Back to normal: Read the Official Statement from the Oshkosh Area School District regarding the North Star

When I first met Brock Doemel, and we discussed the situation he and the North Star found themselves in as a result of his article on Hans Nelson, I asked him what his goal would be if he could have anything come of this. He told me:

“I would want all our writers to be able to go back to the way it was,” he said. ” I want them to let us do (the North Star) without school censoring… I want Jason’s job to be safe. I want a free student press at our school.”

It looks like he got it. The district released a statement about 10 minutes ago that you can read in its entirety below.

Honestly, I’m not 100 percent sure on every twist and turn in this, but I absolutely give credit where credit is due: The District appears to be moving in the right direction on this.

P2_Page_1P2_Page_2

UPDATE: Oshkosh Superintendent responds to your emails regarding the Oshkosh North Star with a blanket PR statement about freedom.

If you’ve been following along with the prior post about Oshkosh North High School administrators censoring student media, trying to force a student journalist to give up a confidential source and relying on a policy of prior restraint, here’s your update of the day.

It seems you have been emailing the administration with your concerns, as was witnessed by this response a friend forwarded me:

NorthStarResp

The policies that were passed were part of the board’s overall policy revisions as suggested by NEOLA, a policy mill with a strong anti-student rights stance where free speech and press are involved.

In the following days and weeks, we’ll be digging into what all of this involves, but in the meantime, please feel free to continue to email the following people and express yourself regarding this North Star situation. You might get a robo-response like this one, suitable for framing. Or the wheels might start turning toward student press freedom once again.

  • Oshkosh North Principal Jacquelyn Kiffmeyer: jacquelyn.kiffmeyer@oshkosh.k12.wi.us
  • Oshkosh Superintendent Vickie Cartwright:
    vickie.cartwright@oshkosh.k12.wi.us 
  • Barbara Herzog, the school board president:
    herzogb@uwosh.edu

More to follow as it becomes available.

The Oshkosh North Star needs your help after administrators censor the publication, demand the name of a confidential source and move to prior restraint.

I spent my Wednesday morning at the Northeastern Wisconsin Scholastic Press Association convention, teaching high school students how to write effective headlines for their publications. I spent the night teaching high school administrators and school board members why censoring and prior review are bad things. If I had to bet on where I was more effective, I’d put my money on the kids, even though I certainly hope not.

In both environments was Brock Doemel, a senior at Oshkosh North High School, who writes for the school’s publication, the North Star. Doemel found himself in hot water when he had the temerity to publish a factually accurate story on the paper’s website about the resignation of an administrator at his school. Assistant Principal Hans Nelson’s office was empty for two weeks and Nelson was nowhere to be found. Eventually, the district released a happy-time note indicating that Nelson was graciously moving to a position at another school teaching special education.

Doemel, however, got a source to confirm to him that Nelson had been placed on a two-week suspension after he locked off all the bathrooms in the school and lied about it to administrators. A legal threat led to an agreement to land Nelson elsewhere, Doemel said in an interview Wednesday morning.

The story spent about 20 minutes on the website before officials had it yanked down, claiming that this somehow violated privacy rules:

Oshkosh schools superintendent Vickie Cartwright says the article breached Nelson’s privacy and violated the district’s policy.

“Anytime that you’re dealing with any types of things that would infringe upon the rights of others, as a public employee, I do have to implement anything and put in protections for those individuals,” Dr. Cartwright said.

Doemel explained in our interview that Principal Jacquelyn Kiffmeyer wasn’t even that clear about the reason for pulling down the story.

“I’m not even sure how she saw it so fast,” Doemel said. “She had it pulled down in less than 20 minutes. She said it was a ‘legal issue’ for anything to go on the website like that before the issue was settled. She didn’t even explain anything else.”

What Kiffmeyer did instead was require the North Star to post an unedited letter she wrote on its website that refuted the story that is no longer available. In the letter, she stated that it was removed due to “inaccurate and unverifiable content” and that the story “did not include credible information or sources.”

She also began harassing Doemel to give up his source. He said Kiffmeyer pulled him out of multiple classes over a week’s time to demand information about his source. He estimates this cost him about seven total hours of education.

“She requested my working notes,” he said. “I refused to identify the source… My mom works at the middle school and at one point they called the middle school’s principal and accused him of being the source.” (UPDATE NOTE: The principal talked to Brock late Thursday and wanted to clarify that the call made to him regarding the story was not accusatory, but instead a call from a friend at central office to let him know that the district was looking into him as a possible source.)

The situation got increasingly intense, Doemel said, noting that “it felt like I was guilty of a national security crime.” Some of the questions were intent on pinning down potential sources, such as “Is this person an administrator?” and “Is this source a man or a woman?” Doemel said other questions felt vague and threatening, such as “Brock, do you have a sister?”

“At one point, she placed her hands on the desk and leaned toward me,” Doemel said, mimicking the action. ” She said, ‘Sooner or later Brock, you’re going to tell me who your source was.'”

(INTERESTING SIDE NOTE: The whole point of this story being pulled down, according to Kiffmeyer’s own letter, was that the source wasn’t credible, and yet Kiffmeyer doesn’t know who the source is. Furthermore, nothing she said in any of those meetings, according to what Doemel told me, or in that letter explains WHAT was inaccurate or HOW it was wrong.)

Instead of giving up his source, Doemel and fellow North Star staffer Tess Fitzhenry filed an open-records request with the district to find out what happened to Nelson. What they received was a response letter unlike anything I’ve ever seen:

BrockFirstLTR

The law allows for fees to be used to recoup costs associated with record copying and such, although such fees are often used as a way of limiting access to documents. In this case, the students had a financial backer who agreed to cover whatever the cost was. That said, I’d bet my house on the fact that if the students had requested a similar number of records that revealed every good-time happy moment that happened in the district, the fee would have been waived.

The bigger issue was the requirement in the second response paragraph. Doemel said administrators had previously demanded the North Star’s passwords and logins and had also searched adviser Jason Cummings’ computer for information on this story. This letter essentially plays an illegal game of quid pro quo: Give us your information and we’ll fulfill the request.

“The Wisconsin Open Records law is not a bargaining chip,” SPLC’s Senior Legal Counsel Mike Hiestand told me in an email. “It is the law. They can’t withhold public records until the students turn over passwords — or whatever other demands they’re making.”

The students, who were working with Hiestand on this request, sent back a response in mid-March, noting that they were fine paying the costs, they want the records and they won’t turn over anything to make this happen. The students didn’t hear back until Wednesday morning with essentially more of the same:

BrockLTR1

Again, in case you’re not clear on the law, this approach is illegal. If the records are public and someone makes a request for them, you have to turn them over. You can’t hang caveats on these responses, aside from copying costs or other legal matters, such as notification issues, which this letter does note. I was willing to prove that point by filing my own request, paying the exact amount in advance and seeing what would happen next. Doemel called the district office while we were all at this journalism convention Wednesday and asked, point blank, if the release of the records was contingent upon the release of the passwords. Cartwright said no, something she reiterated at the board’s listening session Wednesday night.

“Brock, I do want to make it very clear, we have every intention of processing your request, the only element that is missing, at this point in time, is the financial commitment for the request,” she said.

What remains, however, are several pressing issues:

  • The story is still censored.
  • The students are locked out of their ability to post content without administrative approval (in other words, they’re operating under prior review and prior restraint).
  • Doemel said anything he writes has been embargoed and must go through a specific administrative review.
  • The district is operating under a draconian policy that governs student media, something that was passed a few years back without anyone in the student media area really noticing. In the decades prior to that, the North Star operated under the doctrine of open public forum.
  • Cummings is still in trouble and Doemel said the students fear for his job.

Doemel said he doesn’t want to create serious problems at the school or be a thorn in the side of the district. All he wants is to be able to do his job.

“I would want all our writers to be able to go back to the way it was,” he said. ” I want them to let us do (the North Star) without school censoring… I want Jason’s job to be safe. I want a free student press at our school.”

HERE’S HOW YOU CAN HELP:

Kiffmeyer

This is Oshkosh North Principal Jacquelyn Kiffmeyer. You can email her at: ‎

jacquelyn.kiffmeyer@oshkosh.k12.wi.us

and tell her if you dislike the censorship of student journalists, if you are concerned about the tone she took in trying to get a journalist to reveal his source or if you want the this situation resolved in a way that protects journalistic principles and the job of the adviser.

 

Cartwright_Vickie_cropped

This is Oshkosh Superintendent Vickie Cartwright. You can email her at:

vickie.cartwright@oshkosh.k12.wi.us

and tell her if you want to see the North Star return to the days of no prior review or prior restraint, if you want to see important stories and if you support the rights of student journalists. You might also encourage her to work with the board to undo the policies implemented in the 2015-16 era that undercut student press rights.

 

Herzog

This is Barbara Herzog, the school board president. You can email her at:

herzogb@uwosh.edu

Herzog noted in the listening session that policies like the one done to undermine student press rights can be reviewed and revised through the board. Someone just has to bring it up to the board and a board member has to take it to the policy and governance committee. From there, if it passes it goes to the whole board. Feel free to email her if you would like her to know that you want this to happen, that the policies are in need of revision and that the school district needs an open public forum for all of its publications.

Finally, you can reach the staffers of the North Star via their website. You can also post some positive thoughts on their Facebook page here or reach out via Twitter (they only have nine followers, so maybe we can help them get a boost, too).

Let these folks know they’re not alone, that you support their rights and that you have their back. One of the things I have seen over the years in terms of “admin vs. student pub” battles is that the districts often win when they make the students feel scared, isolated and weak. When the kids win, it’s because they feel like pros, profs and other folks interested in free press have their back.

Help if you can.

 

“Go take pictures of birds:” What happens when so-called adults treat student journalists poorly (and three tips for dealing with the situation properly)

When it comes to crime or disasters, the folks working the scene have a job to do and journalists need to respect that. However, respect goes both ways, something a firefighter interacting with journalists from The (El Camino College) Union didn’t quite understand:

The firefighter told (Rosemary) Montalvo, an assistant photo editor who was taking pictures of the scene, to “Go take pictures of birds,” she said.

“In my head I said ‘OK, we’re not going to get anywhere with him,’ so I decided to say ‘can I have your name and your badge number,” Montalvo said.

The firefighter refused, and said he intentionally was wearing nothing that would identify him, Montalvo said.

This isn’t the first time a student journalist met with the journalistic equivalent of a “Go (expletive) yourself” comment from a person in power. A few years back, a journalist for the Royal Purple, the paper at UW-Whitewater, apparently ran afoul of the school’s head football coach, who told him the perennial D-III national champions were off limits to the paper:

According to a story in the student paper, Leipold took the action after becoming angry over an editorial titled, “Spoiled athletes need reality check.”

Leipold then initially decided that no one from the student-run newspaper could call anyone associated with the football program unless he approved. And he said coaches or players would not be allowed to answer questions from student reporters during the 2009 season.

“The door is shut,” Leipold said Wednesday. “Go cover soccer…”

Leipold later apologized for his actions, but the sense that student journalism is some how “less than” really should bother anyone associated with journalism. I recall one incident in which our student paper’s photo editor went to the police station to request a mug shot we needed. The person at the desk flatly denied one existed for the photo editor. When the editor pointed to a copy of the photo pinned to a cork board over this woman’s desk, her response was, “Oh, that’s for the real newspaper in town,” meaning the city paper, the Muncie Star-Press. He returned empty handed and fuming.

The situation that bothered me the most, however, was one in which a student reporter told a broadcast news professor that she had to skip a class to cover a bit of breaking news. He responded that when she was done “playing journalist,” she should consider the importance of making it to class.

I get that nobody likes getting skipped out on, but a professor in a media field should clearly understand that breaking news happens and that insinuating that this was playing a Fisher-Price “My First Journalism” game is disingenuously insulting. Student journalists run the same risks as anyone else when it comes to being in the field. An active shooter doesn’t say, “Oh, you’re just PLAYING journalist, so let’s skip you…” A fire doesn’t go out of its way not to burn a student because, well, it’s just make-believe journalism. If you don’t believe me that student journalists risk a lot, go take a look at the Cavalier Daily’s coverage of the “Unite the Right” rally a few years back. Tear gas stings everyone equally and there were a lot of folks with guns out there who probably weren’t checking press passes to see which people were “real journalists.”

Student journalists also operate under the same First Amendment freedoms and run the same legal risks as anyone else. A student who libels a professor doesn’t get a “do-over” or something. A student publication that violates copyright can’t fight off a lawsuit with a hand-drawn “I’m berry berry sorry” card and a coupon for a “super-duper feature” in the next issue. People on the receiving end of problematic coverage from a student media outlet can decide to what degree they want to press the point legally, the same as if the offending work appeared in the New York Times.

When confronted with people who decide that your work lacks merit, simply because you are a student, consider these thoughts:

 

Remain Calm: When something essentially tries to treat you like a child, nothing proves their point better than if you act like one. Sure, that chucklehead is violating the Bill of Rights, flouting the law and basically ticking you off, but it’s much better to be in the right than to give that person ammunition to use against you later. A good rule of thumb: The worse your opponent acts, the more decent you should act.

 

Follow the Law: The approach the students at The Union took was perfect: Here’s the law, we’re just fine and we’re not going anywhere. They knew what their rights were and why it was they could do what they wanted. This is why most journalism programs make law a required course and why most student media organizations stress it for their staffers.

The Union folks also took a great step when they asked for identifying information from the official so they could deal with this after they did their job. The fact the guy did the, “You can’t make me! Neener, Neener, Neeeeenerrrr” thing pretty much made it clear he knew he was wrong. The staff followed up on the issue later with the fire department and got a nice apology from officials there, who promised to look into this issue.

 

Stay Safe: This is especially true when you cover chaotic or breaking situations. The law can protect you from a lot of ramifications, but sometimes, being right, calm and lawful won’t make you whole. The conversation I had with Tim Dodson from Virginia really drove home that point: He was watching people carry torches and guns, dealing with tear gas and riotous conditions and looking at a situation that ended with at least one person dead. Did he and his staff have the right to be there? Absolutely. If something had gone wrong, was the law on their side? Totally.

However, none of that helped if some idiot decided to punch him out or someone started shooting. The same thing is true if you find yourself covering a fire that is raging out of control. The law might make you judgment-proof, but it won’t make you fire-proof.

(A fire captain once told me a story about a broadcaster who wanted to do a stand-up in front of a building that was still on fire. He told her not to stand where she wanted to stand and then he left the area. She then immediately went to that spot to do the stand up, only to find that something the firefighters were doing caused several windows to explode outward. She was showered in flaming debris and almost hurt badly.)

This is why good relations between public safety professionals and media members is crucial. I was lucky to know a number of police and fire folks who were good to me over the years when I was a reporter. We respected each other, so when one of them told me, “Stand here” or “Don’t go over there,” I trusted it was for my own good and the good of the integrity of their operation. If I had experienced what the students at The Union experienced, I might have stood elsewhere or went somewhere that could have been dangerous.

I hope that future exchanges between those folks and public safety officers are better, because trust and credibility can make a huge difference when it comes to working together to get both of their jobs done.

 

 

Journalism 101: Use the right damned word…

Nothing will make your journalism professor get twitchier faster than if you let spellcheck guide your writing. Just because something is spelled correctly, it doesn’t always stand to reason that you are using the right word.

Being wrong isn’t fun, but having to deal with people who are repeatedly wrong isn’t a picnic, either. After constantly running into a series “close enough” errors, I asked the hivemind for the most irritating gaffes they see on a regular basis, most of which drive them to ask, “Why can’t you use the right damned word?” Below are several areas in which folks noted errors that made them want to pour scotch in their coffee and bleach in their eyes:

 

The “there’s a difference between ‘astigmatism’ and ‘a stigmata'” category:

alot: Not a damned word

a lot: Either a whole bunch of something or a plot of land. “Jimmy was poor as a child and thus ate a lot of Ramen as he grew up.” OR “I want to build a house on a lot near Omro.”

allot: Give a portion of something. “The moderator will allot equal amounts of time to each debater.”

 

aight: Not a damned word

alright: Still not really a damned word.

all right: Everything is now all right, because you spelled it right.

 

apart: Not part of, or not together. “My parents got divorced, so they now live apart from one another.”

a part: A component of something. “My carburetor is a part of my Mustang.”

 

decent: Something that is passably functional. “Ellen did a decent job on her paper, but there’s no way she’s getting an A.”

descent: Falling or moving downward or a historic lineage. “The Millers found out they were of Hungarian descent.” OR “The descent from the mountain took the climbers longer than expected.”

 

definitely: Absolute certainty: “I definitely want to see the Milwaukee Bucks win an NBA title this year.”

defiantly: In opposition to with anger: “The toddler defiantly flung himself to the floor and screamed that he didn’t want to leave Chuck E. Cheese.”

 

diffuse: Spread out over a large area. “If you light that scented candle, it will diffuse the smell of coconuts and pine throughout the house.”

defuse: Remove danger or literally remove a fuse. “Archer had to get his turtle neck and wire cutters to defuse the bomb.”

 

eager: Excited in a good way; wanting to do something. “I was eager to get the Mustang out of storage so I could start driving it around town.”

anxious: Excited in a bad way; worried and fearful; experiencing dread. “I was anxious about getting the Mustang out of storage because I was worried it wouldn’t start.”

 

everyone: All of the people in a group; synonymous with everybody. “Everyone will have to fill out a new TPS form before the payroll department will issue checks.”

every one: Each individual person involved; followed by “of” usually: “I would like to thank every one of you who volunteered for my campaign.”

everybody: Synonymous with everyone; refers to all the people: “Everybody who wants to play cards tonight should be here by 9 p.m.”

every body: Each individual physical body. “Every body we found on the streets during the zombie apocalypse was missing at least one limb.”

 

fazes: Bothers or creates problems for someone. “Nothing ever fazes Corey Kluber when he’s pitching in the playoffs.”

phases: Created or completed in stages or components. “The office park was constructed in three phases over a five-year period.”

 

lose: The opposite of win. “When I play checkers with my father, I always lose.”

loose: The opposite of tight. “The knot in Zoe’s shoelaces was loose and quickly came undone.”

 

then: Something that happens next. “I drank six tequila slammers and then threw up.”

than: A word of comparison. “I like butter pecan better frozen custard than vanilla ice cream.”

 

The “This is really awkward if you screw it up” category:

incompetence: An inability to adequately complete certain tasks. “He claimed to be a great plumber, but after he flooded three houses, his incompetence was clear.”

incontinence: Lack of control over one’s bladder or bowels. “A stroke caused her incontinence, which forced her to wear adult diapers for the rest of her life.”

 

bowl: A food dish or a game involving pins, an alley and a ball. “Jimmy will always eat a bowl of cereal when he wants a snack.” OR “My father is the only person I know to bowl a perfect game.”

bowel: The intestine or the deepest part of something: “Jimmy ate too much cereal and had some bowel discomfort.”

 

prostate: A gland between a man’s bladder and penis. “Carl’s father was diagnosed with prostate cancer.”

prostrate: To lay flat. “The peasant will prostrate himself before the king to show his respect.”

 

jive: A form of slang that sounds amazing when Mrs. Cleaver from “Leave it to Beaver” lets it roll.

 

jibe: In accordance with what one believes. “Bill said the moon was made of green cheese, but that doesn’t jibe with what I learned in my astronomy class.”

 

 

And then there are phrases that are just wrong:

All of the sudden: You mean “all of a sudden.”

Another words: You mean “in other words.”

Could of: You mean “could have.”

For all intensive purposes: You mean “for all intents and purposes.”

Thrown to the ground or Fell to the ground: This only works when that person or thing is outside. Otherwise, it’s “fell to the floor” or “thrown to the floor.”

I could care less: You mean you “couldn’t care less” as in you literally could not give less of a damn about something, regardless of how hard you tried.

And finally, you don’t get French benefits (like a nice beret or some good onion soup). You get fringe benefits, otherwise known as “perks” or “lulus” according the AP style book.

 

Former Georgia State Rep. Andy Welch proposes legislation to stop journalists from being so mean to him.

As we’ve explained repeatedly here before, just because you don’t like what journalists are doing, it doesn’t mean that it’s illegal, immoral or unethical. Apparently, Andy Welch, an outgoing state representative in Georgia, didn’t get the message, given his attempt to create a Journalism Ethics Board in his state:

The measure was sponsored by Rep. Andy Welch, R-McDonough, a lawyer who has expressed frustration with what he saw as bias from a TV reporter who asked him questions about legislation recently. He said he thinks the profession could benefit by setting ethical standards for all journalists to follow. Five other Republicans signed on to sponsor the bill.

Welch, who was unopposed in his November 2018 reelection bid, submitted this bill with the approach of a kid pulling a Halloween prank that involved a flaming bag of dog poo:

 Welch announced he would be resigning from the General Assembly after the session, which ended Tuesday. However, his bill remains alive for consideration during the 2020 session.

The bill would force the chancellor of the University of Georgia System to set up the board, which I hope would be referred to as “The JEB.” It would also require “The JEB” to establish the “canons of ethics” for journalism in the state, a “voluntary accreditation” system, a grievance process and a series of sanctions for people who violated whatever it is that this group established as “canons.”

Beyond these rather annoying bad ideas comes some horribly bad ones:

If approved, the bill would also mandate that anyone interviewed by the media would be able to request and receive copies of photographs and audio and video recordings taken by reporters and photographers. Such copies would have to be provided free of cost, even though state and local governments are allowed to charge the public for copies of any documents it provides.

If a media outlet refuses to provide the copies, it would be subject to a lawsuit and a civil penalty, under the bill.

Various media organizations, including the National Press Photographers Association and the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, have already spoken out against this idea. I offered a law expert/journalism faculty member a chance to offer some thoughts on this thing happening in his state, but he declined, noting it wasn’t “worth my getting involved.”

He’s right that this is way beneath him to dignify something this dumb with a response. Fortunately, there’s very little beneath me, so I figured I’d outline a few points that might inform or amuse anyone worried about this:

 

We already have something like this, only better, clearer and non-Draconian. The Society for Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, which you can find here, outlines the ways in which ethical journalists are expected to behave as they ply their trade. Michael King, president of the NPPA, pointed this out as he highlighted both groups’ codes in his statement about the bill:

Ironically, the bill calls for the creation of an ethics board to be housed at the University of Georgia-Athens’ Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, where NPPA is headquartered. We have confirmed that the bill was introduced without their knowledge or approval.

Robust codes of ethics — including NPPA’s and SPJ’s — have existed for decades and are widely accepted as industry standards. No agent of any government should play any role in setting ethical or accreditation standards for journalism.

What you don’t see in either code is a “crime and punishment” section, because, um… that’s not the point of an ethical code. In couching his “law” as an “ethics” issue, Welch is trying to circumvent the First Amendment, which a) prohibits most of what he’s trying to accomplish and b) was established as a Constitutional right for a reason (namely the Founding Fathers saw the importance of a free and unfettered press, even if Andy Welch doesn’t).

 

Something shouldn’t be illegal just because you don’t like it. We pretty much covered this concept with our look at John Oliver, Bob Murray and the infamous Mr. Nutterbutter, but for those of you who missed it, enjoy this link.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Welch and several other legislators don’t like the way the media down there keep digging into their sketchy behavior. Welch himself was rather perturbed with questions from a TV reporter that he felt were biased. What those questions entailed, the AJC doesn’t make clear, but given his thin skin on this topic, I’m guessing they were only slightly tougher than this hard-hitting set of inquiries:

It’s unfortunate that Welch doesn’t like being questioned on things that he’s doing as a legislator, but that’s part of the gig when you take the job. (It’s like taking a job as the person who has to empty the Port-O-Johns at the county fair and then complaining about all the crap you have to deal with (literally) every day. As nice as it would be for you to mandate that people “hold it until they get home” so that your job would be easier, that’s not gonna happen.)

King notes in the NPPA statement that the organization will keep an eye on this bill for a variety of reasons including “the abrupt resignation of its author from the Georgia General Assembly.” The purpose of the media in this country is to hold our leaders to account for whatever it is we think the citizenry needs to know, which for me will include what led to this “abrupt resignation.” (Google news alert, here I come!)

We’re paid to be nosy and dig into stuff, even if it’s stuff you don’t like.

 

We don’t license journalists in this country, something for which Welch should be thankful. As bad of an idea as this is, and as horrible as it would be for journalism, and as unconstitutional as it is, I would LOVE to see this thing happen for JUST ONE DAY for one simple reason: Andy Welch has a blog.

(Irony alert: It’s tagline? “The Heart of Every Good Partnership is Trust”)

When people like Welch think about journalism, journalists and media-based endeavors, they tend to think of whatever TV reporter rubbed them the wrong way with a question five minutes earlier. What they don’t realize is that we are a long way from the days in which area “journalism” consisted of one or two major metro newspapers and three TV stations.

These days, anyone with a phone and access to an app can become a journalist in the most basic sense. When you yammer on Facebook about the annoying kid holding up the line at the cafeteria or you tweet about your landlord being a convicted murderer, that counts as journalism.

Welch’s hard-hitting expose on Week Seven of the Legislative session, his look at the “Hands-Free Georgia Act” (which sounds like something out of a “Chainsaw Massacre” movie) and  his post about the success of the Locust Grove High School baseball team, in which he has serious antecedent-pronoun-agreement issues also count as journalism in this new digital realm. Some of this journalism may be intriguing and some of it may be painfully dull, but it’s all given the same wide berth to operate unfettered under the banner of journalism.

I can’t say what will happen for sure with all this, but if I had to guess, I’d wager heavy on these two things occurring:

  1. This bill will die fast and quiet.
  2. Every media organization in the state that could have been subjected to “The JEB” will spend the next four weeks digging into anything Welch has ever done and trying to figure out what led to his “abrupt resignation” from the statehouse.

Guest Blogging: How “telling the truth” served Mary Beth Reser as she transitioned from a news reporter to a marketing COO.

As often as possible, we strive to post content from a guest blogger with an expertise in an area of the field. This week, we are fortunate to have Mary Beth Reser, the COO of Wilderness Agency. As marketing director for prominent real estate development groups and publishing companies, she leverages content to drive revenue and she works with organizations across industries to clarify messaging and share truthful stories to drive sales.

Reser.jpgShe manages operations for a team of 50+ creatives, but before her move into the “C suite,” she spent several years as a reporter, including for the Fairborn Daily Herald and Dayton Business Journal. Her post is about her movement from news to marketing and how her skills transferred across these fields. Interested in being our next guest blogger? Contact us here.

Nothing is more embarrassing than turning in an article past deadline to your college journalism adviser. It’s even more embarrassing when you’ve spent the last month restructuring your company partly on the basis of missed deadlines.

How did we get here?

I didn’t set out to be a COO. In fact, my career path is nothing if not defined by a series of pivots. I spent 15 years, from age 10 to 25, dedicated to being the absolute best journalist I could be. I started school newspapers. I pushed them to the limits. I chose my high school and college purely on the goal that I would spend my future as a daily reporter in some metro somewhere, pounding pavement and investigating tips.

I didn’t count on a couple things. The economy. The availability of jobs. The lack of pay. Sexism and ethical dilemmas I encountered while in the industry.

I told myself I wanted to focus on telling positive stories. I couldn’t bear the weight of covering crashes, fires and violence, so I switched to business reporting, which had interested me in college. Then the recession hit, and positive stories on my mostly positive beats turned sour.

In the end, I could only blame my discontent on myself, and after five years as a professional reporter, I pivoted. Having turned on the most steady passion of my life, I went through some lengthy periods of self evaluation. I knew was that I still loved telling stories. True stories. With positive results.

I spent the next four years as in-house marketing/PR at two commercial real estate firms. I was telling stories in the form of press releases, and I was starting to tell–and sell–commercial space to tenants based on stories I was telling through marketing.

Chasing happiness, I jumped back into publishing and helped to develop social media sales strategies and digital sponsored content for a mostly advertorial publication. We’ll call this my gap year.

Four years ago, I made the jump into agency work and discovered my true passion. I could work with a variety of clients and tell TRUE stories in several ways that achieved measurable results. I graduated my first agency job and convinced a friend from the business reporting days to pull me in as a project manager at Wilderness Agency. I was still telling stories, but now I was putting teams together and telling them on a larger scale, not just through copy, but also design, websites, digital marketing, content strategy and video.

I was using my storytelling skills in new ways, and the business was growing as a result. In fact, we were skyrocketing. This is not to brag, but to explain the place I find myself currently. As we grew, I grew, and I started making major decisions for the company. I moved into a director of operations role, and started focusing on the Wilderness Agency story. Who do we hire? Where do we spend? How does it all fit together?

I looked around and suddenly, I had gone from business reporter to running a business. I look up how to spell proforma at least once a week because, I am flabbergasted at how I came to see one as an extension of myself.

These days, I am still telling stories, but the stakes are higher. When I worked on our clients’ accounts, I was affecting their businesses, but now I am affecting our own. The stories I tell now, with numbers, with org charts, with process decisions, affect not just my own income, but the livelihood of the 10 employees and 40 contractors who work for Wilderness Agency. They support my boss, that same friend from the business newspaper, who had blinked and found himself transitioned from sales intern to CEO.

We are the fastest growing agency in our market. We attribute it to telling the truth, which is painful, but welcome in the current climate. It’s not always comfortable for businesses to hear what they should or should not be doing, but we find we don’t have time to mince words or present them with smoke and mirrors, and they don’t have time to hear anything else.

And sometimes, I have to prioritize work over a lot of other things I’d like to do, such as turning in this article on time — sorry, Vince.

The stories I tell now are guided by the ridiculously annoying number of questions I ask in sales meetings, because after all, I have the heart of a reporter. We dig down to the truth and use it to everyone’s advantage. And when I focus on turning that interrogation on Wilderness Agency, we benefit as well.

I may not be telling the same kinds of stories as I did 15 years ago. They don’t get measured in inches or hits. But the stories I tell now are supporting a business, and the passions of myself an a team of special marketing operatives we call Wilderness Agency.

Percentages, racism and other alterations: AP unveils major changes to it style book

Like most of us who write books, the used book market is apparently killing the Associated Press. For its upcoming 2019 edition (which seems weird, given that we’re about one-fourth of the way through 2019 already…), the folks at AP have made a number of changes that will render your old style guide (and a good portion of your institutional memory) null and void.

At the ACES: The Society for Editing conference on Friday, the AP unveiled a number of the key changes to its upcoming edition. In some cases, the ideas appeared to be extremely well researched and had some important rationale behind them, such as the way in which the entire race and racism sections were reconstructed. Other changes felt like they were inspired by this classic George Carlin routine:

 

One that has most journo-geeks I know and love freaking out is the organization’s decision to move away from the use of “percent” spelled out to “%” when dealing with percentages.

According to one of my former students who watched this roll out, things were a bit tense:

I was in the room at the ACES conference when they announced this. Everyone gasped.

So, 2018 version:

  • WRONG: I calculate my chance of getting a passing grade on this test to be about 3%.
  • RIGHT: I got a 58 percent on my math final, which meant I failed.

And 2019 version:

  • WRONG: According to the survey, 82 percent of the respondents eat at least one meal in the car each day.
  • RIGHT: The most common grade on the exam was a 75%.

AP also reworked its approach to hyphens, meaning I’ll likely spend about 92 hours reworking half of my AP style worksheets. The traditional method of hyphenation meant that you looked at the concept of compound modifiers to guide you.

  • Zoe is a 13-year-old girl.
  • I rented a two-bedroom apartment

In both cases, you need all of the words connected with hyphens to work together to modify the noun. You wouldn’t say, “I rented a two apartment” or “I rented a bedroom apartment.” Thus, the hyphen works there (and according to AP, it remains in cases like that).

However, in commonly known phrases, AP is going with no hyphens:

  • I ate a chocolate chip cookie.
  • Jimmy scored a first quarter touchdown.

How those differ from “two-bedroom apartment,” I remain uncertain, but we’re going with it.

The hyphens with the biggest impact, and the area with the most changes, reside in the sections on race. AP changed its long-held stance (or is it a long held stance?) on hyphenating racial qualifiers:

  • 2018: He has an African-American father and an Asian-American mother.
  • 2019: He has an African American father and an Asian American mother.

AP said it worked with multiple groups to determine how best to work through its entire section on race and that the issue of hyphenation came down to the marginalization of non-white groups and the way in which these served as microaggressions against them.

AP also now allows for the use of the term “racist” to basically call racist behavior racist instead of couching such actions in weaker language.

  • 2018: Carl appeared to engage in racially motivated language when he said, “black people are intellectually inferior.”
  • 2019: Carl made several racist statements, including “black people are intellectually inferior.”

For the full list of changes, you can download a PDF here.

Fetch-Gate Parenting: Stop trying to name every phenomenon with some cute term

The saga of rich parents trying to bribe people to get their kids into great colleges has given birth to many stories, arguments and memes built from old “Full House” episodes, thanks to Lori “Aunt Becky” Loughlin’s involvement. One of the more annoying trends has been the media’s desperate need to name this phenomenon, something the NY Times chipped in on this morning:

Snowplow

The Times is a bit late on the name game in this situation, as others have already dubbed these folks “lawnmower parents” because they like to “mow down” any obstacle, discomfort or problem for their children. My favorite idiom was “curling parents,” named after the stone-and-broom sport, because the parents frantically try to sweep all the problems out of their children’s path.

 

Prior to this situation, we had “helicopter parents,” named for their ability to hover over every aspect of their children’s lives, who were quickly replaced by “drone parents,” who are like “helicopter parents on steroids.” A number of years back, we had “soccer moms,” stereotypical middle-America parents who used a calendar and a mini-van to help their kids engage in every possible extra-curricular activity that looked great on a college application.  In resistance to all of this hovering, sweeping, plowing and mowing, the concept of “free-range parenting” became popular in the media, with publications telling tales of parents who kind of just left their kids alone for 10 seconds or more each day.

This phenomenon of naming something that doesn’t really need a name isn’t new, as any journalist who started working after 1972 can tell you. In that year, several men connected to President Richard Nixon were caught while attempting to plant listening devices in the offices of the Democratic National Committee headquarters. This led to arrests, congressional hearings, impeachment hearings and Nixon’s resignation as president. The scandal became known as “Watergate,” named as such because that was the building that housed the DNC’s offices.

In the years that followed, every scandal has seemed to enjoy a -gate suffix moniker. We had “Bridgegate,” “Pizzagate,” “Deflategate,” “Clown-and-Cheesegate” “Sausagegate,” “Hookergate,” “Penisgate,” “Vaginagate,” “Dildogate,” “Potatogate” and at least two dozen more.

This is stupid for a couple reasons:

  • It’s not clever or unique: I remembered the first three. After that, I just started randomly typing foods or sex terms into Google with the word “gate” attached and got all of these. I never missed once, so you get the idea that this concept of “-gate” naming stuff isn’t new or innovative. It’s lazy writing and a stupid idea.
  • The scandals aren’t that scandalous: Watergate was a scandal that went to the highest office in the land and forced a sitting president who had won re-election in a walk to resign, something that had never happened before. Tom Brady “maybe” making footballs softer isn’t in the same neighborhood as this. Hell, it’s not even on the same planet. I’m sure that your university’s decision to keep taxing feminine hygiene products is a problem and should be covered, but don’t call it “tampongate.” (Besides, not one, but two, “scandals” have already used this one.)
  • The -gate thing isn’t real: The reason we called the Nixonian scandal “Watergate” was because that was the name of the building. It wasn’t like he used a “gate” to try to stop “water” or something. Thus, a scandal about a bridge or a clown or whatever, shouldn’t reference a suffix that isn’t part of its original title. I’m trying to imagine if someone stole stuff out of the Watergate now and how it might be a “Watergategate” or “Watergate 2.0,” another stupid way of building a term.

When it comes to covering a topic, you want to tell people what happened that matters to them. Your job isn’t to become a lexiconnoisseur or some sort of trendsetter. All it does is make you look like you can’t do your job without being cute. In addition, it will annoy your readers as you try to make your “-gate parenting” thing happen. As Regina George famously explained, you need to stop this right now:

 

 

GAME TIME! Spring Break AP Style Quiz

If you’re anything like my students, you are desperately awaiting the start of spring break. Or is it “Spring Break?” Or maybe Spring break…

See what you know about AP style with this quiz on our favorite time of the spring.

You don’t have to establish an account to play. It’s 10 questions and you will be judged on speed and accuracy.

Take a screen shot of your score and post it everywhere! Challenge a professor (who likely wants this break more than you do) and earn bragging rights for the year.

To start, click this link.