A contrast in styles

A battle over prior review and editorial freedom at The Red & Black, an independent school newspaper at the University of Georgia, apparently has ended.

A separate conflict within SPJ that developed along the way still lingers.

Michael Koretzky, SPJ’s director for Region 3, which includes Georgia, sent Katherine Tippins, a journalist, to the University of Georgia last week to investigate what was happening and report back. Koretzky posted and commented on her findings.

According to Koretzky, SPJ President John Ensslin, who knew about Tippins’ trip, asked him to take the blog post down. Koretzky protested on his Region 3 blog and his personal blog.

I wondered if there had been a misunderstanding between them about whether Tippins was an emissary for SPJ as a whole or for Koretzky as the regional director.

—–

This is actually my third attempt to comment on this conflict on my blog. My second try was Tuesday morning, but I waited so I could hear Ensslin’s side. I’m glad I did. He emailed it to me Tuesday night; it’s posted below.

As I suspected, Koretzky and Ensslin had different expectations.

Koretzky says he arranged the trip and mentioned it as a courtesy to Ensslin, who seemed to approve.

Ensslin wanted a thorough investigation and a reasoned response from SPJ as a whole. He thought Koretzky agreed on that plan.

Koretzky didn’t. He told me he would have “politely declined” and found someone else to help if the plan was to wait for an SPJ statement at some unknown future date.
—–
I read Koretzky’s post before he shifted it to his personal blog. It was blunt and lively, as is his style. I interpreted the comments to be his own, and not presented as an official SPJ position. I saw nothing wrong with it, but knew it would make some people bristle.
As a journalist whose career started at an independent college newspaper, I was interested in what unfolded in Georgia. Koretzky’s post, based on Tippins’ research, helped me understand the dynamics, even though it came with a point of view.
—–

I wondered: What freedoms and boundaries do regional directors have?

They are elected by a small percentage of the members of their region – whoever attends the regional meetings at the national convention. For Region 2, that might mean maybe 30 people deciding an RD on behalf of at least several hundred. (This year’s switch to One Member, One Vote will improve that process.)

As members of the national board, RDs are sometimes placed on committees or assigned tasks. That might mean reporting to the president, as Koretzky quoted Ensslin saying in their exchange.

—–
It’s worth noting that Koretzky and Tippins acted quickly, something SPJ – anchored by volunteers with busy lives – doesn’t always do. (I include myself in that category).
The need for speed has long been debated in SPJ. I heard that criticism when I was chairman of the SPJ Ethics Committee. We were an opinionated, deliberative bunch. Some critics saw us as talking too much among ourselves and not enough to the outside world.
During my time on the committee, an SPJ officer once urged us to get comments out quickly on journalism ethics issues, so SPJ could be part of the “news cycle.”
But, some committee members, including me, were skeptical and didn’t want to make the obvious scold, over and over, just for the sake of it. We hoped to craft something insightful, to further a public discussion.
Sometimes, we did well, shining light and reason on poor ethics. Other times, we’d end up talking among ourselves too much.
Creating an Ethics Committee blog was helpful. It allowed us (frequently me) to post whatever story of the day and add a quick comment. Maybe that was the middle ground we needed.
—–
Which brings me back to Koretzky and Ensslin. This conflict illustrates different styles. Neither is necessarily wrong. (As an aside, I like and respect both men. I think we all attended the Ted Scripps Leadership Institute together.)
Allowing Koretzky to comment, of course, didn’t preclude SPJ from issuing an official statement, as well.
Ensslin told me that statement will go out today (Wednesday). I suspect that Koretzky will question the point – the Red & Black mess already has been sorted out.
—–

This is the email Ensslin sent me Tuesday night:

Hi Andy,
Here’s a bit more about what happened:

This is a case where I felt it was important for SPJ to speak with one voice when addressing a troubling incident.

My practice as SPJ president has been to do a fair amount of due diligence and fact gathering before writing a letter that states the Society’s concerns or outrage on any particular issue.

Call me old school, but it’s no different that when I write a story for The Record. I interview as many of the stakeholders as possible and then write the story.

This is not a new practice with me. It’s been a tradition among previous SPJ presidents as well.

Often I rely upon our chapter leaders or regional directors to assist me in this fact-finding process.

So for example, when a Temple University photojournalism student was arrested this spring while taking pictures for a class assignment, I consulted both with Luther Turmelle and the president of the SPJ Philadelphia chapter president before writing a letter of protest to the police commissioner.

In the Georgia case, I turned to Michael as Region 3 director and Neil Ralston, our VP for campus chapter affairs for their guidance.

Unfortunately, either Michael  misunderstood his role or I failed to clearly communicate it to him. Rather than report back to me with his findings, he chose to post both them to his regional director blog.

This presented two problems. First, Michael already has come under criticism for not attempting to at least interview some of the stakeholders in this case before reaching his conclusions.

Second, by posting them to an SPJ hosted blog, it would be easy for readers to mistake Michael’s opinions as a statement of SPJ’s position in the matter.

For those reasons, I asked him to take down the blog post, which he did, albeit under protest.

I don’t necessarily disagree with any of Michael’s findings. But I did feel the need to ask some additional questions before delivering an opinion that will be SPJ’s position in this matter.

I have crafted an SPJ response to this case, which will be going out tomorrow.

John

Advertisements

10 thoughts on “A contrast in styles

  1. Pingback: HOW SHOULD SPJ COVER JOURNALISM? « journoterrorist

  2. Pingback: The president’s take | Schotz 2012

  3. Andy, I have been concerned about this situation as well, and have spoken with John about it. I have not spoken with Koretzy, though I have read his emails and blog posts with interest. While I know that Koretzky often speaks on his own behalf, I take issue with the fact that he used the Region 3 blog as his forum. To me, it *did* come across as speaking on behalf of SPJ and that’s not appropriate. The regional blogs, in my opinion, are for the dissemination and discussion of information of value to all of SPJ. While you could argue that Koretzky was doing just that, I’d say that regional blogs should not be used for personal gain or as a forum for discussing issues with a personal slant. It is not a place for RDs to get on their soapboxes to share their personal opinions or to be disrespectful of SPJ leadership or SPJ. Whether or not you agree with Mr. Ensslin, he deserves our respect as does his office.

    Koretzky had every right, as do we all, to speak out on an important issue. However, from where I sit, Koretzky’s handling of the situation detracted from the real issue. He made it all about him and how he was single-handedly saving the day in Region 3. At the end of the day, all this should ever be about is journalism advocacy, not about us as leaders or individual SPJ members. This so-called controversy caused us to lose the opportunity to work together to shed light on a very critical issue.

    Dana Neuts, SPJ Regional Director

  4. Thanks, Dana, for your thoughts on this. The debate over what happened in this case might lead to a clarification of the purpose of regional blogs.

    Then… what about chapter blogs? Does SPJ need to set boundaries there, too?

    I’d rather see great freedom and latitude at all levels – region, chapter, committee. As long as it doesn’t claim to speak for SPJ as a whole – which Michael didn’t do, in my opinion.

    These are discussions that need to happen more often, on a range of SPJ issues. Frequently, there is none. I give credit to both John and Michael for airing their views and differences publicly.

  5. Apologies for just getting to this now, but I had used up my allotted SPJ time on this controversy and actual programming (see: One Night Stand and Will Write For Food).

    Gotta say I disagree with Dana Neuts more than I do John Ensslin…

    1. “Koretzky’s handling of the situation detracted from the real issue.” I thought sending a reporter and writing about the results was the real issue. If not, please enlighten me. SPJ’s mission is articulated here: http://www.spj.org/mission.asp. Tell me where I went astray.

    2. “The regional blogs, in my opinion, are for the dissemination and discussion of information of value to all of SPJ.” And that’s why no one reads them – and why the regional directors don’t even write them.

    3. “Regional blogs should not be used for personal gain.” How did I do this, exactly? Perhaps if I sold T-shirts featuring The Red and Black GM strangling that student reporter, I’d agree with you.

    5. “It is not a place for RDs…to be disrespectful of SPJ leadership or SPJ.” I don’t think it’s disrespectful to question our organization’s motives and methods. That’s what journalists are trained to do with other organizations, no? And in fact, Dana, as a national board member, you have a legal responsibility to question the organization you serve. Check U.S. case law: Corporate board members have been sued for the Soviet-era faith you seem to be advocating.

    4. “He made it all about him and how he was single-handedly saving the day in Region 3.” Really? Speaking of solid journalism, what are you basing any these charges on? As you admit, you haven’t spoken to me at all. (Why not?) Yet you posted your own “personal slant.”

    …Dana’s comments are illuminating. But for all the wrong reasons.

    – Koretzky

  6. Yes, hooray for Michael. It’s odd that any member of a society of journalists should even consider limiting free speech. SPJ members should be able to speak and write freely through personal or SPJ media. Read the code: “Act Independently.”

  7. I was saddened to read Ms. Nutts comments. They speak to an absolutely failed understanding of the prupose of blogs, a free expression of ideas and the mission of the Society. I applaud Koretzky and his willingness to go against the grain, not when someone else gives him permission but whenever he feels as though it is appropriate. Hey Koretzky….find me in Florida and I’ll buy you a drink…or a cigar.

  8. Gentlemen, thanks for your comments. I don’t agree with Koretzky’s rebuttal or his characterization of my comments, but he has every right to share those thoughts in this or any other forum. However, I want to clarify that I do believe in free speech and my issue is not with the fact that Koretzky is going against the grain. It is important to question what is going on, and how and why things happen. I like that about Koretzky – he questions everything and he should. We all should. That’s how we hold each other accountable and make forward progress while holding true to SPJ’s values.

    I am also a proponent of free speech and am the publisher of several community websites. I don’t believe in censorship. The point I was trying to make is that I think Koretzky went too far when he said John Ensslin was full of crap. That was his opinion. It wasn’t a statement of fact, and I feel it was disrespectful to John and to our organization. Michael could have said, “I disagree with John,” or “I think he’s wrong,” or “I don’t like how he handled it.” but he instead he made a subjective observation that I felt was inappropriate. To me, that drew attention away from the issue at hand (in emails to the board, offline discussions and online blogs & discussions) which I felt was unnecessary. That is my perception. It does not mean that I am ignoring SPJ’s mission, that I don’t understand how nonprofits work or that I am against free speech. It means I don’t agree with how Koretzky handled this.

    So you may question my journalistic integrity, my ability to understand blogs or the mission of SPJ. That is your right to do so, and it is your right to share those comments with the world. But please understand that there are two sides to each story and a lot of gray areas in between. To judge me based solely on the text you see above doesn’t seem like a fair, balanced, objective assessment.

    • With all due respect to Ms. Neuts: you are missing the point. Mr. Koretzky can comment about Mr. Ensslin any way he likes. He then has a right to make those comments known thru his regional blog if he so desires….or to rent the Goodyear blimp and have it flash his thoughts.

      As for being disrespectful to our organization, hell, that’s just not right is it. Oughta just stamp our feet and say we don’t like that shouldn’t we. Please.

      And thank you very much for reminding us there are two sides to every story. Without that kind reminder I am not sure I would have remembered.

      Have a nice day.

  9. _ _ _ _ _ _

    Dana:

    I totally disagree with you. But I’ll also defend you – just as I did John Ensslin.

    I’ve publicly applauded Ensslin for helping me host SPJ’s fist-ever webinar, for moving SPJ board meetings beyond conference calls, and for working long hours at Will Write For Food. He’s been a good president.

    Likewise, I applaud your efforts to make SPJ more relevant to freelancers and for bringing professionalism and organization to a board that doesn’t always exhibit those traits. You’ve been a good RD.

    And you may be right. Upon reflection, perhaps calling Ensslin “full of crap” for making me take down my blog post was a tad crass. But if that’s the sole example for calling me “disrespectful,” I disrespectfully disagree with the label.

    Two other things. First…

    What do you think about the action that caused me to issue the now-infamous “full of crap” comment? That is, an SPJ president ordering a board member to take down a blog post? Would you have done the same as president? Because you will be president one day, and I’m sure I’m not the only SPJer who’s curious about your answer.

    Second…

    You concluded your last comment, “To judge me based solely on the text you see above doesn’t seem like a fair, balanced, objective assessment.” But you must realize, Dana, that the other commenters know nothing else about you – which is no different than what our sources complain about when we write about them.

    As SPJ president, you’ll be judged on every sentence. And some of your sentences above are alarming. Hence the reaction. But I know you well enough that I’d never do this: “you may question my journalistic integrity.” That’s not gonna happen, whatever our disagreement.

    – Koretzky

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s