Posts Tagged ‘New Orleans’


Requesting Public Information Should Not Result in Felony Charges

Fannin-Focus publisher Mark Thomason spoke at the SPJ National Convention in New Orleans on Sept. 20. Outgoing national SPJ president Paul Fletcher (left). Photo by Curt Yeomans, SPJ Georgia board member

Fannin-Focus publisher Mark Thomason spoke at the SPJ National Convention in New Orleans on Sept. 20. Outgoing national SPJ president Paul Fletcher (left). Photo by Curt Yeomans, SPJ Georgia board member

Mark Thomason, publisher of the Fannin Focus newspaper in Blue Ridge, Georgia was arrested June 24 and charged with three felonies, including one for making a false statement on his open records request.

No journalist or member of the public should ever have to put up with what Thomason has when exercising his or her right to public information.

On the day of his arrest Thomason said he had no idea why he was arrested.

“For two days I sat in a jail cell without a pillow or blanket,” he said.

After his release on a $10,000 bond, Thomason said he faced unusual bond restrictions and was required to provide numerous on-the-spot urine samples for law enforcement in his hometown.

When the Georgia chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists first heard of Thomason’s arrest, they began sharing their outrage with the public.  The chapter also filed a formal complaint to the Judicial Qualifications Commission against the judge, Brenda Weaver, Chief Superior Court Judge of the Appalachian Judicial Circuit, who had Thomason and his attorney arrested.

At it’s annual convention last month in New Orleans, SPJ’s members commended Thomason’s “relentless pursuit of the public’s right to know” in a freedom of information battle involving the actions of chief superior court judge.

Click here or watch below (jump to the 11 minute, 47 second mark of the video) to hear Thomason’s comments to SPJ members and journalists at the convention.

The SPJ membership also called for Judge Weaver to resign and thanked the SPJ Georgia chapter members for their hard work and due diligence bringing this issue into the public conversation.

What Thomason did, standing up for his right to public information, is something, I hope, no other individual, journalist or news organization has to experience. But, if you do find yourself in a similar situation, I want to know.

SPJ was founded to fight for these very issues. Whether that is your right to government access or recording video on a public sidewalk. We are here for you. Or maybe you find yourself being forced to tell a story or write something in a way that you feel is journalistically unethical. Please tell us, so we can help.

So, please contact me and let us know what we can do to help. We are here to help protect journalism and the public’s right to know.

Lynn Walsh is the current National President for SPJ. In her “day job” she manages and leads the NBC 7 Investigates team in San Diego. She loves holding the powerful accountable and spends more time than she would like fighting for access to public information. Follow her on Twitter, @LWalsh, or contact her via email: Lynn.K.Walsh@gmail.com.

Do yourself a favor: come to Fort Lauderdale

I’ve been a journalist for 34 years, and the learning curve in the past five years has been just as steep as it was for the first five.

I’ve learned to tweet, blog and use social media to advance my writing and reporting.

I’ve learned how to shoot and edit video. I even spent some time in film school learning about visual grammar and how to tell a story in a minute or two.

I’ve produced my own Internet radio news program. I’ve covered raging floods with my trusty iPad. And I still take notes the old-fashioned way, with pen and notepad.

None of this is remotely a complaint. Learning how to tell old familiar stories in completely new ways has been one of the pure joys of being a reporter in recent years.

I look at the world differently now. While on assignment, I think to myself: I can live-blog this, shoot some raw video, write my story on a park bench and tweet breaking news. It’s terrific fun, and somehow I still get paid for it.

One very tangible reason I still have this job (aside from my sheer incompetence at almost everything else) is the fact that I’ve managed to stay somewhat current with all these changes thanks in no small part to SPJ.

Most newsrooms have had to cut back if not eliminate their budgets for training and continuing education. If you want to take a couple of days off now to attend a seminar or a conference, chances are they will be on your own dime and time.

That’s why I think SPJ is such a solid investment in myself. For $75 a year, I’ve been able to access a ton of training and tools that have enabled me to be a better reporter.

I think back to all those spring conferences I’ve attended in Salt Lake City, Denver, Fort Collins, Colo., Long Island, N.Y., and Tacoma, Wash. There wasn’t one where I didn’t come back to the newsroom the following Monday and start applying something I had learned.

The pace of learning accelerates even more when I think of what I learned at our national conventions in Chicago, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Las Vegas and New Orleans.

That’s one reason I’m so looking forward to this year’s convention, Sept 20 to 22 at the Harbor Beach Resort in Fort Lauderdale. It’ll be our second year teaming with the Radio Television Digital News Association to present the conference we call Excellence in Journalism. (Information and registration are atexcellenceinjournalism.org.)

First, there’s the hotel itself. It is so unlike any of the earlier convention venues we’ve been to in recent years. You walk out the back door and you’re a short walk from the ocean.

The white-sand beach has sections roped off for a tortoise nesting area. I’m told on a moon-lit night you can go down to the water’s edge and see these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.

If I were not slated to be at a national board meeting, I would definitely take the hovercraft tour of the Everglades. And I plan a return visit to an outrageously retro Polynesian tiki bar that dates back to the 1950s. (Think “Mad Men” with flame dancers and umbrella drinks.)

But I digress. There’s also some excellent learning opportunities and great speakers.

One of our keynote speakers is Sree Sreenivasan, a Columbia University journalism professor who I heard talk earlier this year at an SPJ event in New York City. He is an expert on using social media to enhance your journalism skills. An hour with him will definitely raise your reporting game.

And not everything is high tech. Another speaker is Rick Bragg, a Pulitzer-winning New York Times reporter and best-selling author. In my book, Rick is one of the best storytellers of our generation. And trust me, even in a digital age, stories still matter. I think they matter more.

Our partnership with RTDNA has made our conventions even more useful. As all forms of media have converged in recent years, people on all sides of our profession have skills that are useful to share.

For example, one breakout session I’m hoping to catch is “Unleash Your Inner Broadcaster,” presented by the Public Radio News Directors. This is a program we would never have been able to assemble without our friends from RTDNA.

Oh, and one of my personal journalism heroes, longtime public radio host Bob Edwards, will be speaking. He’ll also receive our Fellows of the Society award, one of our highest honors. I can’t wait.

This convention also will mark the end of my year as president. This job has been a joy, and I intend to work it hard right up to the last day.

But one thing I’ll enjoy when I turn the presidency over to the very able Sonny Albarado is this: When the 2013 convention in Anaheim rolls around, I expect there will be a lot more time to soak up the learning there.

But you won’t have to wait that long. Stop reading and register today while you can still get the early bird rate (ends Aug. 28). After all, aren’t you and your career worth the investment?

Nobody asked me, but… Updates from the president

I’m very excited that SPJ recently opened an account that will enable us to host online meetings and webinars.

We’ve subscribed to GoToMeeting and GoToWebinar. While there is a bit of a learning curve to understanding how to operate them, I see great promise here.

For example, let’s say a chapter in New Jersey would like to host a webinar featuring an expert in Denver talking about search engine optimization. We can do that now.

Let’s say the Diversity Committee would like to host a meeting where the members can talk and conduct a video conference. We can do that too.

And let’s say the Executive Committee wants to hold a virtual meeting that other members want to watch live. We can and will do that. Stay tuned for details.

Death of a journalist

Speaking of virtual programs … I thought Linda Jue of our Northern California chapter conducted a really interesting interview last week with journalist Thomas Peele.

Peele talked about his new book, “Killing the Messenger,” which details the background of the 2007 murder of Oakland journalist Chauncey Bailey.  It’s not really what you would call a true crime book, but rather a history of the Black Muslim movement and the cult to which Bailey’s killers belonged.

I was particularly fascinated to learn that while Bailey was killed because of a story he was working on, he was not what you would describe as a classic investigative journalist, Peele said.

“Chauncey was a community journalist, editor of a community newspaper,” Peele said. “He wanted to make the community paper, The Oakland Post, stronger.”

“His background was in daily journalism. He had been a reporter at The Detroit News. He was one of those workhorse journalists that we all know who could turn out 2-3 stories a day and fill up the newspaper.”

“…He was a good daily reporter, but he simply didn’t work on long investigative projects. It wasn’t the nature of the journalism that he did.”

Peele described how Bailey was killed over a 15 inch story that had not yet been published when he was gunned down while walking to work on Aug. 2, 2007.

Hear the podcast of this 30-minute program

 

Mobbed up in Boston

And speaking of crime and journalism, I could not pass up an opportunity to host a segment of Studio SPJ on Saturday, March 10 at noon ET with Boston Globe journalist Emily Sweeney.

Emily is president of our New England chapter and a member of our Digital Media Committee. I’ve been a fan of her work for some time. As a former crime reporter myself, I loved her Globe story, “Greatest Hits – A Mob Tour of Boston.”

We’ll talk about her new book, “Boston Organized Crime.” So be sure to tune in. You can hear the live broadcast or listen later to the podcast here.

 

Textbook Authors in the Big Easy

Here’s another program that might interest you.

Mary Kay Switzer, a longtime member of SPJ’s Cal Poly Pomona chapter, is national president of the Text and Academic Authors Association, which will host its 25th annual confab in New Orleans June 8-9.

A bit of info on the gathering:

The conference will feature two workshops, more than a dozen sessions and several small-group discussions; the opportunity to meet one-on-one with a veteran author or attorney specializing in educational publishing; and several networking opportunities, including a welcome breakfast and an evening networking reception.

Joy Hakim, author of the ten-volume K-12 textbook series, “A History of US,” and three-volume textbook series, “The Story of Science,” will give a keynote presentation on Friday morning titled, “Textbooks Should Be Great Books!”

And thanks to TAA for sharing information with their members on our SPJ spring conferences.

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