Welcome to the field of journalism: Pen? Check. Recorder? Check. Bulletproof vest?

As I was working on book chapters Sunday and planning our move to a new house, a Facebook message from a former student brought me back to reality:

“Did you ever get around to putting that vest in the mail?”

Almost two years ago, I borrowed a bulletproof vest from him so that I could work on my First-Person Target series. I wore the vest everywhere for a week and then did some interviewing to help me understand the issues of guns, safety and fear in this country. I used the vest in November 2018, but I didn’t finish the series until January 2019. I hung onto it in case I needed a sequel or a follow-up piece.

Like the absent-minded professor I am, I eventually boxed it up, addressed it and managed to forget it in the basement for another year. He should get it back, no doubt, but I wondered why he thought about it on that given day. Was he OK?

“I’m doing fine, not covering riots…yet. I was thinking about it and watching the world burn last night and realized I had no idea where it was. But as long as you’re safe and don’t need it, that would be great.”

He lives in Florida, more than 1,500 miles from the rioting’s flashpoint of Minnesota, but the riots aren’t just in the Land of 10,000 Lakes (and for good reason). George Floyd died Monday in Minneapolis while police arrested him on suspicion of using a counterfeit $20 to buy cigarettes. A video of the arrest shows a police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck, as Floyd pleads with him for minute after minute to let him breathe. Bystanders begged officer Derek Chauvin to stop as well. Instead, he continued his assault on Floyd. He has since been fired and charged with murder.

I don’t know if my former student will need to cover these spasms of violence, but I do worry his safety and that of so many others in the field who need to ply their trade during this unfathomable time in history.

Safety has always been a watchword within journalism, even as we learn how to go against our natural instincts when it comes to fear and security. Like many folks in other fields, we have to learn how to run TOWARD danger instead of running away from it. We need to learn how to see a house fire and think, “That looks dangerous. I need to go over there.” We develop a sense that says, “People are shooting at each other on Smith Street. I need to get out there.” The goal for good journalists isn’t gold and glory (clearly not the case, if you’ve been following the cuts, furloughs and bloodletting in the field these days).

The goal is to help the readers and viewers experience real life as it is unfolding, regardless of if that reality is safe or not.

I usually like to start each academic term on the blog with something inspirational, but it’s not easy to do that today. The people in our field are covering pandemics from their own homes. They are covering protesters who are begging… literally begging… for some level of accountability that will make it a little less likely that black people will be killed for the “crime” of being black.  They are covering violent clashes between rioters and police, often getting caught in the crossfire for their trouble.

CNN reporter Omar Jimenez was covering the events in Minnesota with a camera crew on Friday. He showed the police his press pass. He had a microphone and a camera that probably cost more than my first car, so there was no “confusion” over who he was and that he was a national reporter.

He was standing where police told him to stand. He was complying with the orders police had given him before he went out there. He repeatedly told the police he was more than willing to go wherever they wanted him to go and do whatever they wanted him to do.

Instead, this happened live on the air:

The governor issued an apology and the crew was released after a short time in jail, but none of this makes any sense. If one of my students had told me, “I need to cover this thing in Minnesota. What should I do to be safe?” I would have told that student to do EVERYTHING Jimenez did. It was the perfect example of how to be safe and not get hurt or arrested.

It didn’t matter.

It didn’t matter for WAVE 3 News reporter Kaitlin Rust and photojournalist James Dobson either, who were covering protests in Kentucky. They had their gear, their press passes and they were LIVE ON AIR when an officer opened fire on them with “less lethal rounds.”

At first, Rust thought the police officer was actually shooting live rounds at her. She then noted they were “rubber bullets.” In responding to this situation, police officials stepped up and made something important abundantly clear:

It was previously reported that the officer was firing rubber bullets, but LMPD spokeswoman Jessie Halladay said the department’s officers do not use rubber bullets, and it was likely that was Rust and Dobson were hit with pepper balls.

Right. Because that’s the important thing. Semantics over exactly WHAT this chucklehead was shooting at two journalists from less than 20 feet away for no good reason. Glad we cleared that up…

Also, in case you are unfamiliar with pepper bullets, here’s the Pepperball company website. It promotes these types of items noting the following frightening statement:

With multiple payload options and a proprietary chemical irritant that’s proven more effective from even greater distances, PepperBall® projectiles offer the protection and versatility for any situation. Available in both round and VXR versions, PepperBall projectiles can be operated at virtually any temperature from as far away as 150 feet and with an area saturation of up to 50 meters.

In other words, this thing can drill you hard enough at 150 feet to deploy a giant pepper-spray bomb about the size of the Arc de Triomphe.  And this officer not only fired it at the journalists, but he or she reloaded and fired again. And again. And THEN told the crew to move back.

It was clear these people were journalists. They were not making any threatening moves or acting in a way that would indicate their desire to antagonize the police.

It didn’t matter.

It didn’t matter to police who pepper sprayed Andrea Sahouri, of the Des Moines Register, after she repeatedly told police, “I’m press! I’m press! I’m press!” It didn’t matter to police who pepper sprayed Detroit Free Press reporter JC Reindl, who was showing his press credentials to an officer at the time. It didn’t matter to the dozens of other people who decided journalists were good targets for violence and anger.

It is impossible to explain to any sane individual why it is that journalists would put up with any of this, all while being called the “enemy of the people” by people in power. It makes no sense that they are risking their health and their lives to enter an area of total danger, just so other people could safely see what was happening around them. It makes even less sense when you realize that every day, they fear getting fired in a cost-cutting maneuver because some hedge fund manager will decide it’s time to tweak the company’s stock portfolio.

Those that remain will do more work, over longer hours and for insultingly meager pay.


Because these strong, brave and decent individuals know in their hearts that what they do provides a record of reality. Their work captures things that some people would like to wash away and forget happened. Their efforts add them to the fraternity of people who refuse to be cowed into submission or look the other way out of expedience.

What they do DOES matter.

Somehow. In some way. For someone.

And for that moment, that’s enough for them to press on.

Welcome to journalism.

Nursing, Social Media Experience and “Knowing I belonged:” How Emily Reise landed a digital marketing job during a pandemic

EmilyMugWith graduation drawing close, college students across the country are panicking even more than usual as they try to get a job in the middle of a pandemic. Even professionals with years of field experience are concerned about moving jobs or finding a career path as the coronavirus has made it difficult to find opportunities or stability.

Emily Reise a public relations and social media professional managed to navigate this new landscape amazingly well, landing her current position as a digital marketing coordinator for Nurses PRN in Appleton, Wisconsin about a month ago.

Reise majored in public relations and minored in environmental studies at UW-Oshkosh, all while undertaking four internships in her field. Upon graduation, she headed to St. Paul, Minnesota to work as a social media coordinator for Midwest Sign. After a year and a half, she was looking for a chance to come back home to the Fox River Valley, and found Nurses PRN.

According to its website, Nurses PRN is a staffing agency that connects clients and nurses “driven by the simple idea that better nursing care leads to better patient care.” The company notes that it has 500 active employees and fills approximately 6,000 shifts monthly for its clients.

Reise was nice enough to answer a few questions about what she learned as a student that she still uses and what she does in her new job:


You landed at Nurses PRN right in the middle of a pandemic and you are responsible for digital marketing content. I guess two questions that come off of that statement are a) What does your job normally entail? and b) What is life like dealing with this job now in the middle of this insanity?

“A normal day would consist of me taking leads from Facebook ads and ‘gifting’ them to recruiters in the company depending on the area they are staffing and the type of nurse they need. I am the main social media guru, so I make the content calendar, come up with content, strategize social media campaigns and monitor comments and messages. I also have my hands in email marketing, events, managing job boards, and helping edit and write website copy.

“Landing a job in the middle of a pandemic, especially in the nursing field, is chaotic to say the least! Everything is abnormal and changing which demands a ton of agility when approaching ads and job boards. Certain jobs are streaming in because of layoffs and furloughs that normally we never had an excess of. This floods the ads and gives us tons of leads we may need or not need depending on facility need. This forces me to jump in and start making decisions whether to shut off ads, make new ones, or edit the creative or copy. There is no ‘normal’ right now and no directions on how to adjust social media ads for nurses when there is a global pandemic.”


How did you land a job during this time of absolute uncertainty, given all the cuts to everything and how it seems like the economy is going to hell in a speedboat? What was it that drew you to this company and what was it that got them to find you as the perfect fit?

“I was looking for a new opportunity back home in the Fox Valley since I was living in the Twin Cities. I chose a day in March and interviewed with five different companies. Nurses PRN was the first company I interviewed with. By the end of the interview I remember telling them, ‘I am at a 10, I want this job- hire me today!” (They didn’t hire me that day.)

“I knew I belonged there because of how laid back and enthusiastic the marketing team was about their jobs. I clicked instantly with them. I found out later they were looking for an upbeat person who wasn’t afraid to express new ideas. Luckily, I can talk to a brick wall… I felt I connected well and after working for many companies, I now know that company culture and the people I work with is the most important factor for me.

“I got the job the next week and had to finish my current job. Two weeks after I put in my two weeks, though, the COVID-19 pandemic was heightened and I was worried they would move my start date back. Instead, they shipped a laptop, work phone, and training manuals right to my house so I could start remotely. Even though it’s not perfect, I’m so thankful to have a job during these uncertain times and working for a company who takes risks and cares enough to let me start on time.”


In your career to date, what are some of the most important things you learned in college in terms of being prepared to do this work? In other words, what “tools” were the most important things that college put into your “toolbox” for your career?

“Learning to write for blogs, website copy, and press releases has proved to be invaluable in my career. At my previous job, I wrote around 49 blogs in the year of 2019 alone. Now I mostly edit other people’s written work but taking Writing for the Media taught me to always comb through everything with an eye for detail.

(I still remember the day I got my assignment back from you and I went and cried in your office because I got an F since I spelled the lady’s last name in the story with an “a” instead of an “e.” You called that a major error and said I will always remember to double check details like that and never changed the grade. WELL, YOU WERE RIGHT! I STILL TELL PEOPLE ABOUT IT!)”


Right about now, a ton of students are looking for jobs and there is always that fear of “Oh, dear Lord, what happens when I can’t get a job?” As someone who graduated not that long ago (and who I know had some of those jitters at certain times), what kinds of advice can you give the kids who are graduating and worried about what will be out there for them, especially given our current situation?

“One of the biggest chunks of advice I can give grads, especially during the pandemic, is to be open minded. I thought I was going to be working for a sustainability company doing public relations. Now I’m working for a nurse staffing company as a marketer.

“I realized that the largest factors in finding a job you love isn’t just about the industry you are in, but the work you are doing, the people you work with, and the overall company culture. Don’t be too picky, if you think you would like the job duties, apply for it!”


Cheap  (and kind of self-serving) question: If Emily “now” could go back in time and talk to the Emily who was just starting her degree (with a “Writing for the Media” class), what would you tell her?

“I would say, ‘You’re right, you won’t be a journalist, but you will use these skills every single day in your career.’ Writing is something all employers crave in marketing and PR employees.

“I had to do multiple tests during interview processes to prove to the employers I knew how to write a press release or blog. I write for the media daily whether that be for social media, website copy, press releases, or blogs.

“Also, Filak was right. You will always remember spelling that damn person’s last name wrong.”

Why being a “self-deceived animal” could make humans extinct this time

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel spent the better part of the weekend defending itself against allegations that it doctored a photo of an “Open Wisconsin Now” protest to include a Confederate battle flag. In doing so, the media outlet showcased the clear the primary problem citizens are having these days in dealing with a pandemic that doesn’t have to care about their opinions.

The Journal-Sentinel ran this shot from a protest in Brookfield on Saturday, in which more than 1,000 people gathered to protest the extension of a “Safer at Home” order until late May:


A woman the paper didn’t identify posted this image along with a similar image her daughter shot in which a plaid-shirt-wearing guy in a baseball cap was holding a “Don’t Tread On Me” flag, sans the Stars and Bars. This coupling of images quickly made the rounds on social media:

Even though the woman later deleted her Facebook post after realizing her assumption was incorrect, the images had already been shared by many, including Facebook user Ken Hadler.

Hadler shared the side-by-side images Sunday morning and accused the Journal Sentinel of doctoring its photo.

“Shame on you Milwaukee Journal Sentinel!” he wrote. “Taking a photo from the Open Wisconsin rally yesterday and photoshopping the Confederate flag in there?”

He refused to respond to messages providing proof the image was legitimate and had left his post up as of 8 p.m. Sunday; it had been shared 87 times.

As the paper demonstrated in its analysis, it turned out there were at least two flag-toting guys wearing flannel and jeans, one of whom was actually carrying the battle flag and one who was not:


Even though the paper demonstrated in painstaking detail how this was not a fabrication, I would wager that a large swath of people will continue to believe it was. It would be easy to say this is a case of distrusting “the media,” but it goes well beyond our field and our concerns as journalists.

The problem comes from people having a constant desire to not actually be right, but rather to feel they are right. In a culture of personal affirmation, reality can be an inconvenient distraction to those who have become myopic in their world view.

As the folks from The Foundation for Critical Thinking noted, humans are the only “self-deceived animal.”

Author Tom Nichols, who wrote the book, “The Death of Expertise,” explained that the sense of how “we” know more than “those people,” can be extremely dangerous, especially now:

Nichols’ speech unwinds several key problems that bear examining:

  1. People don’t want to be told they are wrong.
  2. People don’t like thinking other people know more than they do.
  3. People have mistaken the need to have an opinion on a topic with the need to be informed on a topic before having an opinion.

These three things, taken together, create an environment in which insularity of thought and ego-protective measures drive our participation in social engagement. If you’re not tweeting or chatting or snapping or sharing something, you don’t exist. The more distinct or more vociferous we are in that participation, the more attention we get and with that attention comes support from people who also want to be seen and heard.

Taking time to become informed means other people are “getting there first” on whatever topic is trending this nanosecond. Stopping to think, “Maybe someone else knows more than I do,” is to limit one’s participation, thus losing out on likes, clicks, shares and more.

Being wrong? Not possible.

In most cases, the idea that a meme from “Aunt Rose in Schenectady” is full of crap doesn’t really matter. Whether she knows how much money we spend on foreign aid or if a Confederate flag got PhotoShopped into a protest picture won’t cause any real harm. Thus, she gets to feel superior and we get to enjoy the rest of the day without answering 27 emails with misspellings in them.

The problem comes in when expertise really does matter, people aren’t ready to hear it. Much like the child who never heard the word “No” from a parent, when “these insufferable know-it-alls,” as Nichols called them, face contrary information from an expert source, they freak out.

I remember having an unfortunate conversation with a former friend of mine that went this way and it bugs me to this day.

Josh was a guy who worked at the local auto parts store and had a lot of experience with vintage cars. He was an expert in this area and was a huge help to me in restoring the Mustang. When I wasn’t sure I could rebuild a carburetor, he actually paid for a rebuild kit out of his own pocket and then wrote down his phone number on the back of my receipt.

“Follow the directions, take your time and you’ll be fine,” he told me. “If you have a problem, call me at home and I’ll come over and help you.”

When I called him for help on the carb, as well as a dozen other things, he was always helpful and right as rain. He knew exactly what caused certain problems and exactly how to fix them. His expertise was invaluable.

However, during the 2016 presidential election, he had posted several completely fabricated stories about “the media.” I tried to explain to him how these things weren’t accurate. I found reliable media sources that clearly illustrated he was wrong. Each time, his response was some version, “No, you’re just getting snowed under. I know I’m right.”

Perhaps foolishly, I tried to explain that I had background in this. I went to school for this. I research these topics. I teach on these topics. I’m an expert on this thing. Trust me.

Each time, I was rebuffed and dismissed.

Finally, I tried to put it in terms he would understand: If you were trying to tell me how to fix my carburetor, because you are an expert, how would take it if I kept telling you, “No! Carburetors are just a myth! They are a lie told to you by the deep-state auto industry to keep you ignorant!” instead of accepting your expertise?

He prattled on about the media. I blocked and unfriended him. I still hate that it came to that.

The larger point is that there was no downside to his argument for him. If he was wrong, which in his mind was inconceivable, he could go on with life. If I was wrong with about the carburetor, I could set my car on fire, so I took his expertise to heart.

True experts don’t know everything about everything. They know everything about one thing. I wouldn’t ask Dr. Anthony Fauci how to set the timing on a mid-1960s Ford small block engine any more than I would ask Josh how to combat COVID-19.

Fauci knows viruses. Josh knows Fords.

This is why it can be maddening when non-experts on a topic get license to put forth their own plans and ideas as if they merit the same consideration of those plans outlined by experts. For example,  Tavern League of Wisconsin President Chris Marsicano recently proposed the “soft reopening” of local bars and restaurants in the state. The proposal included the following items:

  • Requiring all employees to wear masks and gloves
  • Practice social distancing of 6 feet
  • All tables 6 feet apart
  • No tables of more than 6 people
  • Reduce on-premise capacity by 50%
  • Outdoor eating and drinking with 6 feet distancing permitted
  • No salad bars or self-serve buffets
  • Eliminate paper menus
  • Eliminate all table condiments

On their face, if you want to see the restaurants reopened, these items appear reasonable. They rely on things health experts have noted to be valuable (masks, keeping 6 feet apart) and they look to eliminate shared contagion opportunities (buffets, table condiments).

In reading this, though, I started thinking about things like who would enforce the rule of the six people per table or what would happen at shared areas like bars. I thought about people who go out to eat with others they haven’t seen in months and then share a table. Shared appetizers or drinks would concern me.

Then again, I’m not a public health expert. However, neither is Marsicano.

His LinkedIn page shows that he has a high school education and 37 years of experience in running a supper club. Unless Delavan-Darien High had some sort of advanced communicable disease course I’m unaware of, I don’t know what would make this guy think he knows more than the scientists and health experts advising the governor.

To be fair to Marsicano, saying he’s not a medical expert doesn’t make him a bad person or otherwise worthless. If I wanted to open a restaurant or bar and run it well, I would strongly consider apprenticing with him, given his nearly four decades of success in the business.

The only way we’re going to make it through this pandemic, as well as whatever the future holds, is if we can find ways to push experts to the forefront of our coverage and to find ways to make people believe them. This may feel like trying to get the dog to take a pill, but it’s worth the effort.


Throwback Thursday: What you can learn from an “ecom Dude” who violated copyright and bitched about it

Based on yesterday’s post on copyright infringement, I thought it might be worth it to dig up this gem from the past and outline some of the key things pertaining to how copyright protects people from having their work stolen. One of the major concerns I had was that people would see the lawsuit from the post and think, “Hey, cool! Now I can take whatever I want from the internet without a problem!”

Um… No…

The Mashable case is a small sliver of what can happen in terms of copyright, so I wanted to make sure people had a better understanding of the majority of copyright law. (Or at least whatever majority I can bring to bear. I had, let’s call it, a somewhat “difficult” undergraduate law experience…)

The only thing that saddens me about this update from 2017 is that the original video of this guy talking about how horrible photographers are in claiming copyright is now deleted. I remember watching it the first time and thinking, “This is like watching a random frat guy who forgot his speech was due today trying to BS his way through a law school presentation.” Anyway, the main points still hold so enjoy.

What you can learn from an “ecom Dude” who violated copyright and bitched about it

I often tell my students that I learned more by screwing up than I ever did by doing things right and that no mistake is worthless if you learn something from it. It turns out that not everyone has that same experience with errors, often learning the wrong lesson from making a dumb decision.

Dan Dasilva is a “YouTube celebrity” and an “internet entrepreneur,” two terms that are pretty vague and meaningless. He also has a website called “eCom Dudes” where he operates “a collective group of individuals and coaches as well, that we come on and we share what’s working now.”  (Truth be told, I watched his intro video about four times and I still have no idea what he does or how it works. We’re bordering on the “Underpants Gnomes” model of commerce at this point.)

Dasilva took to YouTube recently to complain about a lawsuit that a photographer filed against him for copyright infringement. In most cases, people who violate copyright and are sued learn a valuable lesson: Don’t steal people’s stuff. Dasilva, however, seems to have learned something else entirely:

To put it into context, the reason I was sued was because I used a picture that I found on Google Images. Now, I should have known better, yes, in my position I should know better. But, again, I never really thought that there are malicious people out there that all they do and this is what I want to tell you is that there are people out there maliciously put pictures on the Internet.

They copyright pictures that they take and what they do is they’ll get like a copyright on it, and they’ll put it out on the Internet, and it’s freely available on the Internet if you run a Google search their image will appear… And they have a team they’ll have like three or four people who are searching the Internet for their image to find all the sites [that use the images without permission]…

His business model is taking photos and suing people for a settlement.

In other words, photographers create photographs. Other people then take those photographs and use them without permission, in violation of copyright law. The photographers then sue to protect their work and receive settlements based on those copyright violations. In Dasilva’s world, this is somehow a “malicious” racket that is meant to entrap people like him and bilk him of his hard earned cash. And what he apparently learned from all of this is that you have to be careful to avoid these “malicious” individuals and instead use “lesser quality” images from Creative Commons.

Dasilva didn’t name the “malicious” photographer with whom he settled the case, but other sites posting on this issue have done so. Nick Young, whose actual “business model” appears to be taking stock photos for a variety of uses, runs his photography business through nyphotographic.com. (I emailed Young and asked him for a short interview about all this. If he gets back to me, I’ll update and post it on the blog.)

Young’s website is upfront about his usage rules:

I allow some of my series of images to be used on a free basis in return for an attribution link back to my web site, I do this as it provides useful advertising for my business:

These images are offered under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license and if you want to use the images for free it is very important you follow the terms of the licence. Underneath each image are the details needed to fulfill the conditions of the license and also a link to the license so you can read for yourself the terms of the license.

Should you not wish to follow the terms of the license then please purchase a rights managed license through this site which does not require any attributions.

Many of the complaints surrounding Young’s quest to control his own work fall into two basic categories:

  1. He only charges small amounts of money for some of his photos (one poster noted a $9.95 rate), so suing over the use of these images for upwards of six figures is clearly a scam.
  2. He is shooting “generic” images of food, computers and other “stock” items, so it’s unfair that he can copyright these shots and make money off of people who just want to use them on their websites.

Let’s unpack the first premise in some other legal venues and see if this makes sense in any other way:

  1. It’s unfair that I had to pay a $1,000 ticket for stealing a $1 candy bar from the store. I mean, it was only a $1, so that fine shouldn’t be so high.
  2. It’s so mean that this guy who parks his 2004 Honda Civic in outside my office locks his car and takes his keys with him. I mean, there are TONS of cars around here, there’s nothing special about this and I just want to use it to get home in time to watch the Packer game.

First, the rate (the cost of the image or the candy bar) is based on you doing the right thing and paying for something you want up front. The fine (the lawsuit or the ticket) are in place to penalize you in a way that prevents you from doing the wrong thing again. That’s why tickets for speeding or illegal parking or other similar things are really high. If we dropped all speeding tickets to the price of a gallon of gas, the roads out near my house would look like “Death Race.” The penalty is supposed to teach you a lesson, something Dasilva clearly did not learn

Second, the guy OWNS the material. He paid for gear, studio time, the subject matter (fruit, eggs whatever) and other overhead to shoot that image. He also paid for an education that helped him become good at this. The whole reason people are taking his images is because they are GOOD PHOTOS. If you think the images aren’t worth paying for, you go try to shoot a bowl of fruit or a dozen eggs or whatever and make it look as good as Young can. It’s not that easy and therefore, you are paying for his TALENT not just the PHOTO. Just because you’re used to people letting you ignore the law, it shouldn’t become a stunner when someone catches you and penalizes you. It’s no more of a defense than telling the cop who pulled you over, “Officer, I know it’s only 25 mph out here, but nobody ever ticketed me for going 50 on this road before, so this is really unfair!”

One other thing that you should consider about copyright: It’s not always about money. The goal of copyright is to provide you with a legal right to control your work. Let’s say I take a photo of my kid (she’s really cute) and I register the copyright  (which you don’t have to do for it to be copyrighted, but it is essential if you want to ever sue over that right), I control how it’s used.

So, if a guy from a white supremacists website comes to me and wants to buy that photo for use on his blog, I have the right to say, “No.” Without copyright laws, and a means to enforce them, that photo could be used to promote child trafficking, white supremacy, gluten-free breakfast cereal and McDonald’s burgers (the last of which would really be horrifying to me). I don’t think that Young is worried about his photo of carrots will be used nefariously to promote a “master race,” but if he is, that’s his business.


Copyright goes wrong for photographer, thanks to Instagram’s terms of service

Copyright law has never been a simple thing, but in the pre-digital era, it was often easier to determine who owns what. In the days of darkrooms and contact sheets, photographers were able to develop negatives, make prints and track the physical movements of their work.

However, thanks to digital copies, social media and the “sharing” of content, it can often be difficult for some people to figure out what is and what is not a fair use of something, let alone who has the rights to do what with a photo, a graphic or a piece of video.

Things got more complicated in some ways this week, thanks to a court ruling on the use of embedded content: (h/t Kelli Bloomquist for the head’s up on this)

A court ruled yesterday that Mashable can embed a professional photographer’s photo without breaking copyright law, thanks to Instagram’s terms of service. The New York district court determined that Stephanie Sinclair offered a “valid sublicense” to use the photograph when she posted it publicly on Instagram.

The case stems from a 2016 Mashable post on female photographers, which included Sinclair and embedded an image from her Instagram feed. Mashable had previously failed to license the image directly, and Sinclair sued parent company Ziff Davis for using Instagram embedding as a workaround.

A large part of this ruling came down to the user agreement associated with Instagram:

“Here, [Sinclair] granted Instagram the right to sublicense the Photograph, and Instagram validly exercised that right by granting Mashable a sublicense to display the Photograph,” rules Wood.

Wood comes to this conclusion by discussing how Sinclair agreed to Instagram’s Terms of Use when creating her account. Those terms granted to Instagram “a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to the Content.”

Wood writes that because Sinclair “uploaded the Photograph to Instagram and designated it as ‘public,’ she agreed to allow Mashable, as Instagram’s sublicensee, to embed the Photograph in its website.”

In other words, you agreed to let us do certain things with your stuff, so you can’t complain when we do it. Sinclair argued that it’s an unfair choice photographers must make: They either give up some rights to their work or avoid being on one of the most dominant visual-sharing platforms.

The degree to which this will be the start of something bigger remains to be seen, but it does add yet one more wrinkle to the question of who owns what and how much trouble you can get in by engaging in which online activities.

The Junk Drawer: “Wiry Women” and “pole workers” edition


I swear that there used to be hand sanitizer in this thing…

Welcome to this edition of the junk drawer. As we have outlined in previous junk drawer posts, this is a random collection of stuff that is important but didn’t fit anywhere else, much like that drawer in the kitchen of most of our homes. Hope you find value in it:


A “Wiry” Winner
A few months ago, we talked about gender bias in writing when Judge Jill Karofsky, a candidate for Wisconsin’s Supreme Court, was described in a profile as “a wiry marathon runner who has completed two Iron Man competitions” and was also a state doubles champion in 1982.

Just as a follow up to this story, she ended up winning the election, despite the fact it was the source of about 812 lawsuits and intervening attempts to move it around due to the COVID situation.

Speaking of the elections…


Editing matters, politics edition.

Given how hotly contested things were out here, we had a lot of local writers banging away on their “hot takes” on the topic. We also had national attention on us. One of the frequent mistakes I saw was involving an unfortunate homophone.

This is an example of “people working the polls.”


This is an example of “people working the poles.”

Know the difference before a friend asks you to be a worker of one of these things. Coincidentally, one of our good friends was a “poll worker” who was sent a kit to help run her polling place. It contained a bottle of vodka, with the word “hand sanitizer” written on a label that had been pasted over the vodka brand. Apparently, that was the best they could do to deal with the coronavirus out here…

Speaking of the coronavirus situation…


Editing matters, coronavirus edition:

A former student of mine sent this to me. It was posted on the door of her apartment complex. Her note? “I’m glad you taught me to read things carefully.”



Speaking of “that’s not quite what I meant…”

A student turned in her writing assignment on the coronavirus with the following quote:

“We were nervous in the sense that we were very cautious and did not want to touch anything or expose ourselves to others unnecessarily,” she said.

I know what she meant, but I really needed a laugh at that point, especially in terms of the “expose ourselves to other unnecessarily” element.

And, finally, speaking of needing a laugh…


Are we just not doing “phrasing” anymore?

I told this story for years and it bordered on the apocryphal, because it seemed too ridiculous to believe.

We got a call over the scanner of an armed robbery at the Olde Un Theater, our local porn store. Jeff Barnes was one of the best reporters I ever had in terms of jumping all over a story and he was on it. (He convinced the local county fire protection folks to give him a volunteer pager so he could be out to the scene faster than other reporters. He also once covered a forest fire and the tires on his truck almost melted when the path of the fire switched.)

As he was running out the door, I half-teasing yelled, “Don’t forget. If you want a byline story on this, you need two sources…” I knew full well he’d get the cops and that was it, given that a) we rarely got a second source on breaking news like this and b) who the hell was he going to interview at a porn store?

Sure enough, Jeff came back with a story that had two sources. He manged to find a guy who admitted he was in the porn palace, was willing to give his name and gave us a line about the guy yelling at him that he needed to hit the floor or the guy was “going to blow your (expletive) head off.”

Jeff then asked the cop about this and got the cops to repeat for him a sanitized version of the “blow their heads off” line, which we then used in the story and the headline.

After a while, nobody really believed that story, except me and my buddy Steve, who was on the copy desk that night. However, I mentioned it on Facebook about a year or so ago, someone found Jeff Barnes and Barnes confirmed it. Better yet, he found the clip in his old portfolio and sent it to me.

Take that, doubters:



Throwback Thursday: 3 reasons why it’s stupid to complain about the cost of journalism

During the coronavirus outbreak, a number of local and national media outlets chose to lower their paywalls and give readers free and unfettered access to content on the topic. The argument these publications make is that the pandemic is too important of a topic to have people getting information from lousy sources just because those sources are free.

(Side note: I give this blog away for free to everyone and I don’t get paid to do it, so I’m kind of pondering what that makes me in all this…)

Experts from Poynter have debated the ethical obligations of publications to lower paywalls, coming at this from a variety of perspectives, as they debate the economic realities of media outlets and the importance of quality journalism. An interesting post from Howard Saltz, the Knight Innovator-in-Residence in the journalism faculty at Florida International University, makes the case that giving away content in this case is counterproductive. 

As the former publisher and editor-in-chief of the South Florida Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Saltz frames the argument well in terms of how “essential” doesn’t mean “it should be free” for most things we are desperate to get in this pandemic:

The newspaper industry seems to think that public service can’t coexist with revenue. That’s a mistake — at a time when the beleaguered industry can’t afford to make one. We do provide an important public service, but why can’t a public service business be, well, in business?

Food is essential, but grocery stores aren’t giving it away.

Clothing? Not free. Not even at Goodwill.

Police are being paid during the crisis. So are garbage collectors. There are no freebies at the pharmacy.

These are all essential to the community at a time of crisis, yet no one expects these goods and services to be free. What are newspapers afraid of? Our products have value. People pay for things of value.

I made a similar argument for the value of journalism about a year ago here on the blog. Today’s Throwback Thursday revisits that post, which provides some key reasons why journalism does, and should, cost money:


You get what you pay for: Three reasons why it’s stupid to complain about the cost of journalism

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel columnist Jim Stingl wrote a nice local column that took a look at how people consistently run red lights the corner of 60th and Capitol. The piece ran in the wake of a car wreck that killed an off-duty Milwaukee police officer, and was the kind of thing more papers would have done back in the days when staffs were robust and smoking was allowed in the newsroom.

I’ve linked to the article here, but most of you won’t be able to see it because it’s only accessible to the paper’s subscribers. When venerable journalist Crocker Stephenson, who used to work for the Journal-Sentinel, posted the piece to his Facebook wall, a number of people groused about their inability to access Stingl’s work.

Stephenson was not sympathetic:


In response, several people broke out the traditional diatribes against such larceny:

  • Print is dead!
  • You don’t cover the right stuff!
  • Paywalls are a tool of the man!
  • It’s stupid to pay for stuff like this because the internet is free!


Following the trail of breadcrumbs that led newspapers from being important local sources of information to disemboweled corporate shells would take far too long for a post like this. It would also take way too long to debate the merits of various profitability models that could return news organizations to prominence. However, in defense of the field itself, I’ll simply give you three reasons why complaining about having to spend your hard-earned couch-cushion cash on news is just plain dumb:

WORK COSTS MONEY: As dumb as that statement sounds, it seems necessary to make it up front. When your dishwasher decides to start flooding the house on a random Tuesday night, you call a plumber and beg someone to come over and stop the hydro-destructive force in your kitchen. When that guy or gal comes over and fixes the problem, you wouldn’t think to just say, “Thank you. I’m going on Facebook right now and putting a “like” on you today! Goodbye!”

The person did work, and you’re going to pay for it.

Truth be told, journalism ALWAYS cost money, but the readers didn’t notice because they weren’t footing the bill. It’s like picking up a prescription when you have insurance: You pay your $10 or $20 that is your part of the deal and the insurance company picks up the rest of the tab. It’s when your insurance is gone that you notice, “Holy crap! That’s some expensive stuff!”

For years, advertisers accounted for most of the costs of the work. Newspapers and magazines were chock full of large advertisements for everything from clothing stores to car dealerships. The money flowed freely, as newspapers could deliver eyeballs to the advertisers and thus demonstrate value to them. The ad money covered the big costs of doing journalism while your subscription or copy price was simply a token of good will.

The one benefit the audience had to the newspaper was in its sum total of eyeballs. The higher the circulation, the more newspapers could charge for ads. The system worked until it didn’t. (How and why it didn’t could take up a dozen books, but it’s not Craigslist’s fault, despite what publishers and hedge-fund managers who own newspaper stocks will tell you.)

Now you’re being asked to pay full price for the cost of journalism and it suddenly looks exorbitant.

In addition, the reason it’s easier to short journalists is because it never seems like we are saving you from a disaster like the tow-truck driver who gets your broken car off the freeway or the tree surgeon who pulls the giant oak that fell during a storm off your house. We don’t have a special set of tools that leave you in awe or a product that you can show other people to say, “Check out what I bought!”

However, journalism is work. It costs money to do the work. You need to pay for it if you want or need it.

YOU’RE NOT PAYING FOR WHAT YOU THINK YOU’RE PAYING FOR: People often assume that becoming a journalist has been a life-long ambition for anyone who entered the field after seeing “All The President’s Men” or “The Paper.” Truth be told, I never wanted to be a journalist or a journalism professor growing up. My freshman year of college, my life-long goal of becoming a lawyer was crushed after one bad Poli Sci course, so I went hunting for another major.

I knew I could write, so I figured on a degree in English, a subject I had dominated throughout high school and even in college. When I went home for Christmas break that year, I told my father that I wasn’t going to be a lawyer and that I was looking around at my options. Dad spent his entire career in a factory, so he was always practical in his advice: “Just make sure you can get a job. Don’t do something stupid like majoring in English or something like that.”

OK, that shot that.

I found journalism shortly after that and realized that with a few tweaks and overhauls, the writing I did in English could translate to this new field. The reason I stuck with it was because there WAS a job at the end of the rainbow for this major and it was one my father could easily see. He read the Milwaukee Journal and the Milwaukee Sentinel cover to cover every day. He saw the newspaper as a tangible representation of careers in journalism.

When I got my first reporting gig, Mom bought a subscription to the State Journal and had the paper mailed to her. She would cut out and keep my articles. Again, it was that dead-tree-and-ink element that showcased my livelihood.

The problem now is that those rolled-up wads of tree pulp are landing on fewer and fewer doorsteps, thus giving people the idea that “Print is dead.” Furthermore, the users always assumed that what their money paid for was that physical publication. Thus, as those things became smaller and less frequent, and people found their information in ways that didn’t involve deforestation, they figured there was no point in paying money for journalism.

The truth is, we were actually paying for information, but we never saw it that way. It was far easier for us to understand that simple goods-for-cash exchange that took place on street corners, through subscriptions or via news stands. Because we never really saw it as a knowledge-for-cash exchange, when the “good” went away, we didn’t see why money should be involved. As newspapers revenues shrunk, we saw losses of people and pages. The people? We didn’t notice that so much from the outside, but the pages? Yeah, we saw those cutbacks in newspapers and magazines.

To complain about paying for newspaper content is to say the content itself lacks value. That can be a perfectly legitimate statement, depending on the quality of the content or the cost of the access. However, when you WANT something, it demonstrates that the “something” has some level of value to you. Paying for it showcases the way you value it.

YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR: When I was a grad student, I ended up at a conference in Washington, D.C. and a bunch of us decided to go out for a meal. What was supposed to be a run for cheap Chinese food somehow landed us at a restaurant where we were the worst-dressed people in there and most of us were clad in reasonably decent garb. We didn’t know how pricey the meal was going to be until one of the people in our party reached for a piece of bread and dropped some crumbs on the linen table cloth.

Out of nowhere, a guy in a white button-down jacket appeared with a little metal device. He scraped the crumbs into a white-gloved hand and then disappeared just as quickly.

Yeah, we were in for an expensive night.

Contrast that with what I usually see when I’m heading out for a meal: A disgruntled employee behind the counter at a local fast food joint takes someone’s order, screws it up twice and then can’t make change without an iPhone app. The customer gets the wrong meal, but usually just shakes his or her head and mutters something about “kids these days,” even if the employee is 35.

The point is, you get what you pay for. That’s true even in journalism.

When you’re getting stuff for free, it’s usually of a lower quality. What you’re paying for when you buy a subscription to the Times or the Post or the Journal-Sentinel is quality work. You’re paying to have someone who went to school to learn a trade present you with quality content that has value to you. You’re paying for expertise and experience. It’s the same way with the plumber scenario above: You could call your buddy to come over and “give it a shot” when it comes to getting the dishwasher under control, but you figure it’s worth the money to get someone in there who knows how to fix the thing properly.

The nice thing is that a lot of people who commented on Stephenson’s post saw things this way as well. Long-term subscribers saw the value in the content and noted they had willingly paid for it for years. My folks still get the paper delivered every day and on more than a few occasions, my mother has told me she worries that the paper might cease to be at some point. Thus, she pays for a subscription to help support the cause.

In looking at the costs associated with the paper, we aren’t talking about a critical spending decision, either. One offer let you pay something like a buck a month for three months of digital access. My print subscription to the Oshkosh Northwestern was something like $14 a month and that came with unlimited digital access. As Stephenson’s post points out, 33 cents gets you access to the whole paper.

(Conversely, it costs $2.99 to buy three lollipop hammers in Candy Crush and rarely do those things help as much as you think they will.)

Sure, I could argue that these publications aren’t what they once were, but I also know that candy bars used to be a nickel, but grousing about that doesn’t make them any cheaper now.

Besides, as my father and I like to say about buying random stuff at yard sales, I’ve wasted far more money on far dumber things.

The best use of the First Amendment ever

Frank LoMonte, one of our favorite legal eagles and frequent contributor to the “Dynamics” franchise, came up with the best extra credit assignment for his media law class during this pandemic:

Here’s what I told them. You’re going to learn to recite the 45 words of the First Amendment, by heart. If you do it right, it takes about 20 seconds. Just the right length for a respectable hand-wash. Film yourself doing it while washing your hands, and you get 10 extra-credit points. Make me laugh and it’s 15.

If this kid doesn’t earn the full 15 points, something is really wrong:


Souffle’d: How Twitter outrage helped kill part of a student media contest and why that makes no sense

The photography portion of a college journalism contest got 86’ed this week after the National Press Photographers Association pulled out, due in large part to Twitter outrage.

The contest was the brainchild of Michael Koretzky, who worked with NPPA, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Associated Collegiate Press and the Society for News Design to launch the College Coronavirus Coverage awards. The goal of the contest was to reward college journalists who were doing quality reporting, writing and photography on the coronavirus epidemic.

Anthony Souffle, a photojournalist for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, tweeted his displeasure regarding this:


As with most things that happen on Twitter, others decided to hop on the bandwagon:


Shortly after this, NPPA announced it would be withdrawing its support for the contest. Souffle then tweeted his pleasure regarding the success he had in engaging in cancel culture:


For its part, the CCC killed the category after one week in operation, with Koretzky explaining why it was doing so and noting that the Twitter-gasm had no impact on the move.

(FULL DISCLOSURE: I’ve known Koretzky for almost two decades now and he’s guest blogged here. He has come up with some real hum-dingers when it comes to college journalism, ranging from the First Amendment Free Food Festival to the Interviewing the Undead event. He’s also had a few moments that left me shaking my head. I’d liken him to Reggie Jackson: He hits a lot of homers and those go a long, long way. He also strikes out more than a bit, but he gets his money’s worth out of the swing.)

I reached out to Souffle via Twitter to ask him about all this and he never got back to me. I figured if I asked, Koretzky would probably tell me a ton of stuff, as he’s always has before. However, instead of turning this into a point-counterpoint between these guys, I figured I’d take a different look at this.

First, based on his pinned tweet, it’s clear Anthony Souffle hates contests of all stripes:


I definitely agree with him on the point of doing the work for your audience and not for contests. I know I’ve said that at least a couple times on this blog. If you’re doing journalism for the awards, it’s like buying an airline because you like the little bags of snacks they give out during flights.

Second, I agree that putting yourself in harm’s way is never a great idea. The two rules I push when I lecture or present on crime and disaster coverage are simple: Stay calm and stay safe. Taking really stupid risks for the glory and the gold is, well… really stupid. (I live in a state where we’re having in-person voting today and I think THAT is really stupid, too…)

That said, I’m not a huge fan of Twitter’s ability to get a bandwagon of people together to rage at something and I’m even less of a fan of cancel culture. Instead of debating those points, however, here are the three underlying premises that seem present in Souffle’s argument that are extremely problematic:

COLLEGE JOURNALISTS ARE DUMBER THAN OTHER JOURNALISTS: The coronavirus is pretty much all every journalist is covering these days, so to call it newsworthy would be a massive understatement. It is the job of journalists to cover newsworthy stories and convey them to their audiences in ways that are relevant, useful and interesting. College journalists are journalists and thus are not immune to this concept.

I often tell students that when they graduate, they don’t get the “grownup brain” at commencement. In other words, the university doesn’t flip a switch and suddenly you somehow become someone better, smart, faster and cooler once you graduate. Some college journalists are less-equipped to handle certain things than some professionals. They also are less experienced than people who have worked in the field for decades.

However, they’re not idiots.

Many programs have quality advisers who help the students prepare for their work and then guide the students as they craft their stories and edit their photos. These people are experienced and can provide some safety measures when the occasional student goes off the rails. In addition, college students are living, breathing adults who have the same rights and responsibilities as anyone else.

They have done amazing work covering floods, hurricanes and more. And to the folks who say, “Well, there’s a roadmap for covering those things…” well, there wasn’t a roadmap to covering mass shootings on college campuses in 2007 when the crew at Virginia Tech was pressed into service. There also wasn’t a roadmap in 2008, when the folks at Northern Illinois did it. Nor was there a roadmap for covering the “Unite the Right” rally, which the Cav Daily did amazingly well. All of these were dangerous stories and all of these could have led to serious harm.

In reviewing the entries that made the one photo contest the CCC did complete, Koretzky noted that most of the photos were similar because of the precautions students took in doing their work. In short, they knew what they were doing. Assuming that they’re going to wander out into traffic because they’re students is insulting to their work and their efforts.

COLLEGE JOURNALISTS WEREN’T ALREADY COVERING THIS: One of the key arguments against the CCC contest is that putting this out there would somehow inspire student journalists to run out and cover the COVID-19 crisis. Also, this assumes that student journalists closed up shop and gave up on being journalists when schools went to an online-only format.

Not even close.

College media folk have been exchanging messages and emails for more than a month, trying to figure out how best to do this as the crisis began to build. Even more, most student media outlets are doing what the pros are: Writing, editing, broadcasting and working from various locations while sheltering in place.

The Student Press Law Center has a list of more than 100 campus media outlets that are doing or have done coronavirus coverage during the outbreak, and that number has grown exponentially over the past few weeks. It’s also safe to assume that even more publications have done work but haven’t made the list yet.

The students are doing exactly what the Twitter-shamers are telling them to do: Serving their communities. The awards are tangential at best.

THIS WAS THE THING THAT MADE AWARD-SEEKERS GO GA-GA: Even if I were to grant the premise that awards drive students to do journalism, and in this case particularly risky journalism, I would still argue that Souffle is drastically overestimating the power of this particular contest.

Not to disparage the CCC in any way, but if students planned to put life and limb on the line for an award, it sure wouldn’t be this one. The ACP Pacemaker and the CSPA Gold Crown are pretty much the big dogs in college media, with the Hearst competition falling in there somewhere for accredited schools. In addition SPJ, NPPA and SND all have contests each year that carry some serious cache with award-seekers.

I somehow doubt students were thinking, “Man, there’s no way I’m going out to shoot photos of anything in this pandemic… wait… a contest I never heard of before is giving out CERTIFICATES? YEAH! Let’s go see if I can get a pic of an ICU patient coughing on me!”

Students who plan for awards the way my kid plans her birthday party (a year in advance and in great deal) were going after this anyway, so to get all in a lather about this one contest is spurious at best.


“Journalism faculty should be the most prepared for this kind of move:” Why you’re probably doing better than you think you are in teaching during the corona-pocalypse

My department had a video-conference faculty meeting on Friday, combining my two least-favorite things: buggy online video chats and meetings. This one was more productive than most because we were examining the good, the bad and the ugly we faced during our first week of online-only education in the wake of the corona-pocalypse.

The common theme seemed to be this: We’re doing better than we thought we would, and our students keep telling us we’re doing better than all of their other classes.

This seemed to be a common theme among the various educators’ social media groups I’ve been watching and joining. The more “general” groups have a ton of chaotic, the-sky-is-falling, holy-hell-we’re-all-gonna-die-doing-this posts about things like taking attendance in class or proctoring exams. The journalism groups had more of a “OK, how do I get X to work in Y environment so the kids get the best experience?” vibe to them.

Thanks to an expert in the field, I realized this wasn’t just a self-serving observation.

Maksl1_web_400x400Late last month, we had an interview with Adam Maksl on the blog, where he talked about how best to operate in this online-only, COVID-forced environment. Maksl, an associate professor of journalism and media at Indiana University Southeast, is currently serving as a Faculty fellow for eLearning Design & Innovation in IU’s Learning Technologies division (a unit within its IT organization, University Information Technology Services).

Here was his take on journalism and education in an online environment, as well as why you are probably doing better at this than you think you are:

You mentioned to me that you saw education moving to online is somewhat similar to what journalism saw in its move online a few decades back. Can you elaborate on that a little bit and explain what you think we can all learn from that previous experience as we engage in this one?

“Both journalism and education have traditionally been the gatekeepers to information. Neither industry is like that any longer. The same forces – technology and markets – affected and continues to affect both sectors. The difference is that journalism was more exposed to the market earlier. Education is where journalism was maybe a decade or so ago, so we as journalism educators should be especially willing to adapt because, frankly, “we’ve seen this movie before and we know how it ends.”

“If you really think about it, modern journalism, distributed through online channels, is very similar to education, especially digital/online education:

  • Teachers are to students as journalists are to audiences. Teachers/journalists create content that their students/audiences engage in and find value in.
  • We work for similar pro-social goals. We create content and opportunities for engagement to help people improve their lives and interact with the world around them.
  • The tools are often the same. Good teaching is often good storytelling, and online teaching uses the same technology tools as digital journalism.

“Journalism faculty should be the most prepared for this kind of move. Also, this rapid move online can actually be an opportunity for journalism faculty to model to their students the lessons we emphasize in our classes and the adaptability students must have as they enter the workforce.”

In addition to Maksl’s points, I’d like to chip in one more:

WE IMPROVISE, ADAPT AND OVERCOME EVERY DAY: Most fields expect the best and plan for the worst. Journalism is almost the exact opposite, except we don’t really get “the best” in most cases.

Sources we need won’t return our calls. What someone told us at 9 a.m. turns out to be “not quite accurate” at 9 p.m. Art falls through, committees table things we planned for our leads, computers crash on deadline and more. This is what we are expecting on any given day. Even more, those “perfect” days in which everything falls into place are often the most stressful because we’re constantly thinking, “Yeah… This won’t hold…”

We have been trained to understand that the broadcast will start at 10 p.m., the newspaper will go to press at 1 a.m. and failure is not an option. We can’t run a blank spot on page one, throw a box of crayons in the bag and tell the readers, “Here. Draw your own damned news. We couldn’t get it done.” We don’t have anchors tell us, “Our top story fell through, so John and I are going to bullshit for three minutes until the meteorologist finds his pants and get to the set.”

Making it work is what we do, and this isn’t going to be any different.