Posts Tagged ‘Associated Press’


Highlights thru Nov. 18

It’s been about a month since I wrote my last “highlights” post. There is so much going on within SPJ, but also in the news industry that it is hard to keep up with it all…and to remember to keep you up to date. Here are some of the latest developments in our world, in no particular order:

– Today the national SPJ board approved a $32,000 expenditure (to be paid from surplus from the last fiscal year) for a much needed tech upgrade. Spearheaded by Tara Puckey and Billy O’Keefe after months of research, we have a thorough plan of action to update our database and website. We approved a three-phase plan that will take place over the course of the next year. We’ll keep you informed of our progress, changes that will impact you, etc. Bottom line: this is an exciting opportunity for SPJ to upgrade its technology to better serve our members and website visitors.

– Today we issued a statement, along with Region 4 SPJ leaders and the Ohio Newspaper Association, urging Ohio lawmakers to vote “no” to Ohio’s proposed HB663, legislation that is being shoved through to try to protect medical professionals who carry out executions and drug makers who make the drugs used in executions, as well as to make all information and records related to an execution or death sentence confidential.

If passed, the legislation will ignore sunshine laws, eliminate transparency in executions and make covering capital punishment that much more difficult for journalists.  This legislation is a travesty on a variety of levels. If you’d like to help fight the legislation, which could be voted on tomorrow, Nov. 19, see the bottom of the statement for ways to oppose the bill. A big thank you to regional director Patti Newberry for spearheading SPJ’s efforts on this!

– Last week I attended the sentencing of former regional director Scott Cooper who embezzled $43,220 from the Oklahoma Pro SPJ chapter. I made a statement about the sentencing on Friday, and posted my reaction to the hearing on Saturday.

– On Nov. 3, SPJ issued a statement about the FBI’s impersonation of an AP reporter and the alleged actions of the St. Louis County Police Department to get the FAA to impose a “no fly zone” in Ferguson, Missouri to keep the press out. These issues underscore the need for a broader conversation between journalists and law enforcement agencies across the country to figure out a way to better understand our respective roles and to ensure freedom of the press.

– SPJ leaders wrote about #Pointergate, Free Speech Week, Freedom of the Press and Freelancing in blogs over the last week.

Pashtana Usufzy of Las Vegas was named SPJ’s Volunteer of the Month for Nov. 2014. Congratulations!

– SPJ Announced a Free Webinar for Tues., Nov. 25 at 1 pm (ET) – Beyond Facebook and Twitter: Digital Tools for all Journalists taught by digital journalist Kim Bui (@kimbui) and co-founder of #WJCHAT. Register here.

Region 12 Director Tony Hernandez has accepted a position at The Oregonian. He will remain on the board up to six months after his move, as allowed by SPJ by-laws. In the spring, we’ll put a call out to accept nominations and applications for a replacement. If you have questions or are interested, contact Tony directly.

Nominations were opened for the Sigma Delta Chi and Mark of Excellence awards and for the national high school essay contest.

Gen J will become a community! Learn more here. Want to get involved? Contact Gen J chair Claudia Amezcua.

There is so much going on at SPJ HQ and around the country that I have undoubtedly forgotten some big news. If so, I apologize. It is unintentional. Please post your update in the comments or email me, and I can include it next time.

Thanks to all of our dedicated volunteers for their hard work and commitment to SPJ!

~ Dana Neuts, President

 

 

Progress on shield bill

Good news on the Shield Law front over the past week.

On Wednesday (7/17), a bipartisan group of senators led by New York Democrat Charles Schumer and South Carolina Republican Lindsay Graham said they’re going to push for a Shield Law that enshrines revisions to Justice Department policies announced by Attorney General Eric Holder on July 12.

Holder’s revisions to DOJ guidelines would make it harder for prosecutors to obtain journalists’ phone records without advance notice.

The bill Schumer, Lindsay and their colleagues announced Wednesday would go a bit further, ensuring that an impartial judge reviews government attempts to compel journalists and news agencies or third parties, such as phone companies and internet providers, before the Justice Department tries to obtain them.

“In many ways, our bill is tougher than the new [DOJ] guidelines,” Schumer said at a press conference, “but the DOJ has smartly proposed new ideas that would offer additional protections to journalists while carefully balancing that need against national security.”

Holder’s policy changes came after various journalism groups, including SPJ, voiced concerns about the Justice Department’s seizure of the AP’s phone records and a Fox News reporter’s emails. In a letter to Holder in June, SPJ expressed serious concerns that the DOJ wasn’t following its own guidelines for dealing with demands for information from journalists in the government’s investigations of leaks.

After meeting with and hearing from a slew of journalism groups, Holder surprised me and actually strengthened the guidelines.

Of particular note was the Attorney General’s statement of principles: “As an initial matter, it bears emphasis that it has been and remains the Department’s policy that members of the news media will not be subject to prosecution based solely on newsgathering activities.”

The policy changes Holder outlined seek to strike “the appropriate balance between two vital interests,” he said in his report to the President: “protecting the American people by pursuing those who violate their oaths through unlawful disclosures of information and safeguarding the essential role of a free press in fostering government accountability and an open society.”

Schumer, Lindsay and shield bill co-sponsors Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Jon Tester, D-Mont., Roy Blount, R-Mo., and Jonny Isakson, R-Ga., echoed that sentiment in Wednesday’s press conference announcing their intent to submit a “tougher bill” than either the previous bill that languished in the Senate three years ago or Holder’s revised guidelines.

“We’ve struck the right balance here between national security and protecting those who cover government,” Graham said after noting that “guidelines are not gonna cut it in the 21st century.

“We need a statute, a law that transcends administrations.”

Other societies wish they had the kind of reporting on government that Americans have, Graham said.

“We have it, we need to protect it, and quite frankly, cherish it,” he said.

Amen.

On AP’s “illegal immigration” style change

I’m glad The Associated Press continues to examine the best way to describe being in this country in violation of U.S. law.

The AP is right to note that the English language evolves, and that our everyday usage contributes to that evolution. I hope journalists and others continue this conversation about immigration and people who come here legally or illegally until we arrive at terminology most of us can agree on.

Some might argue that the new style recommendation is less precise than ‘illegal alien’ or ‘illegal immigrant,’ but it’s important to note that a significant portion of the country’s population regards those terms as offensive. It wasn’t that long ago that keepers of journalism style fought dropping ‘Negro’ as a term for black or African-American people, yet news organizations adopted the newer style.

As journalists we have to take into account what people call themselves while also taking care to be precise and accurate. Sometimes those two things are in conflict and require an honest discussion to resolve that clash.

On Sept. 27, 2011, SPJ adopted a resolution at its annual convention in New Orleans urging “journalists and style guide editors to stop the use of illegal alien and encourage continuous discussion and re-evaluation of the use of illegal immigrant in news stories.”

Less than a year ago, The AP Stylebook — used by many news organizations as a guide to uniformity of language — adopted “illegal immigrant” as a term of choice over “illegal alien.” AP was careful to note that “illegal immigrant” wasn’t the only acceptable description, but the term is what observers latched onto.

Based on AP Senior VP and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll’s statement about this week’s decision, the wire service has taken the “continuous discussion and re-evaluation” suggestion to heart.

The discussions on this topic have been wide-ranging and include many people from many walks of life. (Earlier, they led us to reject descriptions such as “undocumented,” despite ardent support from some quarters, because it is not precise. A person may have plenty of documents, just not the ones required for legal residence.)

Those discussions continued even after AP affirmed “illegal immigrant” as the best use, for two reasons.

A number of people felt that “illegal immigrant” was the best choice at the time. They also believed the always-evolving English language might soon yield a different choice and we should stay in the conversation.

Also, we had in other areas been ridding the Stylebook of labels. The new section on mental health issues argues for using credibly sourced diagnoses instead of labels. Saying someone was “diagnosed with schizophrenia” instead of schizophrenic, for example.

And that discussion about labeling people, instead of behavior, led us back to “illegal immigrant” again.

We concluded that to be consistent, we needed to change our guidance.

Carroll goes on to note that “We believe more evolution is likely down the road.”

Yes, the conversations should continue, but I think the AP has arrived at a commendable middle ground.

Here is the new AP style entry in its entirety:

illegal immigration Entering or residing in a country in violation of civil or criminal law. Except in direct quotes essential to the story, use illegal only to refer to an action, not a person: illegal immigration, but not illegal immigrant. Acceptable variations include living in or entering a country illegally or without legal permission.

Except in direct quotations, do not use the terms illegal alien, an illegal, illegals or undocumented.

Do not describe people as violating immigration laws without attribution.

Specify wherever possible how someone entered the country illegally and from where. Crossed the border? Overstayed a visa? What nationality?

People who were brought into the country as children should not be described as having immigrated illegally. For people granted a temporary right to remain in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, use temporary resident status, with details on the program lower in the story.

As we all know, words can hurt as well as inspire or soothe.

 

 

Filter and vet this quote? Fuggitaboudit!

Here’s a bad journalism habit that needs to end now.

A July 15 New York Times story described a practice said to be prevalent among reporters covering the U.S. presidential election.

The story by Jeremy W. Peters detailed how many media organizations have allowed top campaign officials to vet and alter quotes as the price of being granted on-the-record access.

If true, this practice should stop before this election cycle goes any further. It’s shameful that reporters – who presumably are among the best and brightest in their newsrooms to have drawn this assignment – could be so gutless as to go along with these pre-conditions to an interview.

Their editors – who clearly know about the practice – ought to be ashamed to have allowed this abdication of editorial control to have occurred on their watch.

Quit it. Stop. Now.

Earlier this year, I covered a political rally in East Rutherford, N.J., where David Axelrod, Obama’s chief political adviser, came to deliver an endorsement for a Democratic congressman who was an early Obama supporter.

Axelrod gave his speech, and afterward I was part of a group of reporters who were able to ask him a few questions.

None of his handlers made any attempt to impose conditions on the interview. Had there been a request to review quotes, I would have informed them that we were operating under New Jersey rules. The response would have been something to the effect of “Fugghitaboudit.”

Bear in mind, I’m not saying that reporters shouldn’t double check quotes with a sources for the sake of accuracy. I do that all the time, as I’m sure most reporters do. We want to get quotes rights.

But the practice described in the Times story goes beyond making sure a quote is accurate.

It’s more about access and control and allowing a political campaign to massage the quotes that appear in a story.

But what could a campaign official possibly have to say to make it worth a reporter’s while to allow a source to manipulate a story?

The Times story reminded me of a book that had a big influence on me when I was thinking about becoming a journalist.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of a series of stories that Rolling Stone magazine writer Timothy Crouse wrote about the press corps that was covering the 1972 campaign between President Richard Nixon and Democratic challenger George McGovern.

His stories became the book “The Boys on the Bus,” which described some of the perils so-called pack journalism.

But whatever their shortcomings, the boys on the bus never let a Nixon or McGovern staffer dictate how quotes would appear in a story.

The Times story also reminded me of a painful lesson I learned shortly after starting my journalism career.

I was writing a story on the controversy over the proposed closure of several Catholic elementary schools in northern New Jersey.

One of the people I quoted was an outspoken mother of a student who was outraged at how the local archdiocese had handled the situation.

Shortly before the story was set to run, the mother called me back, asking me to read her the part of the story where I had quoted her.

Being an inexperienced reporter, I did so. She then pleaded with me to allow her to change her quotes in order to tone down or eliminate her criticism.

She was not disputing the accuracy of what I had written. But after talking to her local pastor, she had gotten cold feet about criticizing church officials.

I reluctantly agreed even though it rendered that part of my story fairly useless after she had backpedaled away from all her previous statements.

When my editor found out what I had done, he was furious. But it was too late. The story ran with the watered-down quotes, and I learned a painful lesson, never again repeated, about letting people manipulate my story by ceding editorial control.

If the story had happened today, I would have kept the original quote but allowed the woman to later disavow her criticism.

The Times deserved credit for raising this issue. One of the Times editors is quoted as saying that journalists should push back harder against this practice.

I couldn’t agree more. By all means, let’s push back.

Kudos also to The Associated Press, the National Journal and several other media organizations that have come out since the story ran and affirmed they will not allow their reporters to engage in this practice.

The public expects us to provide them with an accurate and unvarnished account of what happens on the campaign trail. These stories are too important to allow a source to crawl into the story in this way.

I would urge any reporter asked to do so to refer back to New Jersey rules of journalism: Fugghitaboudit.

 

Errors in reporting SCOTUS health care ruling remind us of the speeding bullet of journalism

It’s said that speed kills. It certainly can in journalism when accuracy is on the line.

I say this as someone who was a notorious slow writer when I first started as a reporter.

While my colleagues would breeze in and out of the newsroom, I’d be sitting there in quiet desperation trying to make deadline.

Fortunately, I got quicker with practice as time went on. But then newsroom clock sped up. Of all the seismic changes that occurred in the profession over the last five years, I think none have been more profound than the speed at which journalism is practiced.

To paraphrase the Albert Brooks character in the movie “Broadcast News”: I type it here and it comes out there.

The perils of practicing this hyper form of journalism were of full and awful display recently when the U.S. Supreme Court issued its long awaited landmark ruling upholding the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act.

You all probably know about the embarrassing gaffes by CNN and Fox News in their initial misreporting that the law had been struck down, when in fact, if they had just kept reading, they would have seen that it had been upheld.

The back-tracking that ensued provided plenty of comic material for Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show.” 

While much has been made of these two outlets’ mistakes, it’s also important to note how many journalists took those extra seconds, turned the page, continued reading and got it right.

Bloomberg News, for example, not only got it right, but got it first. A number of news organizations, including The Associated Press, also got it right and turned the story quickly.

One organization that did outstanding work that day was SCOTUSblog, which is written mostly by lawyers but has seasoned reporters on staff as well.

In my two years as a reporter covering courts in Colorado, I found SCOTUSblog to be an excellent resource for judicial coverage. The site really came into its own in a big way with the health care decision.

They also followed up with an excellent tick-tock account of how the story unfolded.

As SCOTUSblog points out, the court itself bears some responsibility for the errors that flowed within the first few minutes of releasing the decision.

By failing to post the decision on its website immediately and not emailing it to news organizations directly, the court created an environment ripe for this type of error.

Plus it didn’t help that Chief Justice John Roberts in writing the majority decision “buried the lead,” as judges are sometimes wont to do.

But the episode does drive home a point we would all do well to remember in this breathless up-to-the minute, down to the nano-second reporting that many of us are all being asked to do.

Take a breath. Read everything. Double check. Get it right the first time, even if it means you’re not the first one.

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