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.

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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.
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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.
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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.

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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.
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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.
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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

The right balance on dues

For a membership organization, increasing dues is rarely easy.

Last year, SPJ raised its dues a little more than 4 percent, effective Jan. 1 of this year. For pro members, the annual membership fee increased from $72 to $75.

Under Article 13 of SPJ’s bylaws, the board of directors can approve an increase of 5 percent. Any proposal for a larger increase must go to the convention delegates.

A proposes dues increase wasn’t the most controversial issue at last year’s national convention, but there was some opposition. I remember some Connecticut Pro members speaking against it.

To me, the increase sounded reasonable. Here is the justification SPJ headquarters gave to members:

What was the reason?
Costs of nearly everything SPJ does have climbed since the last dues increase 10 years ago. Failing to keep pace could force the organization into a much more aggressive dues increase down the road. Furthermore, dues revenue is the easiest to predict – making it the least “volatile” revenue stream SPJ currently has. This is important in budgeting from year to year, and also in long-term planning (10 to 15 years down the line) for SPJ’s long-term stability and financial health.

The last change in dues, HQ said, was a $2 increase in 2002.

I am on the board of another journalism organization, the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors. (I am a former weekly newspaper editor.) ISWNE’s board had a similar discussion at our annual conference this summer. Dues had been at the same level – $50 – for many years. We realized we would have a new expense for insurance coverage.

The ISWNE board talked about a few possibilities and settled on a $10 increase for the coming year. The membership approved it.

I don’t support raising dues every few years just for the sake of doing it. But freezing dues for a long time at one level, as SPJ HQ noted, could lead to a large increase at some point.

I’d like to hear from opponents of the dues increase. What would you have done differently?

Auction deadline is near

If you’d like to help SPJ raise money for its Legal Defense Fund – which you should – there’s still time to donate to the auction at this year’s national convention.

You have until August 17 to send in your items.

There’s both a silent auction and a live auction, which tends to be, well, lively.

If you have good intentions but you’re stumped, here are some ideas of what you can donate. It doesn’t have to be fancy and it doesn’t have to be related to journalism.

One of the items I plan to donate was prominent in a scandal – across the sea – with many arrests – revealing shocking ethical breaches. Cheers.

Fair use: a quick quiz

This news is several months old, but I noticed only the other day that SPJ agreed to work with the Center for Social Media and the Washington College of Law’s Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property “on creating a set of principles on journalistic application of fair use.”

Many journalists don’t realize how important fair use is in their work and journalism as a whole.

Try the short quiz. Notice the question on whether it’s OK to post a full newspaper story on a blog. Does it matter if you, posting the newspaper’s work, are a commercial enterprise?

The Center for Social Media already has released a report called “Copyright, Free Speech, and the Public’s Right to Know: How Journalists Think About Fair Use.” The report can be found at http://www.centerforsocialmedia.org/journalism. Click on the PDF link at the bottom of the page.

 

A super super conference?

In a story posted Monday about the National Association of Hispanic Journalists overturning a ban on social media reporting at board meetings, I noticed an interesting nugget that ties in to the Society of Professional Journalists.

The story says NAHJ “plans to explore holding its 2013 convention in Anaheim, Calif., in conjunction with the already-scheduled joint meeting of the Radio Television Digital News Association and the Society of Professional Journalists, perhaps adding CCNMA: Latino Journalists of California.”

Excellence in Journalism 2012, scheduled for Sept. 20 to 22 in Fort Lauderdale, will mark the second straight year SPJ and the Radio Television Digital News Association have held a joint national conference. I thought last year’s conference in New Orleans was a success.

If NAHJ joins SPJ and RTDNA, are we on a path toward one giant, supreme journalism conference?

There’s probably a tipping point where too large of a gathering no longer makes sense and loses the individual flavor specialized associations want.

But conferences are expensive. If we can share the costs, perhaps we can keep registration fees down and offer more programs.

Weeding out fraud

Any SPJ chapter that holds an annual journalism contest (mine does) should pay attention to what happened in Connecticut.

A newspaper reporter there was dismissed from his job after his employer said he fabricated sources in 25 stories.

The reporter, Paresh Jha, had won two prizes from the Connecticut Pro chapter of SPJ in its annual journalism competition – a third place for feature writing and a first place for in-depth reporting – before word spread about the fabrications.

The chapter board is to be commended for how it thought through a proper response, hiring Roy Gutterman, a Syracuse University professor and media lawyer, to investigate the two prize-winning entries.

The chapter recently made Gutterman’s full report available and made a decision about Jha’s prizes.

It’s interesting that the chapter didn’t fully accept Gutterman’s recommendation, which was to rescind both awards.

The report says Jha fabricated sources in his feature entry; revoking that award was obvious.

Gutterman’s report says the in-depth reporting entry also was problematic.

He wrote: “All the sources in the story indeed exist and they confirmed that they were interviewed. However, the names for two were misspelled, three sources expressed concerns with how they were quoted, two sentences bear a similarity to a previously published news story and one referenced article cannot be located.”

The chapter decided to let the in-depth reporting award stand.

This episode prompted me to think not just about how to respond to possible fraud, as Connecticut Pro did, but also what a chapter’s responsibility is in promoting good journalism.

Gutterman found shortcomings in Jha’s in-depth reporting entry. But were they enough to nullify an award? Would it have been different if the flaws were found by the judges before giving an award?

 

Financial oversight

I posted some thoughts a few days ago about an SPJ list of recommended financial best practices.

One recommendation is: “Require two signatures on all checks.”

I wrote that my SPJ chapter – Washington, D.C., Pro – doesn’t follow that particular practice, but I think it should.

At our summer meeting on Sunday, the chapter board talked about the best practices document, including the double-signature recommendation.

Bill McCloskey, who is on both the chapter board and SPJ’s national board, said that even though our chapter isn’t as geographically spread out as some, it’s not always easy to get two people to meet whenever we need to write a check.

McCloskey suggested a different approach: giving a second person on the board read-only access to online bank statements.

Our treasurer, Amy Fickling, already prepares a monthly financial statement and shares it with the board before our meetings. We review and ask questions, if we have any, before approving each report.

But having a second set of eyes watching transactions as they occur is a good financial safeguard.

As we made clear at our meeting, this was not a judgment about the integrity of our current treasurer, who keeps our books in good order. The change is to add a layer of security for the chapter, no matter who our treasurer is in the future.