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Trump presidency will benefit from Sessions’ approach to the media

The appointment of U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions to U.S. Attorney General will make it difficult for journalists covering the Donald Trump presidency to use confidential sources. Sessions will take full advantage of the absence of a federal shield law to wield a heavy hand with the media when it attempts to report from inside the administration.

How do we know this? His history of obstructing a Free Flow of Information bill for the past decade and his disdain for the American press.

 

For the better part of two weeks the American media has been wallowing in angst over the impending Donald Trump presidency, uncertain what coverage of the Oval Office will look like the next four years.

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U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions

There was speculation this week that President Trump will do away with the press pool that covers the office, sparking 14 news organizations to object to that plan for the sake of government transparency.

This, of course, comes on the heels of a very acrimonious relationship with the media that began on Day One of the Make America Great Again campaign. Trump has taken every opportunity to vilify the press, blaming them for his negative coverage when it went so far to point out his inaccuracies and the inconsistencies of his viewpoints.

Throughout the campaign he whipped up his base’s hatred for many groups, including the press. It didn’t happen without concerns from journalists. Reporters and photographers were physically threatened at worst and subjected to the sad, old refrains of “bias” at the least whenever Trump was challenged.

So, it stands to reason that there would be some serious hand-wringing once Trump takes office. Then came Friday’s announcement.

If you want to get a full measure of what the press may be in for, look no further than the appointment of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R – Alabama) as the new U.S. Attorney General. Sessions is absolutely no friend of the press. In fact, the GOP senator made a habit of trying to stifle the press for years from his vaulted seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

I was president of the Society of Professional Journalists from 2009-10 and it was the fourth straight year SPJ and a coalition of journalism groups were working to enact a federal shield law. The protective law, under the title Free Flow of Information, would grant journalists reporting on the federal government many of the same protections afforded reporters covering state government, which is to say, they could not be forced to reveal condidential sources unless there was compelling evidence to do so by a court.

Sessions and fellow GOP senators led an opposition to the shield law that lasted for years, and in particular, in 2009, he took it to extremes by openly and repeatedly mischaracterizing the bill’s language and intentions.

Sessions primary concern was national security. Understandable. But, no version of Free Flow of Information Bill was without exemptions for that. Journalists don’t want to aid and harbor enemies of the state with their reporting, so every version of the bill that came to the Senate Judiciary Committee in those years, made an exemption.

Still Sessions used his bully pulpit to try to convince his constituents that allowing source protection meant journalists would hide rapists, terrorists, child molesters from public scrutiny. It was a brazen scare tactic that resonated only with his fellow Republicans.

In another argument against the shield law, Sessions cited a grossly inaccurate statistic – that under the George W. Bush administration, only one reporter had been subjected to a federal subpoena for his sources. The accurate figure was 175. In fact, the increase in subpoenas of reporters was the very reason there was pressing need to enact a shield law.  SPJ and others were working hard to get the protection from undue interference by the judiciary which impacted First Amendment rights to report and inform the American public.

As attorney general, Sessions will unleash a torrid assault on the press from his new office. If you think President Trump wants to suppress the American press in its coverage of the federal government, then you have to believe that he has his greatest foot soldier in Jeff Sessions as attorney general.

It’s not unreasonable to expect that the number of subpoenas for reporters’ notes and material will increase dramatically. If you want to keep a press at bay, keep a legal hammer over its head in the form of lengthy, costly legal battles. Sessions will be the one to orchestrate that. I have little doubt that he will use the powers of his office to exert a heavy hand over the press.

With newsrooms shrinking and their  resources stretched thin even large and powerful voices in the press will find it hard to constantly defend themselves in court proceedings when federal court officials come calling with subpoenas, demanding to know at every turn who the confidential source is in a story.

There will be no better, legal way to muzzle the press during a Trump administration than operating a mission of suppression from the U.S. Attorney General’s office.

And, Sessions is up to the task.

 

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Journalists need to step up verification in hoax-filled cyber world

A leading expert in verifying stories and photos shared on social media believes most people have some basic motivations for sharing fake images.

He also believes it’s possible for journalists to discover newsworthy eyewitness images and steer clear of hoaxes and old pictures from unrelated events.

Often people pass along jaw-dropping photos because they get caught up in the moment. Some of them don’t know how to tell what’s real and what’s not on social media. Sometimes people are joking, but the photos are shared with people who aren’t in on the joke.

Job # 160172 Kiplinger Program Steve Myers APR-8-2016 The Ohio State University Photograph by Kevin Fitzsimons

Steve Myers talking at Ohio State University Photograph by Kevin Fitzsimons

And then there are people who use images as a form of rhetoric, sharing ones that validate their beliefs, said Steve Myers, a former Poynter Online editor who just completed a stint as professional-in-residence in Texas Christian University’s journalism department.

Myers routinely shares his work during Kiplinger Fellowship Week at Ohio State University.

“People see something that is too good to ignore and without spending the time to verify it, they do the natural thing, which is to comment and pass it along,” Myers told Kiplinger Fellows at a recent presentation. “Other times, even when the message or image seems out of place, it validates what they believe about a topic, so it seems perfectly fine to share.”

Myers showed an image of a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant that was alleged to have been vandalized during riots in Baltimore. Some people posted the photo with racial slurs aimed at the looters. The image actually was from a looted restaurant in Karachi, Pakistan. Continue reading

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Kiplinger Program director will lead Investigative Reporters and Editors

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Kiplinger Program director Doug Haddix has been named executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors.

Haddix, who has led the Kiplinger Program for five years, will leave his position Oct. 21 and take the helm at IRE on Oct. 24.

“I’m proud of our Kiplinger team and how we dramatically expanded the reach of our training,” Haddix said. In recent years, Kiplinger Program digital training has helped 1,800 journalists, students and professors annually at national journalism conferences, regional workshops, its flagship fellowship program and other events.

“I’m thrilled and honored to lead IRE during such a pivotal time in our news industry and society as a whole,” Haddix said. “The need for high-impact watchdog reporting has never been greater. IRE is positioned well to strengthen its global role in training and equipping journalists with the knowledge, strategy and tools to hold those in power accountable for their actions.”

IRE, based at the University of Missouri, represents more than 5,500 journalists across the United States and around the world. The nonprofit membership organization was formed in 1975 to improve the quality of investigative journalism.

“The entire IRE Board of Directors is excited to name Doug Haddix as executive director,” board president Matt Goldberg said. “His management skills and extensive experience in journalism, training, education and fundraising are the perfect fit to lead IRE into the future.”

Before joining the Kiplinger Program, Haddix worked for three years as an IRE national training director. Previously, he worked for 10 years as projects editor at The Columbus Dispatch and as city editor of The Scranton Times in Pennsylvania and The Commercial-News in Danville, Illinois. As a reporter, he worked for United Press International in Indianapolis and for the Springfield News-Sun in Ohio.

Haddix earned a master’s degree in journalism at Indiana University and a bachelor’s degree in English/journalism and political science from Miami University (Ohio).

 

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Ebola survivors document their life-changing experiences

In the spring of 2014, I had the honor of traveling to Sierra Leone on behalf of the Kiplinger Program and the U.S. State Department to spend a week training journalists.

While I was there to share my journalism knowledge, it was I who learned a great deal. I saw firsthand the lack of formal education, health care, jobs and infrastructure needed to maintain a viable economy. I witnessed the impoverished living conditions, learned about the political corruption, and supported the media’s right to report truthfully and fairly about these conditions without going to jail.

I learned enough in that week talking with my journalism colleagues there, that when news broke a few days after my departure that the Ebola virus had surfaced in neighboring Guinea, I knew it would be more burden on a region of people that struggles daily to cope.Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 1.48.58 PM

Over the next year, I kept in contact with many of the journalists I met. Some died from Ebola and others bravely worked on, reporting the devastation and recovery.

Back in Touch is a collection of powerful stories made by Sierra Leone journalists. The eight-story package is equal parts heartbreaking and inspiring. They allow those most affected by the disease to tell their plights and conquests. It’s also a keen insight into the lives of Africans and why a deadly disease there creates more havoc than in more developed nations.

I encourage you to take some time to view these vignettes. Ebola is gone … for now. The scars left behind are permanent. While most of the world has moved on, it’s not in our interest to forget.

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Former Kiplinger Fellow Lynn Walsh takes SPJ reins, talks journalism’s challenges

Kiplinger Fellowship alumna Lynn Walsh will assume the leadership role of the nation’s largest journalism organization when she is sworn in as president of the Society of Professional Journalists on Sept. 20.

A 2014 Fellow, she is an executive producer for the investigative unit at KNSD NBC 7 in San Diego. Walsh has won state and local awards as well as multiple Emmys. She is also the producer of the Lynn Walsh Daily, an aggregated news website.

Kiplinger alumna and SPJ incoming president Lynn Walsh The Ohio State University Photo by Kevin Fitzsimons

In her leadership role with SPJ, Walsh will be asked to set the tone for an organization with 8,000 professional and student members during a time of business uncertainty for the news media.

We asked her to give us some insight into how she envisions her year in office.

What do you believe to be the greatest challenges facing journalism today and what, in your future capacity, can you do to help address those?

The constantly changing landscape of the flow of information. I think social media and the web have made our jobs easier and more exciting but also harder and more confusing. News is not just produced in newsrooms any longer, it’s happening instantaneously all around us. I think this is a great for the public, but it means we need to adapt the way we produce news.

As a leader in SPJ, I think this expands our role and responsibility to think of programs and ways to reach people that may not consider themselves journalists. It means educating the public about journalistic ethics, the impact publishing content online can have, and the resources and information available to them through public information laws.

You’re in a traditional media – television. How significantly has it changed to meet modern consumer demands?

The format of TV news has not changed much but HOW it is viewed and the priorities of journalists inside TV newsrooms has changed and continues to change. The Investigative unit I oversee at NBC in San Diego will publish and produce online-only investigative stories. That was not happening at the station before, but now it happens often. We also will publish our investigative video stories online before they air. I see TV stations trying all sorts of new storytelling techniques, especially with social media. Now, is it happening as quickly as some, including myself, would like it, not all the time. You are going to continue to see TV news change to meet the online demands of the public, and I think you will see it happen even more quickly in the next couple of years than it did during the last five.

If professional journalists are still needed 10 years from now, what do you see as their roles?

I do not think the question is “if” — they will be. Look, I love that any individual with access to the internet can have just as much influence with a tweet or YouTube video as an article in the New York Times. This is good for journalism, and it is good for democracy and the world. BUT, there will still be a place for professional and ethical journalism. Think about breaking news situations. There is so much information coming in so quickly on the internet during a big breaking news event, how does a member of the public sort through that? They turn to those journalists and professionals they trust. That has been the role of a journalist and always will be. To ethically, fairly and accurately report information to the public. As journalists, we have to remember this and be careful not to get pulled in to being first and inaccurate.

Now that you’ve reached a position of leadership, what’s the best advice you can share with younger journalists coming up should they want to follow your lead and become journalism leaders?

Pursue what you love, and don’t be afraid to take risks. Yes, there are processes in place, and you should be respectful of those, but it doesn’t mean you are stuck to them. Think outside the box. Don’t be afraid to share your ideas with people who may be in positions above yours. If you have a good idea, want to help and are skilled at what you do, people are normally more than willing to listen and let you lead the way.

Did the Kiplinger Fellowship influence you in any way?

The Kiplinger Fellowship, and others like it, are a great way to further your career. It’s always important to continue to learn the newest tools and tricks, and when you are doing that throughout your career with other journalists, it’s a win-win. It is a great networking opportunity and it’s fun.

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