By John Ensslin, 2011-12 SPJ President | November 1st, 2011
Nobody asked me but*…Honesty still seems like the best policy.
That’s something U.S. Department of Justice officials ought to keep in mind while evaluating a new policy proposal that would enable agency spokespeople to be less than honest in answering inquiries about the existence of public records in national security matters.
I understand there are some things that a government needs to keep secret when it comes to national security.
But the Justice Department has the ability to classify documents as secret and deny access. What it does not need is the ability to depart from the truth when a reporter simply asks if a document exists.
Our Freedom of Information Committee is drafting a response to this proposed policy. I was glad to see Utah Sen. Mike Lee weigh in on it as well.
Bad Doc Databank Update
Along with representatives from several journalism groups, I took part last week in a conference call with senior officials in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
We were doing our best to convince them to restore the public use file of the National Practitioners Databank file, which keeps track of malpractice and disciplinary cases involving physicians.
The physicians are not identified in the databank, but by using other public files, reporters in several cities have been able to write highly useful public service stories about cases involving doctors in their area.
That is until recently when the agency shut down the public use file. Along with several other groups, SPJ has been urging HHS officials to restore the public file.
We made what I thought was a very strong and cogent case in the conference call. I wished it were possible to tell you that we changed the government’s position in this matter. That remains to be seen. Stay tuned.
Help for Endangered Advisers
Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, once quipped that there are two occupations in America that are more dangerous the better you are at them: suicide bomber and student journalism adviser.
With that peril in mind, the SPLC recently set up a new blog called FACT (Fired Adviser Comfort Team.) It has a kind of edgy, kind of gallows sense of humor about a very serious problem: censorship of student media. Check it out.
It will make you appreciate the often difficult position that student media advisers undertake every working day. If you know of someone who is experiencing similar difficulty, pass along the link.
A Tip of the Fedora
Kudos to longtime SPJ member David McHam, who was honored at Baylor University recently with the first ever Legacy in Journalism Education Award.
Also a shout out to my friends in our Rio Grande SPJ chapter for continuing the conversation on the language we use in immigration stories by co-sponsoring a discussion at the University of New Mexico.
And here’s one of the more creative ways I’ve ever seen of a chapter keeping track of its meeting minutes. The SPJ chapter at my alma mater, Columbia University, posted a video with their singing minutes. These guys look like they are having fun.
A Sad Note
SPJ notes with sorrow the death of Josephine Varnier Stone, an aspiring journalist who died recently after she was hit by a motor vehicle in Richmond, Va.
Josephine was one of the the student journalists on our Working Press team at the 2009 SPJ National Convention in Indianapolis. Read more about her.
Our deepest condolences to her family and friends.
Call for Volunteers
A group of volunteers assembled by the Membership Committee will be making calls soon to lapsed members in the hope of convincing them to re-up. This valuable effort helped us retain members when we first tried it last year.
We could always use a few more people willing to make phone calls. I’m going to be making calls. If you would like to join us in this effort, please contact membership chair Holly Edgell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*The title of this blog is a nod to Jimmy Cannon, one of my favorite sportswriters when I was growing up in New York City.