East Carolina University today fired Paul Isom, its student media adviser, a few months after the student newspaper published the nude picture of a streaker at a football game.
The Student Press Law Center‘s story is here.
From the SPLC story:
“There’s no camouflaging what this is, which is retaliation for an editorial judgment made by the students that was completely within the students’ authority to make,” [Student Press Law Center executive director Frank] LoMonte said. “They’re clearly punishing the adviser for something he not only didn’t control, but legally couldn’t control.”
Isom said he has no problem fighting his termination, and isn’t ruling out legal action against the university.
“If I was not willing to stand up for a First Amendment issue, then I wouldn’t have been advising them the way that I was advising them,” he said. “I would have told them, ‘Yeah, don’t run any controversial pictures, don’t make anybody mad.’”
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.
I missed this thought-provoking commentary when it appeared two weeks ago, but it represents one of several recent voices from newspaper and online journalism leaders wondering if anonymous online reader comments truly foster — or harm — public civic discourse.
As editorial page editor of the always-innovative Sacramento Bee, Stuart Leavenworth‘s measured opinion may resonate, too. He’s mostly concerned with comments directed at legitimate named letter writers whose letters appear online in the Bee:
I can understand the argument for anonymous online comments. It creates an outlet for expression for, say, state workers who might want to comment on state policy without fear of retribution from bosses. It is a fixture of the modern online world. Internet users have come to expect it.
Yet should The Bee subject letter writers to personal attacks and comments from people who won’t put their names behind their opinions?
Editor Margaret Sullivan of the Buffalo News wrote about this more broadly last summer, in a spirited defense of a policy change at the News (“Identifying commenters improved the conversation”).
The AEJMC’s own Newspaper Research Journal published an interesting article on anonymous user comments last spring, but it seems clear that, in general, too little research exists on the ethics and sociology of anonymous reader comments.
Nonetheless, the veil of anonymity many online newspaper readers use when they comment on articles is getting more and more attention.
The big news last month on this front was Politico.com’s important decision to make commenters on its blogs use their Facebook accounts if they wanted to post. I think it’s a good thing, personally. From my observation, the change led to an instant rise in the level of civility. I was also shocked by how many of the commenters on the site turned out to be not just “Average Joe” readers, but well-connected and politically plugged-in partisans.
What do you think?
The small daily Post Register of Idaho Falls, Idaho is not USA Today, and its editor Roger Plothow is not a famous media commentator, but he’s just written an inspiring little defense of the purpose of journalism from a principles perspective. It’s a nice relief from arguments about journalism’s role so often couched in terms of politics, technology, economics, specialized training, and even education.
In a way, journalism can best be defined by what it’s not. It’s not a shouting match. It’s not just holding out a microphone. It’s not even just who, what, when, where, why and how. It’s the work of committed people who actually believe that what they do is important.