Newspapers face existential threats these days, but none have it tougher than small town papers. Like their big-city brethren, they’re fighting everything from plummeting advertising revenue to readership declines to the onslaught of fake news — all on shoestring budgets and with minuscule staffs.
The last three to four decades have seen a surge in restrictions in public agencies, businesses and others banning employees from contact with reporters without the authorities’ oversight. To better understand where we are and how we got to this point, Kathryn Foxhall, vice chair of the SPJ Freedom of Information Committee, spoke with Glen Nowak, a former media relations head at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and now associate dean for research and graduate studies, Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Georgia.
With the Society of Professional Journalists holding its annual convention in the nation’s capital in October, it’s a good time to take a look at what that town has to offer the working journalists. After all, news is the lifeblood of D.C.
The new host of NPR’s “Weekend Edition Sunday” as of March, Ayesha Rascoe set out to become a journalist at an early age. Her first writing experience was as a columnist for the teen section of her hometown newspaper, the Durham Herald-Sun.
Susan Glaser, travel editor for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Cleveland.com, still wistfully recalls her final pre-COVID trip before the world went into lockdown and tanked her livelihood. “I went to northern Kentucky to visit a bourbon trail right before everything shut down,” Glaser said.
The News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina, partnered with white supremacists to intimidate black voters in the 1890s yet remains a respected newspaper today, writer Alexandria Neason noted in a story last year. “Americans have short memories; we don’t like to be reminded of our many sins, so instead we prop up lofty narratives of progress and unity that obscure the violence enacted along the way,” Neason wrote for the Columbia Journalism Review.
June 23rd, 2022 • Featured, Quill Archives
Graphic depictions: Long-form comics as journalism
In December of 1991, the comics artist Art Spiegelman, author of the two-volume graphic novel “Maus,” wrote a letter to the editors of The New York Times. After thanking them for acknowledging the unexpected success of his book, which had recently made the Times’ bestseller list, he expressed a concern about “Maus” appearing on the fiction side of the list.
Although he’s considered an expert on business journalism, authored a business-journalism textbook and spent much of his career covering business, Chris Roush got his start like a lot of journalists: covering cops and courts and other basic news. It taught him a lot, he says, about covering a beat, working with people and understanding news.
The Society of Professional Journalists is a strong organization in part because of our chapters, where local journalists often turn for support when challenged, attacked or even put in danger doing their jobs. Here are just a few examples of how our chapter leaders have stepped in to defend and protect journalists.
On May 24, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its outlook for the forthcoming Atlantic hurricane season. Forecasters at the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center predict that this hurricane season, which starts on June 1 and ends November 30, will have 14 to 21 named storms – with 6-10 of them becoming hurricanes and 3-5 of them becoming major hurricanes.
“How can it be that nothing has changed?” That’s how Kai Ryssdal began the May 25 edition of the public radio program “Marketplace.” The story he referred to that prompted the question was not a classic “Marketplace” story, he acknowledged. But the big story of the week could not be ignored — that of 19 students and two teachers killed by a shooter at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
One of the most important jobs of any newsroom in any city is to tell the stories of the people who shape and construct the narratives of the community. But for many years, newsrooms, reporters and leaders did not reflect those communities as well as they should.
When Gabby Petito went missing in September, her story went viral. It was difficult to avoid the constant updates, timelines, theories circulating the internet and armchair detectives swapping “clues” to try and find the 22-year-old. Social media users from old-school Facebook posters to true crime TikTok followers, and traditional news outlets, became deeply invested in this case.
Horse race. Polls. Who said what today. Who picked up what endorsement. A soundbite. A gaffe. Even an occasional gotcha, conflict or carnal impropriety story. All expected in election coverage these days. But with control of Congress at stake, media can do much more to help voters make informed choices by probing candidates’ actions, positions, financing and misstatements.
The first time Polly Irungu picked up a camera was when a guidance counselor encouraged her to get involved with the yearbook club. After a series of relocations that left Irungu feeling depressed, photography offered hope. “It was the first thing that brought me joy in those few years, so I decided to explore it more as a career opportunity,” she says.
Every 10 years since 1982, researchers for “The American Journalist” survey a representative sample of journalists throughout the United States to understand who makes up the profession and their attitudes toward it. Leading the survey this year is Lars Willnat, the John Ben Snow Endowed Research Professor in the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.
A Washington Post graphic comparing Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson’s experience with that of current justices has been widely shared on social media, sometimes without the headline that provides important context. The chart ran online and in the newspaper with the headline, “How Ketanji Brown Jackson’s path to the Supreme Court differs from the current justices.”
Since becoming president of the Society of Professional Journalists, I’ve constantly talked about #SPJStrong. We are a strong organization in part because we have two communities that bring journalists together for a common cause. If you’re a freelancer looking to expand your network, find a job lead or join a supportive group, all you have to do is turn to the SPJ Freelance Community.
(image credit: www.epictop10.com) Many a great story has come out of Freedom of Information Act findings. At the same time, many a story doesn’t get written because the requested documents don’t arrive by deadline – if at all. And the two-year-old pandemic is worsening response times.
Racking your brain for the right word is particularly grueling on deadline. Are paramedics attempting to stanch the bleeding after a mass shooting? Or should that be staunch? And was the lawyer riffling through her notes, or rifling? Did the defense refute or rebut the arguments?
February 23rd, 2022 • Quill Archives
11 more films added to Quill’s ranked list of journalism films
Below you’ll find eleven more film reviews that have been added to our ongoing ranking of journalism flicks, taking the total up to 150. Yes, 150. Newcomers include films released as recently as 2021 as well as others dating back to the 1930s.
February 17th, 2022 • Featured, Quill Archives
Hicks: Palin case dismissal comes with a reminder of vulnerability
Both the jury and judge who considered Sarah Palin’s libel lawsuit against The New York Times concluded she did not prove her case. That means news shops will continue to enjoy the high legal standard that’s rarely met by plaintiffs attempting to prove libel.
Jeff Zucker’s departure from the network he led has been big news. But media executives and newsroom managers who strive to produce journalism with high ethical standards should take note of a passing detail in the events at CNN that preceded his leaving.
Violations of journalism ethics come in a variety of types, many of which were committed in 2021. Some happen because of bad judgment, some are committed by journalists who know they are wrong and some come from maintaining the status quo without question.
You may recognize Apoorva Mandavilli’s name due to the sheer number of COVID-19 stories bylined by The New York Times health and science reporter. Her background in both science and reporting on other infectious diseases truly prepared her for this moment.
February 4th, 2022 • Featured, Quill Archives
Accident brings attention to safety of lone journalists in the field
On the night of Jan. 19, Tori Yorgey was in the field doing a live report for the 11 p.m. news on NBC affiliate WSAZ in Huntington, West Virginia. Yorgey was covering the significant winter storm that hit the area, which resulted in a water main break in Dunbar, a town roughly 7 miles west of the state capital Charleston.
On May 13, 2021, the British Antarctic Survey observed a massive chunk of ice breaking off Antarctica. A generation ago, journalists would have had very little specific information to write about such an event. But in this case, we almost knew immediately that the iceberg A-76 measured around 4,320 square kilometers (about 1,668 square miles) in size, making it the largest berg in the world at that point.
To retweet or not retweet. This isn’t a complicated question for most tweets. But not all. Some retweets can be used as evidence in a defamation suit against a journalist. Think this is fiction? Think again. Recently, a federal appeals court said a journalist’s retweet of a potentially defamatory article via Twitter can be used as evidence of malice in a defamation suit.
January 14th, 2022 • Quill Archives
Is redemption possible for journalists who cross the line?
Can a journalist with past credibility issues ever be redeemed or truly rehabilitated or will they be forever tarnished by past transgressions? If the former, is there a statute of limitations or a timeline for reentering the field? Those questions have surfaced as Ruth Shalit Barrett, the controversial writer who resigned from The New Republic in 1999 amid claims of plagiarism and credibility issues, was back in the news.
January 7th, 2022 • Featured, Quill Archives
UN warns of ‘a significant number’ of risks toward journalists
The United Nations has warned that journalists still face a significant number of risks, even as newly released figures show the lowest death toll of journalists and media workers in over a decade. The Observatory of Killed Journalists at UNESCO, the UN’s educational, scientific and cultural agency, reported that 55 journalists and media workers lost their lives in the past year.
An Oklahoma City TV station reported in September that local emergency rooms were turning away gunshot victims because they were inundated by victims of ivermectin overdose. Great story — and one fitting into the media narrative debunking the myth that ivermectin, an anti-parasitic medicine used for livestock, can be used as a COVID-19 preventive.
SPJ professional and student chapters are the backbone of our organization. Often the “boots on the ground” for our local journalists, student journalists and journalism educators, they play a big part in the strength of SPJ. That’s why I’m devoting my Quill columns to our chapters, whether they are standing up for the rights of journalists, raising scholarship money or giving students a place to grow their network on campus.