A police raid on the Marion County Record’s newspaper office is both a violation of the First Amendment and a case study in astounding stupidity

ABC’s story on the raid, along with actual footage of the raid. 

THE LEAD: The entire force of the Marion, Kansas, police department, along with backup from county sheriff’s deputies raided the newsroom of the Marion County Record on Friday, turning this town of 2,000 people into a battleground for the First Amendment:

A search warrant shows police were looking for evidence that a reporter had run an improper computer search to confirm an accurate report that a local business owner applying for a liquor license had lost her driver’s license over a DUI.

The owner and publisher of the Record, Eric Meyer, along with First Amendment advocates and journalism organizations from across the country, have said the raid went too far.

Police seized computers, cellphones and reporting materials from the newspaper, its reporters and the home of the publisher. Meyer said police injured a reporter’s finger while taking away her cellphone.


THE BASIC BACKGROUND: The newspaper staff and restaurant owner Kari Newell had a bit of a beef when Newell had its journalists removed her establishment during a public meet and greet  with U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner.

Shortly after that, the paper received a tip about Newell’s criminal record:

A confidential source contacted the newspaper, Meyer said, and provided evidence that Newell had been convicted of drunken driving and continued to use her vehicle without a driver’s license. The criminal record could jeopardize her efforts to obtain a liquor license for her catering business.

A reporter with the Marion Record used a state website to verify the information provided by the source. But Meyer suspected the source was relaying information from Newell’s husband, who had filed for divorce. Meyer decided not to publish a story about the information, and he alerted police to the situation.

“We thought we were being set up,” Meyer said.

Police contacted Newell, who alleged the paper had “illegally obtained” information about her, thus leading to the charges against the paper, as well as the raid on the newsroom and multiple private homes.


FIRST-AMENDMENT FALLOUT: The amendment allows for freedom of the press and prohibits governmental interference in the gathering and dissemination of the news, with only a few extreme circumstances warranting this level of aggression.  To put this in perspective, former President Richard Nixon didn’t even stoop to this level against the New York Times in relation to the Pentagon Papers situation, so if you can make Tricky Dick look restrained, your actions are pretty egregious.

More than 30 media organizations signed on to a letter from the Reporters Committee For Freedom Of The Press, condemning the raid, stating “there appears to be no justification for the breadth and intrusiveness of the search—particularly when other investigative steps may have been available—and we are concerned that it may have violated federal law strictly limiting federal, state, and local law enforcement’s ability to conduct newsroom searches.”

The Marion Police Department is defending its actions via a Facebook post, explaining that, while, yes, in most cases they should use a subpoena, and yes, in most cases, they should be less aggressive and no, they really can’t tell you WHY they did what they did, these extraordinary measures were necessary. Now, stop asking so many questions and go outside and play…


READ THIS NOW: Here’s an interview with the newspaper’s owner, Eric Meyer, via The Handbasket that both explains what happened in the raid as well as some backstory on the paper’s investigation into Police Chief Gideon Cody.

The paper was looking into allegations that Cody retired from his previous post to dodge potential charges of sexual misconduct, which could have led to punishment from that department.


THIS STUPIDITY GOES TO 11: A few random thoughts that explain how truly stupid this situation is…

  • Astounding Level of Stupid, Part I: The paper DIDN’T run anything on Newell, instead turning the tip over to the police. If the paper had ACTUALLY COMMITTED A CRIME, would the staffers have called the cops and made a point of alerting them to it? That has the same internal logic as telling the cop who pulled you over, “Officer, I know I was going a little fast, but it’s only because I need to get this trunkload of heroin to Fat Jimmy’s criminal hideout before 5 p.m.”
  • Astounding Level of Stupid, Part II: After the paper told the police about the situation, the police told Newell about the situation and Newell then complained about the paper at a city council meeting. This prompted the paper to run a story that corrected record about the situation. In short, if Newell had said nothing, nobody would likely have known anything about this entire issue. Now, half the planet knows about Newell and her DUI.
  • Astounding Level of Stupid, Part III: The easiest way to know this situation has no merit is this quote from the chief and follow up paraphrase: “I believe when the rest of the story is available to the public, the judicial system that is being questioned will be vindicated,” Mr. Cody said. He declined to discuss the investigation in detail. Wait… Where have I heard someone say that before? Oh, yeah! Here, and here, and here… Oh, hell, just Google “I will be vindicated” or “The truth will come out” and then look for a follow up story that involves the length of the prison term involved…


DOCTOR OF PAPER HOT TAKE: This is the case of trying to kill a fly with a sledgehammer, and it’s not even clear if a fly was there to be killed.

  • Newell alleged that the paper had “illegally obtained” private information about her DUI arrest, offering no real proof that a) the paper did so or b) how she knew how the paper supposedly illegally did anything. If an allegation this flimsy is all it takes to get the police to raid a home or business, I have a list of folks who are in for a bad week…
  • Information is not “private” just because you don’t like people knowing about it. Embarrassing private details CAN be the source of legal wrangling when publicly exposed, but that’s not this. I’m sure Newell isn’t thrilled that people know about her DUI, suspended license and more, but it’s a matter of public record as a criminal offense.
    • Put another way: If I blogged about the various noises and phrases Amy utters while we have sex, that would fit the “private information” area and she could have legal options of a punitive nature. However, the police report related to how she murdered me for disclosing those noises and phrases on the blog would NOT be private, as police reports are public records. Make sense?
  • Information is also fair game for journalists when they receive it through open-record searches, news tips and other similar things the paper is said to have done here. Even IF (big IF) someone else had done something illegal to find information about Newell and then provided it to the newspaper, the law dictates that the paper is free of wrongdoing as long as it didn’t take part in the illegal acts.

More on this will clearly become part of the blog as more on this becomes available…

Three things student journalists can learn from the Texas A&M Kathleen McElroy hiring debacle

THE LEAD: Texas A&M screwed the pooch when it came to the Kathleen McElroy hiring and is now literally paying for it:

Texas A&M University reached a $1 million settlement with a Black journalism professor who said her tenured position offer fell apart after backlash to her work on diversity and equity efforts, the university announced Thursday.

The university’s leadership apologized to Kathleen McElroy for “the way her employment application was handled” in June when the terms of her proposed contract changed dramatically.

The CNN lead is a bit “sanitized,” but things got ugly as hell in the middle of this saga, that led to the resignation of both the interim dean who would have overseen McElroy and the university president, whom we’ve discussed here before. The Texas-based press was more damning, if not long-winded:

The Texas A&M University System reached a $1 million settlement with Kathleen McElroy and made a public admission that then-President M. Katherine Banks derailed the potential journalism director’s hiring after alumni, including a conservative-leaning group called The Rudder Association, voiced concerns about McElroy’s experience in diversity, equity and inclusion.

The system’s Office of General Counsel released a lengthy report about its internal investigation Thursday, following mounting pressure from faculty who fear that outside interference at the university has infringed on their rights in the hiring and promotion process and chilled their speech in the classroom.


BULLETS AND GUNS: Despite saying she was unaware of everything going on, text messages between Banks and interim Dean José Luis Bermúdez proved otherwise. The incongruity between what Banks said publicly and privately proved to be a “smoking gun” in this whole mess:

While then-President M. Katherine Banks told faculty leaders in a public meeting that she did not know of any regressive changes to McElroy’s contract, the texts prove otherwise. They show her and José Luis Bermúdez, then-interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, orchestrating a plan to move the journalist to a multiyear nontenured professorship and multiyear at-will directorship, which they said would be necessary to get her approved by Texas A&M’s Board of Regents.

The texts show the pair drafting a public defense as to why the changes made sense for McElroy’s purposes. Banks told Bermúdez, “If you get this done, you get a bonus.” They also indicated that nothing would be guaranteed for McElroy.

Banks also used a weapons-based analogy in how lucky TAMU got in making McElroy’s job offer so lousy that McElroy had to back out:

Bermúdez later apologized to Banks, who told him not to worry.

“I think we dodged a bullet,” Banks said. “She is an awful person to go to the press before us.”

“A terrible journalist too,” Bermúdez said.”Completely self-serving.”

Bermúdez said McElroy lied in much of her interview with the Tribune, and Banks responded that she had already told A&M’s chancellor that was the case.

“Just think if she had accepted!!! Ugh,” she texted.

When it came to “dodging a bullet,” I think Banks saw herself this way in this situation:

But it was really more like this…


SHORT SUMMARY: McElroy landed relatively well, in that she has a job back where she was, an apology from the people who messed with her and $1 million settlement to boot. One good friend of mine who is a professor down there noted that the bigger concern is how political pressure came to bear on the academic world in this truly terrible way, and she’s right. That needs some serious overhauling, but for a one-person, one-situation thing, this arc has now closed.


KEY LESSONS FOR JOURNALISM STUDENTS: The whole point of the blog is to help you learn something from everything we see or do, so here are three key things journalism students can take with them in analyzing this mess.

DON’T ACCEPT THE PUBLIC NARRATIVE: We’ve said this a dozen different ways on the blog, including “Trust but verify,” and “If your mother says she loves you, go check it out,” but it bears repeating here: When people tell you something, don’t take it at face value until you are satisfied that it is accurate.

The image Banks put out of being as innocent as a newborn kitten when it came to all of this basically fell apart once people started digging into what she knew and when she knew it. It also didn’t help her case that she put a lot of her “less-pleasant opinions” in writing via text messages.

As a reporter, you should listen to what people tell you and you should definitely record and report what they say. That said, you can’t just rely on that alone, or else your less reporter and more stenographer. Take what they say and use other people, documents and resources to challenge what you have learned. In some cases it will support that narrative, but in many others, you’ll find significant deviations from the public script.


SOURCES MATTER: This whole situation started to unravel in early July when the Texas Tribune published the key story about the situation unraveling. Texas has literally scores of outstanding major media outlets in print, broadcast and web that are capable of handling a story like this, but the Tribune got there first.

Why? They had McElroy as a source and a connection:

Disclosure: Kathleen McElroy, Texas A&M University, The New York Times, the Texas A&M University System and the University of Texas at Austin have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This is in no way a rip on the Tribune, the staff there or anyone else involved in this really important and well-crafted story. It’s merely to point out the fact that a source found the Tribune to be a trustworthy media outlet that would tell a story and do so in a way that gave the source faith. McElroy could have picked up the phone and called the Dallas Morning News, the Houston Chronicle, the Austin-American Statesman, WFAA or a dozen other places and probably been fine. However, when she and the Tribune connected, an appropriate level of trust and understanding between source and media outlet emerged and we all benefited from this symbiosis.

This is why getting to know sources and developing trustworthy relationships with people we cover can matter so much. I don’t know if I’d trust a random reporter who called me about a story, but there are specific reporters I’d gladly help in many ways because I know who they are and we have established a strong relationship over the years. This is the bedrock of good journalism, and it needs to be something we get back to, now that we don’t have to do every interview on Zoom, for fear of COVID.


JOURNALISM HAS INFLUENCE: There are plenty days in this field when it seems like we don’t do a lot or that we don’t matter for much, but stories like this reinforce the value we have as a profession. Had it not been for the media spotlight and subsequent digging, this situation would have likely gone away in a quiet fashion and no one would have really been the wiser.

However, because someone decided to put the public eye on this issue, a number of changes have occurred. (You can argue if those are big enough changes or the right ones, but that’s not the argument I’m going for here…) You had leadership change, you had a report on this issue, you had the exposure of outside influence on this, you had a financial settlement and you had an apology. It might or might not be enough, but it’s more than it would have been, if not for the role of journalism.

You don’t have to overthrow a government or right a social wrong through your student newspaper to have influence. My favorite story was one in which the student newspaper I was advising got wind of the university’s decision to start charging students 10 cents for a cup of ice water at the campus eateries. They reported on the issue and the students made such a stink about it, the admin backed off. You can say it’s just a dime, but it’s another example of local journalism having a direct impact on a situation in favor of its readers.


FINAL SIDE NOTE: During the debacle that was, I wrote an open letter to Dr. McElroy, tongue mostly planted in cheek, telling her to “drop those zeroes” and get with the heroes over here at UWO because everything here was amazingly cool. In the intervening week, we some how managed to make Sam Bankman-Fried look financially well-balanced:

UW-Oshkosh plans to cut about 200 non-faculty staff and administrators this fall, while furloughing others, UW-Oshkosh Chancellor Andrew Leavitt said Thursday, as the university faces an unprecedented $18 million budget shortfall. The cuts amount to about 20% of university employees.

“It is no longer sustainable for us to operate without dramatic reduction in expenses,” Leavitt said in an email to employees.

Long story short, I clearly have the predictive power of Jim Cramer these days, so trust me on the journalism and less so on the future.




An open letter to Kathleen McElroy: Forget about Texas A&M. Come to UW-Oshkosh.

Please consider these words of wisdom… If it would bring you here to UWO, Dr. McElroy, I would gladly perform the entirety of any scene from “Cool as Ice” for you every day, simply for your amusement.


Dear Dr. McElroy,

Even though we have never met, I have been following your situation from afar and find it depressingly untenable. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to be recruited, lauded and praised by an institution you love and admire, only to have that place fold up on you like a cheap card table when the wind started blowing in another direction. I also can’t imagine what it’s like now trying to figure out where to go in life: You basically told your previous employer you were leaving, only to now realize you CAN’T leave for this other job.

The interim dean at A&M, who apparently pointed out to you that you are “a Black woman who worked at The New York Times,” (both of which he seemingly considered negatives somehow when he made that statement) has resigned his position in the administration over this cluster-mess.  University President M. Katherine Banks, who professed astonishment and ignorance of all the changes to your position,  has “retired immediately” because the “negative press has become a distraction.” (Right. The PRESS is the problem, not the not-so-thinly-veiled racism, the shameful backpedaling or the generally terrible way the school handled this situation.)

This has to be twice as painful for you, as TAMU is your alma mater and that really seemed to be a driving force for you, based on what I read. (For me, I’d be pretty OK if I went back to one of my degree-granting institutions. The other one? I’d rather you stabbed me in the face with a live cattle prod than send me there for a faculty slot.)

This would be a comedy of errors if it weren’t so sad and tragic.

With that in mind, I’d like to offer you this plea: Drop those zeroes and get with the heroes here at UW-Oshkosh. We would LOVE to have you, and I personally would love to spend as much time learning from you as humanly possible.

Here’s the best case I can offer you for such a career move:

Your governor is treating DEI like it’s an STI, signing a bill that would close all offices at universities that he deemed “anti-white.” He’s also anti-tenure, anti-education and looks like a terrible 1980s televangelist to a really creepy degree.

Our governor is a former state superintendent of schools, who favors public education and improving the lives of school children throughout the state. He also pulled off one of the smoothest line-item veto moves in history, to increase public education spending for the next 400 years.

The person who was going to be your boss at A&M had a history of doing some truly dumb things with student media, including trying to overstep her position and kill the print edition of your amazing student newspaper, The Battalion.  She then rationalized her decision to go against the wishes of pretty much everyone in this situation with the immortal line of “I’m not a professor of journalism, I don’t understand exactly why [print media] is important to the field.”

The person at UWO who would be your boss has been pretty darned good to journalism and student media. When a bunch of little… um… student government people demanded my head as the adviser of the student newspaper, he stepped in and kept the idiots at bay. He was also instrumental in our fundraising drive and even gave money out of his own pocket to help out.

In addition, our offices are in the newest academic building on campus, right down the hall from our African American studies department. “Doc” Simpson is an amazing leader of that department and Dr. Denae Powell is one of the coolest people I know. (If you like to laugh, we enjoy sharing a lot of “guess what a student just said/did” stories as we pass each other’s office on a daily basis.)

We’re a fun, small, collegial bunch and we take care of each other. We don’t silo up into “news” versus “PR” or whatever, and we really do our best to help each other and all of “our kids” that enter the program. Based on what I’ve read, that sounds like it would be right up your alley.

I grant you we aren’t perfect: We get 10 feet of snow every year, it takes a while to learn how to pass  farming equipment on our highways and you can’t breathe within six inches of the Illinois border without being forced to pay a toll. We also have our share of knotheads who treat higher education as if it’s some sort of a Communist plot, which might not sound like much of an improvement over your current situation.

I also grant you that I don’t have fiat power in terms of offering you a job, but I’m a hell of a persistent cuss when it comes to getting important things done, so let’s figure that one out when we get there. I just think you’re too important and valuable to waste on an institution that’s treating you this way.

Feel free to shoot me a note via the contact form here if you’re interested in taking a chance on the Harvard of the Fox Valley.


Vince (a.k.a. The Doctor of Paper)

The Six-Year Itch: Welcome to the rebuilt blog

New Design for Dadcooksdinner - DadCooksDinner

Quick story: One October a number of years ago, I was getting ready for the upcoming winter when I realized the snowblower wasn’t really running all that well. Two days after I managed to pull the entire carburetor apart and had it in pieces all over my workbench, we got hit by a freak snowstorm that buried us in about eight inches of slushy crud. Had it not been for the largess of a nice neighbor, I might still be stuck in that driveway.

I mention this because that’s essentially what happened this summer with the blog. The goal was to take the regular month off and then come back with the same general approach to writing and posting as normal. However, the good folks at SAGE had gotten some feedback about this thing needing a refresher. Furthermore, we launched the “Exploring Mass Communication” textbook and they were hoping the blog could do something to cover the topics associated with that book.

So, I figured, “What the hell?” Let’s take this thing apart and put it back together. Of course in the middle of all of that we had more than a few news items that I desperately wanted to cover:

I’m sure there’s more I’m missing here, and I’ll do my best to get to those at some point in the future. But for now, I wanted to do a quick breakdown of what the blog is going to look like going forward:

  • Simplified categories: I rebuilt the categories to avoid associating each topic with a book chapter. That will be particularly helpful, given the redundancies in the categories and the chapters, and the fact I’ll now be juggling three books on this thing.
  • Revamped approach: To try to hit on the key aspects of what people need to know for classes, I wanted to standardize how I approached each day. To that point, we’re going with:
    • MASS COM MONDAY: Meant mostly for the folks using the “Exploring Mass Com” textbook. It’ll touch on a topic that could spark in-class discussion or provide an example of something rooted in the content of the mass com book.
    • WRITING AND REPORTING WEDNESDAY: This is what most folks are used to seeing here, with a look at anything from student media successes, exercises for writing or reporting, help with specific writing and reporting issues and more. This will pair with the “Dynamics” texts (News Writing and Reporting; Media Writing)
    • THROWBACK THURSDAY: Turns out, over six years, I actually did some stuff that was helpful. We’ll bring those things back to the forefront with the goal of updating and advancing them.
  • New(ish) look: I wanted to update the look of the blog, but apparently every other template WordPress uses felt like it was built by the same people who handi-craft the “Love” and “Bliss” wooden signs you see at every art mall. Either that or they focused on visuals. Very few, if any, relied on text. Thus, we just polished the site with a new header, some color changes and other stuff. (Still not sold on the color, but let me know what you think.)

This approach doesn’t mean we’re getting formulaic. If news breaks or someone wants me to cover stuff, that’ll supersede whatever I’m doing. If you want kind of a rank-order of what will get covered and when, here you go:

  1. Anything anyone requests: You send me a “You know what I  could  REALLY use?” email, and it moves to the top of the list.
  2. Breaking news: If it’s current and important and I think  you can use it in  class, I’ll go there, regardless of the scheduled post. If it happens on a non-publishing day, I’ll do it then, too.
  3. The planned post of the day: Mass Com Monday, Writing and Reporting Wednesday, Throwback Thursday.
  4. Some sort of snark I throw together when I’m behind on whatever I’m supposed to be doing or whenever writer’s block hits and I am trying to break through.

So, that’s the old, the new and so what’s up with you. I’ll be posting intermittently over the next month until school starts and the new formula comes into place.

In the mean time, if you have questions or thoughts, just hit me up on the contact page.


Vince (a.k.a. The Doctor of Paper)

GONE FISHIN’: Fortunate Son Edition

The weekend started on kind of an auspicious note, when Amy asked for Chinese food. Apparently, our local restaurant got its fortunes sponsored by the crypto-currency exchange, FTX, which collapsed in November amid allegations of financial malfeasance and fraud. Clearly, it’s hard to take advice from a company that has been compared to both Enron and Bernie Madoff, so that was a bit unsettling.

Even with that somewhat odd start and weather that could be described as “mid-November Seattle,” the weekend was a welcome end to my 15th year at UW-Oshkosh. We headed down to Milwaukee to celebrate Mother’s Day with my folks and had a wonderful time filled with food, laughter and fun.

As I sit here reflecting on the last three days and those 15 years, I realized that I really am extremely fortunate.

I get to see my parents on a regular basis and they are both still so vibrant and amazing. Whether it’s holidays or baseball card shows or rummage sale, we just enjoy each others’ company so much, it almost seems magical. When we chose to come home to Wisconsin all that time ago, Amy and I made the decision to give our daughter something we both treasured in our lives: The opportunity to spend more time with grandparents. Zoe has treasured that time and I know my parents have too. It was probably the best decision we’ve ever made.

I’m so lucky to have a wife who knows me like the back of her hand and a kid who still cares what I think, even as she climbs toward adulthood. I’m lucky to have a job I love, students with whom I have bonded and an office that serves as a shrine to way too many bobbleheads. I’m lucky I can enjoy my hobbies and help my wife enjoy hers.

I also know how lucky I am to have educators who trust me and use the books I’ve written. It’s a little weird when I run into people who tell me, “Hey, I’m using your book!” I’m grateful and embarrassed a bit at the same time, and it feels extremely weird to have my last name used as descriptor, as in “Don’t forget to read Filak Chapter 3 for the quiz…”

Without you all, my work is basically a coffee coaster or a shelf filler. I can’t thank you enough for that.

As is the tradition this time of year, the blog is going into hibernation for a bit. If anything crucial happens, I’ll hop back on for a day or two. Otherwise, we resume a weekly summer schedule somewhere around mid-June.

Have a great summer and thanks again.

Vince (a.k.a. The Doctor of Paper)

An Update on the “Exploring Mass Communication” launch

(Contrary to popular belief, this is not video taken outside of SAGE’s main office after I announced my intro to media book was almost ready to launch…)

After I published Tuesday’s post, announcing the launch of my intro to media text, “Exploring Mass Communication,” a few funny things happened:

  1. I finally learned what it was like to be a popular kid, which was super cool. I got a lot of notes from people I hadn’t heard from in a while and some from folks I’ve never met, congratulating me on finally moving the boulder to the top of the hill. I never knew that many people actually read this thing, so hearing from all of you was really, really special.
  2. I figured out that the “Contact” form on the website actually works, as a bunch of people were hitting me up to get hooked up with a desk copy. Of all the times I’ve noted, “Feel free to contact me,” this was the first time people actually really did that, so I was super pumped up about people being as nerd-level excited about this book as I was.
  3. My editors at SAGE freaked out.
    1. First, I don’t think they’re used to working with journalism people like me, who when we get information, we do something with it immediately. (I’d insert a video clip from “The Paper” here where Henry Hackett justifies stealing a scoop off the desk of a competing newspaper by saying, “You realize you were talking to a journalist,” but it ends with some “aggressive vernacular.” So, I’ll link it here instead. Wear headphones and don’t say I didn’t warn you.) Unless I’m told otherwise, if someone sends me something and I think other people are going to want to know that thing, I’m publishing it.
    2. Second, I think they read the headline as being a direct marketing pitch instead of a sarcastic note to my fellow burnt-to-a-crisp educators. They’re thinking, “Oh my GOSH! Professors are going to be expecting print copies on July 15 so they can put on those jackets with the elbow patches and peruse a full printed copy while quaffing wine on their decks for the remainder of the summer!”
      When they expressed that concern about unrealistic availability expectations, this was pretty much my response:
      Goodfellas Henry Hill GIF - Goodfellas Henry Hill Ray Liotta GIFs
      In short, I know my people, and this book release is not a “Harry Potter” midnight launch.
    3. Third, they weren’t expecting the kind of response you all gave them for this book. Usually, it takes a detailed strategy and a bunch of fliers and probably some begging to get people to look at a textbook. You all were like, “GIMME!” which, again, made me feel like a cool kid, so thanks again for that.

Rather than take down the previous post, as was suggested, I’m a fan of transparency in situations like this, so here’s the skinny on what is going on:

  • To clarify the launch dates: the Vantage/Digital edition is going live at the end of July for a soft launch. The printed version gets to the press this summer and will be available for purchase starting in January.
    I honestly don’t think that’s as huge of a panic point as my editors did. I mean, there’s NO WAY any of us were going to flip an entire pit class curriculum for a fall 2023 launch in SIX WEEKS based on a book we’ve never seen and a pitch from a dork who is writing a blog. Depending on if you’re normal or as twitchy as I am, this launch schedule gives you just the right amount of time to figure out which way you would like to see it and if it fits your needs.
  • Anyone who hit me up for a desk copy has been connected with my friend, Staci Wittek, in the marketing department and you’ll be hearing from her throughout the process, so you can decide if you want a digital peek or you want to wait for the dead-tree version. Either way, you’re on the guest list, so  you’ll be getting into the party. If you want to be added to “Staci’s Magic List of Wonder,” hit me up through the Contact Page and I’ll hook you up.
  • The folks at SAGE said that with the comparatively early launch of the digital version, they’ll be reaching out to some of the folks who were asking about the book, desk copies etc. to see if they want to be part of some sort of early adopter thing, where your class gets to be the first to test out the Vantage thing and such. For people who want to get going on taking a shot at using the book sooner rather than later, this is kind of a cool opportunity.
  • I’m still here, so if you have questions about the “Exploring” text or need a peek of something or other, hit me up and I’m at your disposal. The best part of my day, every day, is being helpful to folks, and I really do love working with people in this field, so feel free to reach out on this, any of the other books or anything in particular.

Hope that clears things up for everyone. And thanks again for making me feel cool. It made the whole five-year process totally worth it.

Have a great rest of the semester and a wonderful summer.

Vince (a.k.a. The Doctor of Paper)



For your summer reading pleasure: Vince Filak’s “Exploring Mass Communication”

Very little good can come from a 4 a.m. email., unless your publisher has an office in India:

To call this book a “journey” would be to call Godzilla a “lizard:” It’s both accurate and yet reductive. To put it in perspective, it took me less time to finish my undergrad degree (complete with two majors and two additional minor/sequence things) than it took to do this book. In fact, I think it took less time to finish my master’s and Ph.D. combined than it did to get this thing ready for public consumption.

It began when my editor/monorail salesperson and I were talking one summer and she did the, “I’m going to start another project… You probably wouldn’t be interested in it…” thing, and well… yeah… I bought the monorail.

For every book, I put a giant Post-It note on the wall, in which I check off chapter writing, editing and so forth. This time, I had to redo the Post-It three times, as changes and new ideas kept pouring in. We did at least six sets of chapter reviews, where we kept revising and resubmitting. (I’m working on a larger blog post on what this whole kind of process entails… It’ll be amusing, I promise.)

At one point I even asked my editor, “Look, can I like pay some kind of fee and just buy my way out of this contract?” The answer was no, which, in retrospect, was fortunate.

Here’s a sneak peek at what makes this book different from the 14 other intro texts I read at least five times each (no lie) and why I am glad we finally got here:

  • CHAPTER ORGANIZATION: One of the complaints students had about their textbooks was that they felt like they were playing a game of “Where’s Waldo?” to get the important information for the learning objectives or tests. For this book, we hit them in the face with it:
    • All learning objectives are listed at the front of the chapter.
    • Each chunk of the chapter has the specific LO listed with it.
    • At the end of each chapter, there’s a recap of the LO and the specific items that go with it.
    • In short, you know what you need to know and then we show you where to find it and how to use it.
  • PRACTICAL CONTENT: The goal of the book was to be both broadly theoretical and specifically practical in terms of application. Thus, we cover history, but we then explain WHY it matters. We talk about theories, but then we talk about HOW they can be applied. We also go through the ways in which the media interweaves in people’s lives in a variety of ways. Even more, we list off potential career options in each media field for the students.
  • INCLUSIVE APPROACH: We wanted this book to be more than a look at “the usual suspects” that we cover in many media overviews. Yes, there were a lot of straight white guys who did stuff that helped shape media today. That said, there are a lot of folks across the racial, gender and sexual orientation spectra who made huge differences and contributed in ways that often get overlooked or marginalized. (My favorite cool discovery: The first home gaming system that allowed people to use the “cartridge” approach wasn’t the Atari 2600, but was the Fairchild Channel F, created by Jerry Lawson, one of the few computer engineers of color back in the 1970s.)
    In each chapter, we tried our best to showcase the trailblazers as well as show a broader array of content that sought to be more seamless in our discussion of individuals who mattered (as opposed to loudly shouting, “Hey! Look over here! We’re featuring a Black History Moment!” every time we talked about someone other than a straight white guy).
  • TONS OF EXTRAS: Professors often want to have assignments or discussion questions available to help the students engage the material and demonstrate competence regarding the material. We dumped a boatload of options into this on the teaching website, but we also did targeted extras as well. Each chapter starts with several thought-provoking questions to “prime the pump” for students as they start reading. Each chapter also has discussion questions, activities and assignments at the end. In some of the features, we offer a “Next Step” approach to help students immediately apply what they’ve learned through a short writing assignment. And, is the case with every book in the “Filak Franchise” (I still can’t get used to that phrase…), I’m ready, willing and able to write a post, create an assignment or work with an instructor on something they want.
  • FORMATTING FUN: Not only do we break the chapters down into bite-sized chunks and simple subsections, but we also have the book available in all sorts of formats from traditional dead-tree books to online e-books and digital copies. SAGE even rolled this one into its Vantage system, which does an amazing job of integrating all sorts of resources and learning systems into the text.
    (In all honesty, I’m still not exactly sure how Vantage operates. All I know is that it’s either amazingly thorough and awesome or I’m part of a social science experiment where the people from SAGE are seeing how much superfluous stuff they can make me do by simply saying, “The Vantage System requires X…”)
    In short, if you learn better in a specific way, the book caters to it.
  • IT’S CHEAP(ER)(ISH): If there’s one thing I heard repeatedly over the past four years it was, “Textbooks cost too much money.” I get it, although after hearing in every review that “Cost will be a primary factor” in deciding whether to use the book or not, I pitched the idea to SAGE of renaming the book, “FILAK’S FIVE DOLLAR BOOK OF MEDIA STUFF” and then just writing whatever I wanted, however I wanted to do it. That was a “hard no” from the powers that be, but I did get them to price it under the others at the market and to make cheaper digital versions available  so that the kids don’t have to sell a kidney to read this thing.

I know that some people view textbooks (and subsequently textbook authors) as something between a door-to-door vacuum salesperson and that white stuff that grows in the corner of your mouth when you get really thirsty. That said, I’m honestly proud of what we’re trying to do here: Give instructors a good tool that can be helpful in teaching a new kind of student important material that can provide a foundation for a mass com intro class.

If nothing else, the cover is so pretty it made me smile, so that’s worth the five-year wait, right?

Despite my disdain for book pimping, if you are interested in getting a look at the book or a desk copy, hit me up through the contact page and I’ll get the SAGE folk in touch with you.


Vince (a.k.a. The Doctor of Paper)


A deeper look at a “Requiem for the Newsroom:” What we really lose as journalists when we lose that shared space and time

Maureen Dowd’s column in the New York Times last weekend poured one out for the old-time newsroom:

I’m mystified when I hear that so many of our 20-something news assistants prefer to work from home. At that age, I would have had a hard time finding mentors or friends or boyfriends if I hadn’t been in the newsroom, and I never could have latched onto so many breaking stories if I hadn’t raised my hand and said, “I’ll go.”

Mary McGrory, the liberal lioness columnist, never would have gotten to know me at The Star, so I never would have gotten invitations from her years later like this one: “Let’s go see Yasir Arafat at the White House and go shopping!”

As Mayer recalled, when a big story broke at The Star: “You could see history happening. People would cluster over a reporter’s desk, pile into the boss’s office, and sometimes break into incredibly loud fights. There were weirdos in newsrooms, and fabulous role models occasionally, and the spirit of being part of a motley entourage. Now, it’s just you and the little cursor on your screen.”

Dowd’s column toasts a lot of the things that I loved about newsrooms: The weird quirkiness of working with a group of people just this side of the cantina scene from “Star Wars,” the post-work drink/cuss sessions, the adrenaline pulsing through the entire building when a major story was in the works.

All of these things were fun, although I often wonder if most of them would exist today in our sterile, HR-driven, “watch these videos on (fill in the topic of the day that people fear getting sued over) so we can say we told you not to do X” environment. A veteran reporter once told me about his time as a newsroom cub when he got to know the veteran cops reporter. The woman, a rarity at that time, used to bring a six-pack of Pabst to the police station to loosen the tongues the cops she knew. She also carried a two-shot Derringer in her purse.

(I’d be more skeptical, except the source is one of the best journalists I’ve ever met. I’m still not good enough to carry that guy’s typewriter. Oh, and at one point when I complained of a headache and asked if he had something to ease the pain, he directed me to one of his desk drawers, which contained a fifth of some rot-gut vodka.)

Although it’s easy to look at the past with rose-colored glasses, I’m sure the newsrooms from “back in the day” weren’t all that great for women, people of color, non-Christians and other folks along those lines. However, the concept of a newsroom, that central junction point for people and ideas to germinate, remains essential to journalism for a number of reasons:

SIMPLE CONNECTIONS: As much as the internet connects us, it also allows us to be isolated in ways not possible in the newsroom of old. Yes, we can look up much more information online than we could get from a grouchy old copy editor who memorized the AP style guide and still remembers who won the mayoral run-off election back in 1963.

That said, I know that when I was working on a story that crossed news and sports boundaries, for example, I could walk 10 feet across the room to one of the sports folks and ask a couple questions about how they would approach a specific aspect of the story. The same was true when one of them needed some help on a story that involved an aspect of crime.

When I needed more context for a photo for which I had to write a caption, I could duck back into the photo bubble and ask the shooter what caught their eye. When the shooter had some information that mattered to the captions, I often got a visit at my desk. (I could always tell when something was important to Joe Jackson, one of my favorite photo folks, because he’d quietly place his hand softly on my shoulder before saying, “When I was taking this shot, I was seeing/thinking/feeling…” It made my job much easier and it helped me to better understand what to look for in quality photos.)

Years later, as an adviser, I knew that if I was in the newsroom, the kids would ask me to look at a layout or check a headline. They’d also yell, “Hey, Vince, is (X) a real word?” and I could yell back, “Not unless the dictionary’s changed in the last 5 minutes.” I also knew that they wouldn’t bother to call my house or email me to get those answers if I hadn’t been there.


COLLECTIVE WISDOM: Again, not to harp on how technology has changed us, but knowledge and wisdom aren’t the same thing. By merely being around good people who were doing their jobs well, I was better able to improve my own craft.

As I mentioned in a previous post, my desk at the State Journal was jammed up against the one Pat Simms occupied, putting me in the perfect position to basically get smarter through osmosis. I could hear how she used strong questions to quash BS answers before they could get started. I listened to how she worked a source until she was sure she had the best version of whatever the story was from that person. I also learned how to turn a story around quickly, with limited time and even less flab.

Spending time near editors like Phil Glende and Teryl Franklin (to name only a few) gave me a sense of how to find holes in a story and how to fix them if the reporter couldn’t. I watched the copy desk clean the copy thoroughly and quickly by figuring out who could do what the best and making sure that person got that specific job. In a lot of ways, watching the pros operate in person was like watching an orchestra perform live. (Some days it looked like Cirque du Soleil being performed with chainsaws on an oil-slicked linoleum floor, to be fair.)

It’s not the same when it’s not live.


SOCIAL NORMS: One of the best journal articles I ever read for my doctoral program was Warren Breed’s 1955 study of social norming within a newsroom. Breed examined the ways in which knowledge and practice was shared among those in a newsroom and found that journalists tended to eschew formal documents or written policies. Instead, they shared information one to another as a way of training younger generations to behave as those before them had.

Reflecting on his seminal study more than 40 years later, Breed recalled how he was writing about a parade of some kind and an older journalist advised him to hype up the patriotism. The vet mentioned that he should start with something about the bands playing and the flags flying. Breed did as he had been advised and was later praised for his effort. A few years later, he found himself doling out similar advice to a novice writer, who also led his story with the image of flags waving and bands performing.

The idea can seem a little problematic in some ways, especially if you realize that this can really narrow the view of what makes for “news” or how to “do news right.” However, a lot of the norms that I picked up in the newsroom meant a lot in terms of imbuing me with some important lessons.

For example, it’s easy to blow off a deadline (or a demanding editor, who is steaming over your inability to make a deadline) if you’re in your home 50 miles from the editor in question. However, when I watched a person blow a deadline by five minutes and then saw that five minutes turn into 10 more at the editor’s desk and 15 more at the copy desk, I saw the chain reaction associated with that failure. In addition, I knew when an editor was circling my desk like a shark, I stepped on the gas pedal a little harder in banging out whatever I was working on.

Even more, a lot of social norms that matter more now than ever get passed down from our mentors in a one-on-one situation. I know that journalistic malfeasance has happened as long as journalism has been around, but I know that feeling a stronger collective “we” made any one person less likely to take the easy way out. I can’t imagine having to see Teryl every day if I had faked a source, got caught and had to live with it in that newsroom. A random editor halfway across the country that I never met? I’d like to think I’d be just as honest, but I can’t say for sure.

I learned from folks like George Hesselberg that we get stuff right all the time. That’s a value that came from his mentor and I’m sure it came from someone else all the way back into an even further bygone era. The norms we shared remain in my mind to this day as well as the bonds of friendship we still share today.


FAMILY: This may be a bit more Polly-Anna-ish and more like what Dowd was talking about, but I have to admit, newsrooms and the people I met in them became like a second family to me.

(We used to joke at the Daily Cardinal that we were a family, in that we all drank and hurt one another, but I digress… Besides, the godparents of my kid came from that newsroom, so it couldn’t have been all bad…)

I’ve yet to hear a student come back to campus for a “Reporting Class” reunion or a “J-412 Tenth Anniversary Celebration,” but they come back for student media events. They reconnect with people who chewed the same dirt as they did in the windowless bunker that the university provided as a newsroom, where the coffee pot always burned everything to a crisp and the carpet smelled like wet feet.

They also connect with others from previous generations who have been through the same kinds of things. Just having lived through that experience makes them kindred spirits.

To lose those connective threads seems so sad to me, and I’m not even a people person.


The University of Wisconsin Madison is right that the First Amendment protects the speech of racist idiots, but that’s not as bad as it seems

THE LEAD: My alma mater made the news this week for all the wrong reasons:

A video of a University of Wisconsin student using racist slurs and references began circulating on multiple social media platforms Monday.

The video showed a white UW student using racial slurs and expletives directed toward the Black community. Others could be heard laughing at the rant in the background of the video.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Some media outlets have named this person and identified her as a UW-Madison sophomore. The U has only confirmed she is a student, and various other outlets have not verified her name. I couldn’t independently verify the person’s name, so I’m not using it. Restraint is the better part of valor in cases like this.)

SEE IT NOW: Here’s an “edited for TV” version of the video:




  • Mnookin is right about the First Amendment and the way in which it protects even the most odious speech. Governmental agencies cannot be curtail or punish speech, with a few notable exceptions, such as if the speech contains a true threat or falls under the fighting words doctrine of inciting imminent lawless action.
  • The second scenario clearly doesn’t apply here, as she wasn’t inciting a group to do something violent. As for the first one, not to appear glib here, but unless people viewing the video could realistically believe this student could become a ghost and haunt them, while forcing them to “pick cotton” until they died, it doesn’t apply either.
  • The First Amendment provides both the disease and the cure in this case, in that the best way to deal with bad speech is through more speech.
    • The students who have written on various platforms, expressing their outrage and sadness, are availing themselves of their right to speech and press.
    • The students who gathered to let the school know they aren’t happy with this student or the school’s response are availing themselves of their right to peaceably assemble.
    • The students signing the petition that demands this kid get the boot from Badger Town are relying on the right to petition the “government” for redress of grievances.
    • This is how this kind of thing is supposed to work.

DYNAMICS OF WRITING FLASHBACK: Sadly, this isn’t the first time the blog has looked at a situation like this. In 2019, here at UWO, a student posted images on Instagram to “out” several other students who had a whiteboard filled with slurs and a swastika flag in their home. At the time, we touched base with legal eagle Frank LoMonte for a walkthrough on free expression and what was likely to happen to the students who “expressed” themselves in this fashion.

DOCTOR OF PAPER HOT TAKE: I’m not in favor of suppressing speech at any level, even when it comes to terrible speech like this. It’s not that I like the student’s speech (I clearly don’t) but I know that if we start suppressing speech based on content or viewpoint, it’s only a matter of time before someone comes after YOUR content and viewpoint or MY content and viewpoint.

Therefore, what happened is abhorrent, but the backlash that has ensued illustrates a point many people truly don’t understand when it comes to the First Amendment: Free speech does not mean consequence-free speech.

That said, here are some things to think about regarding this situation that aren’t being talked about right now:

  • The university is wrong when it says it can’t boot this kid out of school.
  • Whether the university decides to bounce this kid or not, the outcome will be the same.
    • If I had to guess here, I’m thinking the U is running clock on this situation, hoping to get to the end of the semester and then figure out its next move. I don’t like that kind of mealy mouthed approach to dealing with this, but I also understand that the U might consider it the safest way forward from a legal perspective.
    • At this point, this kid has to know there is NO WAY she’s coming back to this campus in the fall, given the fallout she’s already faced. As more places confirm her name, it’s going to be everywhere and she’s not going to be able to escape the consequences of her stupidity. Think about every time a TA calls roll in a class and all the heads turn knowingly in  her direction. Think about who the hell is going to want to be her roomie next year. She’s headed somewhere else.

KEY TAKEAWAY: As frustrating as it is for ANYONE who thinks, “How the hell can this university let this racist idiot stay here and let her racist stupidity slide?” (And, I count myself among those feeling frustrated), I think a key thing to remember is that the First Amendment works.

  • Nobody stopped her from posting her stupidity, thus, her free speech rights remained intact.
  • The free speech reaction from seemingly everyone on this side of the planet regarding her stupidity has brought the issue to the forefront in a way that is forcing people to deal with the situation.
  • The continued pressure brought to bear in reaction to this student’s stupid expression is likely to create the proper outcomes:
    • The kid is catching hell from every corner of the universe.
    • The kid is likely to be “gone” from school.
    • The school is likely to further solidify its position against people who behave like this.
    • The message of, “We’re not there yet,” when it comes to issues of race is once again highlighted.
    • In light of all of this, the university is going to have to pony up more time, resources and education to deal with this issue.

In the end, all of this is the result of speech and the protections afforded to it in this country.

Today’s End-Of-Semester Vibe

How I feel going into the final two weeks of the semester:

The blizzard (real snow, no kidding) on May 1 and my half-empty classrooms aren’t helping matters any, but believe me, these last two weeks can’t finish up fast enough.

I’m working on a few longer pieces with more detailed stuff, so this week might literally be just this, but we will at least end the semester on a bang.

Or I’ll look like this lady in the video.:


Vince (a.k.a. The Doctor of Paper)

A Resolution to Cardi B’s False Light Lap Flap Suit and a Reminder to Be Careful in Taking Stuff off the Internet (A Throwback Post)

I apparently haven’t been paying enough attention to Cardi B these days, as I managed to miss the jury verdict in October related to “tattoo-gate” and her album cover I’m still not allowed to show you:

Rapper Cardi B didn’t violate a man’s right of publicity by transposing his back tattoo onto a model for the racy cover of her 2016 mixtape, a California federal jury said Friday.

Kevin Brophy Jr. initially sought $5 million for the transposition of his distinctive full-back tattoo onto the back of another man suggestively performing a sex act on Cardi B on the cover of “Gangsta Bitch Music Vol. 1.” A jury disagreed, apparently accepting the rapper and reality TV star’s argument that the 2016 cover for her first mixtape was transformative fair use.

In December, a judge denied Brophy’s appeal:

“The jury had an ample basis for its verdict. For example, the jury could have reasonably concluded that the back tattoo on the model on the mixtape cover at issue in this suit was not sufficiently identifiable with Brophy to constitute misappropriation of his likeness or depiction in a false light. Because the model’s face is not visible, identification based on facial appearance is impossible,” Judge Carney wrote.

Even more compelling, he wrote, was the small part the tattoo played in the overall composition of the cover art.

That said, Brophy isn’t giving up. In January, he attempted to revive the suit, arguing that the original trial had significant problems with it.

The first of these alleged prejudicial errors of law involves Brophy Jr.’s purportedly being “deprived of his fundamental and substantial right to cross-examine Cardi B at trial.” Ahead of this trial, the court determined that “each party would have two opportunities to examine each witness,” per Brophy Jr.’s motion.


Regarding the second of the above-noted “prejudicial errors of law,” the filing likewise takes aim at the court’s alleged decision to exclude evidence from Cardi B’s separate defamation trial. The “Up” artist won the latter (albeit as a plaintiff) with the same trial counsel as in the tattoo suit, and Brophy Jr. says that the defamation matter’s claims “are strikingly similar to the claims in this case.”

I still have no idea how he didn’t manage to pull a false-light claim out of this, other than the idea that the model didn’t look enough like him to make people think he was the “model.” Either that, or he couldn’t prove that reasonable people would find it “highly offensive” to be considered the “lap friend” of Cardi B on that album cover.

In any case, here’s a look back at how this all got started and a couple good lessons that still stand up, regardless of who ends up winning…



Cardi B’s “Invasion of Privacy” prequel gets her sued on allegations of invasion of privacy (and two things you can learn from this debacle)

Trying to find fresh and relevant cases involving “misappropriation” or “false light” claims of invasion of privacy can be difficult.

Thank God for Cardi B.

A suit that is headed to trial later this year will determine if the rapper engaged in both of these acts when she included a distinctive tattoo on one of her album covers:

A federal judge in Santa Ana, California, has refused to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that a man’s distinctive back tattoo was used without his permission in a sexual picture on an album cover by rapper Cardi B.

U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney of the Central District of California refused to dismiss the suit by plaintiff Kevin Michael Brophy Jr., who sports a full back tattoo that shows a tiger battling a snake.


Brophy said his likeness was misappropriated in the photoshopped image in “a misleading, offensive, humiliating and provocatively sexual way.” He alleges misappropriation of likeness or identity, violation of the right to publicity under California law, and false light invasion of privacy.

Based on the decency standards my editors have for me here, I can’t include a copy of the album cover (I tried adding it to a Facebook post on this and I got flagged for violating community standards…). I also can’t mention the title of the album cover or even EXPLAIN what it is that is happening ON the album cover here.

Just Google “Cardi B,” “album cover” and “Gangsta” and you’ll like find it.

Essentially, let’s just say that Cardi B is drinking a beer while the male model upon whom Brophy’s back tattoo has been superimposed is doing something where the tattoo is fully visible and the man’s face is not.

The concept of misappropriation is the use of someone’s image without their approval. A simple example of this would be if one of my students was running for student body president and thought my endorsement would be valuable to him. Thus, he grabbed a photo of me teaching and included it on his posters without asking for my endorsement.

False light claims tend to put two true things close enough together that people will see them as related, even if they’re not. In cases like these, the court is looking at the “gist” of the material to see if a falsehood is implied. For example, in Solano v. Playgirl, Inc., actor Jose Solano won a false-light suit after the magazine published his photo along with headlines implying he posed nude in the magazine, which he did not.

Some states, like Colorado, don’t recognize these kinds of legal nuances, rolling them instead into either general defamation or copyright claims, depending on what is at the core of the case. In other cases, the claims are without merit and get tossed quickly, leaving few true battles over who has the right to control a personal image.

In this case, it’s a daily double, in that the “misappropriation” claim of Brophy’s image (it’s a heck of a tattoo…) and the “false light” claim (that isn’t Brophy on the cover, but anyone who knows him and that tattoo would be hard-pressed to determine that on first glance) seem to fit the definitions perfectly.

The rapper’s legal team asked a federal judge to toss the suit back in December, arguing the album art was covered under a fair-use claim, in that the reworking of the tattoo into the piece made the work transformative. The court disagreed and the case will move forward to trial in the near future.

To say Cardi B is displeased with these allegations would be a slight understatement, based on her deposition:

“I’m really upset because I really have to be with my kid. All because of some bulls**t trying to get money and then $5,000,000. Are you f***ing kidding me? That mixtape didn’t even make, not even a million dollars.” Cardi added, “I got real lawsuits with real sh**, and I got to deal with this bulls**t. This is four hours long taking away from my time, my job, my motherhood.”

Ah, yes… If I close my eyes, I can almost hear my own mother’s voice uttering those exact words…

In any case, regardless of how this turns out, here are two key things you can learn from just watching this train wreck take place:

Permission for use solves almost everything: In reading through the coverage of this case and the depositions, it turns out the guy who designed the cover just Googled “back tattoo” and grabbed this one at random. (It also turns out he was paid $50 to build the cover, which could be the cautionary tale of “You get what you pay for,” I suppose.)

I would bet every dollar in my pocket right now against a pile of nothing that when this guy built the cover, he NEVER thought anyone would complain about their image being used in this fashion. The… let’s call it “up close with Cardi B”… nature of this image would likely be bragging rights for almost every human male on the planet, I would imagine.

In this case, he appears to have found the one guy with the one tat who didn’t feel this way. That’s why it’s important to ask people for permission to use their stuff. I could assume that any journalism outlet would LOVE to have its stories or photos or illustrations included in a textbook to illustrate how the true greats of the field operate. However, my publisher believes in covering its keester, so we have permission forms that get signed and stored.

Maybe Brophy is making a power play and could care less how he would be portrayed on an album cover, so long as he got paid. Maybe Brophy is truly a man who views this representation of him as “misleading, offensive, humiliating and provocatively sexual,” and is truly upset by this. Who knows? The key is that it’s his right to have his body portrayed as he sees fit, which is why this is going to court.

Permission would have made this much easier to figure out, so make sure you get it.

“But it’s JUST for X” is never an excuse: Somewhere in the sprawling field of asterisks that populate Cardi B’s quote above is the notion that the album only made $1 million, so to have to pay out $5 million is ridiculous. The problem here is that she’s not being sued for a portion of revenue. She’s being sued to penalize her for her actions.

The law can be more or less forgiving in certain situations, but it is the law. Therefore, deciding to steal something and then say, “but it was JUST…” isn’t necessarily going to keep you out of trouble. I can’t remember how many times I’ve critiqued a high school or college paper that basically stole an image and published it. (Writing “Photo courtesy of Google” didn’t make it any better.) When I pointed out how much trouble this could create, I got the “Well, it’s JUST for a HIGH SCHOOL newspaper. I’m sure people have better things to do that try to sue us.”

Maybe. But a) Is that a risk you want to take? and b) Is that the lesson you want to teach your students? (“Steal small, kids, and you’ll never have to take responsibility for it!”)

I’ve seen this happen both ways, with bigger news outlets stealing from student newspapers (One told my photographer, “You’re just a student publication. You should be happy we’re using your work…” Um… No…) and student papers stealing from the big dogs. Both cases are wrong and in both cases, you can get into trouble for doing it.

I’m sure this guy who got paid $50 to design this thing for one of the myriad women who would likely crash and burn on “Love and Hip Hop” was thinking, “I’m just doing this thing for beer money. No way anyone buys this stupid thing.” However, he hit big, so now everyone is paying the price.

It’s like speeding: Sure, you might get away with five over, but when the cop in Rosendale pulls you over for doing 31 in a 30, the “But I was just speeding a little!” excuse is not going to fly.