Archive for the ‘assistant RD’ Category

CNN: less international


The world just got a little smaller.

And not in a good way.

According to Adweek, CNN’s entire international desk – based in Atlanta – is closing, and more than two dozen employees will “have to reapply for their jobs.”

My first thought was, “Less journalism in the world.”

But assistant Region 3  director Sharon Dunten, who lives outside Atlanta, thought, “Less journalists in my city.”

Here’s her report…

Welcome to the Best Former Journalists Club.

Welcome to the Best Former Journalists Club. As a member, you are Pulitzer Prize winners, beloved columnists, middle-age TV anchors renown for their news styles, or maybe a copy editor who is celebrating her 62thbirthday. A member may be a producer who has given 60 hours a week for decades to make sure their station gets the “breaking news” first.

Your day starts out like any other day … editing copy and growling about the strict AP style rules you live by as a professional. Or maybe you are the producer who fights off the daily urban traffic jams to arrive just in time to address the evening broadcast lineup. Just another day of the news. Another day of working in the industry that you love.

You know many journalists who have lost their jobs during the bloodbath of downsizing newsrooms as the Great Recession swept through the country. You take a deep breath and count yourself lucky.

But then the “layoff “alarm arrives early and quickly through texts, emails or phone calls. Sorry, your luck has run out. You are one of many facing the guillotine today. You are losing your job — maybe, sort of.

On Monday, Feb. 8, CNN International announced a layoff for most of its employees in Atlanta. Downsizing is mentioned and Oh! “you can re-apply for your job.” What does that exactly mean? And will moving to a different continent be part of the re-hire? You know journalism is changing, and job loss is a part of it. But working for CNN in Atlanta was always seen a plum job; a milestone in your career to work for the first 24/7 news network. Thank you Ted Turner! But Ted doesn’t own CNN anymore. Time Warner does. And along with the CNN International staff, Atlanta bleeds with you.

The lit CNN sign looks smaller as its red neon light twists through the CNN logo on the top floor of the the CNN Center building. Its huge CNN monument on the sidewalk stands predominantly for another time when news was produced to serve the viewers and not only its stakeholders. The center now sits in the shadow of the new mammoth Mercedes-Benz Stadium where the Atlanta Falcons will call home. The news institution that helped build Atlanta into a mega city is fading away in the new Atlanta skyline along with hundreds of CNN Atlanta employees.

What the dean means

Breaking news…

The student newspaper at Florida A&M isn’t suspended. The staff is working on its next issue for Jan. 30. And the j-school dean has hired a
new adviser.

These developments are so late-breaking, the editor-in-chief hasn’t heard about them.

Here’s what happened just hours ago…

Assistant regional director Lindsey Cook called FAMU’s j-school dean Ann L. Wead Kimbrough, who has been mostly silent about her decision to shut down the student paper for one month while its staff undergoes training in the wake of a libel lawsuit – filed over an article published in 2011, before any of that staff was running the place.

Meanwhile, staffers aren’t being paid, and Kimbrough says at the end of training, they must reapply for their jobs. Frank LoMonte, the executive director of the Student Press Law Center, calls it “a case of overkill that could not possibly hold up if challenged under the First Amendment.”

Here’s how Cook describes her phone call with Kimbrough this afternoon.

The conversation with Cook

Although she declined to comment because of the lawsuit, she did have one shocking piece of news: The newspaper isn’t suspended.

“It is not suspended, first of all,” she told me. “We have officially been served with papers and I can’t make any more comments until I speak with legal counsel. But, it’s not suspended. Suspension is different. I know the difference between the two.”

According to Kimbrough, the unsuspended staff is actually working on their Jan. 30 edition of the newspaper this very moment. “They’re working on their first issue,” she insisted. I asked how the staff is faring without an adviser. Kimbrough fired adviser Andrew Skerritt at the same time she suspended (I don’t know what else to call it) the newspaper.

“We have an adviser in place,” she told me. “We have a person who has accepted the position, and we are working on the details.”

But she wouldn’t tell me who it is.

I called Karl Etters, the EIC – or ex-EIC, I’m unsure at this point – to ask him about the good news. But it was news to him. The only publication he’s working on is Ink and Fangs, the unofficial website he and his staff created after their newspaper was, uh, suspended. He also said he hasn’t heard anything about a new adviser.

“Should I go up there right now and talk to her?” he asked me. “I was up in the Division Director Office to find out when the [newspaper staff] interviews would be, and she said they were still looking for an adviser, so she didn’t know. That was about two hours ago.”

According to Etters, Kimbrough said the staff would have a hand in picking the new adviser. And what about Kimbrough’s claim that his paper isn’t suspended?

“Our newspaper isn’t suspended at all? That’s an interesting statement.”

It continues to be an interesting story.

FAMU: The staff speaks up

“We won’t stop doing what we love,” Karl Etters says.

And what the editor and his staff at Florida A&M University love doing is journalism. So they’re defying their j-school dean, who shut down their newspaper last week. Today, they started publishing their own newspaper online.

They’ve decided to follow the Red and Dead model. What’s that? It might prove to be the most modern and effective way to fight censorship. Last summer, the students at The Red and Black, the University of Georgia’s independent newspaper, faced a board of directors that directed them to cover more “good news” than “bad news.”

The senior staff walked off the job, launched their website, blitzed social media, mobilized alumni – and succeeded in forcing the resignation of the board member who wrote what’s now known as “the good news memo.”

Can Etters and company achieve similar results? We’ll see. But I asked Region 3 assistant director Lindsey Cook to talk to the FAMU staff – because she was one of those Red and Deaders. I figured one student chatting up another would elicit more honest responses than if an old fart like me tried it.

Here’s what Lindsey heard…

“I really don’t know what the website is going to do, but I would hope that it would show our dedication,” said Donovan Harrell, who was a staff writer and assistant copy editor before the shutdown. “It provides an alternative, and I feel I can get back to work now. It fills that gap without the paper being in production. I’m pretty excited. A little nervous, too.”

But he’s not angry. The dean’s monthlong mandatory training without pay? Harrell doesn’t care about the money, adding, “I’m actually kind of excited for the training, because there’s a lot I don’t know since I started last semester.”

He doesn’t even mind the dean forcing the entire staff to reapply for their jobs once the shutdown ends next month.

Attention j-school deans not at FAMU: You may want to recruit Harrell. Here’s a student journalist who will only complain if you don’t let him work. And he won’t whine about a meager paycheck.

“I’m not happy about it. We all had big plans for this semester, and we were excited to get back to the newspaper,” copydesk chief Noah McCaskill said. But he echoed Harrell: “It’s not really about the money” and, “The training is something that can help us.”

All I can say is, if I had journalists like this working for me, I wouldn’t shut them down. I’d give them big, fat raises.

Some of the older staffers are more cynical than Harrell and McCaskill…

“It sounds like there’s going to be more censorship,” said sports editor Frank Peterman III. He admits the j-school dean “didn’t say that, and she said she didn’t mean that – but the tone said there was going to be more censorship. And I don’t want to be a part of that.”

Here’s something the dean did say, and it bothers Peterman: “She said she doesn’t know if the newspaper serves the students anymore. And I’m like, ‘How can you say that?’ If anything happens on campus, we’re the first one on it.”

That reveals not only Peterman’s pride in his paper, but also a weird lack of support from the dean. Aren’t j-school deans supposed to teach students how to cover a campus? Is shutting down the paper and making the entire staff reapply really the best way to accomplish that? Doesn’t that smack of a Vietnamesque, “We had to destroy the village to save it”?

But FAMU’s scorched-earth plan might succeed in gutting the paper. It’s already taking its toll on Peterman, who says his job was tough enough before his own j-school sucker-punched him.

“The editors just end up overworking themselves, filling all the holes the writers don’t fill,” he said. “Between that and this, it seems like it’s going to be a very hectic semester, so I don’t know if I’ll be returning.”

Peterman filled out another job application, “but I don’t know if I want to turn it in.”

And then there’s Etters, trying to hold together his kaput newspaper while also working part-time as a reporter for the Tallahassee Democrat. His dream job? Environmental reporter at The New York Times.

If the dean was unhappy with his paper before, she’s winning by making it worse now.

“We had people who were slated to be on staff who decided, after the dean’s decision, that they would not be coming back to work at our paper,” he says.

But not out of fear. It’s disgust.

“I don’t think anyone is scared to come back,” Etters said. “It’s one of those things where it’s like, ‘I can get out now and not deal with this drama.’ I understand. I don’t like drama.

“This is not what I wanted to be doing right now.”

Punished for a crime they didn’t commit

Imagine you drive a taxi.

A fellow cabbie is arrested for driving drunk. So the cab company mandates training for all the other cabbies.

So far, so good.

But the cab company says you won’t be paid for a month – and at the end of that month, you’ll need to reapply for your job. When you ask why, the boss refuses to talk. She even blames you for what happened to the drunk cabbie who worked across town.

It’s not fare

Meet Karl Etters, who has a spotless driving record but has nonetheless had his keys taken away.

Etters is editor of the FAMUan, the student newspaper at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, the state’s capital.

If you’ve heard of FAMU before, it’s probably because of its marching band, which went from famous – playing Super Bowl halftimes – to infamous when a drum major named Robert Champion was beaten to death on the band bus after a FAMU football game in November 2011.

The result has been hazing investigations, criminal charges, and civil lawsuits. Understandably, FAMU administrators are still freaked out. So they weren’t happy when this happened, as reported by the local newspaper, the Tallahassee Democrat

A Dec. 2, 2011, article in the student newspaper incorrectly stated senior Keon Hollis was one of four drum majors suspended in connection with Champion’s death. Three days later, The FAMUan posted a revised article on its website omitting Hollis’ name and noting the fourth suspended student could not be identified. On Feb. 14, 2012, The FAMUan published a correction, but the lawsuit noted it failed to say Hollis had nothing to do with Champion’s death or the crime of hazing.

Guilt by association

Hollis filed a libel suit on Dec. 3 against both the newspaper and the university. Does he have a case? Maybe, says Frank LoMonte, the executive director of the Student Press Law Center outside Washington, D.C…

Accusing someone of wrongdoing without factual basis is certainly the textbook example of defamation. If Hollis can demonstrate that he was uninvolved in the hazing, then a story reporting that he was suspended in connection with the beating certainly might be defamatory, although he would still have to prove not only that the article was false but that it was prepared with some degree of carelessness. 

Weird thing is, Etters had nothing to do with any of this. He was just a staff writer at the time. In fact, he says all but two of his current staff weren’t even working at the FAMUan when the potentially libelous story was written.

Yet last Tuesday, FAMU j-school dean Ann Kimbrough shut down the paper for a month of unspecified – and unpaid – training. Her only comment was this vague email…

We are working to balance students’ rights to a free press through this process while also ensuring that The FAMUan has the proper support from the School of Journalism & Graphic Communication as it serves as a training unit for up and coming journalists.

No, you’re out of order

That has LoMonte, a usually calm attorney, spewing passionately…

Putting a newspaper on hiatus because of one erroneous story is a case of overkill that could not possibly hold up if challenged under the First Amendment. A prior restraint on publishing is considered the most noxious form of censorship, and nothing short of giving away military invasion plans has been found constitutionally adequate to justify it.

When you freeze the distribution of a newspaper, you’re depriving the campus audience of information that couldn’t conceivably be libelous – everything from roommate ads to concert listings to sports scores.

It’s the classic case of burning down the village to save it. It’s entirely understandable that the university wants to respond if, in fact, they’ve concluded that a story contained a factual error. But removing all of the editors and stopping them from publishing seems needlessly punitive – particularly when the writer who made the mistake no longer works there.

Even worse, LoMonte says, “It’s very doubtful that the dean of the college even has the supervisory authority to shut down a student organization for some quasi-punitive reason. Student organizations don’t ‘belong’ to the dean – they belong to the student members.”

LoMonte concludes…

Even leaving First Amendment issues aside, there’s a foundational labor-law issue with making people work for no pay. The editors went through a selection process and agreed to take on the work of producing news – and are being held out of work without pay for some nebulous training that apparently is mandatory. You can’t hire someone for a paying position and then unilaterally change the terms so that a month’s worth of unpaid training becomes a prerequisite. If the college claims that it can give orders that these students must obey like they’re employees, then the college needs to compensate them like employees.

Applying pressure

When I spoke with Etters over the weekend, he had no clue what happens next. He’s filling out yet another application for editor – which he did just a few weeks ago. He seemed a little beat up and beaten down.

Etters welcomes more training – “It will help show the public we are taking strides to be a more solid publication,” he told the local paper – but he doesn’t understand why it feels like punishment.

What happens next? I don’t know. Etters and his staff are discussing their options, and I’ve asked Region 3 assistant director Lindsey Cook to investigate.

More to come…

Look what’s cooking

Meet the new assistant director for SPJ’s Region 3.

Her name is Lindsey Cook. And I’m conflicted – I like Cook, but I hate bureaucracy. Yet I’m creating another layer of it. And I’m sticking her with it.

SPJ encourages its regional directors (and I’m one of 12) to “appoint a deputy or assistant regional director if possible.” Why? Because…

It’s very difficult to serve as a regional director with no support and assistance. A good deputy director can be invaluable. Divide the work, and it’s much easier to accomplish the tasks.

Of course, these assistants/deputies don’t get paid. Or acknowledged in any way. SPJ has a Regional Director of the Year award, but none for these underlings. That might explain why I can’t find any mention of other assistant/deputy RDs on SPJ’s website.

So why did Cook say yes? Because she’s a journalism fanatic. And because I promised her carte blanche – whatever journalism she wants to tout or taunt, I’ll make sure she gets all the logistics she needs. Time, money, guns, meth, lawyers. Whatever.

“Even this early in my journalism career, I’ve been told no a lot – a response I don’t take well to,” Cook says. “I’m excited to be in a position where I can run wild with online journalism, and I think the region will be ahead of the curve because of it.”

Based on what she’s done in the past, our region’s future looks promising…

Last year, Cook was multimedia editor at The Red & Black, the independent student newspaper at the University of Georgia.

Last summer, she was also one of the editors who walked off the job to protest attempts of censorship by the board of directors and professional staff. She helped create a website called Red and Dead, which got national media coverage. (Scroll down one post to read more.)

I’ve met Cook only once: When she was accepted into Will Write For Food, which is the toughest SPJ program of all time (and thus, my favorite). More than 50 students apply for less than 25 slots, and the winners spend 36 hours in a homeless shelter, where they take over the shelter’s street newspaper. Except Cook refused to work on the paper. She was the first student in four years who wanted to work exclusively online. And she kicked ass. She built this.

Cook has also interned for Voice of America, produced coverage for the Online News Association, interned for her local newspaper’s website, and managed a team of seven writers for a now-defunct national site called College Style.

Cook is the only computer science and journalism major at UGA. She runs a blog, Digitize Me, Captain, with tutorials and posts on computer science applications to journalism. A post she wrote recently about digital journalism trends for 2013 was featured on Jim Romenesko.

Obviously, with a resume like that, there’s no way Cook is going to be my indentured servant. “Divide the work”? Screw that. She’ll create her own work.

She’s already got big plans for making the 2013 regional conference, MediAtlanta, much more cutting edge than it would otherwise be.

“I’d like to encourage online and data skills in SPJ members, both professional and college students, and help journalists prepare for a new and exciting landscape in the world of journalism,” Cook says. “My biggest gripe about journalism is resistance to change. Now is the time for big ideas. We should be supporting the weirdos in the journalism world.”

Journalism weirdos, you’ve found a friend.


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