The ‘power’ of respect in the newsroom

I was honored to represent SPJ this month at “The Power Shift Summit,” a meeting of more than 100 media leaders in Washington, D.C. who came together with a shared purpose: “to address the problem of sexual misconduct in newsrooms and to identify solutions for creating meaningful and sustainable change.”

The invitation-only event, held at the Newseum’s Knight Conference Center, was organized as a series of discussions featuring leaders from all media platforms. Journalists who have reported stories about sexual misconduct, and victims of that misconduct, discussed the impact of the coverage to date. The event was trending on Twitter under #PowerShiftSummit for most of the day.

The end of the summit offered some solutions as to what newsrooms and media organizations are doing to deal with emerging cases, and what systemic changes are needed for the future. They included educating young journalists about their rights to a safe and hostile-free workplace, involving human resources as a partner in developing and enforcing sexual misconduct policies, including men in any and all conversations about sexual misconduct, and making sure sexual harassment awareness and prevention is an ongoing topic.

One solution stood out: creating a culture of respect in the newsroom. Too often, rudeness, hostility and boorishness can open the door to more serious misconduct. In short, management should not tolerate seemingly minor acts of bad behavior and stop them from spreading or worsening. In the words of some of the panelists (and yes, these are exact quotes) “Don’t be an a**hole. Don’t hire a**holes.”

As members of SPJ, each of us can serve as an example of what an ethical, respectful and tolerant journalist should be. We can be leaders of good behavior in our newsrooms and in the field. We can take steps to see that our workplaces not only have sexual misconduct policies in place but that they are enforcing them. We can share SPJ’s sexual harassment resources page with your colleagues and encourage them to speak up about any abuse they see or experience. Working together, we can we stop the scourge of sexual harassment.

Postscript: I was delighted to see two members of the Sigma Delta Chi board (SPJ’s foundation) at the summit: Evelyn Hsu, representing the Maynard Institute as its executive director, and Sonya Ross, representing the Associated Press as its race and ethnicity editor. Both serve the SDX board well.


Trust and the Media in a New Era

How can the press regain the public’s trust?

That’s a question some of the country’s top journalists attempted to answer this week at the inaugural Poynter Journalism Ethics Summit in Washington, D.C. I was privileged to attend and want to share with you some highlights of the event.

The all-day gathering kicked off with the release of Poynter’s media trust survey called “You’re Fake News!” It confirmed what many of us in the media have experienced or sensed: “Republicans and Trump supporters have far more negative attitudes toward the press” (19% confidence in media reporting) than do Democrats and Trump opponents (74% confidence)

What was truly disturbing was some of the overall findings: 44 percent of those surveyed said they believe journalist make up stories about Trump, and 31 percent agreed that the media are the “enemy of the people” and “keep political leaders from doing their job.” Nearly two-thirds of Trump supporters believe those statements, the survey found.

Perhaps the worst of all: 16 percent of Trump opponents and 42 percent of his supporters said that government should “be able to stop a news media outlet from publishing a story that government officials say is biased or inaccurate.”

So what can be done about all of this?

Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University, offered a three-step plan to restore trust, which I shared on Twitter: 1. Don’t oppose Trump, oppose a political style where facts and truth are expendable. 2. Focus on people’s troubles, not issues created to get them angry. 3. Generate trust through transparency, not authority.

Poynter itself outlined several steps to move the needle toward public trust of the press:

  • Be transparent: describe your process for ensuring accuracy. Shift from “show-me” journalism to “this is why you should trust me” journalism. Have an ongoing explanation of who you are and what you do.
  • Adopt signifiers of trust outlined by The Trust Project, which offers tips to help news consumers feel confident that what they’re reading and seeing is legitimate
  • Strike a balance between the courage/confidence needed to do our work with the humility needed to listen to your audience and find out their concerns
  • Educate people about the public role journalism plays in Democracy
  • Protect and defend Democratic institutions include the First Amendment

The last one has been the mission of the Society of Professional Journalists for more than a century, and we will continue to join legal battles to preserve the rights of a free press and the free flow of information to the public.


It just keeps getting worse

It just keeps getting worse.

In the span of just a few hours on Monday, New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush and CBS/PBS broadcaster Charlie Rose joined the ever-growing dishonor roll of high-profile male journalists publicly accused of sexually harassing their female colleagues.

That Hall of Shame includes Mark Halperin, Michel Oreskes, Jann Wenner, Leon Wieseltier, Matt Zimmerman, Bill O’Reilly and the late Roger Ailes of Fox News, and many others across the media landscape we’ll never know because they are not famous or prominent enough to warrant a news story.

And this is far from over. I predict we’re going to hear a lot more stories of powerful media men taking advantage of their positions of prominence to perform unwanted acts of sexual aggression toward younger (often much younger) men and women at a point in their careers where they are the least powerful, the least influential.

How many smart, talented journalists have our industry lost because of sexual harassment? How many have left our profession, their careers cut short, because they could no longer tolerate the unwanted advances of a boss or co-worker? We’ll never know, and that might be the worst part of it all.

So what can we do? As SPJ ethics chairman Andrew Seaman wrote earlier this month, we need to create a culture where would-be harassers are too scared to act on their worst instincts.

As Seaman points out, the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics calls on journalists to “expose unethical conduct in journalism, including within their organizations” and to “abide by the same high standards they expect of others.”

Here are a few other ways that might help rid journalism of the scourge of sexual harassment:

  1. Demand that your newsroom, no matter its size, has a sexual harassment policy on the books.
  2. Insist that the sexual harassment policy be acknowledged in writing as having been read by every single employee.
  3. Urge your HR department or newsroom leaders to host annual sexual harassment training for all employees.
  4. Establish a peer-support network of employees, outside the chain-of-command, that can be a go-to place for victims of sexual misconduct and that’s trained to bring reports of sexual misconduct to those who might be able to make it stop.

Meanwhile, I’ve requested that all of SPJ’s regional conferences this spring host a discussion about the issue of sexual harassment in newsrooms. And I’m urging SPJ chapters to sponsor an event about what to do when encountering sexual harassment on the job.

Hopefully these discussions – inside and outside the newsroom – can help purge the predators and protect the respectable practitioners of journalism.

 

 


#FreePressFriday to highlight link between journalism, democracy

“Power can be very addictive. And it can be corrosive. And it’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power.”  Former President George W. Bush, February 2017

Want some evidence? Just this past week, journalists have exposed abuses of power that prompted a congressman, a Cabinet member and a powerful Hollywood producer to step down from their influential positions.

As President Trump ratchets up his attacks on the news media, it’s more important than ever to remind the public about the connection between good journalism and a healthy democracy.

That’s why SPJ is launching #FreePressFriday, a day where we highlight great quotes — like the one above — about the importance of a free press in society. We encourage you to share them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media outlets to help spread the word (or words, as the case may be) about the value of journalism.

We also encourage you to use #FreePressFriday to share news stories that have made an impact on your community. It can be an investigation into government corruption, a feature story that helped a family in need or an enterprise piece that uncovered a social injustice and prompted official action. The public should know about the great journalism that is happening every day all over the country.

The goal of #FreePressFriday is to help make that happen.

 

 


Recent Attacks Against Journalists Are Attacks Against American Freedoms

In the last several weeks journalists have been pinned against a wall, arrested, assaulted, told to get “back in your cages,” and threatened with gun violence by a sitting state governor.

The key word left out of the sentence above: American.

Those incidents happened to American journalists. American journalists working and doing their jobs in the United States, a country that has a freedom designated for the press.

If you’ve read the headlines or followed the stories on social media, you may have seen the threat of gun violence called a joke, or the event that resulted in an assault charge for a newly elected Congressman, called inappropriate unless the reporter deserved it.

These incidents are not funny and should not be dismissed. The words being spoken are also not funny and they should not be treated as jokes.

These incidents are an attack against the freedoms America was founded on and should be taken seriously.

Most importantly they need to stop. 

In the United States, the First Amendment protects a free press. This includes protecting an individual’s right to ask questions of elected officials without the threat of violence. Journalists should not be arrested or physically harmed for simply trying to do their jobs. Journalists are the eyes and ears of the public. When they are prevented from doing their jobs, the public loses and American freedom is threatened.

The United States, whether data and reality always supports it or not, is often used as an example of a free society by others around the world. This includes evaluating what a free press looks like.

Around the world, we are seeing journalists killed or physically threatened while doing their jobs. These incidents also need to be stopped and should be taken seriously. It is also why it is even more important to push back and stop the incidents happening here.

What we allow to happen on U.S. soil could set the tone for what others experience and do elsewhere, outside our borders.

These recent incidents, that include physical violence, anti-press rhetoric, and legal action are steps away from freedom. They are incidents that should not be happening in a country that was founded on protecting freedom of the press. These incidents threaten American democracy.

Right now, there is undeniable tension between journalists, news organizations, and the public. Polls continue to show the American public’s trust in media is at an all-time low.

While there are examples of reporting and journalists that may have helped contribute to that, we, as Americans, both journalists, and non-journalists, need to work together to stop this threat against our freedom.

Do we want to live in a country where people are not free to ask politicians questions? A country where the information the public receives only comes from those in power? A country where you are not free to publish information people may disagree with?

I know that is not the America I want to live in. It is also not the America people have fought hard, in some cases sacrificing their lives, to protect.

In the name of freedom, let’s stand together.


Memos and Emails to Federal Agency Employees Ban Press Releases, Social Media Posts and “Outward Facing” Documents

Denying agencies from sharing and communicating with the public, even temporarily, denies citizens their rights to access and the ability to hold the government accountable.

The public’s access to its government and its employees is dying.

Tuesday, memos and emails, obtained by a variety of news organizations, show federal agencies are being prohibited from sending press releases, posting on social media and sharing information on blogs.

The agencies involved include the Environmental Protection Agency (link 1, link 2) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

It is being described as a temporary media blackout but in reality, it is the public that is being kept in the dark.

The Associated Press is reporting emails sent to EPA staff since President Donald Trump took office, ban employees from “providing updates on social media or to reporters.” According to BuzzFeed News, USDA employees, specifically employees in the Agricultural Research Service department, were told not to release “any public-facing documents” including “news releases, photos, fact sheets, news feeds, and social media content.”

This is a step away from transparency. This is also a step in the complete opposite direction of what The Society of Professional Journalists and more than 60 other journalism and free press organizations were hoping to discuss with President Trump and his administration when we sent a letter asking for more transparency within government agencies and more direct access to government employees.

The letter, sent to President Trump and his administration less than a week ago, specifically asked for a meeting to discuss three things:

  • the ability of reporters to directly interact with government employees who are subject matter experts, rather than interacting with Public Information Officers (or having all conversations monitored by Public Information Officers);
  • access to the activities of the President;
  • and ensuring that the Federal Freedom of Information Act remains as strong as possible.

Click here to read the letter.

Policies, where federal agencies are barred, even temporarily, from releasing information to the public are unacceptable. These policies prevent the public from knowing what the agencies are spending taxpayer money on. They go against what this country was founded on. They go against our existence as a democracy.

These policies keep the public completely in the dark. They also do not allow journalists to hold the government and its officials accountable.

According to the Washington Post, USDA officials said ARS had not “blacked out public information.” They added, according to the article “that scientific articles published through professional peer-reviewed journals have not been banned.” In a statement, a representative with the ARS told the Washington Post, “as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific in-house research agency, ARS values and is committed to maintaining the free flow of information between our scientists and the American public as we strive to find solutions to agricultural problems affecting America.”

It is unclear if these directives came from within the USDA, from Trump himself or from officials overseeing the transition.

What is clear when instituting policies like this is that it shows a complete disregard for the public’s right to know what the government it is doing and it threatens the right of the public to access information through the Federal Freedom of Information Act.

SPJ will not stand by and watch as journalists and the public’s rights are being threatened. Even if temporary, this is a step away from an open and honest government.


SPJ and Journalism Organizations Respond To Election of Donald Trump

Last week, after the election, the Society of Professional Journalists and other journalism organizations released statements reinforcing their commitment to protecting the First Amendment and fighting for the public’s right to know.

Since the election SPJ has seen an increase in donations. Some, when donating, have specifically cited the election outcome.

I want you to know that SPJ is ready to defend the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment and push for government transparency.

We hope that you will continue to join us in this fight. If you have ideas or thoughts or want to help in any way, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me. Also, if you need help donating or renewing your membership, we would gladly help with that as well.

Here is a list of statements made by journalism organizations:

Lynn Walsh is the National President for the Society of Professional Journalists. In her day job she leads the NBC 7 Investigates team in San Diego, California. She loves holding the powerful accountable and spends more time than she would like fighting for public information. Connect with her on Twitter, @LWalsh.

The World is Watching This Election Day, Report Ethically and Responsibly

"I Voted"

It’s almost here, Election Day 2016.

It seems like journalists and news organizations have been covering this race for years. That’s probably because some have. The length, combined with the twists and turns throughout, have made this is a long and tiresome race to cover as a journalist.

Maybe, like me, you have found yourself getting very cynical about the whole process. Maybe you have found yourself becoming less and less interested in the local issues on your ballot.

Well, let’s all snap out of it.

Last week, while speaking to a group of Society of Professional Journalists members at San Diego State University, I was reminded that covering an election, an event at the core of our democracy, is special. The students, covering their first U.S. Presidential election, were excited, eagerly sharing with me their plans for election night, November 8.

After my conversation with them I was a little annoyed with myself for not feeling the same way. I was also reminded how important our, journalists, coverage of this and every election is for the public, our future and our democracy.

So, yes, some of us have been following candidates across the country, working countless hours, for more than a year. Yes, some of us have been treated poorly and disrespectfully while just trying to do our jobs. And yes, we all have been told the “media” is biased and is rigging the election.

But, despite all of this, our work, our information, our actions, are helping the public make informed decisions about the future of our country. For that we should all be proud.

So, this is a reminder, to stand tall and continue to serve this country like journalists know best: ethically, responsibly, accurately and fairly.

The world is truly watching, let’s show them what professional journalists can do. And if you have not heard it yet: Thank you.

For tips on how to cover the election responsibly, click here and also review the SPJ Code of Ethics.

Lynn Walsh is the National President for the Society of Professional Journalists. In her day job she leads the NBC 7 Investigates team in San Diego, California. She loves holding the powerful accountable and spends more time than she would like fighting for public information. Connect with her on Twitter, @LWalsh. 


Baltimore Police Email Search Fee Hinders Public Access and Decreases Accountability

Baltimore Police Department

The Baltimore Police Department is charging $50 if a member of the public requests emails from the department, making public access to information and holding government officials more difficult.

MuckRock posted this earlier this week.

According to the policy, outlined in a response to MuckRock, the department says it will charge the $50 email search fee before it will begin to process the request. If the fee is paid, the search begins, a review cost is determined and if the cost and terms are “agreed upon” the $50 fee is deducted from the final cost. Click here or look below to read more about the policy.

While it is a nice gesture for them to deduct the search fee from the total cost, charging just to begin a search threatens the public’s right to information. Emails from public agencies and public employees should be released to the public without prohibitive fees. This information belongs to the public. Members of the public should not have to pay a search fee for it. Charging before the request is even processed is even more prohibitive and threatening to the public’s right to know.

An email to the Baltimore Police Department was not returned. It is also unclear as to when or why this policy was implemented. MuckRock estimates it was sometime in the last two months.

Whatever the reason, the policy is prohibitive and makes requesting emails more difficult for the public. Since the public has a right to this information, there should not be extra steps to jump over or extra fees to be paid in order to obtain it.

Fighting for access to information is something the Society of Professional Journalists takes seriously. If you have been hindered by Baltimore PD’s policy, please let me know: @LWalsh or lwalsh@spj.org

More from the policy:

If you are requesting e-mails correspondence the following is the procedure to request BPD e-mail.

Request for BPD emails are handled by the Information and Technology Section (I T). BPD emails are handled separately from the City of Baltimore emails. BPD emails have a limited retrieval time frame. The cost of in-house retrieval is based on the number of email that must be reviewed before being disclosed. Confidential opinions, deliberations, advice or recommendations from one governmental employee or official to another for the purpose of assisting the latter official in the decision-making function may be withheld. In addition, part of an interagency, or intra-agency letter or memorandum that would not be available by law to a private party in litigation can be withheld.

The BPD can run a word, name or phase through the email retention system. The BPD can run individual email addresses or the entire BPD email system. Once the system identifies the emails with the word, name or phase each email will have to be review to determine what can be disclosed and their relevancy.

The average staff time of review e-mails for release is approximately 150-200 pages reviewed per hour (e-mails and attachments). Time differs depending on the size or complexity of the e-mails. Once all disclosable emails are identified the BPD will advise of the actual cost of producing the e-mails. There is a minimum charge of $50.00 to start the search and downloading of e-mails. After the number of emails is determined you will be provided with the review cost. If the costs and terms are agreed upon emails will be reviewed. The $50.00 search fee will be deducted from the final cost.


Government Employees Don’t Get To Decide Which Journalists Cover Them

A former soccer coach is acquitted in a murder trial. The prosecutor in the case holds a news conference after the verdict. Three journalists covering the trial are excluded.

The dateline for this story isn’t somewhere overseas. It’s unfortunately in our own backyard, in upstate New York.

Last week, St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary Rain barred The Watertown Daily Times reporter William Eckert and photographer Jason Hunter from a news conference after a not guilty verdict in the murder trial of Oral “Nick” Hillary.

Hillary was accused of stalking, strangling and killing 12-year-old Garrett Phillips. The trial has garnered media attention outside of New York, highlighted on national TV programs.

According to The Watertown Daily Times,  Rain excluded Eckert because she said he “‘is a dishonest reporter and I won’t have a dishonest reporter reporting to the community dishonestly.'” (Another journalist, Brit Hanson, was also blocked from the news conference but it has been reported that Rain said that happened in error.)

Click here to read Eckert explain how the events unfolded.

A photo of St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary Rains on the county website.

A photo of St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary Rains on the county website.

This is unacceptable and threatens the right of a free press. If government officials use their power to decide which journalists are granted access to public information, involving the public, on public property, it threatens our rights and freedom to speak freely, gather information freely and publish freely.

This goes beyond granting someone an exclusive or first interview. This was a news conference where only a few people were excluded and they were excluded because of a government leader’s opinion of them and their work.

The government does not get to decide who reports on and covers them. The public should be outraged that a public official is trying to block their right to public information by blocking access to those that may ask critical questions or hold officials accountable. Excluding certain members of the press from interviews and news conferences interferes with the public’s right to know.

I join and support the New York State Associated Press Association, a group of New York newspaper and broadcast journalists, in condemning Rain’s actions.

“…It is inappropriate for you to attempt to control information by giving personal invitations to only certain reporters based on your preference for favorable coverage, or to bar reporters whose coverage you dislike,” the association president Tracy Ormsbee said in the letter.

Click here to read the full letter.

A response from Rain was not immediately received but will be added if it is.

The Watertown Daily Times is protesting and demanding an apology from Rain.


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