Archive for the ‘SPJ regional conferences’ Category

MediAtlanta: Red and Black recap

SPJ has very few edicts – mandatory rules that national board members like myself must abide by. One of them is hosting an annual journalism conference within my region. Ever obedient, I organized last weekend’s MediAtlanta and recruited staffers from The Red and Black to tell the tale.

Careful readers of this blog will note I’ve written about The Red and Black before, and it wasn’t exactly flattering. But my beef was with the professionals, not the students. (In fact, my beefs are almost always with the old farts who should know better.)

So here’s what three journalists at the award-winning Red and Black – it fared quite well in the regional Mark of Excellence contest – learned at MediAtlanta…

4 Lies Your College Will Tell You

By Shannon Adams

Picking four lies colleges tell student journalists was tricky for Frank LoMonte, the executive director of the Student Press Law Center. But he was able to narrow it down to just four.

Lie 1: You’re defaming the school!

“Well, the fact of the matter is, it’s really freaking hard to defame a college,” LoMonte said. While the Supreme Court has ruled that it’s possible to libel someone even in an opinion piece, what most colleges call defamation isn’t.

“Libel is a false statement of fact that is made with some degree of negligence or recklessness,” LoMonte said. Colleges may claim that journalists are libeling or about to libel them, but usually it’s just an intimidation tactic.

“We hear colleges say to their student journalists, trying to intimidate them, ‘You’re about to libel our college’ – and what they really mean is, ‘You’re about to hurt our reputation by publishing something about us that is harmful but true,’” LoMonte said. “And if it is harmful but true, it doesn’t matter how harmful it is.”

This concept stems from the idea that student journalists are there to make the school look good. Instead, students should look at their relationship to their college as a consumer relationship.

“The schools want you to think of it as, ‘You are a representative of the school, and you have to make us proud,’” LoMonte said, “But the fact is, you’re paying these people a lot of money to provide you a service in a consumer transaction.”

Lie 2: Everything we have is a FERPA record

FERPA – the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act – was intended to protect students from snooping of other government agencies. But reports of employee misconduct, court documents and teachers’ emails in their “in” box are not protected by FERPA.

“Just because it has a student’s name on it doesn’t mean it’s protected by FERPA,” LoMonte said. Records must be directly related to the student and be maintained by the school in order to be protected by FERPA. For example, “Police records – records created for law enforcement purposes – are never ever ever ever FERPA records,” LoMonte said.

Lie 3: This is a HIPAA violation

“FERPA’s uglier cousin is HIPAA,” LoMonte said. HIPAA is the federal healthcare privacy law.

“HIPAA does say that people who are covered by HIPAA can’t give out information about people’s individual confidential medical information,” LoMonte said. “But HIPAA only covers two types of people: It covers your health care provider – your doctor – and your health insurance.”

Taking pictures and writing about injured people and accidents are not HIPAA violations, although some officials might tell you it is.

“If somebody says ‘HIPAA,’ what you should hear is ‘I’m lying to you right now,’” LoMonte said, “because it’s always wrong. The law is largely misunderstood and misquoted, but journalists would be hard-pressed to violate it. There is no such thing as invasion of privacy of something that you do in a public space.”

Lie 4: if you take pictures where you shouldn’t we get to delete them

Once you take pictures, they’re your property. No one can seize them. “The reality is that’s stealing,” LoMonte said.

“If you wouldn’t let somebody rip up your $20 bill, don’t let them delete your pictures either,” LoMonte said, “There is not ever a time when the law says that the right answer is for the police or somebody acting like a cop to delete your photos or make you delete them or to otherwise take them away.”

Journalism in the Middle East

By Sarah Anne Perry

Former Cleveland Plain Dealer managing editor Tom O’Hara looked forward to adventure in the Middle East — and he found it.

The United Arab Emirates is ranked 114th out of 179 in the Press Freedom Index and labeled “not free” by Freedom House. it’s not an obvious hotspot for journalists on the job hunt.

But for O’Hara and Georgia State University profesor Matt Duffy, it was. Between 2010 and 2012, O’Hara worked as a desk editor at The National, an English-language paper praised as the best and freest in the Arab world. Duffy taught journalism as a professor at Zayed University. Saturday, both men spoke about their experiences at MediAtlanta.

O’Hara said although he couldn’t find a reporting job in the United States, he found two in the Middle East within two days of searching. A recruiter from The National lauded Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s intentions to create “The New York Times of the Middle East.”

That wasn’t quite what O’Hara encountered. Working at The National meant battles not just between writers and editors, but between news staff and the constant threat of censorship.

Censors were only concerned with certain topics, O’Hara said — namely, those that might reflect badly on the government or threaten its stability. In the midst of the Arab Spring, any writing that might portray the U.A.E. government negatively was deemed a potential cause of civil unrest, and thus unprintable.

Fortunately for him, O’Hara was safe behind the foreign news desk, where few stories seemed to possess the potential for political catastrophe.

Self-censorship was the norm at The National, O’Hara said. Paranoia kept the paper’s editors worried about offending not just Sheik Khalifa but also the Bahraini rulers, to whom he’s related. Even the president’s own words were edited for Shia references so as not to upset the paper’s Sunni Muslim readers.

O’Hara said the top editors at The National spent much of their time proofing copy rather than performing the administrative duties often expected of the highest-ranking members of the newsroom.

In the U.A.E., libel was a criminal offense, Duffy said. Arab publications even used initials in crime reports instead of names to protect suspects’ pride — truth wasn’t necessarily a viable defense when a reporter was brought to court for defamation of character.

Arab readers could circumvent censorship by getting their news from the Internet, Duffy said. Still, he said he was surprised by how little his colleagues knew about current events in their own country.

“I was surprised by how few people were paying attention,” he said.

Duffy described the U.A.E. as a lovely place to live, with many people prospering from oil money and therefore content with life as they knew it — and often unconcerned with the news. He said Arab culture and Islamic tradition created a welcoming atmosphere for him.

O’Hara also said he felt welcome, and that he rarely encountered anti-American or xenophobic sentiments from sources and others.

“You kept hearing this: ‘I love Americans. I don’t like America,’” he said.

O’Hara said Arabs’ dislike for America had more to do with its support for Israel than for its culture. He added that not knowing Arabic is no deterrent to reporting in a country whose population consists mostly of expatriates. Neither is gender, he said, although he advised female reporters to enter the Middle East with a tough skin.

“Arab men are not subtle,” he said.

O’Hara and Duffy agreed that their experiences, though challenging, were invaluable. O’Hara recommended that reporters work abroad early in their careers so they can apply the lessons they learn there to the careers they build in the United States.

Both men also expressed hope for the future of free speech in the Middle East. Social media isn’t going away, Duffy said, and neither is the freedom of expression it provides.

Weird Careers in the Media

By Chelsey Abercrombie

In the rapidly evolving world of media, careers can be found where you least expect them. Nobody I know grew up with dreams of being a “social media editor” — how could they? Five years ago, it didn’t even exist as a profession.

While some doomsayers may preach that the advent of technology will herald the extinction of journalism, Michael Koretzky, the leader of MediAtlanta’s “Weird Careers in the Media” session, begs to differ. He offered several pieces of advice to help aspiring journalists get the ball rolling.

Don’t get an internship when you can get a part-time freelance gig.

While internships are practically guaranteed to involve their fair share of coffee runs, copy-making and fun-filled trips to restock the printer, freelance gigs guarantee the one thing an internship can’t: actual experience.

And in addition to grabbing you a few real-world bylines, most freelance jobs are also paid and can bring you into contact with some great names for the reference section of your resume.

Dailies are still hiring writers, photographers, and designers…so long as they’re all the same person.

In our technology-saturated world, everything is about multimedia, and staff writers are no longer expected solely to be able to write.

Proficiency in HTML, Photoshop, Flash and InDesign can skyrocket your chances of landing an interview and ultimately a career.

Newspapers will run like magazines. Magazines will run like radio stations.

Now that anyone with a GoDaddy account can run their own quote-unquote news service, publications’ best bet for survival lies in finding their niche readership.

Koretzky ran through several examples of magazines devoted to everything from lawn croquet to yachting crews. While it may not be your dream job, when it comes hiring time, the randomness of your resume may just be what lands you an interview.

Writers also don’t need to specifically share their publication’s interest.In two different cases, writers for a gay magazine and a Native American magazine weren’t even gay or Native American.

Journalists will have at least one job in their career they never expected.

And here comes the “weird” part: Your best bet at a career in journalism might not be in publications at all.

Many businesses are now hiring writers to blog about their products, events and services. Advocacy groups have also begun to hire their own freelance investigative journalists to pursue causes that might not be at the top of a mainstream news service’s priority list.

Some companies want journalists instead of public relations specialists.

In the same vein of unexpected career opportunities, many companies and businesses are overlooking the typical public relations grads to run their PR in favor of journalists, who know how to spice up a would-be boring post and are no strangers to thinking on their feet.

Ultimately, while first jobs can be daunting in the fast-paced world of journalism, the key to success isn’t always sticking to your guns.

Sometimes you have to get creative – and maybe a little weird – to find the right first step towards the career of your dreams.

The Fur Amendment

“It’s funny that the most interesting thing about our convention,” MediAtlanta speaker Karla Bowsher mused Saturday night, “is someone else’s convention.”

Bowsher was strolling through the Westin hotel in downtown Atlanta, just a few blocks from the SPJ regional conference we hosted earlier that day. She, me, and five other MediAtlanta speakers were lured inside by intense journalistic curiosity.

The Westin was hosting Furry Weekend Atlanta, a gathering of 2,000 “furries” and their fans. If you don’t know what a furry is, you can read the ponderous Wikipedia description. But here’s my own simplistic, journalistic version…

Furries are perhaps the most laughed-at legal subculture in America. In varying degrees, they enjoy dressing as anthropomorphic animals – think of a cross between college football mascots and the suited characters who lumber through DisneyWorld, but with an anime and sci-fi edge.

Some furries get sexually aroused wearing these suits, which can cost thousands of dollars. Others just enjoy the camaraderie that comes from being around a critical mass of fellow outsiders – who, for that one weekend, are suddenly the insiders.

Like everything else journalists are forced to describe in only a few words, these are just the broad strokes, not the subtle shadings. Since it’s so hard to define them, you can imagine how misunderstood many furries feel. Popular culture tends to malign what it can’t define, and it’s worse for furries because of their cute suits.

But the more we spoke with the Furry Weekend attendees, the more the MediAtlanta crew – which included Michele Boyet, Gideon Grudo, Cassie Morien, Tom O’Hara, and Chris Persaud – admired them. That was partly because they were so willing to speak to us.

I’ve covered other subcultures as a journalist, from Jewish gun-lovers to Nazi submariner re-enactors. But I’ve never met a group more willing to talk freely about their scene, even as I heard catcalls from the public walking by the Westin. O’Hara chatted with one furry for 15 minutes, delving into the topic of the sexual practices and sexual orientations of both furries and their fans.

Furries embody everything I value as a journalist: Thick skins (quite literally) and an outsider’s view of the rest of the world, but with its own tight-knit community that won’t exclude anyone with an open mind.

Grudo, who helped coordinate last year’s annual Will Write For Food weekend, suggested a similar event called Will Write For Fur: “We should publish a furry convention newspaper the next time they do this.”

I agree. The journalistic value is plain…

If reporters and photographers can sensitively cover this subculture, capturing its essence in a way that enlightens the public while still informing the furries themselves, that’s the pinnacle of our craft.

If you’re interested in joining us, email me. We’ll need all the help we can get. I predict this SPJ grant application is gonna be a hard sell.

Tomorrow: Read about MediAtlanta itself, as reported by the staff at The Red and Black, the independent student newspaper at the University of Georgia.

Free-and-easy tech for your regional conference

Dear SPJ regional conference director:

So, are you having fun yet?

If you’re like me, you agreed to organize your region’s conference because you wanted to book mind-blowing speakers. But you didn’t realize the job – and it is a job – would bog you down with mind-numbing tech like setting up a website and a PayPal account.

Well, now you don’t have to.

In 2009, I took charge of the Region 3 conference in sunny South Florida. I built a 12-page website in Dreamweaver and set up a PayPal account linked to my chapter’s bank account. What a giant pain in my ass that was.

But now my pain is your gain…


These days, you gotta offer online registration and payment. But setting up a PayPal account is much harder than using one. So here’s some advice: Don’t bother. Use ours.

For our 2009 regional, SPJ South Florida opened a PayPal account. We still have it. We’re offering it to any conference director who’s interested.

We’ll handle the back end and generate reports for you (so you can be assured we’re not ripping you off). Whenever you want, our treasurer will cut you a check for whatever your owed at the moment. You’ll pay the usual PayPal fees, but we won’t charge you anything extra.

Why is SPJ South Florida being so friendly? Well, besides just being nice folk, we have an ulterior motive: We want SPJ National to offer this convenience next year. If we can prove how easy it is, then maybe it happens.

Speaking just for me, I believe the national board and headquarters staff should handle as many of the boring logistics as possible – so our members have more time to do the fun, creative stuff. That’s how you boost both membership and morale.

If you’re interested, email


How cool would it be if your regional conference had a smartphone app just like the national Excellence in Journalism convention did in New Orleans?

A company called Guidebook offers a small-scale mobile app that really works. How do I know? I’ve messed around with it, and I’ve quizzed a company rep at length.

I organize a college media convention in Manhattan, but it’s too big to take advantage of the free app, which limits the number of downloads to 500. But if your conference has less than 500 attendees, this could be perfect. And it’s a breeze to use.

The Guidebook website says the free app was only available till Sept. 30, but I can get that extended for you. If a number of conference organizer desire the app, we can hit up Guidebook together in one fell swoop.

Email me if you’re interested.


Last year, some regional conferences used a free website called Eventbrite to promote themselves and register folks. It’s not a bad way to go. But it’s also not the easiest on the eyes. And it doesn’t give you much room to blog about your amazing events in advance, much less cover what’s happening.

So check out what the Asian American Journalists Association did with an equally free Tumblr site for its national convention this year. If you’ve never tried Tumblr, it’s simple to use and easy to update.

Of course, if you’re working a large regional conference that partners with an active chapter, this isn’t a problem. Check out Region 1, which is the first to have its website go live and really has its shit together – thanks to the Press Club of Long Island. But if you don’t have that kind of support, check out Tumblr or Eventbrite.


The problem with Eventbrite and Tumblr is that the list of all your sessions is confusing if you have them running on tracks – which means two or more sessions are presented at the same time.

Sched takes care of that in a very appealing way.

Basically, Sched makes a color-coordinated flowchart of your sessions. It’s easy to scan, and getting more info is just a click away. Check out what the Texas Tribune Festival looked like. Cool, huh?

Since Sched is free, even the excellent organizers in Region 1 could use it – just plug in the sessions and then link to it from your homepage.

So that’s every pair of shoes in the place. Hope it helps. Any questions, holler.


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