By Scott Leadingham
SPJ Communications Department
AMICUS SUCCESS. The Orange County (Calif.) Register and its parent company, Freedom Communications, Inc., recently won the right to publish information about an ongoing trial. Sound odd? Don't think a newspaper should have to fight for its right to report? Neither did the California Court of Appeals, which vacated a previous ruling by a superior court judge that barred the paper from writing about an ongoing civil trial involving the paper. A class action suit is currently under way against Freedom Communications. The suit alleges unfair pay and reimbursement practices for newspaper carriers. The Register appealed the gag order last week, which SPJ and a number of other organizations supported through an amicus brief.
SPEAKING OF CALIFORNIA LAW... Student press advisers in the state now have protection from dismissal and retaliation for refusing to censor the speech of student journalists. The law, which takes effect at the first of the year, prevents high school and college media faculty from reprisal, even if administrators object to media content.
LIBELOUS TRAVELS. Just before the financial rescue bill became the primary congressional news of late, the House of Representatives passed a bill to protect authors and journalists from libel lawsuits overseas. The "libel tourism" bill passed last weekend prevents U.S. courts from enforcing libel suits against Americans brought about in foreign courts. SPJ supported this bill as it moved through the legislatives process, which was initiated by a lawsuit in Britain against American author Rachel Ehrenfeld for her book about financing terrorism.
TAKE TWO. After last week's interview with Katie Couric apparently left some questions unanswered, Gov. Sarah Palin returned with John McCain to the "CBS Evening News." The vice presidential and presidential hopefuls were clarifying Palin's recent statement about terrorism-fighting efforts in Pakistan. In the course, they spoke about "gotcha" journalism.
GOTCHA... IN A HEADLOCK. Jesse Ventura has had many jobs, including Navy Seal, mayor, governor of Minnesota and, of course, boa-wearing professional wrestler. His new gig isn't quite journalism, at least in the traditional inverted pyramid style, but he's still trying to dig up facts and report, sort of. Ventura will host a new program on TruTV, traveling the country in search of answers to notable conspiracies.
STRANGE ECONOMIC BEDFELLOWS. Every properly trained journalist understands the importance of objective reporting. Recognizing and avoiding conflicts of interest are an essential pillar of journalism ethics. How, then, can someone like NBC's Andrea Mitchell report on the economy? Mitchell is married to Alan Greenspan, the retired long-time chairman of the Federal Reserve. Megan Garber poses the question in a Columbia Journalism Review article. And it's not so much the economy in general, but the economic "meltdown," that is the problem. As Garber states, Greenspan is somewhat culpable in the current credit market problems. But is that a true conflict of interest that should prevent Mitchell from doing her job?
GOBBLING UP MONEY, LOBBYISTS. Among professions ill-regarded by the public, lobbying is near the top of the list. Ken Silverstein's book, "Turkmeniscam: How Washington Lobbyists Fought to Flack for a Stalinist Dictatorship," certainly doesn't help the negative perception either. Silverstein is an investigative journalist and editor at Harper's Magazine. The book recounts his undercover efforts to get Washington, D.C. lobbying firms to obtain federal dollars and support for the government of Turkmenistan, a notably repressive regime. While on the "Diane Rehm Show," Silverstein described his experience and recalled how he's taken heat for unethical journalistic practices. Was Silverstein violating an ethical principle by essentially lying to lobbyists? Listen to the interview and decide for yourself.
ENTERPRISING FELLOWS. The Philips Foundation is offering fellowships for young journalists with fewer than 10 years of professional experience. Awards range from $25,000 to $75,000 and require a part- or full-time commitment to investigating an aspect of free enterprise. Fellows will receive grants for living expenses as well as reimbursements for professional expenses related to the proposed project. See the Foundation's Web site for more information and an application.
THE SETTING SUN. Another week, another newspaper down the tubes. It's almost becoming an occurrence to which we can set our watches. But it's not every week that the general public gets to read the insider comments of an editor to his or her staff. The New York Sun, which published its last edition on Tuesday, Sept. 30, released excerpts of editor Seth Lipinsky's comments to the newsroom staff as he explained the decision to cease publication. The newspaper started as a conservative alternative to The New York Times, but wasn't profitable in its seven years of publication. Mayor Michael Bloomberg was a regular reader, and was quoted on the front page of the Sun's final edition saying: "In a city saturated with news coverage and commentary, the Sun shone brightly, though too briefly."
MR. BROKAW GOES TO WASHINGTON. For a guy who's retired, Tom Brokaw sure works a lot. Since taking over as interim "Meet the Press" host for the late Tim Russert, Brokaw has fulfilled a more active role at NBC. He's done political segments on "Today" and various MSNBC broadcasts. And he's moderating the second presidential debate on Oct. 7. Not too bad for a guy who earlier this year was spending most of his time writing and fishing in Montana. But it's not just on-air balance that Brokaw has brought to NBC — he's playing the role of seasoned adviser. He was apparently a voice of reason in MSNBC's decision to remove hosts Keith Olberman and Chris Matthews from certain election-related anchoring duties and have them fill roles as political analysts or commentators.
DATABASING, DJANGO STYLE. The LA Times was quick to report about the Sept. 12 commuter train crash that killed 25 people. An important aspect of the reporting, especially in today's multimedia landscape, was an interactive online database with information about crash victims. What's more, the Django-enabled database was put together on a rapid deadline, enabling families, friends and other journalists to quickly gather more information. With a particular human element, however, it became more than just an information source, but a way to interactively memorialize the victims. Chip Scanlan of Poynter interviewed staffers at The Times responsible for its creation.