By Michael Koretzky | March 20th, 2013
SPJ has very few edicts – mandatory rules that national board members like myself must abide by. One of them is hosting an annual journalism conference within my region. Ever obedient, I organized last weekend’s MediAtlanta and recruited staffers from The Red and Black to tell the tale.
Careful readers of this blog will note I’ve written about The Red and Black before, and it wasn’t exactly flattering. But my beef was with the professionals, not the students. (In fact, my beefs are almost always with the old farts who should know better.)
So here’s what three journalists at the award-winning Red and Black – it fared quite well in the regional Mark of Excellence contest – learned at MediAtlanta…
4 Lies Your College Will Tell You
Picking four lies colleges tell student journalists was tricky for Frank LoMonte, the executive director of the Student Press Law Center. But he was able to narrow it down to just four.
Lie 1: You’re defaming the school!
“Well, the fact of the matter is, it’s really freaking hard to defame a college,” LoMonte said. While the Supreme Court has ruled that it’s possible to libel someone even in an opinion piece, what most colleges call defamation isn’t.
“Libel is a false statement of fact that is made with some degree of negligence or recklessness,” LoMonte said. Colleges may claim that journalists are libeling or about to libel them, but usually it’s just an intimidation tactic.
“We hear colleges say to their student journalists, trying to intimidate them, ‘You’re about to libel our college’ – and what they really mean is, ‘You’re about to hurt our reputation by publishing something about us that is harmful but true,’” LoMonte said. “And if it is harmful but true, it doesn’t matter how harmful it is.”
This concept stems from the idea that student journalists are there to make the school look good. Instead, students should look at their relationship to their college as a consumer relationship.
“The schools want you to think of it as, ‘You are a representative of the school, and you have to make us proud,’” LoMonte said, “But the fact is, you’re paying these people a lot of money to provide you a service in a consumer transaction.”
Lie 2: Everything we have is a FERPA record
FERPA – the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act – was intended to protect students from snooping of other government agencies. But reports of employee misconduct, court documents and teachers’ emails in their “in” box are not protected by FERPA.
“Just because it has a student’s name on it doesn’t mean it’s protected by FERPA,” LoMonte said. Records must be directly related to the student and be maintained by the school in order to be protected by FERPA. For example, “Police records – records created for law enforcement purposes – are never ever ever ever FERPA records,” LoMonte said.
Lie 3: This is a HIPAA violation
“FERPA’s uglier cousin is HIPAA,” LoMonte said. HIPAA is the federal healthcare privacy law.
“HIPAA does say that people who are covered by HIPAA can’t give out information about people’s individual confidential medical information,” LoMonte said. “But HIPAA only covers two types of people: It covers your health care provider – your doctor – and your health insurance.”
Taking pictures and writing about injured people and accidents are not HIPAA violations, although some officials might tell you it is.
“If somebody says ‘HIPAA,’ what you should hear is ‘I’m lying to you right now,’” LoMonte said, “because it’s always wrong. The law is largely misunderstood and misquoted, but journalists would be hard-pressed to violate it. There is no such thing as invasion of privacy of something that you do in a public space.”
Lie 4: if you take pictures where you shouldn’t we get to delete them
Once you take pictures, they’re your property. No one can seize them. “The reality is that’s stealing,” LoMonte said.
“If you wouldn’t let somebody rip up your $20 bill, don’t let them delete your pictures either,” LoMonte said, “There is not ever a time when the law says that the right answer is for the police or somebody acting like a cop to delete your photos or make you delete them or to otherwise take them away.”
Journalism in the Middle East
Former Cleveland Plain Dealer managing editor Tom O’Hara looked forward to adventure in the Middle East — and he found it.
The United Arab Emirates is ranked 114th out of 179 in the Press Freedom Index and labeled “not free” by Freedom House. it’s not an obvious hotspot for journalists on the job hunt.
But for O’Hara and Georgia State University profesor Matt Duffy, it was. Between 2010 and 2012, O’Hara worked as a desk editor at The National, an English-language paper praised as the best and freest in the Arab world. Duffy taught journalism as a professor at Zayed University. Saturday, both men spoke about their experiences at MediAtlanta.
O’Hara said although he couldn’t find a reporting job in the United States, he found two in the Middle East within two days of searching. A recruiter from The National lauded Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s intentions to create “The New York Times of the Middle East.”
That wasn’t quite what O’Hara encountered. Working at The National meant battles not just between writers and editors, but between news staff and the constant threat of censorship.
Censors were only concerned with certain topics, O’Hara said — namely, those that might reflect badly on the government or threaten its stability. In the midst of the Arab Spring, any writing that might portray the U.A.E. government negatively was deemed a potential cause of civil unrest, and thus unprintable.
Fortunately for him, O’Hara was safe behind the foreign news desk, where few stories seemed to possess the potential for political catastrophe.
Self-censorship was the norm at The National, O’Hara said. Paranoia kept the paper’s editors worried about offending not just Sheik Khalifa but also the Bahraini rulers, to whom he’s related. Even the president’s own words were edited for Shia references so as not to upset the paper’s Sunni Muslim readers.
O’Hara said the top editors at The National spent much of their time proofing copy rather than performing the administrative duties often expected of the highest-ranking members of the newsroom.
In the U.A.E., libel was a criminal offense, Duffy said. Arab publications even used initials in crime reports instead of names to protect suspects’ pride — truth wasn’t necessarily a viable defense when a reporter was brought to court for defamation of character.
Arab readers could circumvent censorship by getting their news from the Internet, Duffy said. Still, he said he was surprised by how little his colleagues knew about current events in their own country.
“I was surprised by how few people were paying attention,” he said.
Duffy described the U.A.E. as a lovely place to live, with many people prospering from oil money and therefore content with life as they knew it — and often unconcerned with the news. He said Arab culture and Islamic tradition created a welcoming atmosphere for him.
O’Hara also said he felt welcome, and that he rarely encountered anti-American or xenophobic sentiments from sources and others.
“You kept hearing this: ‘I love Americans. I don’t like America,’” he said.
O’Hara said Arabs’ dislike for America had more to do with its support for Israel than for its culture. He added that not knowing Arabic is no deterrent to reporting in a country whose population consists mostly of expatriates. Neither is gender, he said, although he advised female reporters to enter the Middle East with a tough skin.
“Arab men are not subtle,” he said.
O’Hara and Duffy agreed that their experiences, though challenging, were invaluable. O’Hara recommended that reporters work abroad early in their careers so they can apply the lessons they learn there to the careers they build in the United States.
Both men also expressed hope for the future of free speech in the Middle East. Social media isn’t going away, Duffy said, and neither is the freedom of expression it provides.
Weird Careers in the Media
In the rapidly evolving world of media, careers can be found where you least expect them. Nobody I know grew up with dreams of being a “social media editor” — how could they? Five years ago, it didn’t even exist as a profession.
While some doomsayers may preach that the advent of technology will herald the extinction of journalism, Michael Koretzky, the leader of MediAtlanta’s “Weird Careers in the Media” session, begs to differ. He offered several pieces of advice to help aspiring journalists get the ball rolling.
Don’t get an internship when you can get a part-time freelance gig.
While internships are practically guaranteed to involve their fair share of coffee runs, copy-making and fun-filled trips to restock the printer, freelance gigs guarantee the one thing an internship can’t: actual experience.
And in addition to grabbing you a few real-world bylines, most freelance jobs are also paid and can bring you into contact with some great names for the reference section of your resume.
Dailies are still hiring writers, photographers, and designers…so long as they’re all the same person.
In our technology-saturated world, everything is about multimedia, and staff writers are no longer expected solely to be able to write.
Proficiency in HTML, Photoshop, Flash and InDesign can skyrocket your chances of landing an interview and ultimately a career.
Newspapers will run like magazines. Magazines will run like radio stations.
Now that anyone with a GoDaddy account can run their own quote-unquote news service, publications’ best bet for survival lies in finding their niche readership.
Koretzky ran through several examples of magazines devoted to everything from lawn croquet to yachting crews. While it may not be your dream job, when it comes hiring time, the randomness of your resume may just be what lands you an interview.
Writers also don’t need to specifically share their publication’s interest.In two different cases, writers for a gay magazine and a Native American magazine weren’t even gay or Native American.
Journalists will have at least one job in their career they never expected.
And here comes the “weird” part: Your best bet at a career in journalism might not be in publications at all.
Many businesses are now hiring writers to blog about their products, events and services. Advocacy groups have also begun to hire their own freelance investigative journalists to pursue causes that might not be at the top of a mainstream news service’s priority list.
Some companies want journalists instead of public relations specialists.
In the same vein of unexpected career opportunities, many companies and businesses are overlooking the typical public relations grads to run their PR in favor of journalists, who know how to spice up a would-be boring post and are no strangers to thinking on their feet.
Ultimately, while first jobs can be daunting in the fast-paced world of journalism, the key to success isn’t always sticking to your guns.
Sometimes you have to get creative – and maybe a little weird – to find the right first step towards the career of your dreams.