Archive for the ‘Education’ Category


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.

Only response to free-speech bullies: some muscle

In the cold, clear light of a second-day story, the words are still chilling:

“Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here!”

As most journalists in America now know, the woman who made that statement was Melissa Click, a communications professor at the University of Missouri, caught on a video that went viral.

The video, photographed by student Mark Schierbecker, documented, among other things, efforts by student photojournalist Tim Tai to cover student protesters at Mizzou; the video was shot after news that university system president Tim Wolfe had resigned. The journalists presumably were seeking comment and reaction to the resignation.

But come back to Click. She sought to shut down the student press in a way that was threatening. Some muscle? Really? Should Schierbecker have feared for his personal safety?

To their great credit, Schierbecker and Tai showed respect, resolution, calmness, professionalism and yes, courage, considering they were faced with an unhappy crowd chanting, “Hey hey ho ho, reporters have got to go!”

Click since has issued an apology for her actions, which Schierbecker said in a tweet that he did not accept. No doubt she is hoping that everyone, including the school she works for, will move on.

But should the rest of us let Click off easy? I don’t think so. There is a word for someone who treated the journalists the way she did: Bully.

She bullied Schierbecker, and the call for help to remove him forcibly is inexcusable and indefensible.

Since she was trying to shut down press coverage, call her a free speech bully, attempting to squelch a reporter.

Here is another reason not to let her off the hook: She’s not alone in higher education.

Within the past year, SPJ has tracked no fewer than six examples of journalism advisers at colleges across America who have run afoul of their schools’ leaders for (gasp!) encouraging student journalists to do their jobs and cover the school.

In each case, the administration would prefer that the student press run happy news, or perhaps recipes, instead of stories seeking to hold (often) public employees accountable.

In one of the adviser altercations, the school paper’s editor-in-chief provided his notes of his run-in with a high-level administrator. “Free speech bully” again would be the operative phrase. The encounter was intimidating and oppressive: the administrator was unhappy the paper had run articles about mold in university buildings.

Frank LoMonte runs the Student Press Law Center, and his job is to watch all this and to offer help and, if necessary, legal support.

In a Facebook post last weekend, LoMonte noted he had just returned from a visit to a public university where the student reporters are required to submit their interview questions for the university president in writing to a media-relations functionary.

This minion rewrites any questions that are unacceptably “negative” and sends back a script, to which the journalists are told to adhere under threat of unspecified reprisal, he said.

I asked him: At what university did this occur?

LoMonte demurred, citing the need to minimize harm (See SPJ Code of Ethics, section II). The students were so frightened that he would need to get their OK to out the school. I am not a fan of citing incidents without names, but I trust the source here.

It’s important to note that the people involved here are college kids, between ages 18 and 21. No doubt the students LoMonte dealt with are frightened.

All these incidents, showing a careless disregard for free speech and the free press, sound like something out of a tinpot dictatorship or some leftover totalitarian regime. Tendering questions for sanitation by a minion sounds like great job training for a position at George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth after graduation.

But these stories are happening at colleges in this country, one with a history and laws that protect free speech and a free press. These schools, if they bother to teach the Constitution, must be saying that it has only nine amendments…that first one got deleted somewhere along the way.

No student should face intimidation, threats of personal violence or reprisal – simply for doing his or her job as a journalist.

The only response, I think, to free speech bullies is some muscle.

Not sending goons out to do physical harm to anyone, but push-back. Exposure. Forceful calling out. Telling the tales. Litigation when needed. Financial support for those lawsuits. And a clear message that that is what they can expect.

Because when confronted, bullies fold and run.

Updated 2/8/16, to correct the spelling of Mark Schierbecker’s name.

SPJ Board Meeting Recap

The SPJ spring board meeting was this past Sat., April 18 in Indianapolis. Each meeting is streamed live, but in case you missed it or don’t want to sit through the 6+ hour recording, here are the highlights:

  • The board approved the Fiscal Year 2016 budget. To executive director Joe Skeel’s credit, SPJ has a sizable surplus. We are operating in the black and expect to continue to do so with sufficient reserves set aside for a rainy day and to spend on worthy projects.
  • The slate of candidates for the next SPJ board cycle was announced. New candidates have until about a week before EIJ15 to announce their candidacy. So far, there are only two contested elections (secretary-treasurer and at-large director). Interested candidates should contact Sonny Albarado, past president of SPJ and this year’s nominations chair, or click here for more info.
  • We are seeking nominations to replace regional director Tony Hernandez (Region 12). He moved out of the region, and we are looking for a replacement, effective June 1. We also thanked Tony for his service to SPJ.
  • SDX President Robert Leger gave an update on the SDX Foundation, including the transition of moving programming responsibilities and funding from SPJ back to SDX.
  • The Ethics Committee, led by Andrew Seaman, is beginning the posting of additional materials to supplement the revised SPJ Code of Ethics that was approved by the delegates at EIJ14. In addition, the Code has been translated into five languages (French, Spanish, German, Chinese and Arabic). Those versions are being proofread and, once approved, they’ll be posted to SPJ.org.
  • The board discussed how to handle the proposed Marriage & Conscience Act now in committee in Louisiana. The board will send a letter to the Louisiana legislature citing its concern about the bill which addresses religious and moral beliefs, unlike other religious freedom legislation being considered in other states. Our hope is that the bill will be defeated. If not, SPJ will have to reconsider hosting its 2016 spring board meeting, and SPJ and its partner RTDNA will have to discuss the implications for EIJ16, both scheduled for New Orleans next year. President-elect Paul Fletcher and secretary-treasurer Lynn Walsh will work on the letter to the legislature and share it with the board for input by the end of this month. We will also share it with RTDNA, and they will vote on whether or not they wish to sign the letter as well.
  • The SPJ board gave staff the go-ahead to expand its criteria for the selection of convention cities.
  • I announced two new diversity initiatives: (1) Adding members of other journalism organizations (e.g., AAJA, NAJA, NLGJA, NABJ, NAHJ, etc.) to the Diversity Committee, led by April Bethea, as a pilot project. If this is successful, we hope to expand this to include members of these organizations on other committees to help expand the diversity within our organization. (2) Creating a partnership between the Diversity Committee and Membership Committee to develop diversity-related resources for our members. We’ll first create a list of programming ideas, gathering successful program information from SPJ chapters and regions. We’ll expand to include other resources such as how to identify local chapters of other organizations that we could partner with, and link to other diversity-related resources, such as the NLGJA style guide and the diversity style guide project that is supported by the SDX Foundation.
  • I announced the Membership Committee’s upcoming promotion, #spj4all, a one-day campaign to reiterate our organization’s acceptance of journalists from all backgrounds. The committee, led by Robyn Sekula, will share details soon.
  • Four new chapters were added to SPJ ranks.
  • Secretary-treasurer Lynn Walsh announced SPJ’s new career center, a dramatically improved version of our job bank which includes links to additional resources.
  • At the request of FOI chair and immediate past president Dave Cuillier, the SPJ board approved a $30,000 transfer from our fiscal year end reserves to the Advocacy Fund. The board discussed how money would be spent and what the approval process might be.
  • Regional director Tom Johnson received the board’s endorsement of his “It’s the People’s Data” project.
  • At-large director Bill McCloskey presented a new SPJ Convention Voting Transparency Policy, developed by the By-laws Committee. The policy was approved.
  • Jennifer Royer, communications strategist, and I discussed the proposed guidelines for handling the deaths of prominent journalists and international matters. Each will be handled on a case-by-case basis, and will rely on good judgment.
  • In Becky Tallent’s absence, an update about the release of the Journalism Education Committee’s new book, “Still Captive? History, Law and the Teaching of High School Journalism,” was shared in the board packet and via email.
  • President-elect Paul Fletcher informed the board that 41% of our membership is not affiliated with a chapter, meaning they are not represented by delegates at convention. At my request, Paul has formed a task force to explore the ramifications of this problem and to make recommendations for correcting it.
  • The SPJ board accepted the Executive Committee’s recommendations for 9 of the 10 overall SPJ awards, as outlined in the board packet. Changes will be effective in 2016.
  • The SPJ board discussed the selection of future Wells Key winners. The Executive Committee recommended that the selection group be expanded from the SPJ officers to the full Executive Committee. This recommendation was approved with two amendments – providing the full board with a list of nominees for the current year and the previous nine years (info. to be kept confidential and not shared outside the board), and after the Wells Key is awarded, the Executive Committee will explain to the board why that candidate was selected. These changes will also be effective 2016.
  • We took a photo of the full board for historical purposes and to kick off the #spj4all campaign. #spjlove

The board meeting was packed full of agenda items, and we had good, thoughtful, respectful discussion and debate about these topics and others. In addition, I thanked the board, volunteers and staff for their hard work and continued commitment to SPJ. We’ve accomplished a lot in the seven months I’ve been president, but there is much more to do.

If you have any questions about the meeting, or you’d like to volunteer, I welcome your comments and ideas. You can reach me via email at dneuts@spj.org.

Thank you,

Dana Neuts
SPJ President

 

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