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New York Body Armor Legislation and Conflict Reporting

The following letter was sent to New York Governor Kathy Hochul advocating on behalf of journalists, who need the necessary equipment to safely report news from the front lines of wars, civil unrest and active crime scenes …

Dear Governor Hochul:

A well-intentioned bill to restrict the sale of body armor that awaits your signature is seriously flawed and could leave journalists without the necessary equipment to safely report news from the front lines of wars, civil unrest and active crime scenes. We, the undersigned organizations that represent journalists who sometimes put their lives on the line to provide the news on which our democracy depends, urge you to veto the measure.

The legislation – A.10497 and its Senate companion, S.9407-B – was approved by both chambers of the Legislature on June 2, as part of a comprehensive package of gun legislation that was publicly unveiled just two days before, following a horrific mass shooting in Buffalo on May 14.

We would have preferred to work directly with the sponsors of the legislation, who were understandably moved to address weak spots in the state’s gun laws that the Buffalo massacre brought to light. But the compressed timeline of the legislative process in this case made that impossible. We therefore turn to you.

The body armor worn by the Buffalo shooter while committing his murderous acts may be an anomaly for perpetrators of the mass shootings and other gun violence that have tragically become endemic to our country, but it is standard equipment for journalists in potentially hostile environments.

As the nation’s media capital, New York is home to numerous news outlets in all media as well as thousands of journalists, including freelancers. Allowing the sale of body armor to journalists and news organizations is a necessary safety precaution not only when journalists go into war zones, like Ukraine, but also for covering street demonstrations that may turn violent and even active crime scenes involving guns. The need for protection is perhaps greatest for visual journalists, whose news need to get the most telling and powerful images often puts them in the greatest danger.

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Letter Urging Veto of Bill A.10497/S.9407-B

Video and still photographers say they routinely keep body armor and tactical helmets in their cars in case they suddenly encounter dangerous situations on the job. They wore them pretty much every day to cover protests for racial justice in the summer of 2020 following the murder of George Floyd. Freelancers, who must fend for themselves, also rely on body armor as was the case in 2014 when a New York-based freelance print journalist preparing to cover fighting in eastern Ukraine bought his armor online, which the pending legislation would prohibit.

By limiting the sale of body armor, hereafter referred to as body vests, A.10497 would, at the very least, create a cloud of uncertainty for journalists and their safety when their work takes them to potential danger zones. At worst, it would leave them unprotected, forcing news organizations and individual journalists into a Hobson’s choice of not covering important news or doing so recklessly.

The bill exempts people in an “eligible profession” from the ban on body vests, but journalists are not included in that category. Even if they were, finding a legal definition for “journalist” in our free society where the First Amendment makes freedom of the press available to all has always been difficult and cumbersome at best.

As the bill is currently written, the safety of journalists in danger zones would be left to the discretion of the New York Department of State, which would be endowed with the authority to decide whether journalism qualifies as an “eligible profession.” Even if journalism received the blanket designation of “eligible profession,” individual journalists and news organizations seeking to purchase body vest still would have to affirmatively prove that they are engaged in this work. What would qualify as proof for a body vest vendor who could face criminal liability for a wrong decision? A byline or photo credit in a newspaper or online publication? A mention on a masthead? A police- or local government–issued credential?

What’s more, the bill even exposes journalists and news organizations who have met the putative body vest qualifications to criminal liability if they loan their equipment to other journalists, such as freelancers, going into danger zones who may not be able to show adequate proof, however that term is ultimately defined.

In short, the legislation would force journalists and news organizations to navigate an unwieldy bureaucratic maze just to safely do their jobs. But most troubling of all, it gives constitutionally dubious de facto control to the government for deciding who, if anyone, may safely engage in the gathering of important news.

Given the bill’s limited public safety value – How many perpetrators of gun violence have worn body armor and would any of them have been deterred by its lack of availability? – and its detrimental impact on news gathering, we believe the best option is to veto this measure. It also should be noted that wearing a body vest while committing a violent crime with a firearm, as was the case in Buffalo, is already a felony by itself under Penal Law § 270.20.

The only possible acceptable alternative, albeit a flawed one, would require a significant overhaul of the bill. It would need a clear, unambiguous and generous exemption that would legally enable any journalist or news organization to acquire needed body armor without having to provide documentation as a prerequisite, and to share that equipment with other journalists.

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Letter Urging Veto of Bill A.10497/S.9407-B

Such an overhaul would require a definition of journalist, which is never perfect, but which does exist in New York’s “shield law,” Civil Rights Law – CVR § 79-h(a)(6), which states:

“Professional journalist” shall mean one who, for gain or livelihood, is engaged in gathering, preparing, collecting, writing, editing, filming, taping or photographing of news intended for a newspaper, magazine, news agency, press association or wire service or other professional medium or agency which has as one of its regular functions the processing and researching of news intended for dissemination to the public; such person shall be someone performing said function either as a regular employee or as one otherwise professionally affiliated for gain or livelihood with such medium of communication.

If such an overhaul is the preferred option, we would be happy to work with your staff and/or the original sponsors of the legislation.

But we would again urge you to reconsider the wisdom of enacting a measure whose very limited public safety value is more than offset by its detrimental impact on news gathering, the public’s right to know, and ultimately, democracy.

Respectfully Submitted:

New York Deadline Club, the New York City professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists

Press Club of Long Island, the Long Island professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists

Society of Professional Journalists Region 1 (Northeast) Coordinator Chris Vaccaro Society of Professional Journalists
New York News Publishers Association
New York Press Photographers Association

National Press Photographers Association Radio Television Digital News Association

Vaccaro Delivers Keynote Address to SPJ Stony Brook Conference

Normally I’m the one lining up speakers and running conferences, but today I had the privilege to be the keynote speaker at the Society of Professional Journalists conference at Stony Brook University.

Aside from advocating for SPJ and the Press Club of Long Island as an ambassador of both organizations, I spoke about my view of media in relation to people, product and process.

To sum it up, know your value and capabilities as a storyteller, strive to be a multi-platform journalist and embrace change and criticism.

Kudos to the student leaders who organized the conference, especially Maya Brown, who is graduating and joining NBC shortly.

Baruch College Adds SPJ Chapter

We’re really excited to announce that CUNY Baruch has launched an SPJ Chapter that was fully approved by the SPJ national board.

Who’s next? Which college or university in the northeast will join the growing list of schools becoming part of the SPJ family?

Recap: 2022 SPJ Region 1 Conference

We were virtual again this year. The Press Club of Long Island hosted the SPJ Region 1 conference on Zoom and offered a free morning of panels on investigative journalism and covering climate.

Thank you to Newsday and News 12 who sponsored the event. Special thanks our panelists:

*Investigative journalism: Sandra Peddie (Newsday), Walt Kane (News 12), Keith Herbert (NBC), Pei-Sze Cheng (NBC) and Rosalind Adams (Buzzfeed).

*Covering climate: Scott Brinton (Hofstra), David Abel (Boston Globe), Jase Bernhardt (Hofstra), J.D. Allen (WSHU) and Dharna Noorm (Boston Globe).

Catch us at Roger Williams University in 2023 as Connecticut SPJ hosts the next regional conference.

All Mark of Excellence Award finalists and winners were announced online via web, social and email.

Connecticut SPJ Hosting 2023 SPJ Region 1 Conference at Roger Williams

We’ll see you in spring 2023 in Rhode Island!

SPJ Region 1 is still TBD on 2024’s host site, but have flagged New York City in 2025 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of their chapter.

2022 SPJ Region 1 Mark of Excellence Award Finalists and Winners

Congratulations to all students and schools who were named finalists and winners in the SPJ Region 1 Mark of Excellence Awards

Regional winners will be entered into the national Mark of Excellence awards this spring as well. More to come on that from SPJ national.

CLICK HERE FOR FULL LIST OF FINALISTS/WINNERS!

SPJ Q&A with Marty Baron

What a pleasure moderating a Society of Professional Journalists Q&A with journalism legend Marty Baron.

From investigative journalism to handling misinformation to the future of storytelling, to the impact of the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” reporting and the Washington Post’s exposure of the NSA’s surveillance program, our chat was a master class in journalism. I’m also grateful many of our Hofstra graduate journalism students joined the conversation and asked questions.

Watch the full discussion: https://bit.ly/3IAaJv3

Thanks to Adam Sennott and SPJ New England for coordinating.

2022 SPJ Region 1 Virtual Conference Information and Free Registration

The 2022 SPJ Region 1 Conference is being hosted by the Press Club of Long Island on Saturday, March 19. Register online for FREE to get access to the Zoom link.

Join us for panels on investigative journalism and covering climate, and leadership discussions.

The virtual conference is sponsored by Newsday and News 12.

SPJ Region 1 Virtual Conference Schedule

  • 8a-9a: Chapter Leader Meeting
  • 9a-930a: Opening Remarks
    • PCLI President Brendan O’Reilly
    • SPJ Region 1 Coordinator Chris Vaccaro
    • SPJ President Rebecca Aguilar
  • 930a-1030a: PANEL 1 – Investigative Journalism
    • Moderator: Sandra Peddie (Newsday)
    • Speakers: Rosalind Adams (Buzzfeed), Pei-Sze Cheng (NBC), Keith Herbert (NBC), Walt Kane (News 12)
  • 1045a-1145a: PANEL 2 – Covering Climate
    • Moderator: Scott Brinton (Hofstra)
    • Speakers: David Abel (Boston Globe), Jase Bernhardt (Hofstra), JD Allen (WSHU), Dharna Noorm (Boston Globe)

ABOUT INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM PANEL: In an era of journalism cutbacks, one area media companies have been committed to is investigative reporting. Top investigative journalists from NBC, BuzzFeed News, News12 New Jersey and Newsday will discuss how they got into investigative reporting, how it differs from daily coverage, investigations that have made a difference and what it takes to do it well. The panel will highlight career-focused, practical tips for journalists hoping to break into it.

Investigative Journalism Panel Speakers

  • MODERATOR: Newsday investigative reporter Sandra Peddie has won more than 70 awards, including the Selden Ring Award for stories on pension fraud in special government districts that led to changes in New York State law. A finalist for the Public Service Pulitzer in 2014 for a series of stories on police misconduct, Peddie also was a reporter on Newsday’s 1995 Pulitzer Prize-winning police disability fraud series. In 2011, she was named Long Island’s Outstanding Journalist of the Year by the Press Club of Long Island and later was inducted into its Long Island Journalism Hall of Fame. She has won two New York Emmys, most recently for the documentary, “American Gangster.” Peddie  served on the board of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. She has taught journalism at Hofstra and Stony Brook universities. The graduate of Wellesley College is the author of two books: The Repetitive Strain Injury Sourcebook, published in 1997, and SONNY, The Last of the Old-Time Mafia Bosses, John Sonny Franzese, to be released this month.
  • Emmy® Award-winning reporter Pei-Sze Cheng is a member of NBC 4 New York’s investigative unit, the I-Team. Cheng’s investigations have generated results. Her reporting on a teenager’s overdose led police to make an arrest. Cheng-led investigations that found dozens of traffic signs missing along Routes 4 and 46 in New Jersey resulted in installation of new signs and introduction of new state legislation to further remedy the situation. Cheng’s investigation of Sunrise Highway in Suffolk County found scores of “wrong way” signs missing from entrance exit ramps, resulting in the installation of 229 new signs. Before becoming a member of the I-Team in 2013, Cheng served as NBC 4 New York general assignment reporter for more than eight years. A native of Suffolk County, Cheng began her reporting career at News 12 Connecticut and later moved to WFSB-TV in Hartford where she served as the New Haven bureau reporter and fill-in anchor. Cheng is a graduate of Columbia University, where she earned a BA in political science. She is an active member of the Asian American Journalists Association. .
  • Keith Herbert has been a politics editor at NBC News Digital since last May. Before that, he was a Newsday deputy Long Island editor for politics, an editor and reporter on the  investigations team and transportation reporter. Keith was a member of the Newsday team that won the Polk Award in 2020 for “Long Island Divided,” an investigation of housing segregation. Before Newsday, Herbert was a court reporter at the Philadelphia Inquirer and a general assignment reporter with the Morning Call in Allentown, Pa. He graduated from Temple University in Philadelphia with a BA in journalism. He is a former president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists and vice president of the Press Club of Long Island.
  • Walt Kane has won nearly 300 awards, including 15 Emmy Awards, four Edward R. Murrow Awards, 10 National Headliner Awards and six Deadline Club Awards. Kan and his team are based at News 12 New Jersey but KIYC investigations run on all News 12 stations across the tristate area. Before joining News 12, Kane worked for television stations and newspapers in New York, Michigan, Oklahoma and Kansas. A native of Brooklyn, Kane is a graduate of Manhattan College and pursued graduate studies at the University of Nebraska. 

ABOUT COVERING CLIMATE PANEL: Scientists tell us the climate crisis is no longer a theoretical construct that could play out in the distant future. It is here — today. We can see it, feel it, in the wild weather that we are experiencing around the globe — unusually destructive hurricanes, floods and tornadoes that lash communities without mercy, soaring temperatures that turn already parched forests into tinderboxes that burn for weeks. This panel will look in-depth at how to translate the arcane science behind global warming into everyday language that is understandable to an often confused and skeptical public.  

Covering Climate Panel Speakers

  • MODERATOR: Scott Brinton is a special assistant professor of journalism at Hofstra University. He co-directs the university’s Summer High School Journalism Institute, which recruits students from nearby communities of color, and he is the editor of the award-winning Long Island Advocate, the online multimedia publication showcasing the best student work from their classes and internships. He previously worked as an award-winning executive editor of Herald Community Newspapers. 
  •  David Abel  is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and documentary filmmaker who currently covers the environment, including climate change, for The Boston Globe. Over the years, he has covered war in the Balkans, unrest in Latin America, national security issues in Washington, D.C., terrorism in New York and Boston, and poverty throughout New England. Abel’s most recent film, “Entangled,” chronicles the efforts to protect North Atlantic right whales from extinction, the impacts of those efforts on the lobster industry, and how government has struggled to balance the vying interests.  
  • J.D. Allen, a native Long Islander, is managing editor of Stony Brook University’s  WSHU radio station. He also hosts the climate podcast “Higher Ground”, which tells the stories of communities exploring solutions to climate change. Allen has reported for public radio stations across the Northeast, healthcare and small businesses for “Long Island Business News” and real estate and land-use for The Express News Group newspapers in the Hamptons. He is a lecturer at Stony Brook University, Quinnipiac University and Suffolk County Community College. He is vice president of the Press Club of Long Island. 
  • Jase Bernhardt is an assistant professor in the Department of the Geology, Environment and Sustainability at Hofstra University and also director of the department’s MA Sustainability program. His research is funded by the National Science Foundation and New York Sea Grant, the former a project to engage student teams in research, and the latter an initiative to improve rip current outreach to Long Island Latinx communities. He served as president of the Middle States Division of the American Association of Geographers in 2021. Jase received a BS. in atmospheric science from Cornell University.
  • Dharna Noor is the Boston Globe’s climate producer. Prior to joining the Globe’s climate team, Noor  worked as a staff writer at Earther, Gizmodo’s climate vertical, where she  co-produced a season of the podcast Drilled on the fossil fuel industry’s influence on education. Before that, she led the climate team at the Real News Network. Her writing has also appeared in Jacobin Magazine, In These Times and Truthout, and was also featured in a 2021 book from The New Press called “The World We Need.” 

Joining Reality Check with William Paterson SPJ

Special thanks to SPJ William Paterson chapter advisor Nick Hirshon for having me speak with his social media reporting class.

Aside from reviewing some practical wisdom about the media business, I offered two key notes for these communication students: create your own opportunities and remember you’re not entitled to anything; work for what you want. Manifest it, build it, earn it, nothing less and nothing more.

Students asked many questions about my career path and choices and we spoke about some of SPJ’s core tenets, including diversity, ethics and education.

APPLY TODAY: SPJ Northeast Launches High School Journalism Institute

The Society of Professional Journalists chapter leaders in the Northeast are launching a high school weekend journalism workshop this summer.

The SPJ Northeast High School Journalism Institute will be held at Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island, on July 15-17. Applications are being accepted now for 16 spots.

Students will be trained by professional journalists and journalism professors in reporting, newswriting, video and audio journalism, and multimedia production. Because Roger Williams is a coastal university, students will cover stories related to the area’s environment, economy and infrastructure. Students will work in teams to generate news stories, photos, videos and audio. This work will be published on a website created for the program.

High school juniors and seniors from Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont and the eastern half of Pennsylvania are eligible. Journalism experience is preferred but not required.

Students with limited means will be eligible for tuition waivers and free housing, meals and transportation assistance.

“Collaborating with SPJ leaders who care deeply about nurturing the next generation of great storytellers will be a great experience for the students,” said Chris R. Vaccaro, SPJ Northeast Coordinator. “We are looking forward to guiding these students on their journey and are grateful for the partnership with Roger Williams University.” 

The cost is $150 per student, which includes housing and meals.

All accepted candidates will be notified by Thursday, April 14.

Participants can expect:

  • Training from professional journalists and professors
  • Real-time reporting and hands-on editing
  • Networking and social experiences with peers and pros
  • Studying the values and principles of the Society of Professional Journalists

Qualified applications must:

  • Submit an application
  • Have received COVID-19 vaccination
  • Be able to live in a dormitory on campus
  • Manage their own travel logistics

CLICK HERE TO APPLY!

CONTACT: Chris R. Vaccaro, SPJRegion1@gmail.com

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