2021 Region 5 Mark of Excellence Awards

Congratulations to all the winners and finalists of this year’s SPJ Region 5 Mark of Excellence awards for student journalism! We announced the honorees at the virtual regional conference on April 10.

Winners in each category will go on to compete with the winners of the other 11 regions in the national competition.

A special thanks to Region 5 assistant coordinator Nicole DeCriscio for managing the Mark of Excellence awards this year.

SPJ headquarters will mail award certificates. Need a duplicate certificate?Order them for $5 each, includes shipping. Contact Lou Harry at SPJ at lharry@hq.spj.org

Other questions? Contact Amy Merrick, SPJ Region 5 coordinator, amerric1@depaul.edu

Missed the awards ceremony? Watch the video here:

2021 SPJ Region 5 Mark of Excellence awards — video replay


Sports Column Writing

Finalist: Staff, “Northwestern Sports Time Machine,” The Daily Northwestern, Northwestern University

Winner: Peter Warren, The Daily Northwestern, Northwestern University

Sports Writing

Finalist: Drew Schott, “‘If I put my mind to anything I can achieve it’: How Abi Scheid became the best three-point shooter in the country,” The Daily Northwestern, Northwestern University

Finalist: Matt Cohen, “The General comes home,” Indiana Daily Student, Indiana University

Winner: Peter Warren, “Football: How Northwestern football handled the 1918 influenza epidemic,” The Daily Northwestern, Northwestern University

Breaking-News Reporting (small, up to 9,999 students)

Winner: Megan Stratton, “Butler University moves first two weeks of 2020 semester online,” The Butler Collegian, Butler University

General News Reporting (small, up to 9,999 students)

Finalist: Delaney Nelson, “Addressing the ‘elephant in the room’: New program provides support to teen parents,” The Daily Northwestern, Northwestern University

Finalist: Stasia Raebel, Ja’Sia Ward, Sophie Ciokaljo, “Election impact on Butler’s campus,” The Butler Collegian, Butler University

Winner: Delaney Nelson, “‘I’m doing my part’: the grocery store workers on the front lines of the pandemic,” The Daily Northwestern, Northwestern University

In-Depth Reporting (small, up to 9,999 students)

Winner: Ellie Allen, Joe Krisko and Allison Miccolis, “The evolution of Butler’s COVID-19 testing procedures,” The Butler Collegian, Butler University

General Column Writing (small, up to 9,999 students)

Finalist: Bridget Early and Andrew Favakeh, “Investigating Butler’s navigation of the COVID-19 pandemic,” The Butler Collegian, Butler University

Winner: Nathan Herbst, The Reflector, University of Indianapolis

Feature Writing (small, up to 9,999 students)

Finalist: Adam Mahoney, “Mother of man killed by CPD now spends holidays as community Santa,” Chicago Sun-Times, Northwestern University

Finalist: Madison Miller, “I now pronounce you, dead,” NCClinked.com, North Central College

Winner: Kyra Steck, “Voices on racism,” The Martha’s Vineyard Times, Northwestern University

Best All-Around Student Newspaper (small, up to 9,999 students)

Winner: The Butler Collegian, Butler University

Breaking News Reporting (large, 10,000+ students)

Finalist: Kayleigh Padar, Madison Savedra, Katie Anthony, Mary Chappell, “Arrested protestors released after protests near Loyola’s Lake Shore campus,” The Loyola Phoenix, Loyola University Chicago

Winner: Claire Proctor, “Jacob Blake’s father says son’s paralyzed from waist down after police shooting in Kenosha,” Chicago Sun-Times, Northwestern University

General News Reporting (large, 10,000+ students)

Finalist: Michael J. Collins and Laurel Deppen, “Need to know: The facts about WKU’s response to COVID-19,” The College Heights Herald, Western Kentucky University

Finalist: Daisy Conant, “Civic leaders, organizers discuss impact of EPD limiting practice of arresting minors,” The Daily Northwestern, Northwestern University

Winner: Megan Munce and Daisy Conant, “Supreme Court decision disrupts students’ voting plan,” The Daily Northwestern, Northwestern University

In-Depth Reporting (large, 10,000+ students)

Finalist: Sophia Scanlan, “In Focus: Independent businesses in Evanston deal with declining support,” The Daily Northwestern, Northwestern University

Finalist: Madison Savedra, “Loyola professor still teaching after evidence of ‘unprofessional and sexual harassing behavior,’” The Loyola Phoenix, Loyola University Chicago

Winner: Kalen Luciano and Heena Srivastava, “In Focus: Loopholes in federal lead law left 5th Ward in the dark about what is in its water,” The Daily Northwestern, Northwestern University

General Column Writing (large, 10,000+ students)

Finalist: Mary Chappell, The Loyola Phoenix, Loyola University Chicago

Winner: Yilun Cheng, Max News Today, Northwestern University

Feature Writing (large, 10,000+ students)

Finalist: Jacquelyne Germain, “Race, class and SAT scores,” North by Northwestern, Northwestern University

Winner: Caroline Anders, “Live and learn,” Indiana Daily Student, Indiana University

Best All-Around Student Newspaper (large, 10,000+ students)

Finalist: The Daily Northwestern, Northwestern University

Winner: The Loyola Phoenix, Loyola University Chicago


Radio In-Depth Reporting

Winner: Angelina Campanile, “Explained: President Trump’s election lawsuits,” WNUR News, Northwestern University

Best All-Around Radio Newscast

Winner: Angelina Campanile, Helen Bradshaw, Alex Harrison, Olivia Lloyd, WNUR News, Northwestern University


Television Breaking-News Reporting

Winner: Holden Abshier, “Breonna Taylor protest,” IU NewsNet, Indiana University

Television General News Reporting

Finalist: Erica Carbajal, “Hazardous waste,” Good Day DePaul, DePaul University

Finalist: Alexa Mikhail, “Daily life in a pandemic,” Northwestern News Network, Northwestern University

Winner: Joey Maya Safchik, “Survivors condemn comparisons between quarantine and Holocaust,” Northwestern News Network, Northwestern University

Television In-Depth Reporting

Finalist: Crystal Hellwig, “Businesses hurt by covid,” Good Day DePaul, DePaul University

Finalist: Jenny Huh, “LGBTQ+ youth homelessness hits close to Northwestern’s campus,” Northwestern News Network, Northwestern University

Winner: Crystal Hellwig, “CTA crime,” Good Day DePaul, DePaul University

Television Feature Reporting

Finalist: Joey Maya Safchik, “The show goes on for artists with autism,” Northwestern News Network, Northwestern University

Finalist: Erica Carbajal, “DePaul opera,” Good Day DePaul, DePaul University

Winner: Joey Maya Safchik, “Old school activism: A history of protest at Northwestern,” Northwestern News Network, Northwestern University

Television Sports Reporting

Finalist: Jack Lido, “Pete the public address Wildcat,” NNN Sports, Northwestern University

Finalist: Michael Abraham, “Pantelis Xidias,” Good Day DePaul, DePaul University

Winner: Jack Lido, “The Art of the Draw,” NNN Sports, Northwestern University

Best All-Around Television Newscast

Finalist: Tracy Hemmingway, Abraham Alonso, Reid Pohland, John Kilpatrick, “LUTN Election Night 2020,” Lewis University Television Network, Lewis University

Winner: Staff, “Northwestern News Network COVID-19 special report,” Northwestern News Network, Northwestern University


Online News Reporting
Finalist: Justin Myers, “DePaul community speaks out against FOP partnership,” 14 East, DePaul University

Finalist: Laaiba Mahmood and Hajra Qaiser, “Complaints against Chicago police rise as protesters seek accountability,” The Red Line Project, University of Illinois at Chicago

Winner: Nicole Sroka, “Chicago homicide rates surging during pandemic,” The Red Line Project, University of Illinois at Chicago

Online In-Depth Reporting

Finalist: Joslyn Fox, “A Censored Community: Students’ Speech, Expression Encumbered; DePauw Criticized,” The DePauw, DePauw University

Finalist: Staff, “Outbreak: COVID-19 in Chicago,” The Red Line Project, University of Illinois at Chicago

Winner: Meredith Melland and Marin Scott, “Under review: How Lisa Calvente’s termination exposed a flawed tenure process,” 14 East, DePaul University

Online Feature Reporting

Finalist: Zora Gordon, Addison LeBoutillier and Carlie Jefferies, “Happy at home,” Talisman, Western Kentucky University

Finalist: Lia Assimakopoulos, “A gridiron legacy uncovered: How Northwestern football players risked it all for racial equality,” Inside NU, Northwestern University

Winner: Emily Isaacman, Karli VanCleave, Mel Fronczek, “Softening Stigma,” Indiana Daily Student, Indiana University

Online Sports Reporting

Finalist: Ruby Chapdelaine and Charlie Haynes, “Boxers find community in Bowling Green,” Talisman, Western Kentucky University

Finalist: Chris Katsaros and Charles Tharpe, “How the Big Ten Conference fumbled the pandemic,” The Red Line Project, University of Illinois at Chicago

Winner: Lia Assimakopoulos, “A gridiron legacy uncovered: How Northwestern football players risked it all for racial equality,” Inside NU, Northwestern University

Online Opinion & Commentary

Winner: Julián Martinez, 14 East, DePaul University

Online/Digital News Videography

Finalist: Jacob Ohara, “ETHS grads fight COVID-19 with new antimicrobial phone case,” The Daily Northwestern, Northwestern University

Winner: Samantha Boas, “Evanston constructs stabilization project along lakefront,” The Daily Northwestern, Northwestern University

Best Affiliated Website

Finalist: The Reflector, University of Indianapolis

Winner: The Chronicle, North Central College

Best Independent Online Student Publication

Finalist: RE(a)D, Western Kentucky University

Finalist: 14 East, DePaul University

Winner: Talisman, Western Kentucky University

Art & Graphics

General News Photography

Winner: Tony Reeves, “Health science safety photo,” The Reflector, University of Indianapolis

Sports Photography

Winner: Matt Gadd, “Helping hand,” The College Heights Herald, Western Kentucky University

Breaking-News Photography (large, 10,000+ students)

Finalist: Zane Meyer-Thornton, “No justice no peace,” The College Heights Herald, Western Kentucky University

Winner: Zack Miller, “Person handcuffed during Chicago’s George Floyd protests,” The Loyola Phoenix, Loyola University Chicago

Feature Photography

Finalist: Allie Hendricks, “Dorm cleaning,” The College Heights Herald, Western Kentucky University

Finalist: Allie Hendricks, “Field trip,” The College Heights Herald, Western Kentucky University

Winner: Kellen Frazier, “Farming the land,” The College Heights Herald, Western Kentucky University

Data Visualization

Finalist: Kami Geron, “Finding a rusty patched bumblebee, what to look for,” Ball Bearings Magazine, Ball State University

Finalist: Kate Perschke, “Campaign finance: How are Biden and Trump fundraising and spending 10 days before the election,” The Red Line Project, University of Illinois at Chicago

Winner: Emily Wright, “The Truth About Climate Change,” Ball Bearings Magazine, Ball State University


Nonfiction Magazine Article

Finalist: Jenna Greenzaid, “Risk of return,” North by Northwestern, Northwestern University

Winner: Morgan Hornsby, “Everything starts with mama,” Talisman, Western Kentucky University

Best Student Magazine

Finalist: Talisman, “Zeitgeist: The spirit of the age,” Western Kentucky University

Winner: North by Northwestern, Fall 2020 issue, Northwestern University

COVID-19 Coverage

COVID-19: Video Coverage (large, 10,000+ students)

Finalist: Jack Lido, “Sportscasters in the age of COVID,” Northwestern News Network, Northwestern University

Winner: Olivia Yarvis and Victoria Benefield, “The Daily Northwestern explains: How to conduct an at-home mask test,” The Daily Northwestern, Northwestern University

COVID-19: Newspaper, Magazine and Online Coverage (small, up to 9,999 students)

Finalist: Noah Crenshaw, “Breaking news coverage of UIndy shutdown due to COVID-19,” The Reflector, University of Indianapolis

Winner: Nathan Herbst, Noah Fields, Jacob Walton and Gisele Valentin, “The Reflector COVID-19 coverage,” The Reflector, University of Indianapolis

COVID-19: Newspaper, Magazine and Online Coverage (large, 10,000+ students)

Finalist: Staff, “Outbreak: COVID-19 in Chicago,” The Red Line Project, University of Illinois at Chicago

Finalist: Kallie Cox and Danny Connolly, “SIU will not be informing the public of COVID-19 outbreaks on campus; RAs told to keep quiet,” The Daily Egyptian, Southern Illinois University Carbondale

Winner: Staff, “North by Northwestern magazine COVID coverage,” North by Northwestern, Northwestern University


Best Video Game Reporting

Winner: Dillon McCormick, “Evolving sport,” Talisman, Western Kentucky University

Best Podcast

Finalist: Madison Smith, “Defining safe: Living in limbo,” The Daily Northwestern, Northwestern University

Finalist: Aaron Robinson, “Andy and Carlos,” Northwestern University

Winner: Victoria Benefield, “Digital diaries: Alone on campus,” The Daily Northwestern, Northwestern University

Best Use of Multimedia

Finalist: Justin Myers, “Austin, the architectural landscape: A walking tour,” 14 East, DePaul University

Finalist: Myra Leon, Jose Vidales, Itzel Elizarraraz, “Why is Chicago’s lakefront washing away?” The Red Line Project, University of Illinois at Chicago

Winner: Kate Perschke, “Election 2020: Young voters turn out in historic numbers,” The Red Line Project, University of Illinois at Chicago

SPJ June Board Meeting Update

And Your Thoughts on the Future of SPJ Regions

Here’s a brief rundown of the SPJ board meeting on Saturday, June 27, 2020. The recording isn’t posted yet, but you can find the agenda and committee reports here. UPDATE: Here’s the link to a recording of the full meeting. And you can read SPJ President Patti Newberry’s summary at her blog.

  1. The virtual conference is moving forward for Sept. 12-13. You should have an opportunity soon to give input on what it should cover. A lot has changed since people made conference proposals last year.
  2. SPJ’s finances are currently stable because of reduced expenses and steady revenue.
  3. SPJ is hiring a full-time director of education to emphasize online learning and overhaul training programs.
  4. SPJ gave out $40,000 to help journalists in need in recent months. 
  5. The new membership database is expected to launch in November. There’s interest in having a forum with chapters/members to explain its features.

Marking six months as executive director, John Shertzer gave a presentation about establishing a strategic direction for SPJ. It was thorough and thought-provoking, and it captured from a more detached perspective what SPJ does well and what could be better. I attached some screenshots to this email. This slide distills his ideas into one possible future for SPJ, which I found compelling:

For me, one of the most interesting parts was John’s discussion of the regions and regional conferences. Members said these were some of the least valuable aspects of SPJ for them. What do you think? 

  • Do you find benefits in interacting with other chapters in your area? 
  • Could this role be better filled by interest groups (such as the SPJ Freelance Community)? 
  • Could we share planning and responsibilities by collaborating with other journalism organizations in our area? 
  • How can we do more to get students interested in SPJ and keep them as young professionals? 

As we start gathering ideas for the 2021 regional conference, this is a great time to rethink the role of the regions and the regional conferences. What would be most helpful for SPJ members? What could be more relevant and exciting? 

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Indiana Pro Chapter: An open letter to Gov. Holcomb denouncing the Use of cease-and-desist

Dec. 3, 2019

Honorable Eric J. Holcomb
Governor of Indiana
200 W. Washington St.
Indianapolis, IN 46204

Dear Gov. Holcomb:

The Indiana Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists takes exception to your call for the Indianapolis Star and Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting to cease and desist reporting stories about your administration’s handling of worker safety investigations at Amazon facilities in Indiana.

Our organization, which represents professional journalists throughout Indiana, feels this move is a threat to press freedom.

According to Article I, section 9 of the Indiana Constitution: “No law shall be passed restraining the free interchange of thought and opinion, or restricting the right to speak, write, or print, freely, on any subject whatever: but for the abuse of that right, every person shall be responsible.”

In our view, your cease-and-desist letters, issued on Nov. 29, are designed to intimidate reporters and journalists looking into your administration. The letters also add to the overall climate in the nation that looks to undermine the credibility of journalists and media outlets.

Although you might not agree with the contents or conclusions of the report in Reveal and the Indianapolis Star, an unusual call by your office for a cease-and-desist order against the media could chill efforts to report an ongoing story.

Indiana Pro SPJ stands behind the efforts of local and national journalism outlets to report issues of public importance and hold leaders accountable. If there are disputes over accuracy, there are ways to address those concerns without issuing a cease-and-desist order.

Indiana should set an example for the rest of the nation to follow when it comes to press freedom. Our officers would welcome the opportunity to meet with you and discuss this issue further.


The Board of Directors
Indiana Professional Chapter
Society of Professional Journalists

For more information, please contact:

John Russell, chapter president
(317) 250-6261

Michael Puente, chapter vice president
(312) 342-0056

Press coverage:

Times of Northwest Indiana: Journalist group condemns governor’s method of demanding retraction from Indianapolis Star

Fort Wayne Journal Gazette: Governor’s media cease-and-desist draws rebuke

Indiana Business Journal: Holcomb, labor officials insist Amazon death handled promptly

SPJ Region 5: Student Journalists Fulfill a Vital Role at Universities

The editorial board of the Loyola Phoenix, the student newspaper of Loyola University in Chicago, recently published an editorial criticizing the university president and the school’s department of marketing and communications for intervening in interview requests to faculty members and others. 

The editorial also said emailed responses from the school’s marketing department often answered student journalists’ questions in canned marketing language, leaving little opportunity to follow up.  

“Loyola is more than a brand,” the editorial board wrote. “It’s a university. Its priority should be keeping its students safe and keeping them educated. There’s no better group to do that than the students themselves.” 

After the editorial received substantial attention, Loyola’s department of university marketing and communications clarified that faculty and staff may respond to requests from journalists, including students, without going through the marketing department. A university task force is being formed to review the school’s media policies.

Loyola student journalists aren’t the only ones facing resistance from university administrators. Student journalists at Taylor University, a Christian school in Indiana, founded the Student Press Coalition after the school blocked a negative story about a former professor’s lawsuit. In the coalition’s survey of student journalists at Christian colleges and universities, three in four respondents said they or their publications had faced pressure to change, edit or remove an article after publication. Cassidy Grom, a co-founder of the Student Press Coalition, received SPJ’s Robert D.G. Lewis First Amendment Award in 2018. 

Nor are the problems limited to private schools. The University of Kentucky sued its student newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel, challenging a state attorney general’s ruling that would require administrators to disclose information about a sexual misconduct investigation of a former professor. (The case is pending before the Kentucky Court of Appeals.) Western Kentucky University filed a similar lawsuit against student newspapers over disclosures related to alleged sexual misconduct. 

All this comes at a time when student journalists are filling in gaps left by the waning of local newsrooms. As newspapers in smaller markets shrink their coverage, student papers are providing valuable community news. The Pew Research Center found in 2014 that students made up 14 percent of all statehouse reporters. 

The 2016 report “Threats to the Independence of Student Media,” endorsed by the American Association of University Professors, the College Media Association, the National Coalition Against Censorship and the Student Press Law Center, notes that 

A college or university campus is in many ways analogous to a self-contained city in which thousands of residents conduct their daily lives—drawing on the resources of the institution for housing, dining, police protection, medical services, employment, recreation, and culture. Student journalists keep watch over the delivery of these services, giving the members of their public a voice in the matters that concern them most. 

University administrators should recognize that student journalists play a crucial role in informing students, faculty and staff about what is happening in their community – both good and bad. Student media are not an extension of university marketing. Their independence is critical in helping their audience understand and make educated decisions about university life.

Amy Merrick
SPJ Region 5 Coordinator

Al Cross
University of Kentucky

Tom Eblen
President, Bluegrass Professional Chapter
Lexington, Kentucky

Mike Farrell
University of Kentucky

Indiana Pro Chapter

SPJ Bluegrass Chapter calls for Ky. governor to respect news media’s role in democracy

The Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists issued a statement Wednesday responding to Twitter comments Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin recently made about a reporter at the Courier-Journal based in Louisville.

Liz Hansen, president of the Bluegrass chapter, distributed the statement approved by the chapter’s board of directors to media across the state Wednesday. Here’s the complete statement:

Governor, name-calling has no place in civil discourse
An ethics complaint has been filed against Gov. Matt Bevin, who purchased a house near Louisville from a supporter for $1.6 million. Bevin’s attorneys have appealed the Jefferson County Property Valuation Administrator’s assessment of more than $2 million. Courier-Journal reporter Tom Loftus visited the house in March to check reports that Bevin was living there. Despite the fact Loftus, a veteran reporter inducted in the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, never reached the house and left when a state trooper asked him to, Bevin called Loftus a “truly sick man” and “peeping Tom” on Twitter two weeks ago.

This is the response of the Bluegrass Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists:

The news media are also protected from government interference so journalists can provide information to the public, to the voters who choose these public officials, and theoretically at least, to whom the officials must answer for their deeds, good or otherwise. The news media also serve as a watchdog, because everyone who runs for and holds office is a man or woman like all the rest of us, with our foibles and our failures. The truth is this: Power corrupts, and power unchecked corrupts even more.
The news media work for the people. Surveys of journalists tell the same story: The people who report the news believe they have a duty, not to the people in power but to the voters who entrusted public officials with that power.

That brings us to one of the state’s most respected journalists. Tom Loftus learned his journalism at the Ohio State University and has been practicing here on behalf of the people of the Commonwealth for more than 40 years. He has demonstrated repeatedly that if a story in the Courier-Journal carries the byline of Tom Loftus, you can trust it. He won the James Madison Award for Service to the First Amendment by a Kentuckian as recognition for his lifetime of work.

Gov. Matt Bevin, however, has a problem with reporter Loftus. This veteran newsman broke the story FOR THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE that the governor had purchased a home at what appeared to be substantially less than its value on the Jefferson County books. And he purchased it from a man who gave to his campaign fund and now holds a seat on a state board. Rather than provide an explanation to the reporter so he could put the governor’s reply in the story, his office declined to return the reporter’s calls and give the voters of the state the governor’s side of the story.
When the governor did address the issue, after an ethics complaint was filed against him, he stooped to calling Tom Loftus a “peeping Tom,” because Loftus actually went to the house to see if the governor really was living there. We call that good reporting. And no one has said Loftus “peeped” in the windows. He was asked to leave before he got to the door, and he did. The governor delivered a stiff arm to the public’s representative rather than provide information.

Name-calling is not something we expect of our elected leaders. People differ on all manner of ideas, profound and mundane, but the power of any argument is lost when name-calling begins. The doctrines supporting the First Amendment establish a “marketplace of ideas” – from discussion and debate, not name- calling, emerge the best ideas. That, according to philosophers and the Supreme Court of the United States, is why the Constitution bars government from censorship except in the rarest of cases, usually when national security is threatened.

We have known and worked with Tom Loftus. He is honest, hard working and committed to accuracy and ethical reporting. He is among the most honorable journalists to have ever written for a Kentucky newspaper.
The Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists believes character assassination and name- calling should definitely be beyond the pale of every public official, especially the chief executive of the state.
SPJ calls on Gov. Matt Bevin to respect the news media and their roles in promoting democracy – informing the public, facilitating discussion and debate, and acting as watchdogs. That he sees nothing wrong with his name-calling and refusing to answer legitimate questions about what voters could perceive as favored treatment shows he doesn’t believe he is answerable to the public.

And really, governor, your name-calling is setting a bad example for everyone in the state, and your beloved children deserve a better role model. In fact, if you really want to change the political climate in Kentucky, Gov. Bevin, we all deserve a better role model. We call it character, governor, and this verbal assault on a respected journalist doesn’t reflect well on yours.

Under fire, journalists must not change mission and standards, SPJ Ethics Committee chair says

At a time of conflict, stress and challenge, journalists must not change their mission and their standards, the chair of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Ethics Committee told journalists at the University of Kentucky Wednesday evening.

Andrew Seaman, senior health-policy reporter for Reuters, noted that public trust in the news media is at al all-time low, but health-insurance companies have somehow improved their public regard in recent years, and “If they can gain trust, so can journalists.”

Even though journalists have “the most powerful person in the world attacking us,” they must not take the bait of an adviser to President Trump and become “the opposition party,” Seaman said. They must continue to do the work that democracy and society demand, and “be careful of the friends you make while you are under attack.

He said journalists would do well to remember the maxim of Washington Post Editor Martin Baron: “We’re not at war. We’re at work.”

Seaman made another point familiar to rural journalists: “Be part of the communities you serve,” spending time that doesn’t involve reporting.

At the same time, he said, journalists must be educators and advocates for their craft, explaining controversial decisions. And finally, he said, “Be human,” empathizing and observing the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

About Challenges to Journalism Series:

Seaman’s appearance was the latest in a series of “Challenges to Journalism” programs sponsored by the UK School of Journalism and Media, its Scripps Howard First Amendment Center and Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, the UK Department of Communication and the campus SPJ chapter and Bluegrass SPJ chapter. The next one will feature Rich Boehne, CEO of E.W. Scripps Co., March 30.

Al Cross is director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based at the University of Kentucky, and an associate professor in the university’s School of Journalism and Telecommunications. He’s also co-adviser for UK’s chapter of SPJ.This post originally appeared on the The Rural Blog. .

Open records debate leads to odd lawsuit

The somewhat odd lawsuit Western Kentucky University filed against its student newspaper challenges an attorney general’s ruling on an open records request.

The WKU lawsuit shows the length universities will go to keep things secret, especially when the things involve sexual misconduct.

Secrecy is nothing new at WKU. It just completed a hiring process for its new president, a process conducted entirely in secret.

So the lawsuit WKU filed against the Herald comes as no surprise.

Its oddity: WKU essentially sued itself.

The Herald is editorially independent, but WKU Student Publications which oversees the Herald and a yearbook-turned magazine, received $350,000 in WKU’s 2016-2017 fiscal budget. The suit also names Herald staffer Nicole Areas and the Kentucky Kernel student newspaper and its staffer Matthew Smith. The Kernel first requested the records from WKU. The Herald request followed.

The lawsuit states that the university has no complaint with the Herald, which sought records of university investigations into sexual misconduct under the federal Title IX statute. Its beef comes with the commonwealth’s attorney general who ruled WKU must give those records up, the lawsuit states.
WKU cannot sue the commonwealth’s Attorney General’s Office, so it must go after the Herald.

The university essentially cites two reasons it should not have to produce the records:

• Drafts: WKU argues that that since the university employees investigated for sexual misconduct violations either resigned or retired during the investigation, the information gathered in that investigation is in a “draft” stage. The Kentucky statute on open records exempts: “Preliminary drafts, notes, correspondence with private individuals, other than correspondence which is intended to give notice of final action of a public agency.”

• Privacy: The statute exempts “Public records containing information of a personal nature where the public disclosure thereof would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
People a lot smarter than me can see the flaws in WKU’s position.

First, if the university acknowledges the investigations are no longer ongoing — for whatever reason — then that shows the information gathered from them is no longer draft but complete even if WKU took no action.
As to playing the privacy card, a handy trump card used more frequently by public entities, WKU is a “public” institution. And it should be noted that WKU has released personnel information about its employees, most notably a letter of termination for an employee which identified the employee and which contained negative and potentially harmful information about that employee.

The issue of victims and their privacy also arises.

The attorney general’s ruling allowed WKU to redact personally identifiable information from the records. WKU contends redactions will not ensure privacy.

I think is important to note, particularly for students —legalese aside — that sexual misconduct on college campuses is a serious issue.

The more the public knows about it, the better off we all will be. And the more the public understands the process used by universities when situations involving sexual misconduct occur, the better off we all will be. It is reckless to take a position that because the people investigated left WKU’s employment, the incidents essentially did not occur.

And I think it’s important to note that people understand the sensitivity and the concern that comes with victims. But the other side of that coin is that there are public safety issues in play here, so it’s important to know where and how these incidents occur to prevent others from becoming victims.

WKU states in the lawsuit that since 2013 it received 20 complaints alleging sexual misconduct under the federal Title IX statute. All were investigated and six were found to have caused violations of WKU policy.
That indicates a problem with sexual misconduct at WKU — a “public” problem.

Mac McKerral is a professor and Journalism Unit coordinator in the School of Journalism & Broadcasting at Western Kentucky University. He has been a member of the Society of Professional Journalists since 1989 and has served in numerous roles, including president of the national board. He currently is co-adviser to the WKU chapter of SPJ.

SPJ chapters tackle ‘fake news’ in ‘Challenges to Journalism’ series

The surge of fake news during the heated election season and the attacks from President Trump and his aides should spark re-dedication among journalists to the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics: seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, and be accountable and transparent.

The assertions of “alternative facts” have also triggered a wave of re-evaluating what truth and fairness in journalism should look like.

In a series titled “Challenges to Journalism,” the University of Kentucky’s School of Journalism and Media is exploring those issues weekly, with the help of the Bluegrass and UK Campus chapters of SPJ, and other units of the university’s College of Communication and Information.

After an initial discussion by campus chapter co-advisers Al Cross and Dr. Mike Farrell, moderated by professor Scoobie Ryan on Feb. 9, the school hosted a panel discussion titled “The Cure for Fake News Disease: Truth and Fairness (and Balance?), with two of Kentucky’s most accomplished political journalists; a university faculty member who has been a newspaper editor; and a conservative critic of Kentucky news outlets.

Cross, director of UK’s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, moderated the panel and began by saying that “fake news disease” can be attributed to the dominance of social media, “which lack the verification of traditional media,” and the growth of partisan and ideological media that appeal to a reader’s ”desire for confirmation, more than information. . . . These factors in many cases mean that there is no longer a commonly agreed upon set of facts on which to make public debate and policy making. All of this raises serious questions about the role in which journalists, journalism students and journalism faculty should play.”

The panel started its discussion by watching Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin’s recent Facebook Live attack on The Courier-Journal of Louisville and longtime reporter Deborah Yetter.

C-J columnist and former political writer Joseph Gerth said the story was accurate, but media critic Richard Nelson of the Commonwealth Policy Center said Yetter’s statement that the state attorney general is “defending” a new anti-abortion law failed to note that Beshear had not defended the law against a motion for an injunction against it.
Journalism professor Kakie Urch argued that the only thing missing from the story was the law’s impact on readers, such as “a trans-vaginal ultrasound of every woman seeking an abortion,” with some exceptions. “Those are real impacts on real people.”

Cross countered, “You can also argue that including that in every story is being too tendentious, that you’re trying to make an argument for people who don’t like the bill.” He said those are the kinds of decisions that reporters and editors must make every day.

Cross asked, “If you had to define three essential standards or elements for journalism, what would they be?”
John Stamper, politics and government editor of the Lexington Herald-Leader, said that journalism first needs to be interesting. He added that it needs to be accurate, and as thorough as possible. But he acknowledged that staff shortages can present a problem: “There are lots of things going on that we just don’t cover because there’s nobody to cover it . . . stories that people may have found interesting.”

Gerth said honesty is an essential element to journalism: “Facts are facts and they aren’t going to change, but honesty is putting them in the proper perspective.” So is thoroughness, getting both sides of the story, he said, but “If one side is feeding you a bunch of crap, you have to call them out on it.”
Other panelists mentioned accuracy, in-depth reporting, and making sure that stories are important to the public. Cross said anonymous sources should be used only if a story is important enough and they are the only way to include essential information.

Have the concepts of fairness and balance changed in recent years, or do they need to change? “Yes” was Gerth’s immediate answer. “The standards of verification are a lot more strict than they are now than they were fifty, sixty, seventy years ago,” he said. “What we’re seeing now is a night-and-day difference.” He cited The Courier-Journal, where he has worked for 29 years, as an example.

Stamper said standards have not changed in his 15 years at the Herald-Leader, but what has changed the most is the style and presentation of stories, to drive readership: “Whether it’s in print or online, if you look at a newspaper from twenty years ago, it looks a lot different than it does right now.”

Nelson argued that the concepts of fairness and balance have changed because of how divided we are as a culture. “The disconnect is that when there are people in rural America that are pro-life or value religious freedom, and their thoughts may be different from somebody else’s in a city, when that’s not covered fairly, they’re feeling disenfranchised,” he said.

This has changed the standard of media outlets, he continued. “I think that’s dangerous for us as a people when you have such divided news sources,” that are not being objective and covering stories fairly, he said.

The rest of the series

The “Challenges to Journalism” series continues Thursday, Feb. 23, with a Bluegrass SPJ program for journalists and the general public, “Finding real facts in an alternative-fact world.”

A panel of local, regional and national professionals will examine the role of the news media and provide a better public understanding of how it works. The group also hopes to facilitate ongoing conversations about the importance of a free press in a democracy. The event will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in Room A of the Central Library, 140 E. Main St., Lexington.

Panelists will include Ryan Craig, publisher of the weekly Todd County Standard and president of the Kentucky Press Association; Tom Eblen, columnist and former managing editor of the Herald-Leader; Campbell Robertson, a national correspondent for The New York Times; Kathy Stone, assistant news director at Lexington’s WLEX-18; and Jim Waters, president of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, a free-market think tank, and frequent media critic.

Moderating will be Ginny Whitehouse, Ph.D., a journalism professor at Eastern Kentucky University specializing in media literacy, ethics and law.

In early March the Media Arts and Studies faculty of the School of Journalism and Media and UK librarians will discuss the technology of fake news and how to expose it.

On March 8, the journalism school will host Tom Rosenstiel of the American Press Institute, co-author of The Elements of Journalism, for a lecture at 3 p.m. in the Great Hall of the Margaret I. King Library in Central Campus.
In late March or early April, SPJ Ethics Committee Chair Andrew Seaman will visit.

In addition to the school and the SPJ chapters, the “Challenges to Journalism” series is co-sponsored by the school’s Scripps Howard First Amendment Center and Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, and by the Department of Communication in UK’s College of Communication and Information.

Al Cross, left, co-adviser for the University of Kentucky SPJ chapter, says the growth of social media and partisan media have contributed to fake news disease.

Traci M. Thomas works for the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the
University of Kentucky.

SPJ backs student newspaper’s plan to appeal open records decision

Journalists say a judge’s ruling supporting the University of Kentucky in a lawsuit against its independent student newspaper, The Kentucky Kernel, raises concerns about transparency and open government.

Fayette County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Clark ruled Monday the university was not required to provide the Kernel with some documents in a sexual misconduct investigation of a professor who resigned before the university took action against him.

“We strongly support the Kernel news staff in fighting for access to documents that are newsworthy and that deserve to be released to the public,” said Lynn Walsh, national president of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Clark ruled the documents were protected by the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act and that it was not possible to protect the identity of the students who had filed the complaints by redacting their identities.

That reasoning brought a sharp rebuke from Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center.

“Court after court has said that employee personnel records are not FERPA education records, and this ruling represents a substantial deviation from that commonsense consensus that the appellate courts of Kentucky should readily overturn,” LoMonte said.

“The judge is clearly mistaken in making the all-or-nothing decision that every part of the documents is identifying, based on some fanciful theory that amateur sleuths will root around in university expense records to try to deduce victim identities.”

SPJ President Walsh also objected to the judge’s position that releasing the investigatory documents would lead to the identification of the victims, even if the names were redacted. She defended journalistic ethical practices that protect victims.

“Every day journalists tell stories responsibly and ethically protecting the names and identities of victims,” Walsh said. “For a court to allow documents related to a public employee accused of sexual assault to be withheld for privacy reasons is astonishing.”

University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto said the goal of the legal process is “preserving the right of a victim survivor to determine how, when, or even if to tell her story. “
In a statement emailed to the university, he wrote: “We stand with survivors and we believe strongly that federal and state laws protect their right to privacy. Without privacy, we know victim survivors will not come forward to report. That’s what was at stake in this case.”

Marjorie Kirk, a senior journalism major and editor-in-chief of The Kentucky Kernel, said the newspaper will appeal the decision and pursue other stories involving transparency of university disciplinary conduct against students and faculty.

“We will continue to report on a system that has enabled professors and others who are found responsible for sexual misconduct to move within academia unnoticed,” Kirk said in an email.

The Bluegrass Pro Chapter of SPJ, which represents the central Kentucky region containing the UK campus, has supported the Kernel since the university filed the lawsuit in August.

Chapter President Liz Hansen expressed concern about the implications this decision has for journalists seeking information from public universities under Kentucky open records and meeting laws.

“The Bluegrass chapter has supported the Kernel from the beginning,” Hansen said. “We committed $1,000 for legal fees and we’ll continue to support the student journalists as the Kernel appeals the decision. We think the decision is a bad one for open records in Kentucky.

“This decision also continues to cause concern about the lack of transparency at the University of Kentucky,” she said.

Walsh said the ruling could impact journalistic practices beyond the UK campus. “The ruling sets a dangerous precedent for what public universities can keep secret under privacy exemptions,” she said. “It also sends a chilling message to college news organizations.”

LoMonte also expressed concern the ruling will have wide implications:

“Unfortunately, this ruling is going to give cover to colleges everywhere to throw a secrecy blanket over employee misconduct,” he said. “It can’t possibly be that Congress wants these records to be withheld as ‘student education records,’ so if the courts are going to knuckle under to pressure from college lawyers, then Congress needs to step up and take the side of victimized students.

“It is stomach-turning to read President Capilouto celebrating what he claims to be a victory for victim privacy, when in fact the university has succeeded in making this campus and all campuses less safe from sexual predation.

“The public needs to understand that ‘victim privacy’ was a belated and cynical litigation strategy that the university adopted when all of its other concealment efforts failed, and that no part of this case has ever been motivated by concern for anything other than the university’s own image.

“The bottom line of this ruling is that colleges will be able to enter into secret pass-the-trash agreements that enable wrongdoing employees to move on to other campuses with clean records to prey on unsuspecting students. Making campuses havens for sexual predators will be Eli Capilouto’s defining legacy, and will stain the University of Kentucky’s reputation for many years to come.”

Election 2016: A look back, and forward

The Election of 2016 is over. President-Elect Trump is a reality – one that few in the media anticipated. It was also a monumental year in Kentucky, with Republicans claiming the state’s House of Representatives and Senate for the first time in more than a century.

What was the role of the national media in the election? Why did Kentucky’s legislature flip from Democrat to Republican? And what does the future hold for press rights and freedom of speech under President Trump?

The Society of Professional Journalists, Louisville Pro Chapter, will answer these questions and more in a panel discussion on the election on Monday, Nov. 21, at the Ekstrom Library’s Chao Auditorium at the University of Louisville beginning at 7 p.m. (DirectionsMap showing parking areas)

The panel will be moderated by Ralph Merkel, communication instructor and student media adviser, University of Louisville. Panelists will be:

The event is free and open to the public. It is co-sponsored by SPJ, Louisville Pro Chapter and the University of Louisville SPJ chapter, the University of Louisville School of Arts and Sciences, Department of Communication and The Louisville Cardinal, which is the student-run newspaper at the University of Louisville. For more information about the SPJ Louisville Pro chapter, visit our web site, www.spjlouisville.org.


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