Posts Tagged ‘Joe Skeel’


Skeel: EIJ14 unaffected by wi-fi controversy at Opryland

Wi-Fi network logoThe Internet service controversy that warranted a federal fine against owners of the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn., did not affect Excellence in Journalism 2014 last month.

Joe Skeel, SPJ’s executive director, says wi-fi access was generally good for the 950 or so members of the Society of Professional Journalists and of the Radio Television Digital News Association who attended the three-day conference, Sept. 4-6.

So, too, was the price SPJ paid for a dedicated network.

“We didn’t hear complaints directly,” Skeel said in an email to Net Worked about attendees accessing the Internet in the conference meeting space and the hotel rooms. “There was some early chatter on social media, but that seemed to subside once we increased our bandwidth.”

On Friday, the resort’s owner, Marriott International Inc., announced it had agreed pay a $600,000 civil penalty ordered by the Federal Communications Commission for its practice of blocking access to personal wireless hotspots created by Gaylord Opryland guests, thus forcing them to pay for access to the resort’s dedicated networks. The complaint that spawned the penalty dates back to March 2013.

The resort also was accused of charging individuals, small businesses and exhibitors up to $1,000 per device for access to those networks.

“It is unacceptable for any hotel to intentionally disable personal hotspots while also charging consumers and small businesses high fees to use the hotel’s own wi-fi network,” the FCC said in a statement.

Marriott International responded by saying it defended Gaylord Opryland’s actions as a means of protecting the resort and its customers “from rogue wireless hotspots that can cause degraded service, insidious cyber-attacks and identity theft” and asked the FCC to clarify its policy.

Besides the civil penalty, Marriott International must cease all wi-fi blocking at Gaylord Opryland and come up with a better way to monitor network security at all of its 4,000-plus properties.

EIJ15 is scheduled for the World Center Marriott in Orlando, Fla.

Skeel said SPJ contracted for free dedicated wi-fi for EIJ14 and the overall cost for that amount of service at Gaylord Opryland was significantly less than at previous EIJ venues. He declined to disclose the contract’s terms.

“Given that SPJ negotiated free wi-fi in guest rooms and meeting space for attendees and exhibitors, I don’t see how this issue came into play for EIJ14,” Skeel said. “If an attendee was blocked from using a personal hotspot, she would have had access to our network — free of charge. I’m not excusing Opryland from the practice. But I don’t think it was an issue for us.”

New SPJ.org seeks to toss the clutter

America’s largest journalism organization recently completed the first phase of ongoing efforts to transform its website from an information dumping ground to a user-friendly destination.

From its pioneering code of ethics to FOI lessons, the scope, breadth and quality of the resources offered by the 8,000+-member Society of Professional Journalists has always stood out. But SPJ.org has accumulated a glut of content since its launch 14 years ago, and the site sometimes snags users in a spider web of slow-loading, text-heavy, link-laden subpages hosted on outside servers.

The good news is that SPJ staff, including executive director Joe Skeel, say they recognize the site’s areas of improvement, and they promise more changes in the coming months (short of the time and expense of starting the site from scratch). So far, their progress has been encouraging.

SPJ.org’s new homepage and main portal subpages are cleaner thanks to fewer links and less text. The site’s menu toolbar is now visible atop every subpage, and the Society added a “breadcrumb trail” feature in the upper left corner of each webpage to let users know where they are at all times.

The Society also installed a main search box to transport users directly to the most relevant subpages. Plus, SPJ.org is now viewable on mobile phones, and users can share its content more easily via social networking sites, emails and instant messaging services.

Those using the organization’s famous ethics code and chapter/member resources shouldn’t have any trouble, and it’s still easy to join, donate to and learn about SPJ. But the new SPJ.org still has areas of improvement.

Parts of the site, such as its training sections, overflow with content, including outdated material. And it can be difficult to maneuver inside the site’s subpages, some of which display too many pieces of clip art, text and links. Other parts lack effective search tools and a central element on which users can focus.

Nonetheless, it’s clear SPJ’s leadership is trying hard to rectify the site’s problems. The result is SPJ.org has been transformed from a Greek labyrinth to a Halloween corn maze — users may still get unnerved or lost at times, but the site is dramatically easier to navigate, more fun and there’s no Minotaur.

Daniel Axelrod spent five years as a full-time newspaper reporter, most recently in Scranton, Pa., before moving into public relations in April 2009. Reach him at deaxelrod@msn.com

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