Archive for November, 2017


A new regional director, a nomination process debate and more

A recap of the SPJ national board’s electronic meeting on Nov. 4:

• The board chose Tom McKee to be the next Region 4 director, out of six applications. McKee will take over for Patti Gallagher Newberry, who vacated the position when she was elected national secretary-treasurer at EIJ 17 in September.

McKee’s credentials are excellent. For five years, he has been the president of the Cincinnati Pro chapter, a three-time winner of Small Chapter of the Year. McKee has worked for WCPO-TV for 28 years, including the last as a reporter and multimedia journalist.

After a debate about which candidate to select, two members of the board voted no — Lynn Walsh and Joe Radske.

• President Rebecca Baker said SPJ received about 70 applications for the executive director job. Joe Skeel is scheduled to leave the position on Dec. 1. A committee is reviewing the applications and will interview finalists.

The board voted unanimously to appoint Associate Executive Director Tara Puckey as interim executive director for the period between Skeel’s departure and when the next executive director takes over.

• The board reviewed feedback about EIJ 17 that was collected in surveys through an email and on the conference app. There are too many comments to capture here, but SPJ’s staff and board are talking about the feedback.

• The board debated part of the process tied to the new governance structure that delegates approved at EIJ 17 (shrinking the national board from 23 to 9 over a two-year period). There will be a seven-member Nominating Committee, an improvement on the current informal process of the past president having to find and recruit candidates.

A sticking point on the nominations process is whether the committee should be able to “recommend” candidates to voters, or designate some as “qualified,” or some other indication of preference.

I argue against that approach. I don’t mind a committee recruiting good candidates, and making sure they meet minimum objective criteria (i.e., a member in good standing, a former chapter president), but I think voters should be trusted to make sound choices, without being told which way to vote. I suspect that voters who don’t pay attention to the campaigns will defer to the Nominating Committee’s “recommendations,” turning an election into more of a ratification.

The best way to ensure good choices is to examine the candidates and their positions on issues as much as we can. I would like us to do candidate events – online forums, Twitter chats, questionnaires, podcasts and even an EIJ session. Endorsements are OK, but they should not appear on a ballot.

Board member Matt Hall also suggested adding a “cooling-off” period. Someone would have to wait a certain period between serving on the Nominating Committee and running for the board. (I favor this idea.)

• The board voted in favor of moving the bylaws governing Quill magazine from SPJ to the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation, which funds and oversees Quill. Skeel said the transfer clarifies the roles of SDX and SPJ.

Walsh cast the only vote against the move.

 

Anatomy of a reporter’s arrest in Virginia

Why did Shareblue Media reporter Mike Stark get arrested while covering a parade in Fairfax County, Va.? It depends who you ask and what you see and hear on a video.

A video shows much of what happened, although only parts of the conversation are audible:

What else happened? What does the video not show? What led to this confrontation between Stark and the police in the first place?

Col. Edwin C. Roessler Jr., the chief of the Fairfax County, Va., police department, explained the arrest on Tuesday in a press conference broadcast through Facebook live.

He said Stark’s profanity, at a family event, triggered the arrest. (Public profanity is illegal in Fairfax County.)

As video of the arrest shows, shortly after Stark says “Fuck this,” an officer raises his hand, as if to signal to another officer to arrest Stark.

The confrontation up to that point seems to center on whether Stark is getting out of the road, as directed by police. You can see Stark argue, but also step back once, then again, reaching a point that seemed to be off the street. But the argument continued, Stark swore and police arrested him.

I summarized more of Roessler’s comments about the arrest here, including the idea that officers didn’t know Stark as a reporter — just a guy in a hooded sweatshirt.

Roessler said he didn’t see anything improper from his officers in carrying out the arrest, but an internal affairs bureau is investigating because force was used in the arrest.

Did the police need two officers to take Stark down to the ground and six to subdue and monitor him while he was on the ground, with multiple officers on top of him? Roessler said Stark was a “passive resister,” not fighting back, but tensing up and not complying.

Stark said in an interview that he was scared he might be hurt when officers forced him into a fence during the arrest. He also said he was trying to put his cellphone in his pocket, putting him in an awkward position, with his arm pinned, after he was tackled, unable to follow police orders.

“This was violent,” he said of the takedown and arrest, “but it wasn’t brutal.”

Stark was charged with disorderly conduct and fleeing from law enforcement, which are misdemeanors. He is free on $3,000 bail and is due in court on Jan. 16.

‘Cat and mouse’ advocacy journalism

Stark (from Fairfax County Police Department)

Stark talked to SPJ by phone on Wednesday to explain his actions, but also express regret for how he handled his encounter with police. Still, he is optimistic that the charges will be dropped.

First, though, he explained the backstory that got him to that point.

Stark doesn’t hide that he is a partisan reporter without formal training, doing advocacy journalism for Shareblue Media, which says it produces “practical, factual content to delegitimize Trump’s presidency, embolden the opposition, and empower the majority of Americans to fight.”

For several weeks, Stark has been following around Ed Gillespie, the Republican candidate in Virginia’s gubernatorial election, which is Tuesday.

In September, Stark paid $150 to attend a Gillespie fundraiser. A week later, he went to a town hall meeting and got to ask Gillespie a pointed question.

Gillespie’s campaign caught on and had Starks removed from the next event.

Stark said he realized he would not get an easy chance to confront Gillespie again. Nonetheless, he followed the candidate around, filming himself calling out questions on a few topics he considered important.

Stark said he became more aggressive with his questioning. “I understand that he’s fleeing the Fourth Estate,” he said, “and that kind of disgusts me.”

He’d wait for Gillespie at one door at an event, only to see the candidate elude him at another door. “It has been a long month of cat and mouse,” Stark said.

So, when Stark heard Gillespie would march in a parade in Annandale, Va., he saw an opportunity.

When he saw Gillespie’s van, Stark said, he needled the campaign staff, some of whom he has gotten to know, that Gillespie was ducking him because his politics are embarrassing.

He said he heard someone tell him to get out of the road and order him not to go near Gillespie, or he’ll be arrested.

“I said, OK, then you’ll have to arrest me,” Stark said. “Which probably was a mistake.”

Stark said he was frustrated over repeatedly being denied access to Gillespie for weeks.

Stark conceded that when an officer first confronted him on Saturday, he said something like, “Why did you come over to me like an asshole?” He said he responded to a warning by saying something along the lines of “I’m a fucking reporter and I’m going to do my job.”

An officer can he heard telling him not to curse again. Stark calls out: “Fuck this.”

In retrospect, Stark said, it’s better to work out a problem with the police instead of being rude and confrontational. He’s annoyed that he finally might have had a chance to question Gillespie if he would have exercised more restraint.

Noting other arrests of reporters — such as one in West Virginia while trying to interview then-Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price — Stark said he wants to stand up for press rights. “It seems like a switch has been flicked,” he said. “I want to flick it back.”

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