Congrats to the Central Ohio Chapter for staging a super Region 4 Conference in Columbus April 4-5! Chapter President Beth Gianforcaro,
doubling as conference chair and calling on many of her chapter officers, assembled a great line-up of speakers and topics that held the crowd through the final minutes of the conference — and even beyond!
Among the highlights:
- Attendance and venue: About 175 professionals, students and academics attended the conference, with the Friday evening opening at the new OSU Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum in Sullivant Hall and the Saturday sessions at the OSUFawcettCenter.
- MOE winners: 488 students entered the annual competition, with about 120 picking up “winner” or “finalist” awards. (Release: http://www.spj.org/news.asp?ref=1237.
- Otterbein College: Otterbein360, the student-run website of the Westerville, Ohio, private school of about 3100, received First Amendment Awards from the Central Ohio chapter and Region 4 (the latter called the Dick Goehler First Amendment Award, named for the prominent Cincinnati media lawyer who developed leukemia and died in March 2011). Otterbein360 news editor Anna Schiffbauer sued the university earlier this year in the Ohio Supreme Court for the right to obtain police arrest and incident reports from the Otterbein Police Department. SPJ’s Legal Defense Fund put up $5,000 for the effort, partly to retain the services of Cincinnati media attorney Jack Greiner to handle the case.
- Shield Law: National secretary-treasurer Paul Fletcher provided an update of SPJ efforts to generate support for another run at a national shield law. Among them: Recruiting SPJers to write their members of Congress. For details, visit http://www.spj.org/shieldlaw.asp.
- Ethics Code: Former SPJ national president Kevin Smith, as chair of the SPJ Ethics Committee, has released a draft update of the SPJ Code of Ethics. It considers many social media questions that were not on the table when the code was last revised. It is open for review and comment at http://blogs.spjnetwork.org/ethics/2014/03/27/ethics-code-revisions-our-first-draft/ Lots of discussion on the ethics of using social media. In related discussions – about the coverage of the Steubenville (Ohio) rape case, the Kwame Kilpatrick (Detroit) case and most recently the FortHood (Texas) shootings case – journalism pros reminded students that Tweets, Facebook postings, Snapchat snippets, etc., are NOT verified fact, but the start of the process to confirm useable information for legitimate journalism.
- Recruiting: Former national SPJ president (9/11 to 9.12) John Ensslin is leading a committee to investigative how to attract younger journalists (30 and under) to SPJ.
- Public records: Several speakers focused on the necessity of obtaining public records to boost reporting. Jim Schaefer, whose work on Kilpatrick for the Detroit Free Press won him and colleagues a Pulitzer, based much of his reporting on text messages between the former mayor and his chief of staff/mistress; Columbus Dispatch reporters Jennifer Smith Richards and Jill Riepenhoff reviewed a wide variety of their data-based projects, some as easy as comparing one simple set of facts against another. Great tip for anyone covering a public entity: Learn what data they collect. As soon as you find yourself on such a beat, request a “record retention file” which outlines what the agency collects and how long it retains the info. (Aside to college students: Get the data on real estate violations to see which rental outfits in your town have been in trouble for failing to maintain their properties!) Several speakers noted that universities often cite FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) when they deny reporters requested information. (Riepenhoff’s take, at top volume: “Worst. Law. Ever.”)
- Disturbing news: In Ohio, Andrew Welsh-Huggins of the Associated Press, and Alan Johnson of the Columbus Dispatch, are considered two of the best on covering capital punishment. Both argued that reporters must be present to observe executions – considering the state’s ultimate punishment is carried out in the name of Ohio citizens. The work is challenging and draining, but important. (Side note: The state bans any kind of audio or video recording of executions. Officials provide a blank note book and pen – requiring reporters to take copious notes to document executions and record final statements by hand.) Ohio’s most recent execution attracted international attention as Dennis McGuire visibly struggled to die in January, after the state used a new two-drug protocol for the first time. Both journalists were inundated with calls from across the globe asking for details and commentary. Welsh-Huggins and Johnson also reviewed their coverage of the Ariel Castro case, about the Cleveland man who held three women captive for more than a decade, and the Zanesville wild animal case, where the owner of an exotic animal farm released his tigers, monkeys and other animals just before he committed suicide. (The Castro case was also logistically challenging because of the court’s ban on recording devices. Welsh-Huggins reports racing to his car on 15-minute
breaks in the often 12-hour plus hour days to dictate hand-written updates to his AP colleagues.)
- Next year: The Ohio University chapter stepped forward to host the Regional Conference in Athens next year, March 20-22. A GIANT thanks to OU instructor Nerissa Young and her crew for stepping up!
- Want more? Head over to Facebook for photos on the SPJ Central Ohio page and the Miami University Journalism Program page!
Thanks to all for a terrific weekend!