‘Supposed to report to me’

My cell phone rang at 9:07 on this sunny South Florida Saturday morning. I ignored it.

A minute later, the home phone rang. (Yes, I still have one of those.)

My annoyed wife answered. A man asked for me. My wife said I was sleeping. He hung up. (“He didn’t even apologize for calling so early,” she grumbled.)

I groggily got out of bed to find an email from SPJ president John Ensslin. All it said was, “Give me a call as soon as you can.”

This should be fun, I thought. It always is.

Ensslin is a very nice guy and one of my favorite SPJ presidents – something I haven’t been able to say all that often over the past few years. And true to form, Ensslin was very nice on the phone when he told me, “I need you to take down your blog post about The Red and Black.”

I sleepily asked why a journalist is asking another journalist to take down a blog post on a journalism organization’s website. Here’s the back story…

Earlier this week, the editors at the University of Georgia’s independent student newspaper walked off the job, claiming prior review and even censorship. I’m on the SPJ national board, and under our bureaucratic structure, I represent the “region” where The Red and Black is – the southeastern United States.

(That’s why this blog is called “Southern Drawl.” Get it?)

On Thursday, Ensslin emailed me (because it’s my region) and the vice president for campus chapter affairs: “I’d like your thoughts on this situation.”

I said I planned to send someone I trust to Athens, Ga., to investigate. I said I’d pay her expenses out of my own regional budget – I was kind of fishing for a reply of, “No no, we’ll cover that for you.” Alas, it never came. But Ensslin agreed it would be a good idea to “do some fact-finding on SPJ’s behalf.”

So yesterday, I dispatched Katherine Tippins to Athens.

The former student media coordinator at Macon State College spent the day interviewing, recording, and attending meetings. I posted her results – and my conclusions – on this blog last night.

This morning, Ensslin reminded me that I agreed to work for him – by replying to his email, I had entered into some sort of verbal contract to share my facts only with him. Then he would study these facts and “craft a letter from the president.”

“That’s how we do things in SPJ,” he said.

I reminded Ensslin that he didn’t pay for Tippins’ trip.

“That doesn’t matter. You’re supposed to report to me.”

So let me get this straight: If I never reply to your emails, then I’m allowed to post what I want on my regional blog about crap that happens in my region?

“Well… sure, Michael.”

But because we exchanged emails, I can’t do that?

“Uh… not really, Michael. I’m asking you again to take it down.”

I asked if he had the ability to take it down himself.

“I could certainly do that. But I’m asking you.”

His tone, while still very nice, was stern enough to imply he’d exercise that power. So I said I’d comply – and post it on my own blog.

“That’s fine, Michael.”

I wonder if he still thinks so.

Click here to read the post that used to be here. 

 

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  • Chuck Reece

    Michael … I am the former editor of The Red and Black who delivered a fairly strongly worded statement on behalf of all the students’ demands on the steps of the paper’s office yesterday. So from the start, let’s be clear that you and I are on the same side. And I am appalled that the president of the SPJ asked you to take down the blog post.

    That said, I was pretty amazed a couple of hours ago, when I read the post, that I was reading a story from the Society of Professional Journalists that seemed more screed than carefully reported story. I suggest, before you go farther apeshit, that you solidify your reporting. In particular, I call your attention to this sentence: “Apparently, the board’s bylaws require that (student representation on the board), but no one recalls it ever happening. I say ‘apparently’ because no one has seen the bylaws.”

    Did it ever occur to you to call any of the dozens of alums who’ve been posting in The Red and Black alumni group on Facebook who were there when the paper went independent. We may not have a copy of the bylaws handy, but we KNOW that the original bylaws required student representation. We would happily have shared that information with you or Ms. Tippins, who was there yesterday with several such veteran alums, including me. She never approached me to ask a single question, although I do recall a reporter who didn’t identify herself but asked to confirm the spelling of my name.

    My point is this: How the SPJ covers this situation is very important, and its coverage must be clearly “professional.” We are counting on you. What the SPJ says on this matter is important. So while I do not at all agree with the decision of your “boss,” you do need to step up your game.

  • Michael Koretzky

    Wow. I didn’t think my original post, now at http://www.journoterrorist.com, went “apeshit.” It was opinionated, and I copped to as much right from the first words.

    The headline was “My SPJ Report,” because that’s what it is – my take as an SPJ regional director, discussing an event in my region. I never claimed to be overseeing an official SPJ National project. If I were, it wouldn’t have been posted on a regional blog.

    As for comments about the bylaws, my apologies if I fell short. Tippins and those I directly spoke with hadn’t seen the bylaws – I should have limited that statement to current staffers and not implied it goes back decades. I’ve corrected the language on the post that’s now on the other blog.

    Besides that, anything else I’m missing? I want to be accurate, but I make no apologies for being opinionated on my own blog.

    – Koretzky

  • http://www.barryhollander.com Barry Hollander

    This is disappointing. The piece about the Red & Black mess was helpful and the students were happy to have SPJ show up so quickly, almost like a journalism emergency response team. It’s ironic that a story basically about censorship and editorial control was removed because of, well, censorship and editorial control.

  • Brandon Ballenger

    I guess we can be glad John isn’t pushing student journalists over. But he’s still putting a bureaucracy before SPJ’s mission, which, no, I don’t find funny.

    It is the mission of the Society of Professional Journalists:

    — To promote this [accurate, comprehensive, timely and understandable] flow of information [so Americans can make decisions regarding their lives, and their local and national communities].

    John’s done the opposite here by trying to limit the flow of information — and I can only presume his own version of events would offer less frank detail, since “that’s how we do things in SPJ.”

    — To maintain constant vigilance in protection of the First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and of the press.

    No government involved, so he gets a pass on this one.

    — To stimulate high standards and ethical behavior in the practice of journalism.

    I would presume “high standards” includes doing something quickly, accurately and effectively. Get the story right, get it out! You couldn’t have asked for better here, especially from a volunteer.

    — To foster excellence among journalists.

    Appearing to withdraw support of embattled student journalists, not to mention censoring a volunteer who took the initiative to offer that support and provide context that wasn’t otherwise available, certainly isn’t *my* idea of fostering excellence, either among journalists or in SPJ.

    — To inspire successive generations of talented individuals to become dedicated journalists.

    Color me inspired.

    — To encourage diversity in journalism.

    Another pass here.

    — To be the pre-eminent, broad-based membership organization for journalists.

    Hard to be pre-eminent if we’re not going to aim to be relevant and timely. We also can’t expect to broaden the membership if students see we’re favoring bureaucracy over the news (especially on issues directly relevant to them). They’re the potential future membership.

    — To encourage a climate in which journalism can be practiced freely.

    Ha!

    I’m sorely disappointed in John, who till this point has been a reasonable ear and has done some good outreach to members. It’s a sad note to end on.

    I can only hope president-elect Sonny Albarado sees things a little differently. This organization needs to support its volunteers and be more nimble.

  • Pingback: SPJ Editorial: Red, Dead and Irrelevant?

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  • Dana Gower

    I enjoyed reading your columns about The Red and Black.
    The history of SPJ presidents selling out students goes way back. My disappointment in SPJ goes back to 1984 when Frank Sutherland stabbed the student chapters in the back during the national convention. I hung on as a professional member for several more years before finally resigning. I really hadn’t thought about SPJ in years. It’s good to see people like you keeping up the fight. Don’t let the presidents get you down.

  • Fred B. Walters

    One of the points should be an obligation for editors and producers to determine priorities based on their own knowledge of issues and not be swayed by surveys of public opinion. It is assumed these gatekeepers to the airwaves and printing presses keep themselves well-informed on matters of public impact.

  • Ellen Eldridge

    Looks good!

  • Maureen Nevin Duffy

    Re: Pursue accuracy in reporting over speed of publication. Neither

    speed nor abbreviation formats excuse inaccuracy. [Are there similar requirements of editors? Most working journalists today are painfully aware of the type of pressure being applied, which puts speed as the main virtue. Of course, editors expect accuracy, too. But we have only to view the end-results in publications as prestigious as the "Gray Lady" to see which master -- speed or accuracy -- wins out most often. Ever observe the expanding nature of the corrections box? I think some genuine guidance here would be useful. And telling writers not to sacrifice accuracy without telling editors what is reasonable and really possible, and supporting writers, might go a long way here.]

  • John McClelland

    The advice to give corrections “the same prominence” as the original item surely gets widely ignored as hopelessly impractical. I recall _once_ in 20 years doing a follow-up story, a corrective rehash with little new info, to provide a platform for a headline similar to that on the original story. Other than a brokered deal to defuse litigation (this was not), who would even consider that now? Seek a better phrase, something like “with prominence appropriate to….”
    Corrections now need to be linked to lingering online versions of the originals. Some organizations do this reasonably well, considering. Too many probably do not even try. Find a way to encourage it.

  • Jacob Kanclerz

    “Label rumors as unconfirmed in the rare occasions it becomes necessary to report one.”

    Not sure how I feel about enshrining this in the code. What was the rationale for including this, and how many people felt strong enough to add it? I can understand the intent, given what we’ve seen breaking news coverage in this Twitter age. My only rebuttal would be that the Code sets a very high ethical bar in general. I feel like we’re lowering the bar a bit here to fit current trends in news delivery.

    I do like most of the new Code. It feels much more relevant and the additions fit for the digital age look great.


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