Archive for the ‘Future of Journalism’ Category

Only response to free-speech bullies: some muscle

In the cold, clear light of a second-day story, the words are still chilling:

“Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here!”

As most journalists in America now know, the woman who made that statement was Melissa Click, a communications professor at the University of Missouri, caught on a video that went viral.

The video, photographed by student Mark Shierbecker, documented, among other things, efforts by student photojournalist Tim Tai to cover student protesters at Mizzou; the video was shot after news that university system president Tim Wolfe had resigned. The journalists presumably were seeking comment and reaction to the resignation.

But come back to Click. She sought to shut down the student press in a way that was threatening. Some muscle? Really? Should Shierbecker have feared for his personal safety?

To their great credit, Shierbecker and Tai showed respect, resolution, calmness, professionalism and yes, courage, considering they were faced with an unhappy crowd chanting, “Hey hey ho ho, reporters have got to go!”

Click since has issued an apology for her actions, which Shierbecker said in a tweet that he did not accept. No doubt she is hoping that everyone, including the school she works for, will move on.

But should the rest of us let Click off easy? I don’t think so. There is a word for someone who treated the journalists the way she did: Bully.

She bullied Shierbecker, and the call for help to remove him forcibly is inexcusable and indefensible.

Since she was trying to shut down press coverage, call her a free speech bully, attempting to squelch a reporter.

Here is another reason not to let her off the hook: She’s not alone in higher education.

Within the past year, SPJ has tracked no fewer than six examples of journalism advisers at colleges across America who have run afoul of their schools’ leaders for (gasp!) encouraging student journalists to do their jobs and cover the school.

In each case, the administration would prefer that the student press run happy news, or perhaps recipes, instead of stories seeking to hold (often) public employees accountable.

In one of the adviser altercations, the school paper’s editor-in-chief provided his notes of his run-in with a high-level administrator. “Free speech bully” again would be the operative phrase. The encounter was intimidating and oppressive: the administrator was unhappy the paper had run articles about mold in university buildings.

Frank LoMonte runs the Student Press Law Center, and his job is to watch all this and to offer help and, if necessary, legal support.

In a Facebook post last weekend, LoMonte noted he had just returned from a visit to a public university where the student reporters are required to submit their interview questions for the university president in writing to a media-relations functionary.

This minion rewrites any questions that are unacceptably “negative” and sends back a script, to which the journalists are told to adhere under threat of unspecified reprisal, he said.

I asked him: At what university did this occur?

LoMonte demurred, citing the need to minimize harm (See SPJ Code of Ethics, section II). The students were so frightened that he would need to get their OK to out the school. I am not a fan of citing incidents without names, but I trust the source here.

It’s important to note that the people involved here are college kids, between ages 18 and 21. No doubt the students LoMonte dealt with are frightened.

All these incidents, showing a careless disregard for free speech and the free press, sound like something out of a tinpot dictatorship or some leftover totalitarian regime. Tendering questions for sanitation by a minion sounds like great job training for a position at George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth after graduation.

But these stories are happening at colleges in this country, one with a history and laws that protect free speech and a free press. These schools, if they bother to teach the Constitution, must be saying that it has only nine amendments…that first one got deleted somewhere along the way.

No student should face intimidation, threats of personal violence or reprisal – simply for doing his or her job as a journalist.

The only response, I think, to free speech bullies is some muscle.

Not sending goons out to do physical harm to anyone, but push-back. Exposure. Forceful calling out. Telling the tales. Litigation when needed. Financial support for those lawsuits. And a clear message that that is what they can expect.

Because when confronted, bullies fold and run.

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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 (, an online publication in the UK. He is based in Chicago.

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




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Musing on ‘Post Industrial Journalism’ report

Post Industrial Journalism

That’s the title of an important new “survey/manifesto,” as its authors call it, from Columbia Journalism School’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism. I’ve just skimmed it so far, but there are some fascinating nuggets.

In the introduction, the authors (C.W. Anderxon, Emily Bell and Clay Shirky) establish five core beliefs: “Journalism matters; Good journalism has always been subsidized; The internet wrecks advertising subsidy; Restructuring is, therefore, a forced move; There are many opportunities for doing good work in new ways.” (Their emphasis, but I heartily agree.)

You might say most of these observations/beliefs have been pretty obvious for some time now, but they lay the foundation for what follows in the next 100-plus pages. And what follows is interesting and provocative — at least from the pieces I’ve skimmed.

While much of the essay focuses on descriptions of the new news environment, its conclusion offers a few simple prescriptions — the most significant being that journalists and news organizations must be adaptable.

True and obvious to even a 40-year veteran journalist who has spent his entire career adapting.

If you can’t take in the entire report in one sitting, some good nuggets come from Jeff Sonderman at Poynter and Joshua Benton at Nieman Lab.

Any thoughts? Let me know in the comments.

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Newest Posts

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Membership planning proposal approved (I voted no) November 19, 2015, 2:29 pm
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