Archive for the ‘media confusion’ Category

Tough shirt

The back of our T-shirt is back.

When Fox News plagiarized a student newspaper last month, we wanted to do more than just complain about it. We tried selling T-shirts.

We hooked up with a fundraising screenprinter called Bonfire. But last week, Bonfire got nervous: We were violating copyright law to mock plagiarism. Our shirts were shut down.

Maybe Bonfire is more sensitive to bad PR than Fox News, because one of our alternate designs was finally accepted.

You can now BUY YOUR SHIRT HERE and support The Duke, the student newspaper at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.

They make great gifts.

I bought a small shirt for plagiarizing Fox & Friends host Ainsley Earhardt and had it shipped to Fox HQ in New York City.

(Did you know Earhardt recently wrote a book? Wouldn’t it be funny if we plagiarized it right here in this blog?)

I also sent an extra-large shirt to Duquesne president Ken Gormley, since he literally looks like a big man on campus.

Finally, I bought two larges for Zachary Landau. He’s the Duquesne student journalist whose story Earnhardt plagiarized. When he wrote it, he was a volunteer at the newspaper. So quite literally, he’s being paid in T-shirts for all his trouble.


Finger in the Pye

Can pointing a finger cost you a job?

It did for Joe Pye, a senior at Florida Atlantic University. And now he’s fightin’… amused?

Pye recently ran for editor of FAU’s student newspaper. The staff voted for him 12-0 over his opponent, and the school’s Student Media Advisory Board – consisting of professionals, professors, and students – unanimously chose him.

That was two weeks ago. But he still didn’t have the job.

FAU lets its Student Government “confirm” the editor. Yes, the same Student Government the newspaper investigates.

In the decade since FAU created this silly – and you’ll soon see, illegal – rule, no editor has ever not been confirmed. Until Pye.

What did he do to piss off SG? He “was not tact in his responses to the questions posed by the senate,” says Andrea Oliver, a Student Affairs associate vice president.

Here’s how he was not tact…

It wasn’t even a middle finger.

Tuesday evening, a student senator began the “confirmation hearing” by asking Pye about his plans as editor.

“What do I plan to do?” Pye replied, pointing at them. “Keep watch over all you guys.”

They really didn’t like that.

They also didn’t like his attitude, especially about their suggestion to add a newspaper rack on a satellite campus 25 miles away, which teaches less than 150 of FAU’s 30,000 students.

“Do you want me to put a bin there?” Pye asked. “We don’t have money for that.” He suggested they give him the money, but that went nowhere.

Student senators persisted with questions about this small campus — which one admitted to never visiting. Here’s my favorite question, lifted verbatim from a recording the student newspaper made:

How do you plan on, like, broadening … are there going to be interviews on other campuses … what do you plan on doing to create a better connection between the campuses … you guys are the press.

Joe simply replied, “We have the website. I don’t have any other bins.”

All told, his hearing took less than five minutes. Since none of the questions were about what the newspaper actually reports, Pye’s last words before the vote were, “You should read us sometime.”

He lost 5-2. Now the fun begins.

This man laughed when he heard what happened.

Frank LoMonte is a noted media attorney and executive director of the Student Press Law Center in Washington, DC. He called FAU’s confirmation process “a horrible, horrible mechanism.”

Then he laughed dismissively.

“If this isn’t the only place in America that does this, I’ve never heard of it,” LoMonte says. And he’s been studying college media for nearly a decade.

LoMonte calls FAU’s rule “an invitation to break the law.” Why? Because at a public university, the newspaper can’t be punished for anything to do with its content – that’s the very definition of the First Amendment.

Yet LoMonte says, “When you interview for a job like this, there’s no way to keep content out of the interview.”

What makes LoMonte really laugh is this question: “Where does FAU think it goes from here?”

This is where FAU thinks it goes, according to associate VP Oliver…

The first step is for Joe to file a petition to the student court and request a hearing. He will then have an opportunity to discuss the senate meeting. The student court can uphold or overturn the court’s decision. If the student court upholds the senate’s decision, the student can then file an appeal with the Vice President of Student Affairs. The Vice President of Student Affairs would review the senate hearing meeting minutes, the student court meeting minutes, and the appeal submitted by the student. The Vic President for Student Affairs can uphold or overturn the decision. The decision of the Vice President is final.

…and if you read that without your corneas glazing over, you get a cookie.

Pointing back at FAU.

This afternoon, Pye will discuss his next steps with his staff. Among his amusing options…

  • Meekly go through the laborious appeals process and hope someone recognizes the law when it smacks them in the face.
  • Fiercely go through the appeals process and use every chance to decry and mock it.
  • Call himself the editor, run the paper, and force FAU to do something about it. If FAU holds up his paycheck, sue the school.

What will Pye do? He’s mulling it over. But he doesn’t seem to be leaning toward “meekly.”

“I personally find it ridiculous that Student Government needs to have a say over who is editor of the newspaper,” he says. “If my ‘conduct’ wasn’t to their liking, I hate to see how they’ll react as real politicians getting grilled by real journalists.”

Or how they’ll react to a real lawsuit in front of a real judge.

Full disclosure: I’ve advised the FAU student newspaper as a part-timer and volunteer since 1998. Over the years, this isn’t nearly the dumbest thing I’ve seen. Or the funniest. This might be. Or this.

Holy crap!


Journalists who refuse to comment? Administrators who want to?

When the newspaper at Mount St. Mary’s University made national headlines this week, I wanted to congratulate the editors. Instead, I’m concerned about them.

I’m not worried the school will retaliate, even though the Mountain Echo‘s reporting resulted in this bizarre Washington Post headline


…because administrators at the small Catholic school in northern Maryland (2,200 students) seem have turned the other cheek. Meanwhile, the editors and their adviser have totally turned me off.

I started out totally on their side, too.

When I first heard about how they uncovered secret email exchanges between the school’s new president and administrators, I was prepared to be amazed. Those emails reveal the president was scheming to dismiss 20-25 freshmen he didn’t think were impressive enough.

“Put a Glock to their heads,” he allegedly told an administrator.

Mount St. Mary’s has no journalism school, and it’s private – meaning the student editors have little training and a lot to lose. Unlike public universities, they lack many Constitutional protections their public peers possess. They could easily get expelled.

With those scary facts in mind, I wanted to offer SPJ’s support. But then it got weird.


No comment, no confidence.

The Mountain Echo’s website lists no staff, no email addresses, and no phone number. The only way  to reach them is through this form. When I didn’t hear back, I contacted the school’s Media Relations office.

Given the hard-hitting story I was calling about, I didn’t expect good relations with media relations director Christian A. Kendzierski. I plainly told him that I defend student journalists who ethically investigate uncomfortable topics.

“Awesome,” he said. “That’s what student newspapers do.”

Then gave me contact info for managing editor Ryan Golden and newspaper adviser Ed Egan. Last night, they conference-called me, along with news editor Rebecca Schisler.

My first innocent question: Howdy, where’s the editor?

Uncomfortable silence.

“We don’t have a very conventional hierarchy.” Golden said. He gave a long explanation I couldn’t follow, but basically, he’s the editor. 

Odd, but whatever. I really just wanted to ask some questions so I could pre-empt any administrator who tried to undercut the story. Student journalists are bound to make mistakes, so if we can explain how those mistakes happened – that they came from inexperience and not malevolence – SPJ can still defend them.

I definitely had some questions…

  • Why wasn’t the university president interviewed? On Dec. 4, he agreed to talk, and the story didn’t run till this week. Yet in an “editorial statement,” you write, “The Mountain Echo denied this request,” partly based on “the professional advice of a third-party journalist.” Who was that?
  • Did anyone else hear the “glock” comment? You report in the story that the president said this “to a small group of faculty and administrators.” Only one administrator confirmed it and the  president denies it. Did you ask the others?
  • Who suggested sending the story to your sources? In yet another “editorial statement,” you write, “The Echo’s editorial board decided…the article should be sent to the Office of the President and the Board of Trustees for comment.” Journalists almost never do that. Why did you?

I didn’t get far before before Egan interrupted, “Where are you going with these questions?”

I don’t recall exactly what I said, because I was a tad discombobulated – I’ve only ever heard that from politicians, coaches, business executives, and administrators. Never journalists.

I offered to send Egan links to this blog and the SMACK homepage, and he promised they’d all call me back “in a few minutes.”


A half-hour later…

Golden called and said, “We have to postpone any comments for the time being.”

Really? Why?

“We’re just inundated with calls right now. But we appreciate your concern.”

You were just talking to me. Now you’re too busy to comment?

“We’ll make sure we’ll get back to you when we’re comfortable.”

Wait, now you’re not busy but you’re uncomfortable? Ryan, if you were reporting a story and you heard this, what would you think?

“I perfectly understand. But we will get back to you, I promise you that.”


“Next week, maybe.”


“Thank you.”

Damn, I thought – I just got a slick brush-off from a college student. I was actually impressed. But of course, I was also confused.


What’s really going on?

Maybe the editors and adviser are simply freaked out by all the coverage. The president has called their story “innuendo” and “not accurate at all,” while the Board of Trustees has dismissed it as “a grossly inaccurate impression on the subject.”

Of course, the president and his allies have yet to explain away the “bunnies and glocks” comments – which likely means they can’t. But still, for young reporters, this is a lot of heat.

Then again, Golden didn’t sound at all freaked out when I spoke with him. And while the president and his allies have grumbled, they haven’t retaliated.

Obviously, Golden and Egan don’t want SPJ prying further, and Golden even said he’d read my post calling out student newspapers for doing dumb things.

I asked Kendzierski, the media relations director, what he thought was going on here. Obviously, he’s not what you’d call an objective observer. But what the hell…

His theory: “I fear the students are being misled.” Mount St Mary’s is in the middle of a nasty faculty fight over employee benefits. The school is cutting healthcare and retirement contributions.

The Mountain Echo covered the story in November – using only anonymous sources and not interviewing the president or any senior administrator who made the decision. The story is full of accusations that the other side never gets to address. Was that a rookie mistake or was it intentional?

Kendzierski thinks the students are being manipulated by faculty who want to embarrass the school so they can weaken the president who’s cutting their benefits.

I don’t know what to believe, because I usually figure that out by talking to both sides. Most times, the journalists open up and the administrators clam up. This is the first time in my six years on the SPJ national board where that’s been flipped upside down.


Mountain or molehill?

Here’s what I have decided: If Egan or Golden call me back, I’ll offer to send veteran SPJers to their northern Maryland campus. I’ll pay for pro journalists to train their staff – everything from investigative techniques to balanced reporting.

The Mountain Echo obviously has some brave and hard-working students, so this would be money well spent. And it’s theirs for a phone call.

Sure hope I hear from them.



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