Archive for January, 2016


Registering for trouble

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This guy has a great idea.


Michael Pitts is a Republican state representative in South Carolina. Yesterday, he introduced a bill called the South Carolina Responsible Journalism Registry Law.

Pitts wants the state to license journalists – and if they fail his standards and flout his law, they can spend up to 30 days in jail.

In the past 24 hours, Pitts has been mocked by the left (Mother Jones) and doubted by the right (The Daily Caller). After all, it’s odd for a small-government Republican to expand government into the newsroom.

But I see promise in Pitts’ proposal. Sure, there are problems, but there’s also opportunity…

rush

PROVISION: Before working as a journalist for a media outlet in this State, a person shall provide a criminal record background check to the media outlet to determine journalistic competence.

PROBLEM: Because Rush Limbaugh was booked on drug charges in 2006 and cut a deal with prosecutors, his popular radio show would be banned in South Carolina. Like him or hate him, Limbaugh shouldn’t be censored. Pitts’ conservative constituency would surely agree.

And yes, Limbaugh is a journalist under Pitts’ broad definition: “‘Journalist’ means a person who in his professional capacity collects, writes, or distributes news or other current information for a media outlet, including an employee or an independent contractor.”

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PROVISION: A person is not competent to be a journalist if…the person has demonstrated a reckless disregard of the basic codes and canons of professional journalism associations, including a disregard of truth, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness, and public accountability.

PROBLEM: Who decides? Pitts’ bill doesn’t say, and it can’t be him – because he’s already been caught in a “disregard of truth” and a lack of “public accountability.”

In September, The Pulitzer Prize-winning Post and Courier reported that Pitts spent “nearly $6,000 jetting to Alaska, Oregon, South Dakota and Montana to hobnob with ‘sportsmen legislators.’

“Pitts said the summits were ‘mostly business’ concerning hunting and fishing laws and initiatives. But photos from these events show Pitts and others proudly posing with freshly killed pheasants and other game.”

While that’s not illegal, it’s surely unethical. And weirdly, Pitts serves on the House Ethics Committee. It must be easier to legislate ethics for others than to practice them yourself.

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PROVISION: A person who works as a journalist without registering…for a first offense, must be fined not more than twenty-five dollars; for a second offense, is guilty of a misdemeanor and must be fined not more than one hundred dollars or imprisoned not more than fifteen days, or both; and for a third or subsequent offense, is guilty of a misdemeanor and must be fined not more than five hundred dollars or imprisoned not more than thirty days, or both.

OPPORTUNITY: SPJ can boost its membership.

As the SPJ board member representing the southeast United States, I’ll offer South Carolinians this perk: If you can’t get licensed because you’ve behaved no better than the sponsor of this bill, I’ll match you with an SPJ member who lives outside your state.

You’ll write under that SPJer’s byline, and I’ll keep records attesting that the stories are really yours. When you apply for other jobs – hopefully in other states – you can show off your best work, and I’ll back you up.

Even if you earn the Registry Office’s blessing, you might not want to pay the “application fee,” which has yet to be announced but will be “an amount determined by the office.” You, too, can use the SPJ Byline Exchange Service and save.

But to use this free service, you must join SPJ. Since SPJ membership costs only $75, that’s cheaper than a second violation and might cost less than the application fee.

Finally, I’ll offer to pay the $25 first-offense fine for any unlicensed South Carolina journalists who report on their failed attempt to get licensed and thus get fined. I love it when stories eat their own tails.

Alas, the South Carolina Responsible Journalism Registry Law has zero chance of passing – even Pitts admitted as much to (unlicensed) reporters. Too bad. I was hoping he’d register public information officers next.

 

Say what?

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Here’s an irony: Media maligning SPJ.


Last week, someone told me about an article that ripped this fine organization.

(To be specific, it was a tweet from the “crown regent of tactical shitposting.” Just how barren was my life before Twitter?)

The provocative headline: BLACK LEADER: MEDIA COVER UP MASS SHOOTINGS — BY BLACKS.

One of my few deeply held personal convictions is, “Never trust a headline in ALL CAPS unless a war is ending or a man is walking on the moon.” So I was skeptical before I began reading.

If you’ve already clicked the link, you’ll notice it ran on WorldNetDaily, a conservative website that most journalists can’t stand — not because of its right-wing politics, but because of its crappy reporting.

However, one of my other convictions is to judge each story on its own merits, whether it runs in The New York Times or the National Enquirer (maybe because I’ve freelanced for both).

SPJ makes an appearance about halfway down, after a man named Colin Flaherty agreed with the statement, “black activists and elected officials pressure editors to ignore or downplay black violence.”

The story continues from there…

The Society of Professional Journalists aids the cover-up, according to Flaherty, by telling their members to not report the race of people involved in violent crimes.

“The SPJ chapters all over the country give seminars on this,” Flaherty said. “Their national magazine writes stories about this, all saying the same thing: Race has nothing to do with violent crime, so do not report it.

“This is weird because this same group with the same reporters are constantly writing about black colleges, black churches, black funeral homes, black police officer groups, ad infinitum. But black violence? Nothing.”

That would be awful. If it were true.

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Colin Flaherty is a controversial guy.


WND says he’s “done more reporting than any other journalist on what appears to be a nationwide trend of skyrocketing black-on-white crime.” The Southern Poverty Law Center calls him a “marginal media figure.”

I’m going to lean toward marginal, because I‘ve served on the SPJ board since 2008 (with one year off to preserve my sanity) and have never heard about any of this. I’ve also been a chapter president, and we never gave “seminars” about not reporting stuff.

So I emailed Flaherty to ask him how he did his reporting. He replied, “check out the article in Quill on the topic.” That’s it. That’s all he wrote me.

Quill is SPJ’s bimonthly magazine for its members. I found this article from last month: Finding Your Voice: Reporting on Inequality Fairly and Ethically. It’s a lot more nuanced than Flaherty implies.

In fact, to be honest, it’s kind of boring. It uses terms like “perception cycle” and “responsibility continuum” and has sentences like this: “This continuum illustrates the hierarchy of influence that ultimately leads to disparate social outcomes.”

I emailed Flaherty again and asked if this was the story he was talking about. He replied…

was invited to write a reply to the Quill about it. which i did. which they never used or replied to. and it all began when the quill ran a review of my book from thomas sowell. without mentioning my book. you have a ton to go on. so go for it.

That’s weird, because Quill has no record of Colin Flaherty or Thomas Sowell. (The latter is a conservative economist.) Maybe Flaherty is right, but I can’t find any evidence, and he’s not offering any. So there’s a ton of something going on. If I had to guess: Flaherty is mostly upset that SPJ didn’t pimp his book.

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But there’s no crying in journalism.


The world won’t shed a tear for a journalism organization getting railroaded by a media outlet. SPJ won’t shed a tear, either.

That’s because we’re real familiar with shoddy journalism. Hell, if we weren’t, we never would’ve written the SPJ Code of Ethics.

But here’s what sucks: While we’re accustomed to this crap, most regular citizens aren’t. Once they get this treatment personally, or their heroes do, they distrust all journalists forever.

That turns to downright hatred when readers ask those journalists for proof of their reporting, and they get arrogance rather than explanations.

I’ve always said and still believe: “Nothing is more hypocritical than a thin-skinned journalist.” Now I’m adding “dangerous.”

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