A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

Inside scoops on Society, profession

By Quill

‘BROKEN’ NEWS?: The SPJ Insider recently received this “hot” news alert in an e-mail: “U.S. terror alert to be dropped to yellow, or elevated, today, sources tell CNN.”

This vital news tidbit could have been followed by these “breaking news” stories:

• “It may rain today – or not.”

• “The market may crash today – or not.”

• “Your hometown sports team may win today – or not.”

Yes, when it comes to the Rainbow Coalition of security gurus, the Insider is convinced that decisions on what color the thermometer rests on get made – in secret, of course – in a variety of ways that would amaze the average person.

The Insider, through sources he cannot disclose, of course, has learned of two ways now used to set the color for the security climate:

• A randomly chosen Homeland Security employee gets blindfolded, spun around three times and shoved toward a Jackson Pollock work. Wherever the individual’s finger lands, that is the alert color of the day.

• A randomly chosen Homeland Security employee gets blindfolded and handed a bag of M&Ms from which they pluck the color of the day. What happens if they grab a blue or brown one? That remains secret. But the Insider is on it.

INSECURE SENATORS: The U.S. Senate dipped to a new low when it used a voice vote to approve an $87-billion Iraq operations and reconstruction spending request.

SPJ and its national Freedom of Information Committee voiced its opinion on that ploy to Vice President Richard Cheney, condemning the use of a voice vote on such a significant measure.

AndCharles Davis, FOI co-chair, didn’t want to stop there. Davis, with the help of co-chair Joel Campbell and a handful of SPJers, took to the phones before the Christmas holidays to poll senators on their votes (shouts?).

The count is in. So the Insider suggests you go to http://www.spj.org/foia_senvote.asp to see the nifty (color coded, of course) tally sheet. And check out this tidbit from an FOI committee pollster: “After leaving five messages, I finally get to the press secretary at Sen. Jon Corzine’s office. The press secretary claims there was no “yeas” or “nays” said on the Senate floor and wasn’t even sure Corzine was there and doesn’t care to find out.”

Any editorial writers in New Jersey need some fodder?

MARSHALL LAW: At an SPJ officer gathering in Indianapolis last year, Jim Highland, vice president of campus chapter affairs, arrived wearing a newly acquired cowboy hat. The Western attire fits Jim’s role during the past two years of heading up “posses” – he calls them “task forces” – to deal with infringements on the rights of the student media. The Insider learned that nothing strikes fear into the hearts of misdirected campus administrators more than word that “Jim Highland from SPJ is on the line.”

Jim and his minions have chased down administrators on campuses – including Kentucky State University, University of Texas-Tyler, Texas A&M University, University of Miami and Southern Utah University – and not without results:

Word now comes that the acting president at Hampton University has adopted new policies that ensure the free-press rights of the school’s student newspaper. The flip-flop came from university President JoAnn Haysbert, who had confiscated the entire press run of the Oct. 22 edition of The Script in a dispute with editors over editorial control.

Marshall Jim and the Washington, D.C., chapter of the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation led by Reggie “The Godfather” Stuart joined a strong coalition of journalism organizations that sought to rectify a bad situation at Hampton.

These words of high praise came from Mark Goodman at the Student Press Law Center when Mark sought SPJ’s help on the Hampton issue:

“Last year SPJ had a huge impact on the future of the student newspaper at Southern Utah University by creating a task force to look into the censorship problems there. … Because SPJ is so clearly identified as both committed to journalistic ethics and independence and to student journalism, I think that your involvement (at Hampton) could play a crucial role.”

The Insider’s message to Marshall Jim: “Ride on.”

FALLEN COMRADES: This sad news made the rounds via SPJ’s International Journalism Mission Committee, the report coming from “Reporters sans Frontieres”:

• In 2003: 42 journalists died in the line of duty (a CPJ report in this issue puts the number at 36); law enforcement arrested at least 766; at least 1,460 were physically attacked or threatened; and at least 501 faced media censorship. By contrast in 2002, 25 journalists died in action, at least 692 were arrested and at least 1,420 were physically attacked or threatened, the report stated.

It also stated that “every gauge of press freedom violations in 2003 stood at red alert,” and you certainly do not have to look beyond the borders of the United States for examples of this.

You may recall that during the SPJ National Convention in Tampa, delegates adopted a resolution honoring American and foreign journalists who died covering the war in Iraq. Thirteen journalists died in 2003 covering the war in Iraq, the highest death toll for the media in a single country since 1995, reported the Committee to Protect Journalists.

SPJ was not alone in recognizing journalists who die seeking the truth and reporting it.

A group based in Sweden – Professional Foreign Correspondents Association (PRO FOCA) – hosted on Nov. 25 a memorial ceremony to honor journalists worldwide killed in the line of duty during 2003.

Mac McKerral, SPJ president, was asked to write words of support to be read during the ceremony. José Luis Belmar, a member of the PRO FOCA board of directors, wrote this to Mac:

“Our homage was attended by seven ambassadors and the representatives of other six embassies, two political leaders, two ministers, as well as from the Foreign Ministry Press Department and other organizations. Needless to say, we had the presence of a nice bunch of foreign journalists. … The letter (and SPJ convention resolution) you mailed us was distributed amongst the more or less 100 (attendees at) the memorial. We were proud of it.

“Unfortunately, and not too much to our surprise, no Swedish media representatives attended. When making follow-up telephone calls, one woman, representing the Swedish news agency TT, told me bluntly. ‘There is no Swede dead,’ clearly meaning, no Swede, no news.”

PRO FOCA, established on June 27, 2003, is a nonprofit society founded in Stockholm by a group of professional journalists working in Sweden. And its Code of Ethics was adopted from the SPJ Code.

THE INSIDER’S BASEBALL: SPJ has a new and very hot mission committee up and running. The Freelance Committee is co-chaired by Wendy Hoke and Dawn Reiss, who “pitched” the idea at the Tampa convention. See the SPJ Report in this edition of Quill for more information, as well as a column by Reiss on Page 40.

Another committee revived and “stealing” the show is the Professional Development Committee chaired by Deb Halpern Wenger. Deb is an associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. She is a former member of the board of the Mid-Florida Pro Chapter of SPJ in Tampa. She served as news director for WFLA-TV News Channel 8, one of the three legs of the Media General Corp. convergence starship operation with the Tampa Tribune and TBO.com.

Congratulations go to Region 11 director Jamie Gonzales, who made a big “hit” with Gannett Co. Inc. Jamie, assistant managing editor/presentation at the Visalia Times-Delta/Tulare Advance-Register in California, was among 16 Gannett managers honored for exemplifying leadership in their newsrooms. The “Supervisor Recognition Award” comes with a $1,000 check.

The Insider says: “We know who is paying for drinks at the SPJ board meeting in April!

The author’s name is being kept secret so SPJ members will be safer.

Tagged under: