The news from Ferguson, Missouri

A journalist is ordered to stop filming cops and thrown against a machine as he is handcuffed for doing so.

Another journalist, also arrested, is slammed into a glass door on the way out of a restaurant.

A film crew is tear-gassed while doing its job.

Where did all these events occur? A communist or Nazi police state or, perhaps, a tinhorn third-world country? No, they happened — allegedly — in Ferguson, Missouri, last night.

The Society of Professional Journalists, like many professional groups today, issued a statement of outrage over the alleged treatment of journalists by the police in Ferguson. SPJ in the past has partnered with the National Press Photographers Association to meet with police groups and educate them on the rights of journalists to cover events. A remedial class is in order in Ferguson.

Recommended: the thoughtful blog post by Rob McLean, “Allege police attacks on journalists are strikes on democracy.

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SPJ and the EPA

Yet more government controls on people talking and information going to the public…

A number of journalist groups, including the Society of Professional Journalists, and a number of scientific groups are asking the Environmental Protection Agency to stop banning scientists from talking to the media and the public.

The EPA is placing new restrictions on independent scientists who advise the agency, according to a memorandum from the EPA’s chief of staff.

In a letter sent today to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, SPJ and six other groups demanded that McCarthy reverse the policy.

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A non-answer from the White House

SPJ and 37 other journalist and open-government groups sent a letter to the White House back in July, calling on the administration to stop straining information and interviews through public information officers.

Nothing. So SPJ, now with 48 journalist and open-government groups, sent a second letter, saying “you didn’t respond to us.”

Well, the White House wrote back this time, but they still didn’t respond. The SPJ website has the story, including a link to the non-response from White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.

Earnest wrote, “The President has set an historically high standard of transparency that is part of the legacy to which future presidents will aspire and the President and his Administration are justifiably proud of these accomplishments.”

He added, “[T]here will always be a healthy, natural tension between journalists and the White House….I am personally committed to ensuring that this tension doesn’t prevent a robust and honest discussion of the issues in a way that leads to even greater transparency in the future.”

OK, Josh, you want to have a discussion? Why don’t we invite him to EIJ14 in Nashville next month?

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A trip to Delaware to talk ethics

I had the pleasure of taking a road trip to see my friends at SPJ Delaware in Wilmington this past Monday. Last fall, I talked with board members Amy Cherry and Melissa Nann Burke about coming up to speak on ethics. On Aug. 4, we made it happen with “The Ethics of Social Media in the News.” With the third draft of the Code of Ethics completed just last month, we had plenty to discuss.

Twelve members of the ethics revision committee met in Columbus, Ohio, back in July. Over a 10-hour span we revised the Code of Ethics a third time during a valuable face-to-face meeting. One issue that reverberated through our discussions was social media. That gave me the perfect touchstone for SPJ Delaware.

The event in Wilmington was well attended and prompted a lively and engaged discussion. The talk was supposed to last an hour and we ran over two.

The third draft was well received (I gave the Cliff’s Notes version of our process during the past year).

Some of the flashpoints for discussion:

* The new introduction notes that the rules of ethical journalism are for “all people in all media.”

* “Verify information before its release” is a general statement covering all media, including social media. We discussed this at length in Columbus. Although I advocated then (unsuccessfully) to keep a statement that specified social media by name, I argued to the group that this precept include SM.

* Two passages about updates and corrections — lots of interest in these.

* The duty to update sparked a long discussion — a couple of people wanted to explore the duty to follow up, especially if you publish arrests but not later exonerations or dropped charges.

* Then that led to a discussion of expungement and “erasure” laws.

* Attribution. Now, in addition to the lone prior declaration, “Never plagiarize,” we have two, adding, “Always attribute.” Nods of assent and approval from the group in Wilmington.

* One man especially liked the new preamble of “Minimize Harm” — I speaks of treating the subjects of stories as human beings deserving dignity.

* One woman especially liked acknowledgement of the watchdog role. This was added in Columbus — an important addition, I think.

* Personal information from social media — OK, here is the one mention of “social media” in the new draft. Be careful when using personal info from SM.

* Reach and permanence of online – another reference to a format, but one that I believe is warranted.

* Transparency — the crowd really liked that it had been included.

The group generally liked the global approach to the draft and appreciated the effort to provide aspirational guidance to non- or non-traditional journalists who nonetheless are practicing journalism in blogs, websites or other online forums.

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Five questions, five answers

Michael Koretzky, SPJ Regional Director for Region 3, sent five questions to all candidates running for board positions this September.

The results for all candidates who responded (including me) are featured in Michael’s blog post, “5 hard questions.”

Here are the questions, along with my answers:

(Feel free to answer with a simple Yes or No, or expound some)

1. Should 150 delegates or SPJ’s 7,500 members approve an updated Code of Ethics?

As you know, I favor adopting one member, one vote for SPJ decision-making, and I will be working on that in the coming year if elected. But OMOV requires a bylaws change. Even if it is adopted by the delegates at EIJ15, it wouldn’t be in effect until EIJ16. I don’t we want to wait that long for a revision to the Code of Ethics.

We have system in place for EIJ14 that provides for input from both groups. There will be a straw vote on the revised Code of Ethics draft on the ballot sent to all members. The delegates will have the benefit of that input before the discussion and vote on the Code in the final business session of the convention.

2. Should SPJ be renamed the Society for Professional Journalism and expand from a trade association to a advocacy group?

I personally favor the new name. I don’t know that it is the will of the members or the Board to make the change. There also will be a straw vote on this question on the EIJ14 ballot, and I look forward to hearing what the membership thinks. I think advocacy is an essential part of SPJ’s mission.

3. Do you agree with SPJ president David Cuillier? Did I libel SPJ on my SPJ blog when I criticized the Code of Ethics?

You are asking for a legal conclusion in this question, so I decline to answer.

4. Do you support allowing the entire board to vote on Chapters of the Year, instead of just two at-large directors?

You presented a well-reasoned request that we try a board-wide vote for chapters of the year for 2014. We are proceeding with that experiment. I think that was and is a good idea.

5. Do you support the board voting on committee chairs instead of the president simply appointing them?

Ever since Andy Schotz asked me this question early last month, I have said I have no problem with some form of confirmation process for board chairs. While there is no requirement (and imposing one would mean a bylaws amendment), incoming President Dana Neuts will be submitting her chair choices voluntarily to the board in September for their consideration.

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A message to SPJ members

SPJ Election Central soon will be sending out an email to all members with candidates’ messages. Here is mine:

I am Paul Fletcher, candidate for SPJ President-Elect. This past year I have had the privilege of serving as Secretary-Treasurer. Here are some of the issues I will continue to work on if elected:

(1) NEW ETHICS CODE. In Nashville, delegates will be voting whether to adopt a new Code of Ethics, replacing the 1996 version. I have been a member of the Code revision committee this year; I would welcome the chance to help with the roll-out and transition to a new Code.

(2) ADVOCACY. SPJ seeks to improve and protect journalism. We do that best when we are strong advocates for journalism and journalists: Just this month, SPJ marshalled the support of 37 other journalism and open government groups for a letter to the White House, protesting news suppression and lack of responsiveness by the government. We have pushed for a federal shield law this year. We have followed and supported individual journalists faced with subpoenas or other threats to press freedom.

(3) ONE MEMBER, ONE VOTE. In 2011, we adopted one member, one vote to elect our national officers and board members. It’s time to extend that system to all SPJ votes. Our annual convention provided representative decision-making, based on chapter membership, at one point. But as many as 50 percent of our 7,500 members currently do not belong to chapters. We’ll need a by-laws amendment, so we should start figuring out how to work a change now.

I would appreciate your vote and the opportunity to keep serving SPJ. See you in Nashville!

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A busy couple of weeks

It has been a very busy few weeks, both at work and within SPJ. A quick catch-up that won’t do justice to any of the items.

* The President-Elect Race. In my last post before the Fourth of July, I said I was hoping that Michael Koretzky, Region 3’s director, and I could meet and talk about some of the issues facing SPJ. He and I had a long, productive talk on July 8, and we found several patches of common ground, as well as some points on which we disagreed. We both agree that one member, one vote should be adopted for SPJ decision-making (see my “Message to SPJ Members,” the next post I will put up). Michael withdrew from the president-elect race on July 11. I look forward to more positive and productive talks with him and seeking to find SPJ issues he and I can work together on.

* A Letter to the White House. This is SPJ advocacy work at its finest, and a hat tip goes to SPJ President Dave Cuillier for gathering 37 other journalism and open government groups to back a strongly worded letter to the White House, objecting to information management and a lack of cooperation. Kudos too to Kathryn Foxhall, who has covered government in DC for many years and who wouldn’t give up the quest.

* The third draft of the new Code of Ethics. On July 12, I went to Columbus, Ohio, to meet with 11 other members of the Code of Ethics Revision project, and after 10 hours of high-level debate and discussion, we produced the third draft of the SPJ Code of Ethics. The draft is markedly different from the first and second drafts — it witnesses the inclusion of “transparency” as one of the cardinal tenets of ethical journalism. And indeed, the shift is away from offering guidelines for “journalists” and toward establishing what is “ethical journalism,” since many nontraditional journalists are now on the scene. I will be going to meet with SPJ Delaware on Aug. 4 for a session on the new Code — I’ll offer more thoughts before then.

Posted in Ethics, First Amendment, Fletcher Pres-Elect campaign, Open records, Right to know | Leave a comment