The head of the Ohio Newspaper Association has called a new state bill proposing to block reporters’ access to the names of handgun permit-holders “bad precedent.” It’s easy to see why: the public has been barred from access since Ohio’s concealed-carry law was passed seven years ago, and since 2007, reporters have only been allowed to view the lists (without taking notes).
House Bill 328 would force reporters to obtain a court order to see the lists. Ohio journalists had used these records to cross-reference the names of alleged criminals in gun crimes against lists of permit holders.
“Judges shouldn’t be editors,” writes ONA Executive Director Dennis Hetzel in an association bulletin. “And reporters shouldn’t have to go to court to get permission to do their jobs.” The association represents more than 400 Ohio print and online news publications.
The Columbus Dispatch’s Randy Ludlow offers an excellent overview of the proposal, including the supposed logic of the forces behind it. Needless to say, such bills have a way of crossing state lines, and it could soon be coming to a legislature near you.
On a related note: interesting new scholarship is shedding light on the problems of government open-records training procedures.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting has awarded $4.1 million in grant funds to expand a digital news-gathering network which, up to now, has remained somewhat under the radar. No longer.
Operated by American Public Media, the Public Insight Network, or PIN, “brings together a network of 120,000 citizen sources from a variety of disciplines, who agree to share their expertise, insights and first-hand knowledge, with experienced journalists from 45 newsrooms.” The huge influx of funding, if invested effectively, could raise PIN’s profile profoundly.
Described as “a cross between a fancy Rolodex and a crowdsourcing machine,” PIN has mainly been associated with public radio. But as public radio goes more multimedia, distinctions between broadcast and print continue to blur.
Since PIN’s citizen journalists are self-nominating, one challenge may be keeping the ranks of PIN’s sources balanced in their outlooks and agendas. (Those of us who have worked in journalism know all too well about how certain sources sometimes come forward a little too easily.)
From Gawker.com: the New York Times’ standards editor, Phil Corbett, has issued a memorandum reminding writers to beware “boilerplate” explanations or no explanations at all when using unnamed sources. Corbett suggests that reporters include a “thoughtful sentence or paragraph” to illuminate the pressures leading to anonymous sourcing, and he lists sample explanations:
- “out of fear for his safety.”
- “out of fear of retaliation from X.”
- “because parties to the negotiations had promised to keep them confidential.”
- “because the company has threatened to fire workers who speak to the press.”
- “because Politician X insists that his aides not speak to reporters.”
- “to avoid antagonizing Official X.”
- “because disclosing grand jury testimony can be illegal.”
And how did Gawker get this memo, by the way? An unnamed source, of course.
Note: Watch for an insider account of the JMU Breeze case by James Madison faculty Mike Grundmann, editor of the Newspaper Division’s Leadtime newsletter. The summer edition will be on our website later this month.
Rockingham County, Va., Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst says her run-in with student journalists at James Madison University this spring “enhanced my understanding and re-enforced the role of a free press in our democracy.”
The experience also cost the state $10,000 — part of the attorney’s fees accrued after Garst’s attempt to seize hundreds of images student photographers shot during an off-campus party-turned-riot in April.
The Student Press Law Center and the Society of Professional Journalists issued statements in support of the paper, citing the 1980 Privacy Protection Act.
After lengthy negotiations, Garst and the JMU Breeze announced this week that they have reached an agreement under which the state will pay the paper’s legal fees, and the paper will turn over 20 unpublished photos — out more than 900 that Garst and police originally attempted to seize.
Garst said that in the future she will seek a subpoena, not a simple search warrant, if she feels a need to go after information or documents from any news organization, including the JMU Breeze.
“As a prosecutor, officer of the court, and elected official of the community I recognize the concerns of the Breeze and its staff, as well as other media sources, for the protection of the Constitution and First Amendment. I express my regret for the fear and concern that I caused the Breeze and its staff,” she said, in a two-page, single-spaced statement on the case.
Thanks to the Waynesboro News-Virginian for not only publishing a story on the incident, but including the full statements by Garth and the student newspaper’s editor, along with their 19 page settlement agreement:
News-Virginian: State to pay legal fees for student newspaper
• Statement by Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst (PDF)
• Photo seizure settlement (PDF, 19 pages)
Roanoke Times: Prosecutor, JMU newspaper reach deal over riot photos
US News & World Report: James Madison Student Newspaper and Attorney Reach Deal
Deadline: Friday, March 26, 2010. Application guidelines
The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma is launching a new fellowship program for journalism educators June 17-18 at Columbia University in New York. Travel, lodging and curriculum-development funds are available.
The program is designed to provide college and university journalism faculty and advisers to student media advanced skills in teaching the art and craft of newsgathering, storytelling and self-care when reporting human tragedy.
Meg Spratt, director of Dart Center West at the University of Washington, notes that few student journalists are trained to recognize trauma and stress reactions in survivors, to make informed ethical choices about trauma news or to deal with their own emotional reactions while on the job.
The Dart Center has provided such training for working journalists; this new fellowship will make possible a three-day seminar for up to 12 college and university journalism educators.
The Dart Center will provide airfare and hotel in New York City for each fellow. In addition, up to $500 in post-seminar support will be provided each fellow to design and implement educational projects.
Meg Spratt, Ph.D
Director, Dart Center West
Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma
University of Washington
Seattle, WA 98195
USA Today, The Seattle Times and The Chicago Tribune have been named winners of the 2009 Philip Meyer Journalism Award for investigative reporting using social science research methods.
USA Today took first place with “The Smokestack Effect: Toxic Air and America’s Schools.” The Seattle Times project investigated Washington hostpitals and the drug resistent germ MRSA, while the Tribune team looked into new dangers facint elderly patients in Illinois nursing homes.
An honorable mention went to the Arizona Republic, whose reporters used social network analysis tools to examine a system in which 22 charities and dozens of affiliates moved millions of dollars among themselves while often performing little charitable work.
A Web developer has created a clever anonymous source tracker. It looks for various phrases (e.g., “a source close to” or “a person familiar with”) and posts the offending passage. It also tallies the number of unnamed sourcing in various news outlets. The No. 1 offender? BusinessWeek. That outlet has used unnamed sourcing 100 times in the past few days — fully three times more than the next offender, Reuters, with 31 instances. The numbers update continuously, so it will be interesting to watch them over time. Impressive bit of software coding.
After BusinessWeek and Reuters, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Associated Press, and the Washington Post led the industry. What surprised me somewhat was the comparatively low ranking of several high-profile organizations, including the Politico.com. The site is run by one Mark Schaver, by day an assistant metro editor at the Louisville Courier-Journal.
I asked Schaver what his motivation for the site was, and he wrote back this email:
I didn’t start out with any special fascination with anonymous sources. I was just looking for a way to exercise my Web development skills and thought this would be an interesting subject to shed some light on. It really is a very simple app. It just leverages Google News and Google Reader to do the searching and parses and displays the results.
Where I work (The Courier-Journal) we aren’t allowed to use anonymous sources except under extremely limited circumstances. I’d say what I find is surprising is how often they’re used and how often they’re used in situations where it’s more a convenience than a necessity.
In just the last 10 days, Schaver’s little app has found (allowing for a few duplicates and false matches) almost 2,000 examples of anonymous sourcing. That’s a lot of news from the great unknown.
Pressing the police, policing the press started out as a simple blog post about David Simon’s critique of the declining state of hard-news reporting at his old Baltimore Sun.
Then the coincidences started rolling in, with almost all roads leading to Baltimore:
- Stories from reporters in London and Baltimore who decided to compare their police beats.
- A new Project for Excellence in Journalism content-analysis study, “How News Happens,” that concludes that, dimming or not, the Sun is still the center of the city’s news solar system.
Despite my headline, the “police” theme slipped away, but by the end I’d added a bunch of background links about The Wire and Simon’s work at the Sun, plus a bonus audio-only version of a half-century old story about a newspaper living up to its founder’s ideals on the eve of its closing.
If anyone has time at the start of a new semester to take a look, I think you’ll find some interesting material.
At least all the Baltimore references didn’t lead me off searching for Mencken links until just now, for a couple of 96-year-old closing quotes (incidentally, both are from the same article).
On the one hand…
“I know of no subject, save perhaps baseball, on which the average American newspaper, even in the larger cities, discourses with unfailing sense and understanding.”
On the other hand…
“The newspapers discharged broadsides of 12-inch guns to bring down a flock of buzzards — but they brought down the buzzards. They have libeled and lynched the police—but the police are the better for it…”