While Patriot-News reporter Sarah Ganim has earned plenty of well-deserved attention and praise for breaking the story of alleged sex-abuse and coverups at Penn State, TVNewsCheck.com tells the story of the first runner-up.
Gary Sinderson, who covers the area for WJAC-TV, the Cox station based in Johnstown-Altoona, Pa., told TVNewsCheck that he had heard similar rumors but couldn’t verify them because:
1. Penn State is a tough nut to crack. (“You had a better chance of getting the truth out of the Kremlin than getting it out of Old Main or athletics.”) Perhaps that will change, because a bill would end the university’s exemption to Pennsylvania’s open-record laws.
2. His job meant he didn’t have time to pursue what has become the biggest story in college sports in decades. Sinderson wrote:
We both knew the truth of the story was in Harrisburg with the grand jury. The Patriot-News, to its credit, gave her the time necessary to work on the story.
Why couldn’t I report it? I didn’t have the time to get the needed verification to move the story ahead or to convince my bosses it’s not a rumor, but a real story. It’s just the nature of my particular job. I’m a one-man band, expected to crank out several stories a day. I may get a day or two to work on a large story, but not the time afforded to Ganim.
What lessons can we tell journalism students?
- Where you went to school doesn’t matter. Both Ganim and Sinderson are Penn State graduates. As journalists, our ultimate loyalty must belong to the public, not our alma mater.
- Age doesn’t matter. Ganim is 24; Sinderson has been reporting from Happy Valley since 1983.
- What matters is time. It’s important to feed the beast, but sometimes we have to be able to convince our bosses that a potentially bigger story is more important.
- Local reporting by full-time reporters has never mattered more. This wasn’t a story that a “citizen journalist” likely could break, given the time required, the need to understand the judicial system, the roadblocks thrown up by the University and the judicial system, and the conflicted loyalties between a journalist and an all-encompassing university and football dynasty.
- The research remains consistent: When it comes to providing new information, print journalists provide more new information than any other source.
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.