‘Supposed to report to me’

My cell phone rang at 9:07 on this sunny South Florida Saturday morning. I ignored it.

A minute later, the home phone rang. (Yes, I still have one of those.)

My annoyed wife answered. A man asked for me. My wife said I was sleeping. He hung up. (“He didn’t even apologize for calling so early,” she grumbled.)

I groggily got out of bed to find an email from SPJ president John Ensslin. All it said was, “Give me a call as soon as you can.”

This should be fun, I thought. It always is.

Ensslin is a very nice guy and one of my favorite SPJ presidents – something I haven’t been able to say all that often over the past few years. And true to form, Ensslin was very nice on the phone when he told me, “I need you to take down your blog post about The Red and Black.”

I sleepily asked why a journalist is asking another journalist to take down a blog post on a journalism organization’s website. Here’s the back story…

Earlier this week, the editors at the University of Georgia’s independent student newspaper walked off the job, claiming prior review and even censorship. I’m on the SPJ national board, and under our bureaucratic structure, I represent the “region” where The Red and Black is – the southeastern United States.

(That’s why this blog is called “Southern Drawl.” Get it?)

On Thursday, Ensslin emailed me (because it’s my region) and the vice president for campus chapter affairs: “I’d like your thoughts on this situation.”

I said I planned to send someone I trust to Athens, Ga., to investigate. I said I’d pay her expenses out of my own regional budget – I was kind of fishing for a reply of, “No no, we’ll cover that for you.” Alas, it never came. But Ensslin agreed it would be a good idea to “do some fact-finding on SPJ’s behalf.”

So yesterday, I dispatched Katherine Tippins to Athens.

The former student media coordinator at Macon State College spent the day interviewing, recording, and attending meetings. I posted her results – and my conclusions – on this blog last night.

This morning, Ensslin reminded me that I agreed to work for him – by replying to his email, I had entered into some sort of verbal contract to share my facts only with him. Then he would study these facts and “craft a letter from the president.”

“That’s how we do things in SPJ,” he said.

I reminded Ensslin that he didn’t pay for Tippins’ trip.

“That doesn’t matter. You’re supposed to report to me.”

So let me get this straight: If I never reply to your emails, then I’m allowed to post what I want on my regional blog about crap that happens in my region?

“Well… sure, Michael.”

But because we exchanged emails, I can’t do that?

“Uh… not really, Michael. I’m asking you again to take it down.”

I asked if he had the ability to take it down himself.

“I could certainly do that. But I’m asking you.”

His tone, while still very nice, was stern enough to imply he’d exercise that power. So I said I’d comply – and post it on my own blog.

“That’s fine, Michael.”

I wonder if he still thinks so.

Click here to read the post that used to be here. 


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