and the occasional SPJ member who’s been extra nice. Some of the neat things out there that have caught my eye include:

SPJ schlock The Society’s online store features a couple of funny T-shirts. I have a “Top 10 Reasons” shirt that never fails to score a grin or two when I’m at the gym or grocery store … And while I’m thinking about it, heck, consider giving someone an SPJ membership.

Typewriter-key jewelry My trademark? My X and O typewriter-key earrings and a matching watch. Some of my best purchases have come from Uncommon Goods. This online store offers an array of interesting gifts. Fruit made from newspaper, anyone?

Newspaper jewelry Yesterday’s newspaper is forever your adornment thanks to artist Holly Anne Mitchell. I have some of her earrings and just love them. While showing off her goods in Denver, Mitchell told me she designs custom pieces featuring a journalist’s byline or the headline of a favorite story. See Mitchell’s site, NewspaperJewelry.com.

Newspaper vases I have a lovely vase made from recycled newspaper, and it would be one thing I’d actually try to save if my house were aflame. The Art Institute of Chicago is selling similar vases made by Vietnamese craftspeople.

Vintage publications Second thing I’d try to save from that house fire (aside from the vase, my wedding photos and a cloth-covered book my great-grandmother gave me)? My May 1936 edition of Fortune magazine. What a riot it is! There are ads galore touting typewriters, old printing presses — and even the “new and glorious” air conditioning system installed for the “good men” working in the Chicago Tribune Tower. A fun place to browse for original newspapers is Newspapersremembered.com.

More goofy apparel Search under only the term “journalist” on CafePress.com, and you’re sure to find a design you like. And just think, you can have it slapped on hats, T-shirts, postcards, tote bags, teddy bears … SPJ’s Snake River Pro Chapter sells items emblazoned with classic comic book characters, such as the one and only Brenda Starr. And SPJ’s Middle Tennessee chapter’s “Mainstream Media” goods never fail to crack me up for some reason.

Custom velvet Jill Sherman, a former colleague of mine at Tribune Media Services, founded Sunflower Velvet Accessories. She’ll emboss interesting designs (think letters and words for your special newsie) on a wide range of velvet goods.

Sassy (and free) e-cards We’ve all seen the great work SPJ’s Web administrator, Billy O’Keefe, has done with the Society’s site. But did you know Billy is behind MrBilly.com, where you can find quite a selection of, uuuummm, “interesting” electronic greetings? As Billy notes on his site, “Animated greetings require Flash, which almost everybody has. So send with reckless abandon.”

Texts for the young and curious While scanning Amazon.com recently, I stumbled upon a decent collection of books suggested for high school students (and heck, many pros could stand to read these as well).

Anything by Digital Eye Chris Badowski, a former colleague at Tribune Interactive in Chicago, has always had a knack for photography and digital media. She has combined her hobby and professional skills to create an online store featuring designs that can be applied to a wide range of items.

Pens. Pens. More Pens. Nowhere are you reminded more that writing is a timeless art than at Nostalgic Impressions, where you can find the coolest Quill pens.

Pulp purses Pulp magazine covers (OK, so it’s not exactly journalism, but every reporter chick I know really digs these purses by Maddie Powers) from the ’40s and ’50s have been crafted into “book bags” that never fail to get attention. My own, crafted from a book titled “Tough Doll,” depicts a sultry, sulky blonde.

One killer news rack My home features modern and contemporary furnishings, and one of my favorie places to look for accessories is Chiasso. Check out the ultimate magazine/newspaper rack for journalists. And, for what it’s worth, many of my photographer friends have oogled Chiasso’s “Photofall Tree,” which stands 61 inches high and provides a clever way to show off great images — and decorate a room.

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Bad news for Josh Wolf — and all journalists

This just in: It appears blogger and freelance videographer Josh Wolf will be held in a federal prison until July — unless he chooses to give up for a grand jury’s review unpublished video footage he shot during a 2005 protest in San Francisco.

Today, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals declined to hear Wolf’s appeal en banc (meaning that the court will let stand the ruling handed down by a panel of the appellate court’s judges).

Not only did the 9th Circuit deny Josh’s petition, it also ruled that he can have no bail and that “no further filings shall be accepted in this case.”

Read more about this sad turn of events at sfbg.com.

And don’t forget: SPJ has been a big supporter of Josh’s legal fight. Former National President David Carlson negotiated with Wolf’s lawyers to cap his fees at $60,000. SPJ has paid more than half of that cost — $31,000.

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Dateline needs to rethink “Predator” series

I know. I know. I can be waaaay behind the pop-culture curve sometimes simply because I’m waaaay too focused on SPJ. :)

Only recently did I see for the first time an episode of NBC Dateline’s popular “To Catch a Predator” series. The hubby was watching and asked me to put down my trusty laptop long enough to take in a few minutes of the program. He wanted to know what I made of the whole thing — me being Miss Journalism-Ethics-Now-Journalism-Ethics-Forever and all.

Boy, was I disturbed — just as much by what I consider all sorts of ethical problems with the “news-gathering” as by the creepy guys who were showing up at a house thinking they were going to score with a 14-year-old girl.

A student recently wrote to National Ethics Committee Chairman Gary Hill and me, asking what we made of this ongoing series. Gary, a longtime television broadcaster and director of investigations at KSTP-TV News in Minneapolis, did a masterful job of explaining his qualms about this series. I hope you’ll read what he has written because he nicely covers many of my own sentiments.

It’s important to note: Gary tackled this issue BEFORE a former county district attorney in Texas ensnared in a sting committed suicide Nov. 5. According to a story appearing in the Dallas Morning News, Dateline had no direct contact with the man — but a crew was standing outside when he shot himself.

I suppose more journalists didn’t make a bigger deal about this — heck, I couldn’t find even a mention of the suicide on Romenesko’s rolling discussion — because said suicide happened on a Sunday just before a hectic election week. The man’s death — no matter what kind of allegations he faced — should make all of us rethink the merits of this kind of investigative reporting.

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Mourning the death of another community paper

Tom Henderson, president of SPJ’s Snake River chapter and a columnist for The Lewiston (Idaho) Morning Tribune, paid tribute to the recently shuttered Springfield (Ore.) News.

His eulogy is presented here with permission:

By the time she died, she had few friends left.

She had gotten, shall we say, odd in recent years. People who knew her in her vigor still thought kindly of her, but when they passed her on the street, they hardly turned their heads.

For those who did still notice her, her death came almost as a relief. It was painful to see her linger so, bereft of the feisty spirit that once hoisted a hundred glasses in her honor.

There was no memorial service. No one would have attended anyway. A few would have wanted to come but for the demands of time, distance and more pressing concerns.

She just slipped away.

In a few years, no one will even remember The Springfield News.

I realize this is like eulogizing my cat. Only a few of you, if any, even knew she was alive. So her death means nothing. Eulogies for strangers, however, still serve a purpose.

They remind us to hold precious what we have in our lives. That includes people, cats and even newspapers.

For 102 years, the Springfield Newsprovided a diary of life in the community. It was like the old church bell, ringing out the births and deaths and rallying the community at times of impending danger.

The nearby Eugene (Ore.) Register-Guard also covered the news of Springfield. It, too, sent reporters to city council and school board meetings. Yet an item that got 10 inches in the Guard got 35 in the News.

The Guard comes out every day. The News only came out twice a week. Reporters for the News could rarely tell the story first. But if they were on top of their game, no one could tell it better.

And they were usually on top of their game.

During the 1980s, under editors such as Rob Romig, the paper could rightly boast of being the best nondaily newspaper in the state. It took home wheelbarrows full of awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. Its investigative reporting made many powerful people sweat in December.

A slew of great editors, reporters and photographers passed through the newsroom. Countless University of Oregon students, myself included, filed their first major stories for the paper. (Why mine was buried behind the classified ads remains a mystery.)

The Guard will still be around to tag rogue politicians and greedy developers. What can’t be replaced is the News’ “refrigerator journalism” — the stories and notes people clip out and post on their refrigerators.

Community newspapers have a lower threshold for news. Kids painting a mural at Ridgeview Elementary probably wouldn’t draw a reporter and photographer from a large daily, but it was front page stuff for the News. Members of the Kiwanis Club are picking up garbage in the park? Stop the presses!

The News stumbled in recent years. Finn J. John, the last of the great editors, struggled valiantly against dwindling resources but couldn’t prevent the inevitable.

Weak as it was, however, the paper still foretold of pie sales and quilt raffles. It printed honor rolls and senior lunch menus. It ran pictures of local chess champions and reported that Nola Womer — God bless her soul — was in the arms of Jesus. (Jesus Christ, that is, not Jesus Martinez. The paper didn’t go in for gossip.)

The Springfield News was never mistaken for the Washington Post, but even in the worst of times, it gave the town a way to talk to itself. It gave Springfield a sense of identity, of community.

Springfield risks losing that sense of community, not just because of the death of the paper, but because its landscape is increasingly dominated by chain stores and strip malls.

There seems little need for a community newspaper in a town where people finish their shifts at Foot Locker and go home to their apartments to unwind with “Survivor.”

A local newspaper is one the things that holds a community together, that reminds people they share more than a zip code. All those things are in danger as we continue to lose touch with one another.

A few people who knew the Springfield News say her passing is like a death in the family. For the people of Springfield, it’s more like the death of a family. Their own.

Be careful. It could happen anywhere.

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If ever you needed to use your right to free speech …

SPJ’s executive committee and a select group of national leaders and headquarters staff are scheduled to convene in Denver Nov. 17-19 to begin crafting a strategic plan aimed at steering the Society deftly into what is an exciting – but uncertain – time for American journalism.

This grand plan will need to be revisited early and often. But while national leaders might make changes here and there, the plan will be built on some philosophical principles expected to guide SPJ for years to come. Some of those principles will take SPJ in new directions designed to help the Society better serve its members and trumpet its core missions.

Regardless of how the strategic plan shapes up, I want you to have a say in it. Contact me today. Contact your regional director. Contact Executive Director Terry Harper. Start adding your 2 cents here early and often. We need to keep this discussion rolling.

Please share how you would strengthen SPJ on many levels. How, for example, would you build and diversify membership? What goods and services would you develop to help members thrive in an industry roiled by technology and news consumers’ shifting habits? Would you restructure SPJ’s governance or its schedule of regional and national conferences? How would you help SPJ generate new revenue and strengthen the effectiveness of its advocacy? How would you like to see the Society polish its public image?

I have given all of this much thought in recent months. Some of my ideas are overarching and fairly general. Others are highly specific and squarely focused on what some might consider nitpicky details. But as we take ideas to the table for discussion, it’s important for us to have considered just about every aspect of the Society first.

Here, in no particular order, are some – only some – of the items I hope to see incorporated in our strategic plan:

  • Membership growth. We need active and thriving professional chapters in every state. To attain this, we may need to rethink how we build chapters. I am a big fan of statewide approaches that encourage journalists from various regions to pool resources, collaborate on projects and communicate more frequently. I’m also determined to explore ways to expand our membership by making SPJ’s annual dues more affordable for everyone. You’ll see more about my dues-payment proposals in the coming year.
  • A plan for improving and maintaining SPJ’s Indianapolis headquarters. This building is one of SPJ’s core assets, but it’s not at its highest and best use right now. I realize SPJ members nationwide aren’t necessarily interested in visiting the building, but I hope everyone will agree that improving the property would be good for SPJ’s bottom line. With a few relatively inexpensive changes, the Society could begin to generate new revenue from its offices. For example, the installation of tech workstations on the building’s sizeable second floor would allow SPJ to present various seminars – or charge outside groups wanting to use the space. A dynamic display of SPJ’s extensive archives might be of interest to local civic groups – maybe even to tourists eventually — and would serve to promote the Society’s missions.
  • Greater accountability for SPJ’s leadership. Yes, this is a volunteer-driven organization, and it does indeed accomplish a tremendous amount of work in only one week. At the same time, there are folks who aren’t always good at letting their yes be yes and their no be no. They often agree to tackle important projects they never complete. Or they agree to serve on national committees in which they rarely, if ever, participate. Sadly — and this is a hard truth for me to address so publicly — we have let too many good ideas fall by the wayside and have missed too many great opportunities because SPJ’s national leaders often have found it much easier to work around inactive and ineffective volunteers than to ask them to step away from service. We must begin to do a better job of identifying active and effective leaders and of ensuring they — and no one else — fill our leadership ranks.
  • Improved communications. We have made tremendous strides in the last year and must pledge to become even better, particularly where promoting SPJ’s missions to the public is concerned.
  • Greater business savvy that helps SPJ generate new revenue. This is where the purists often wring their hands for good reason. I am, however, convinced that SPJ can raise money from non-media sources with tremendous integrity – and that it must start to move aggressively to do so. I am delighted that the Society recently hired a sales representative to sell ads in our print and electronic publications and on our Web site. SPJ also needs to seek sponsorships. It needs to develop seminars that can be presented to various groups (think trade associations and chambers of commerce, for example) for appropriate fees. It should generate goods for sale, such as textbooks. It is very important for all members to realize that SPJ is not a newsroom; it is a nonprofit journalism-advocacy organization with distinct financial interests.
  • More helpful and valuable professional instruction. Members across the country have made it very clear that they want more hands-on training, particularly training focused on FOI and the use of technology to gather and present the news. What, specifically, do you think such training should look like? What topics should it include?As we proceed with this strategic plan, I’ll provide updates here regularly. But again, we want — no, need — to hear from you. Take a few minutes to tell us what’s on your mind.
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    Reporter battles cancer and a lousy federal court

    Carl Jones of Miami New Times recently wrote about the plight of St. Petersburg Times reporter William Levesque, who has cancer, takes eight medications a day and now has to fight a federal subpoena.

    U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez in Miami recently denied Levesque’s request to quash that subpoena, which requires Jones to testify in a criminal trial concerning a company accused of orchestrating a $12 million fraud scheme. Apparently, Levesque spoke with the company’s president in 2004. The court seeks the reporter’s impressions of that interview, not his notes — which is a good thing because Levesque said he didn’t keep any records of the conversation.

    Yeesh. Grilling a guy who talks with hundreds of people every year about an interview he conducted in 2004. Never mind all he’s had to contend with since then. And never mind just how much Levesque’s fuzzy to non-existent recollection would contribute to this trial.

    The St. Pete Times is helping Levesque put up a fight. According to Jones’ story, one of the paper’s lawyers called it “unusual” for a judge to compel a reporter to testify in a federal case.

    I’m afraid this ridiculous spectacle is hardly unusual. This is just one more example of how a gaggle of overzealous federal prosecutors, empowered by a federal judge, is determined to compromise the integrity of American journalism.

    We must not end our fight for a federal shield law.

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    Round 3 for One-Person-One-Vote?

    SPJ’s national convention of delegates this year voted down by a narrow margin a proposal to allow a one-person-one-vote system that would have let all members in good standing cast their own ballots for national leaders.

    The same issue was discussed and tabled two years ago. Will it be brought back to the convention floor next year in Washington, D.C.?

    Member Carole McNall certainly hopes so. After reading a recap of the issue in the most recent edition of Quill magazine, she dropped me an e-mail with hopes that I would share it with you to generate more discussion about this matter.

    Let the world know what you think, please.

    Dear Ms. Tatum,

    As one of the 40 percent of SPJ members not currently belonging to a chapter, I have to tell you I was frustrated and bewildered by the results of the convention’s vote on the one person, one vote proposal.

    I was frustrated because it appears that an organization to which I have belonged for (at this writing) more than 30 years still doesn’t want to make me a fully participating member. I was bewildered because I saw nothing in the Quill story that would really explain why the proposal was turned down.

    The quotes in the story all appear to refer to people who actually have chapters. For example, the story says delegates said members in their local chapters “weren’t informed and didn’t care about the election and that personal interaction at the convention was a vital part of making an informed vote.”

    Indeed? With all due respect to the speakers, can they really know how we in the unchaptered 40 percent would deal with an ability to vote? Realistically, some of us wouldn’t take the time to become informed … but some of us would. For that matter, can they really tell me that every delegate to the convention had enough “personal interaction” to make an informed vote?

    It seems, in other words, that people generalized from their fellow chapter members to those of us without chapters, assumed we’d behave as the least motivated of those members and voted the proposal down because of that assumption. I encourage my journalism students to write based on solid information, not assumptions; I’m not likely to offer this particular SPJ action as a model for good behavior.

    I suspect my own case may be typical — I have not joined a chapter because the nearest available chapter is 75 miles away. In a western New York winter, that can be the traveling equivalent of a far longer journey; even in good weather, the drive time would guarantee I would be a chapter member in name only.

    Mr. (Peter) Sussman’s suggestion of a virtual chapter would seem not to eliminate any of those “member in name only” problems or, for that matter, the disadvantages he and others seem to see in the one person, one vote idea. If I’m not going to have enough “personal interaction” to cast an intelligent vote at the convention, how on earth am I going to know enough about fellow members of a virtual chapter to cast an intelligent vote on delegates to the convention?

    Sadly, over 30 years I have become used to this feeling that I’m not quite a full SPJ member, except perhaps when I write my dues check. I guess the feeling will last a bit longer.

    Carole McNall
    Assistant Professor
    Jandoli School of Journalism and Mass Communication

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