One of the major issues being discussed in my little corner of the world is a horrific sewer problem in Centreville, Illinois: a low-income town largely populated by black residents. It is literally the poorest town in the United States, and it has problems. Flooding isn’t just a wet basement for these folks; it’s open sewage pumping into a front yard, water literally spewing up from manholes.
It’s being investigated by local newspapers – you know, those “dying” institutions that the Facebook commentators love to mock and refuse to pay. Insert rant here.
Reporter Michele Munz with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has taken an interesting approach: she wrote a first-person narrative of her efforts to get information from the Centreville leaders.
A month of phone calls and emails.
Ducked by council members.
A mayor who would only take questions in writing and then never answered them.
Contradictory information given out at town halls.
Munz’s column, “Crickets and unanswered questions from metro-east government,” is an unusual choice in that it is a first-person account of shoe-leather journalism. It is, of course, a common – almost mundane – tale for those of us who have worked in local journalism. Nobody wants to answer the questions when the answers aren’t pretty, so they hide.
But it’s not so uncommon anymore. Munz writes “On the Beat” regularly, detailing what goes into her reporting. More and more local journalism is pulling back the curtain, following up major stories with detailed “how we investigated this” and “why we did that” pieces.
It’s part of the push for transparency in reporting, intended to create a greater trust in news media among the readers. Of course, if you just read the Facebook commentators, it doesn’t matter how many lengthy hours we put in trying to find people and get your public officials to explain why they let sewage flow into people’s homes. They just complain about the paywall.
This new trend goes beyond the traditional role of the ombudsman, to examine and sometimes criticize the newspaper’s decisions, independent of editorial control. This is news literacy, explaining what we do in the hopes that they will understand how very hard it is. This gets even harder as newspaper after newspaper cuts staff and retasks their few remaining employees to run after car crashes and murders because that’s what you click and they’re desperate to pay the bills.
And no one else is doing it, folks. Unless someone has accused the mayor of burning down City Hall, I don’t see television cameras in city council meetings. Nobody is watching your local school board or library trustees… or sewer district. Nobody except newspaper reporters, the ones you’re not paying when you growl at the paywall.
Munz is keeping after the Centreville officials. Who’s keeping after the officials in your town?
Today begins the fall semester, and I am not ready.
I don’t have the sheer terror of my first semester, with attendant imposter syndrome: how in heaven’s name do I teach what I was doing for 21 years? It’s like trying to help my kid with his math homework: I can do it, but I can’t show him how to do it.
Well, I’m learning. My first two semesters were a crazed melee of trial and error – I learned a lot about what doesn’t work (hour-long lectures) and what does (PowerPoint). Some things the students liked (video examples) and some things they hated (pop quizzes on current events, and I’m not changing that). Some things really didn’t work all that well, and I changed them, and they worked better.
A friend of mine who is a high school teacher said she had fifteen years’ of “things that didn’t work” in her filing cabinets. I’m starting my own file.
As you know if you follow me on social media, Jim received the Degree Completion Award, which means he doesn’t have to work his night shifts at the university for the fall semester and only half-time the spring semester. He gets to focus on being a student, and that’s pretty nifty. Ian is back at SIUE after a brief stint in community college to save some cash, and very excited to be rejoining us on campus.
As for me, this semester means an independent study on the philosophical and moral aspects of journalism ethics. I am very well-versed in the practical applications; through my work with the SPJ Ethics Committee, I have been the soapbox evangelist of establishing ethics codes and applying them in daily news. The philosophy will be an interesting exploration, so buckle in, because I think we’ll be getting deep in the weeds.
I’m also taking a class in the English department about anti-media rhetoric and the “deconstruction of common sense.” No, I don’t know what that means either, but given that much of my research has focused on the anti-media sentiment growing (and in some cases intentionally fanned) on social media, I’m looking forward to the analysis.
And finally, this semester begins Ye Olde Thesis, which I may begin referring to as “The Beast.” It is daunting – terrifying? – to look at how much work must take place in the 36 weeks between now and graduation, but it will be interesting work, and maybe even a little fun.
It’s been a crazy busy month, though one of the weirdnesses of freelance magazine writing in particular is that you’ll do a pile of work in July, but it doesn’t appear until September or November. Still, by my standards, July was a bear of a month.
This month I celebrated my one-year anniversary of full-time freelancing, and we haven’t been evicted yet! I go into greater detail in “One Year Later” as listed below, but suffice to say it’s been an interesting, rewarding and ultimately positive experience, and I have a lot more to learn.
Also, this month I launched on Medium, which allows me to share essays and get paid by the click. I’m still figuring out exactly how it works, but a lot of good writers seem to be making money there, and what I’ve read so far is good quality. Please feel free to check out my page, and if you are so moved to click and “clap” for my work, it is deeply appreciated.
As it discloses, I am personally affiliated with The Alestle at SIUE, having served on its board for years and worked with the students this summer in an editing and advisory capacity; and my SPJ vice president is the Alestle program director. However, I believe this gives our opinions greater weight, not lesser: we know for a fact that this “student journalist” does not exist, and our responsibility to call out unethical behavior per the SPJ Code of Ethics is not lessened by our connections to the student newspaper.
Finally… I didn’t write this one. But the local newsmagazine, Edge of the Weekend, featured my family in an in-depth profile for their back-to-school edition. The weirdness of three family members all going to college together finally made print. The photos used are mine, because my menfolk are my favorite photographic subject. Many thanks to Jill Moon, magazine editor for Hearst Illinois, for thinking of us.
We’ve gotten a lot of attention on this story, and it’s been really sweet to see how many people are cheering us on and supporting us as we enter our second year of family-wide higher education and abject poverty. Six jobs, three tuition bills, two impending graduations and one car. It’s been… interesting.
And in three weeks…. here comes the fall semester!
There are so many things wrong with the phrase above, and we see it constantly in coverage of sexual assault cases… but only sexual assault cases.
It’s been one of my pet peeves for many years, but it came to mind today because of a Boston Globe piece about the ongoing Kevin Spacey investigation. The latest story digs into court filings on Spacey’s indecent assault charges, alleging he fondled a then-18-year-old busboy against his will.
The piece was already questionable, since it detailed every. single. text. sent by this teenage boy to his girlfriend during the incident. The context of the texts will likely be debated in court, but I’m not sure that we needed the entire conversation as a recounting of every move during the incident. The Spacey case is important because the actor is a public figure and because the allegations against him blew up the #metoo discussion and highlighted the fact that sexual harassment and assault isn’t just something that men do to women.
The writer has gone to great lengths to avoid naming the young man – as is appropriate – and then listed family connections that ostensibly identify him anyway. That essentially defeats the purpose of shielding victims, as recommended in the SPJ Code of Ethics.
A tweet circulating this morning alleged that one of the young man’s texts was actually published as a dancing GIF. I do not see that in the current version, and if it was created by the newspaper, that would be wholly inappropriate.
But my real issue is with the phrase “alleged victim,” which is constantly used by all branches of the news business and needs to die. The initial filing of this story included the phrase multiple times, and in the time it took me to write this blog entry, it has now been edited to change the phrasing to “accuser.” We’re still going to talk about it.
First: “alleged” is a coverall term we slap onto anything we think might get us sued. It’s useful, to be sure, but why is it that only sexual assault victims are “alleged victims”? No one is an alleged burglary victim, for example. The presumption is that the crime occurred for every other personal crime except sexual assault, where the burden of proof inexplicably falls on the victim.
In our effort to create a phrase that shields the victim’s identity while not presuming guilt, we have created a phrase that does exactly the opposite.
I’m hardly the first to say this. The late great Steve Buttry wrote about it in 2012, and his essay is now linked to this issue on the SPJ Code of Ethics as he details far better than I the linguistic issues with “alleged victim” as a “blame the victim” term that needed to go away. He made the excellent point that it’s lawyers telling us to say “alleged victim” out of terror of lawsuits if the trial ends with a not guilty. But there are other ways to cover our collective rear ends without casting doubt on the allegations before they even take the stand.
The word “victim” is problematic as well. In interviewing many people who have been subject to sexual violence, “victim” is generally an unpopular word that removes their agency. I have generally found that they prefer the term survivor, which is appropriate for a piece written after verdict. But then there’s that pesky presumption of innocence. I’m not overly fond of “the accuser,” although it is technically accurate and Buttry prefers it; it carries a presumption of vindictiveness on the part of the subject, and of skepticism on the part of the writer.
What’s the solution? Quit being lazy and rewrite your story. Restructure the sentence, kick out the words “alleged” and “victim” both. “The young man told the court that the phone has been misplaced,” beats the hell out of “The alleged victim said he lost the phone.” See how the latter changes the entire meaning of the sentence to sound as though he’s lying?
These are tricky issues and difficult stories to write, and I’m sorry to spotlight one story by the Boston Globe when this particular sin is so widespread. In fact, for this specific story, it appears in the headlines of the Chicago Tribune, ABC and Vanity Fair. CNN, Fox News and USA Today went with “accuser.”
Buttry made the best point of all: “Don’t start whining ‘political correctness’ about this. That’s a name-calling phrase people use in an attempt to shut down discussion and skew arguments in their favor. This is about accuracy and if you don’t care about accuracy, I don’t care what you have to say.”
As I have told my students many times and will continue to shout until they haul me away: more than any other profession, journalists must recognize the immense power of words. Language is the most powerful tool we have, and we must never use it lightly. The words we use form the public’s impression of the issue we cover and the people whose lives hang in the balance, and that is a responsibility we cannot shirk, no matter how tight the deadline.
It’s awards season in journalism-land, and I’m delighted to announce that one of the last major pieces I wrote at the Belleville News-Democrat has won a significant award.
Co-written with Alexis Cortes, the story was a year-long examination of mental health and suicide prevention among teenagers. It actually began life as a rumor that teen suicide had skyrocketed at a local school district, and after close examination, it turned out that wasn’t statistically true. But it sparked our interest in a subject often swept under the rug because of the massive misconceptions and stigma attached to mental illness, particularly among young people.
Around that time the TV series 13 Reasons Why came out, with a great deal of controversy about how the subject was handled. As we spoke to experts, it seems the people creating that series asked mental health professionals and advocates how to carefully and sensibly handle the issue of teen suicide… and basically did exactly the opposite of what psychologists recommend.
So we decided to look at the issue itself, and do it right, though I don’t think we realized it would take until the second season’s premiere to publish.
I think it’s fair to say that Alexis and I spent nearly as much time figuring out how to report this subject as we did actually reporting it. We interviewed survivors, family members, teachers, psychologists, social workers, school officials… and at the end of every interview, we asked them, “How do you recommend we cover this subject without causing harm?” We studied the language choices recommended by psychologists to be respectful and responsible without engaging in hyperbole or romanticizing the subject.
Suicide contagion is a real thing, and both Alexis and I were committed that we would rather not cover the story at all than do it wrong and tip someone over the edge.
We wrote a main story that began with a survivor’s narrative, focusing on her recovery and a look insider her mind. This was a deliberate choice after talking with psychologists: focus on survivors rather than the grieving, distraught families of those who died by suicide. The former approach helps those in crisis see that there is a way back; the latter tends to push them off the edge.
We covered national and local stats, efforts by schools to help teens in crisis, the controversy around the show, social stigmas, treatment options, what makes depression different in teens and young people, warning signs for parents and educators, and more.
We also did a sidebar listing all the mental health options in our coverage counties, from counseling clinics to inpatient facilities; a list of myths debunked and symptoms for which to watch; and a narrative of a day-long seminar in addressing mental illness in the classroom for area educators. I sat with them all day, taking the same training they took.
During that time there was a reorganization at the newspaper, and I was shifted to a new beat. This was part of the long delay in publishing, as well as the general crazy of daily news that tends to shove major projects to the back burner. However, I was permitted to stay on the project, for which I remain exceedingly grateful.
We also created an internal plan for how to handle the release, which we developed in concert with the recommendations of the experts we interviewed, the SPJ Ethics Committee members and ReportingOnSuicide.org, a cooperative effort of nine journalism organizations to maintain and improve best practices in reporting and writing about mental illness.
Every story included paragraphs reminding readers that help was available and offering the national suicide prevention hotline. As per the recommendations of the experts we interviewed, the first comment on each part of the package was another post of the hotline, and the staff was instructed to carefully monitor the comments in case someone in crisis was posting.
I can’t speak for Alexis, but I think I was never so nervous about any story I’ve reported than this one, including physically-dangerous situations or controversial investigations. It’s not often that the words you choose and the approach you take could literally kill someone. We both poured over every word before we even sent it over to the editors, who also treated it with great caution. It needed to be done right, or not at all.
It was a difficult but rewarding experience, and I remain exceedingly proud of the final product. I was doing mostly crime and spot news by that point, so unless my memory fails me, it was the last major story I wrote at the BND. It ran in May 2018; I left in July.
So it was with no small delight that I received a message from my former partner last week informing me that we had won first place for community service journalism from the Illinois Press Association. In fact, the News-Democrat swept that category, winning all four awards.
Nobody does the job for awards – or, if you do, it’s time to hang it up, because you have forgotten that we are first and foremost servants of the public. And, to be honest, I was more often a toiler in the vineyard, shoveling fuel into the furnace of daily news and not often on those extensive, major projects that tend to catch the eye of the major awards.
But the real value in awards attention is to encourage this kind of in-depth reporting that is too easy to hand-wave in the era of clicks. There are ways to feed the daily beast and also do serious, intensive work, but it takes the dedication of capable staff and the commitment of responsible editors, with an eye to ethics and experts. It’s what we should be doing, and if it wins an award, maybe it will encourage others to give that kind of coverage a try.
I’m happy and terrified to announce that last semester’s research project has been selected for presentation at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication’s midwinter conference.
That’s a lot of edu-speak to say that I wrote some stuff people liked, and now I’m flying to Oklahoma City to talk about it.
Last semester’s primary project was a research paper titled “The People Have a Right to Know: Journalism and Ethics in Film.” In part it was a test run for my thesis, which will expand greatly from the initial sample to examine several tropes that affect journalists’ representation in the movies. It focused primarily on ten films featuring journalists from the last five years, but also extended into several films from previous eras that highlight some of the most common depictions of journalists.
I analyzed the films through the lens of the SPJ Code of Ethics. If you know me at all, you know that I am passionate about the Code. We denizens of the SPJ Ethics Committee spend a great deal of time year-round advocating ethical behavior, promoting awareness and use of the Code and assisting journalists with ethical dilemmas. My primary soapbox for all these years has been that journalism ethics is not some dry academic theoretical discussion, but a living necessity that should be part of every newsroom’s daily discussion and the only part of your J-school education guaranteed to be relevant throughout your entire career.
Many papers and research projects have focused on the representation of the news media in film, but I am not aware of any others that have used the SPJ Code of Ethics to analyze the fictional journalists’ behavior. Apparently this caught the eye of the committee at AEJMC, and I have been invited to present my research to them.
Thus the terror. I have only presented once before at an academic conference: in 2016, I spoke at the Walter Cronkite Conference on Media Ethics and Integrity about the 2014 project to rewrite the Code for the 21st century. All my other speaking engagements have been much less formal: trade conferences, universities, pop-culture conventions, book groups.
However, since my ultimate goal is to continue teaching, this is an enormous opportunity, and quite an honor.
Brad was 17 years old when he was injured playing high school sports. He had surgery on his shoulder, and the doctors gave him opiate-based pain pills during his recovery.
You probably know where this story is going.
Four years later, I interviewed Brad’s father, Dave Admire. I was doing a project on the heroin epidemic, and finding out more and more that it was inextricably tied to the massive use of opiate-based pain pills. There’s a lot of debate and more than a little shouting on this issue, and this is not the place for that debate. I’m here to tell you about Brad, and his father.
Within weeks of his surgery, Brad was hooked on Vicodin. When the prescriptions went away, he turned to heroin, buying tabs on the street for $10 a pill. Admire told me that the majority of addicts he worked with started that way: pain pills for dental surgery or a broken bone. “Not too many just decided to try heroin,” he said.
Three months later, Brad told his father he had a problem. Dave had him in treatment the very next day.
It didn’t take. By the time I met Dave, his son had been through five or six rounds of treatment, a six-month incarceration and at least three overdoses that he knew of. In one of those cases, Dave told me, Brad’s “friends” had stolen his wallet and dumped him in an emergency room.
In Illinois, an addict is lucky to get 30 days inpatient treatment, which apparently isn’t enough for a beast with as many tentacles as heroin.
I didn’t interview Brad. At the time that I met him, Dave had shipped Brad to Florida where he could get a 60-day program, followed by two months outpatient in a sober living house. “Today he’s good, but you never know what tomorrow will bring,” he said.
The doctors say one of the worst things for an addict is get distracted from their recovery with a lot of pressure about “How’s it going? When do you think you’ll be out?” In other words, everything a reporter might ask. It wasn’t my first round with this issue; in other stories, I’ve been faced with the dilemma of whether to interview someone who might be seriously damaged by it. In the case of a legislator who entered Betty Ford for addiction, I had to argue down an editor who was absolutely sure I could get him on the phone from rehab.
Maybe I could. Maybe not – Betty Ford is pretty tough on their rules. But the ethical precept of “minimize harm” as established in the Code of Ethics means that I don’t hurt people to get a story.
So I interviewed Dave instead, who was brutally honest about the pain his family had gone through. Addicts leave a wake of pain in their path, not the least of it around themselves.
Dave told me one day he had to refuse Brad entry to the house. “It was snowing and he was beating on the door, and I had to tell him no,” Dave said. “I had to force him to the rock bottom.” As a parent, I could not possibly imagine doing that, but they say it’s necessary. Addicts need a reason to get clean, and they destroy every relationship around them before they reach that rock bottom, or so the experts say. How many parents and siblings have had to make that choice, to “love them from a distance,” as Dave put it?
Dave made it his mission to help other families navigate the morass of treatment options, with and without insurance. Somehow word spread and people knew he was the guy to call. He told me he had kids on eight-week waiting lists, kids who were slipped a tab at a party, and suddenly there’s a beastly hunger awake and raving through their blood. That’s perhaps hyperbole, and perhaps not, as the endless hearings and workshops and think tanks I’ve observed over the years talk about neurons and receptors and susceptibility to dependence in the human brain, stewing in its mix of chemicals.
It was Dave who came to mind a year later when my son sustained a minor injury on a camping trip. He came home from the ER with a bottle of narcotics. The doctors gave opioids to a sixteen-year-old kid with a minor muscle strain without even trying aspirin first. I couldn’t get those pills away from him fast enough, afraid of the beast. We were lucky.
Dave and Brad were featured in a documentary called “The Heroin Project,” co-produced by my now-colleague Cory Byers and then-grad student Ashley Seering. Dave was working with law enforcement to find ways to help addicts get into treatment instead of prison. He appeared on a panel with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin – which is how he came to my attention – and talked with raw honesty about the impact the epidemic is having on families.
There were a lot of politicians and officials on that panel, but then there was Dave, speaking with quiet dignity; and a local principal, Kari Karidis, who spoke about the day she got the worst possible call: her son had died of a heroin overdose.
One of the hardest things a journalist must learn, and which I try to teach my students, is the compartmentalization of emotions and opinions. Reporters cannot help but form opinions because we have working brain cells, and if we ever stop feeling our emotions entirely, we have lost our connection to humanity and need to quit the job. But we must take those emotions and opinions and set them apart from the work. There’s a story to be written, and no one will take it seriously if you’ve slipped from reporter to advocate.
But when I read yesterday that Brad Admire died of an overdose on Sunday, my heart simply broke for the father I interviewed years ago, and the family ripped apart over what seemed like innocuous pills. I never did have enough callouses to keep me from feeling the job, and maybe that made me less than the reporter I could have been.
When I wrote the story of the Admire family, Madison County, Illinois had reached a then-staggering 77 opioid overdoses in a single year. In 2009, the total was seven.
Days before Brad Admire overdosed, Madison County’s coroner Steve Nonn announced that with more than month remaining in 2018, 92 people have died of an opiate overdose. It’s a grim new record. While there have always been overdoses, take a look at the chart at the other end of this link and you’ll see why opioids stand out. More than 72,000 dead last year, and now that fentanyl is being mixed into other drugs, there seems to be no end in sight.
There’s no moral to the story, no uplifting ending. As a journalist, it isn’t my place to suggest policy or issue a call to action. It probably isn’t my place to grieve for the Admire family, to think of the stalwart father who sat across from me in a library one afternoon and shared his family’s most painful, raw tragedies with me and our readers.
But as keepers of the record, it’s beholden upon us to tell the whole story. And the whole story is that this time, the beast won.
Note: This post was originally published on Nov. 6, 2016.
This weekend I had the privilege of speaking at the Walter Cronkite Conference on Media Ethics and Integrity. I was pretty nervous, as I’d never done an academic conference before – SPJ conventions, guest speaker at local universities, and of course, cons. No one at the Cronkite Conference was dressed as Pennywise the Clown, however.
Somehow I missed that the conference was scheduled to coincide with Cronkite’s 100th birthday, which was celebrated at the Walter Cronkite Memorial on Friday along with the unveiling of Phase IV of the memorial.
We were treated to an amazing three-act play developed by the memorial staff titled “And That’s the Way It Is: Cronkite’s Journey.” This show has been taken on the road and performed all the way to D.C. If it is ever in your area, you owe it to yourself to catch it. Actor Jim Korinke does a spot-on Walter Cronkite, and the gentlemen playing Harry Truman and Martin Luther King Jr. are pretty amazing themselves.
Act One focuses on Truman and Cronkite’s lives in parallel from 1945 onward. It is a little gentler on Truman than history has been, but more true than some of the biopics have been. Act Two focuses on King and Cronkite through the civil rights movement, including the ethical and practical issues faced by the CBS news team as they tried to cover the movement with dispassion. I did not know, for example, that simply covering the movement was seen as “championing the blacks” and that southern affiliates threatened to cut their affiliation with CBS – which would have bankrupted the network.
Unfortunately I missed most of Act III. Damn news. I was reporting on a story back home by remote, and got some information during the intermission. I was still updating the story from my laptop when Act III began, and once I was done, the doors were locked and I couldn’t get in until someone came along who had a key. Rats. Jim (who was verklempt throughout the performance) reports that it was a representative of Cronkite’s question-and-answer on Larry King Live on the one-year anniversary of 9/11. I would have liked to have seen that.
I only caught some of the presentations at the conference, but those I caught were fascinating. Check out the Twitter account @edonaldmedia if you want more specifics. I met a journalist named Deandre Williamson of the Bahamas, who won the award for having traveled the farthest (unless it’s farther to Chile? Maybe.). Williamson discussed the evolution of the media in the Bahamas, which does not have freedom of speech, and its recent adoption of the SPJ Code of Ethics a few months ago. It faces an uphill battle there, and I enjoyed discussing those issues with Deandre.
Pic taken by my long-suffering husband, who agreed to come to a journalism ethics conference on our anniversary.
My presentation was on the 2014 revision of the code, and it must have gone off well, since no one fell asleep, walked out, or threw rotten tomatoes. Big thanks go to ethics chairman Andrew Seaman for giving me his terrific PowerPoint, which I then adapted to my speech. The last time I used PowerPoint, I was in college. That was a while ago. Thanks to the Kansas City Press Club, which invited me to speak.
And thanks as well to former chairman Kevin Smith, who shared some of his thoughts and recollections with me as I prepared for the presentation. Kevin herded the cats through our entire process, and survived.
I’ve often said that my participation in the ethics commission and the small part I played in rewriting the code are among my proudest accomplishments, and thus it was no small thing to be asked to talk about it – here at the conference, at local universities, at SPJ conventions, at high schools, on a milk crate at a street corner. Kevin called it “spreading the Gospel”; I’ve sometimes called it “evangelizing ethics.” As I said in the speech, there are far too many people who don’t even realize the code exists, and that’s because we do a lousy job of transparency in our work. We must stop expecting that the average reader knows how a newsroom functions, how news corporations work on the inside, about the difference between news and opinion, and the presence and enforcement of ethics codes.
Sometimes I’ve felt like the lone voice crying in the wilderness. This weekend I was among My People, and it felt wonderful. It was good to know I am not the only one who is disheartened and depressed by the vitriol we face as we try to do our jobs.
I learned a lot from my fellow journalists this weekend, and about Uncle Walt, whom I thought I already knew well. Cronkite retired before I was old enough to really comprehend the news, but when I was young and would hear my newsman father refer to “Uncle Walter,” I thought at first we really had an uncle named Walter.
Dad was a big fan of Cronkite, and after you visit the memorial, you will be as well. From World War II to the Kennedy Assassination to the civil rights movement to the moon landing to facing down Spiro Agnew, the story of Cronkite is really the history of us for the last sixty years, and it’s worth your time.
• TIME Magazine’s cover with Trump and the crying immigrant child was not an image of a child separated from her parents. The child in question was crying while Border Patrol agents patted down her mother, but the child and mother were not separated. However, TIME stands by its cover, citing the girl as a symbol of the ongoing issues surrounding immigration and the administration’s policy, not just the children separated from their parents. Washington Post delves further into it here.
• This one’s making the rounds again: No, a small Virginia newspaper did NOT run a front-page ad for the KKK. The Westmoreland Times ran a story about KKK recruitment flyers found on front lawns, including racist and anti-Semitic messages. They included a picture of the flyer, which was provided in context and with a clear statement that the paper did not support the content expressed. This has been an issue that comes up from time to time: when we write about racism, are we supporting it or revealing it? In retrospect, other newspapers have reported on similar flyers and redacted contact information, which might have been a wiser choice for the Westmoreland Times. But in running a headline that baldly calls it an ad for the KKK, Newsweek crossed the line the other way. An ad is paid content. This was news, even if it made people clutch their pearls.
Two years ago it was Russian journalists, and this year it was Chinese journalists and professors. Due to a confluence of schedules and a nasty bug going around, only my vice president Tammy Merrett and I were available to meet with them.
We did most of the talking, and the time went so fast that I never got to ask the questions I wanted to ask them. Questions about how much government control still exists over their work, and whether it is explicit or subtly implicit. Questions about the social issues in their country, and whether they lean more toward the traditional objectivity model or more toward advocacy. About the state of their job market, and whether the shift from print to digital has changed their landscape as it is changing ours.
But they had so many questions for us. We were working through an interpreter, which always takes me a little time to adjust – I have to remember to remove my earpiece while I’m talking, or I get confused having my own words interpreted into my ear in Chinese. Still, I wished I could just sit and listen; I find the cadences of the language fascinating without comprehending a word.
A lot of our time is spent gaining definitions. For example, the concept of a trade organization like SPJ vs. the concept of a trade union, which is a very different structure governed by different laws. They had several questions about unions, some of which I had to defer since I’ve never worked in a union newsroom.
Other discussions included the First Amendment and ethical balances for the veracity and impact of the protected speech; about pushback against journalists in the U.S. with police harassment and arrests during protests; about more subtle pressures primarily on student media, from student governments or college administrators trying to shut down funding in retaliation for unflattering coverage.
They wanted to talk about Edward Snowden, and about the balance between actual national security and putting lives in danger with coverage. They wanted to talk about credentials, about what structures exist to allow journalists access to do their jobs and the difference between being issued a press pass and being “licensed” to practice journalism.
And then we were back to the First Amendment again, about the advocacy of SPJ and other organizations and our role in fighting to maintain our freedoms.
We talked about small family papers and large corporate-owned media, so Tammy and I can do our annual arm-wrestle about the benefits and problems with each. We talked about bias and objectivity, about taking responsibility for errors or mangled coverage, and about the Ethics Code as guideline and statement of principles, but not a legal bludgeon. It was pretty heavy material for a morning without coffee.
I had to step out for a moment during discussions of intentional bias and advocacy journalism masquerading as traditional hard news. When I came back into the room, Tammy was talking about the frustration of journalists when we see someone shredding the ethics code with slanted, false or nearly-false coverage.
“So we’ve dealt with Fox News?” I said, and it got a laugh, even from our guests (after translation).
I love these meetups, because we tend to forget in the little microcosms of our newsrooms that there is a whole world out there doing journalism just like we are – but without the freedoms and structures we so often take for granted. They had so many questions and we answered them all, but I wish I had kept my eye on the clock so I could remember to ask them some things.
I wanted to ask them if their readers send them nasty messages calling them names, and how they deal with the disheartenment when they pour so much effort into a story and everyone misses the point.
I wanted to ask them if their families understand the long hours and low pay, and if they ever feel like they have to apologize for choosing the life they did.
I wanted to ask them what they do when a story is killed, and they know it needs to go out there, but there’s an insurmountable barrier preventing them from speaking.
I wanted to ask them if they love what they do, even if it doesn’t love them back.
Those are probably not appropriate questions for the forum. But they’re the questions I wanted to ask. Maybe next time, if I can remember to keep the earpiece out of my ear – and listen more than speak.
• Note: the headline was courtesy of Google Translate, as I am hopelessly monolingual. I sure hope it says what I meant to say.