A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

Chapter News

By Quill

Send chapter news items to Scott Leadingham at sleadingham@spj.org.

DePaul chapter hosts ‘Who’s News?’ panel

Diversity was the central theme of a Feb. 17 panel hosted by the DePaul University chapter in Chicago. Titled “Who’s News? Achieving Diversity in Media Coverage and the Newsroom,” the event drew participants and questioners in person and on Twitter using the hashtag #SPJchat. A central point in the discussion was that in order for news to better represent audiences, newsroom employment and coverage areas must increasingly focus on diversity. Read more event coverage from The Red Line Project.

Co-sponsoring the event and providing panelists were the DePaul Korean Student Organization, Act Out and Inter-Tribal Student Organization. Karen Kring of the Association for Women Journalists Chicago moderated the program.

Black Hole in Utah

For Sunshine Week, March 13-19, the SPJ Freedom of Information Committee announced its first national Black Hole Award. Meant to highlight egregious abuses of open records law, the inaugural “dishonor” went to the Utah Legislature and Gov. Gary Herbert, who on March 8 signed into law HB477. In the face of public backlash, the legislature repealed the law less than three weeks after passing it. Herbert signed the repeal on March 30.

The law would have weakened the state’s Government Records Access and Management Act by exempting most electronic communications from public disclosure, imposing high and undefined administrative fees on records requesters, and making requesters show why records should be disclosed. Existing law makes state agencies prove why records should not be granted. Committee chairman David Cuillier, assisted by the Utah SPJ chapter, presented the award, a black wreath, March 16 at the state capitol.

“This is by far the most anti-democratic secrecy legislation we have ever seen in recent history,” Cuillier said before HB477 was repealed. “This isn’t about protecting privacy of citizens or saving tax dollars. This is about hiding shady dealings to protect the privacy of officials so they can fool the public without recourse.”

In addition to Utah, the committee named five runners-up for their own secrecy efforts: the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services; University of Maryland; Fairfax County (Va.) Police Department; CIA and Attorney General Eric Holder; and Broward County (Fla.) School Board.

See more about the Black Hole Award.

Maryland Pro opposes bill to outsource electronic records

In March, Maryland Pro chapter co-chairman T.C. Williams, assisted by co-chairwoman Sue Kopen Katcef and Region 2 Director Brian Eckert, attended Maryland legislative hearings, filed comments on behalf of SPJ, and published an op-ed in The (Annapolis) Capital opposing a bill to outsource Maryland public records. Unintended consequences of the bill, which passed the House of Delegates but has not been considered by the Senate as of March 18, would allow metadata to be excised from electronic public records and enable for-profit vendors to charge what they please for information that has previously been public at low cost.

“Passage of this bill may, intentionally or unintentionally, create a two-class system of those who can and cannot afford access to public records,” Williams wrote in the March 15 column in The Capital. “Affordable, efficient access to records in convenient, electronic form is what’s important.”

SPJ/RTDNA student chapters join for summit

The 2011 Excellence in Journalism conference in September won’t be the first time the Society of Professional Journalists and Radio Television Digital News Association join forces for programming.

Student chapters of both organizations at Ohio University jointly sponsored the Ohio Sunshine Summit Feb. 26 to discuss, highlight and work to resolve press freedom issues, particularly for student media. Professional and student journalists from the region gathered for the one-day conference, which included speakers such as national SPJ President Hagit Limor, RTDNA Regional Director Vincent Duffy and Ohio Newspaper Association Executive Director Dennis Hetzel, among others.

A resolution produced by attendees, mostly students, said in part: “Sunshine Summit attendees have documented numerous instances in which public information has not been made available promptly. Through these access issues, we have concluded there are two main problems across Ohio public campuses: public records and access. It is to the benefit of the public that when issues arise, institutions side with access and openness.”

Read the full resolution and more about the event and all speakers.