Controversy With UGA’s Red & Black Staff, SPJ Leaders’ Feud Provide Great Social Media Lesson

This month’s walkout of the editors at University of Georgia’s Red & Black and the disagreement between two leaders of Society of Professional Journalists over how to respond provide a great lesson in the power of blogging and social media.

If you teach journalism, you can appreciate the value of a fresh case study in social media when you’re kicking off a new school year.

It just so happens that this is my 200th blog post on this new WordPress platform, which I switched to three years ago next month, after four years blogging under the Blogger platform.

So I’ll use this post to speak to the power of the blogging platform in a recent  controversy to which I was connected in more than one way.

My beloved alma mater– University of Georgia — and its independent student newspaper, The Red and Black,  (for which I wrote multiple times as a graduate student in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication) are the setting for this lesson in both the power and potential of social media.

Instead of focusing on what prompted the UGA students to walk out and what Red & Black Publisher Harry Montevideo reportedly did when a student videographer attempted to videotape a closed meeting,  I want to focus on the use of social media.

Red & Dead

You have to see the Red & Dead blog that was created by the students who walked out to appreciate the power of this platform for telling a story.

Their mode of communication was not just text, but video and images. Their transparency was reflected in providing readers access to a draft memo that put in writing the policies that they felt were wrong.

Their Twitter account, @RedandDead815  attracted more than 4,300 followers in a matter of days.

“Conversations we’ve had here prove social media can foster meaningful relationships,” the students tweeted from the account, which they stopped posting on last week.

But, the social media power doesn’t just end with the students.

SPJ Leaders Disagree

You’ll want to see how a public disagreement between members of the Society of Professional Journalists national board over how to respond to the events at UGA played out on this same platform.


Full disclosure: As a member of that SPJ National Board, I was privy to e-mails regarding the disagreement and asked to weigh in.   Until now, I haven’t written about or commented publicly on the situation.

Michael Koretsky, our regional director for SPJ here in the Southeast, had one strategy.

But, our SPJ National President John Ensslin had another.    He took a slower, more measured approach, releasing a letter to the Chairman of the Red & Black Board several days after the controversy in Athens occurred.

Both Koretsky and Ensslin explained in great detail their


respective strategies.

They all did it with the same tool I’m using here– BLOGGING.

Even in the last communication between the two, Koretsky used the interactive tool  of reader comments to have the “last word” so to speak in their back-and-forth saga.

Other SPJ members, some who hadn’t previously spoken out on the issue, also weighed in there.

Why Spotlight This?

Journalism students and some journalists wonder why they should be blogging or tweeting or using any of these web-based tools to communicate.  They ask why they should have public comments to the things they post on their blogs.

One of Koretzky’s points is that SPJ is not utilizing these platforms enough to respond quickly on behalf of those whose forums for free expression are threatened.

Whether or not we use them for advocacy, the blogging platform and its multimedia capabilities have a power that many have yet to realize or tap into in doing journalism.

Fortunately, the editors at The Red & Black and some of our most outspoken SPJ leaders have harnessed that power.  And, we’re all the better for it.

Two generations of UA journalism standouts make trip to Gainesville for SPJ regional conference

Five University of Alabama students at the Society of Professional Journalists Southeastern regional conference this weekend in Gainesville, Fla. represent two generations of collegiate journalists, most of whom have worked at The Crimson White.

The UA delegation at the 2012 SPJ Southeastern Journalism conference includes three Crimson White Editors (from left) Victor Luckerson, Ashley Chaffin, Stephen Dethrage and two SPJ chapter officers Laura Metcalf and Amanda Sams (far right).

GAINESVILLE, Fla.– If you want to see the present and the future of journalism, you can usually find it at a Society of Professional Journalists spring regional conference.

Such is the case this weekend as five undergraduate students from the University of Alabama are here on the University of Florida campus where the Mark of Excellence student journalism awards will be handed out later today.

Students from the states of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Florida will find out whether or not they will advance to national competition for recognition as the nation’s best student newspapers, web sites, radio and television broadcasts.  A host of awards for individual stories and series will also be given.

Continue reading “Two generations of UA journalism standouts make trip to Gainesville for SPJ regional conference”

What Will It Take To Bring Paul Isom’s Case at East Carolina U. Back to the Media Spotlight?

Paul Isom made his case to attendees at the AEJMC Southeast Colloquium at Virginia Tech Friday. Now it’s up to AEJMC and SPJ to take another look at the free expression issues in this matter.

It’s been nearly four months since a streaker took the field during halftime at a East Carolina University football game and photos of the incident were published in The East Carolinian, ECU’s student newspaper.

Just a little more than two months ago, Paul Isom, the University’s student media director was removedfrom his position.

In a 25-minute address to attendees at the AEJMC Southeast Colloquium Friday at Virginia Tech, Paul Isom told of his termination as director of student media at East Carolina University.

The decision sparked a flurry of media reports around the country, especially among those of us in journalism circles, who are advocates for student free expression.

Probably not a moment too soon for East Carolina University, the media publicity of this case has subsided to barely a mention.

Continue reading “What Will It Take To Bring Paul Isom’s Case at East Carolina U. Back to the Media Spotlight?”

We’re Getting Set for Five Days, Four Nights in the Hoosier State

As if serving on the Society of Professional Journalists National Board has not brought me to Indianapolis, home of SPJ, enough, I have another reason to visit the Hoosier State next week– a weeklong learning experience at Indiana’s largest urban university.

“Connecting Campuses with Communities” is an important step in augmenting the service learning courses that I teach here at the University of Alabama.  Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI)  has the Award-winning Center for Service Learning.

That Center is hosting the Service Learning Institute followed by the IUPUI Research Academy.   It’s an honor to have been accepted to both activities and to have the opportunity to learn while I grow both the teaching I do here at Bama and the research that I produce as a scholar.

We’ll be taking lots of notes even as we take in the Indiana’s Capital City from a different vantagepoint.

Usually when I go to Indianapolis, it’s on business for SPJ.   But, this time I’ll be focusing on a different aspect of what I’ll do.

I’m taking along a camera and hoping to chronicle as much of the experience as I can here.  Starting Monday, my goal: at least a picture and a post for each of the five days.

For now, it’s time to pack my bags for the trip.

SPJ Business Prompts First Visit to the National Journalism Center

SPJ National Board is holding its spring meeting at the National Journalism Center in Indianapolis.

SPJ National Board Meets Saturday at the Society’s national headquarters at the National Journalism Center in Indianapolis.

INDIANAPOLIS– Some might call this the nerve center for journalism– the National Journalism Center is the home of the Society of Professional Journalists and it’s where I’m spending the weekend as the SPJ National Board and Sigma Delta Chi Foundation Boards hold their Spring meetings.

Meridian Street is a main roadway through Indiana’s state capital.  In fact, according to Wikipedia, parts of this north-south road are considered the “most prestigious” in the state of Indiana.   3909 North Meridian Street is the location for SPJ National staff working on the business of the nation’s largest, most broad-based organization.

During lunch, I had a chance to walk a few blocks down the street to see a little more of this community that is north of downtown Indianapolis (hence, “NORTH” Meridian Street).    Broadcast news enthusiasts like me also would be interested to know both Indianapolis’s NBC station, WTHR-TV and CBS affiliate, WISH-TV are located down Meridian Street, not too far from here.

Bill Oates received an applause from Dana Neuts, an SPJ regional director from the Northwest, and other more than 20 members of the SPJ National Board, who were all in attendance at our Spring Meeting this weekend.

Today’s meeting was the first for SPJ’s Region 3 Director Bill Oates, who stepped in to fill the unexpired term of Jenn Rowell, who left our Southeastern Region earlier this year.

I wrote about Bill’s first regional conference last month.

We’ll have more from the National Journalism Center here in Indianapolis on Sunday.

Using Helen Thomas incident as journalism teaching tool?

Today in my Journalistic Principles class I am planning to revisit one of the most challenging and distasteful experiences I have had as a member of the Society of Professional Journalists National Board. Nearly two months ago, the SPJ National Board voted to retire an award named for Veteran White House Correspondent Helen Thomas.

Today in my Journalistic Principles class I am planning to revisit one of the most challenging and distasteful experiences I have had as a member of the Society of Professional Journalists National Board.  Nearly two months ago, the SPJ National Board voted to retire an award named for Veteran White House Correspondent Helen Thomas.

This decision to no longer give The Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award came not without much angst and discussion, first among our Executive Committee and then with the full board.  It was a perfect case of how we must reflect the part of our SPJ Ethics Code which says journalists must MINIMIZE HARM even as we protect the right of an individual to practice the First Amendment.

Thomas  commented to a rabbi on video that Jews in Palestine should “go home.” She drew widespread criticism after the video was posted online, and she later resigned her job as a Hearst Newspapers columnist. The SPJ’s executive committee considered removing Thomas’ name during a July 2010 meeting but did not, noting it was a one-time, spontaneous remark for which she apologized.

In December, Thomas reiterated her previous comments before a speech in Dearborn, Mich., the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News reported. The News quoted her at the time as saying, “Congress, the White House and Hollywood, Wall Street are owned by the Zionists. No question.”

The practical issue for the Board was related to the controversy’s impact on the award and the future recipients.   At the same time, we wanted to vehemently protect one’s First Amendment rights, even when speech is controversial.

Today’s class is focused on the link between Journalism and what’s legal and ethical.  The Helen Thomas case provides an opportunity to show how Thomas practiced what is legal in exercising her First Amendment Rights.  But, we believe she stumbled ethically in more than one instance where she made offensive comments that don’t suggest she is minimizing harm when covering certain communities.  Of course, we did not as a national board evaluate her reporting.

Furthermore,  another core principle of our Society of Professional Journalists is DIVERSITY.

Thomas’ comments also do not suggest the level of sensitivity that we as journalists should have when covering communities of people from various backgrounds.

So, on a number of levels, there are opportunities to expose a real-life CASE STUDY for students of journalism to learn what’s legal and what’s ethical, while also addressing matters of diversity.

It should be an interesting lesson.   And, I only have about 30 minutes to deliver it today.   We’ll see how it goes.

SPJ 2010-Day 1 Preview

Most of the delegates and attendees for the Society of Professional Journalists Annual Convention will be arriving today.  A few of the leaders are already here as there are leadership meetings beginning within the hour.

Here’s a quick preview of what’s happening on “SPJ Day”

– Opening Business Meeting
-Meet and Greet with both the outgoing President Kevin Smith and Incoming President Hagit Limor
-Chapter Leaders Training
-Regional Meetings

Five Things I Want from SPJ 2010

During the Society of Professional Journalists National Convention, I want to learn more about mobile reporting, meet Mark Briggs (author of JournalismNEXT) and visit Las Vegas media outlets.

LAS VEGAS– Greetings from the “Entertainment Capital of the World,” Nevada’s most populous city and the home for the annual gathering of the nation’s largest and most broad-based organization of journalists.

For educators like me, it is always a challenge to stop in the middle of the semester in order to come to an Society of Professional Journalists annual convention,which occurs usually in late September or early October.

But, once we get here and start having exchanges with the hundreds of journalists who attend and taking in the dozens of professional development sessions, it makes the interruption all worth it.   And, our journalism students are better for it. This year, at least two of those students from Alabama will be here.

Besides attending to the business of Society (something you kind of have to do as a national board member) there are at least FIVE (5) goals I have for myself at this SPJ Convention, my second such gathering here in Vegas:

1.  Meet -up with our SPJ 2010 attendees who send Tweets

While I’ve been on Twitter for almost two years, I’ve never been to a Tweet-up.  And, there’s word that we might have one on Monday night.

2.  See what the latest thinking is about mobile

The biggest addition my journalism teaching this semester is this thing called “mobile,”  or helping students learn how to produce news and information on mobile device while considering the end user as receiving his/her news on such mobile devices.   I’m looking forward to hearing some of the presenters like Mark Luckie, Rob Curley and Kerry Northrup

3. Visit the Las Vegas Media

Sometimes the best parts of going to a professional development gathering like an SPJ convention is the chance to see what other media are doing.   Lord willing, I want to check out the studios at CBS affiliate KLAS-TV and the Las Vegas Review Journal, both off-sites that are scheduled this week.

4. Meet the author of my course textbook, JournalismNEXT

After using his great online book, Journalism 2.0, Mark Briggs has released JournalismNEXT, a handbook that has already informed my students’ learning about such things as Cascading Style Sheets, gearheads and the fact that “We are All Web workers.”

5.  Connect with the Native American Journalists Association

Also, this week, we will have the leadership of Native American Journalists Association visiting our gathering.  I’m hoping we’ll become acquainted with some of the challenges we’re facing in covering Native communities and strategies for improvement.

It’ll be a great week.  I hope to be live blogging (and perhaps vlogging) and posting updates from here at The Planet Hollywood throughout the next four days.

Nick Saban’s Media Tactics, SEC Policy Tops UA Programs This Week

Even though the countdown to kick-off to The Alabama Crimson Tide’s 2010 season has been on the front page of The Tuscaloosa News for months, the rest of the world is just now shifting into “countdown mode” as we factor in football to our Labor Day Weekend plans.

Here at Alabama, two student organizations turned the spotlight on sports and media as they kicked off the 2010-2011 school year.    A day after beat writers and editors talked about the ethics in covering the Crimson Tide, the student chapter of Public Relations Student Society of America featured the top man in the PR operation for the Southeastern Conference.

It’s no surprise that both events drew packed classrooms with hundreds of UA students turning out to take in the wisdom of those covering sports and managing the brands of some of the most high-profile athletic programs in the country.

WVUA's Gary Harris makes a point as CRIMSON Magazine's Gregory Enns listens.

Monday night’s panel discussion sponsored by the UA Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists featured WVUA-TV ‘s one and only sports director, Gary Harris along with Jessie Jones from UA Alumni Publications, Dennis Pillion of and Gregory Enns, founding publisher of Crimson Magazine.

After recounting some of their biggest stories involving the Crimson Tide, all four panelists were frank about the realities of covering Nick Saban and a national championship team from access to the “bad news” that fans don’t want to hear.

“We’re not going to shy away from something because we think there might be backlash,” said Pillion, who as a student was sports editor at Dateline Alabama when the scandal involving Former UA Football Coach Mike Price unfolded.

Pillion told students about the judgment calls he learned how to make even as a student editor about stories involving coaches.

“You cover scandals and at the same time, you try to make sure you don’t get caught up in the hoopla,” said Gary Harris, who readily admits that over time you can develop friendships with the coaches and their families that make it challenging to tell the bad news.

Taking a little bit of different perspective, Jessie Jones, who is the daughter of Crimson Tide Gymnastics Coach Sarah Patterson, told students how she learned to focus on the people behind many of her sports stories.  She was especially proud of a profile she did on Former UA Football Coach Mike Shula where she was given unprecedented access to him and his family.

Access is something that has been a particular issue for the sports beat writers on Monday night’s SPJ panel, which focused specifically on ethics.

“Nick Saban controls everything.   Everything he does is based on controlling image and recruiting,” Harris explained.  “You can’t just talk to a player when you want to talk to a player.”

A day later at the public relations-focused event featuring him as keynote speaker, Charles Bloom, associate commissioner for media relations at the Southeastern Conference, admitted that it’s a different day for coaches at all of the 12 SEC schools.

“The coach-media PR relationship is at its worst,” he said.  “There is a fractured relationship with the media.”

Bloom was frank with the more than 150+ public relations students about how proactive PR and crisis management are now more heavily emphasized in college sports.

“You’ve got to protect the brand,” Bloom said.

Covering Nick Saban

But, the journalists speaking a day earlier to a crowd of mostly journalism students cautioned how this protecting the brand by coaches like Alabama’s Nick Saban could impact how they do their jobs.

“I do think we all worry that it could affect our ability to cover the team,” Harris said.   “When you’re covering a program like Alabama you get access, but you don’t want that access to be taken away.”

Pillion, who writes for the Tide Corner blog for, explained to students who Saban often tries to set parameters around the lines of questions asked during his news conference, the latest of which had just occurred hours before Monday’s panel.”   According to Pillion, Saban will tell reporters topics on which he won’t answer questions.  But, that doesn’t stop reporters from firing away their questions on “touchy subjects.”

“He’ll blast you for asking the question, then he’ll answer it,” Pillion said.

The sports journalists were fairly unanimous in their advice to the students, many of whom seek to work in sports media, that they have to be prepared when they interview Alabama’s head football coach and expect to be “embarrassed” if they’re not.

Even as the issue of covering Nick Saban consumed much of the hourlong panel on Monday, the SEC’s new more restrictive media policy came up at both events.

Still Sour About SEC Media Policy

In the process of negotiating its new television deal with ESPN, the Southeastern Conference initially set some restrictions on the extent to which anyone could use social media tools such as Twitter at events that are broadcast.

“Gentry Estes’ Twitter feed is not competing with a CBS broadcast,”said Pillion.  “This new policy could potentially change how people get coverage online.”

In his remarks to the PRSSA on Tuesday, Bloom addressed the policy.

“We blew it guys.”he said. “It was very overreaching.”

Bloom noted that the policy had been revised after consulting with such organizations as the Associated Press Managing Editors and the Radio-Television Digital News Association and as far he knew “Everybody’s OK with it.”

Bloom, who started out as a news-editorial journalism major before switching to public relations while a student at University of South Carolina, maintains his membership in groups of basketball and baseball writers.  He emphasized transparency in his 30-minute address to the UA students.

“I’m an open guy.  I believe in openness.”

“Status quo is Best”

That was apparent in his not dodging questions about some of the most controversial topics of 2010 such as recent talk of expanding the Southeastern Conference as other BCS (Bowl Championship Series) conferences have expanded.

“We have 12 very strong schools,” Bloom said when explained that as far as the SEC is concerned, the “status quo is best.”

“If we were to expand, somebody would have to add tremendous value.”

NPR shines light on access issues for reporters covering Oil Spill– Where was SPJ?

NPR’s David Folkenflik reports on challenges journalists face in gaining access to cover the Gulf Oil Spill. Including no journalism groups such as SPJ or any of the groups focused on ensuring journalists access to vital information, the news report raises a question of relevance for professional journalism organizations.

Talk about glaring omissions.  I couldn’t believe National Public Radio’s David Folkenflik managed to produce a story about reporters’ lack of access to areas around the BP Gulf Oil spill and never talked to (or at least included in his report) any of the journalism organizations whose main focus is to press for access to information.

Instead, the story, which aired on today’s  Morning Edition, featured the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which filed a complaint with nine Louisiana parishes.  According to Folkenflik, Marjorie Esman, executive director of the Louisiana ACLU,  had received complaints from all kinds of journalists who say they’ve been prevented from taking footage or reporting in public spaces such as roads or beaches.

My QUESTION IS:  Why didn’t those journalists contact SPJ or other journalism organizations?   Why was ACLU their first option?

I write this post as a member of the SPJ’s National Board of Directors.    When we talk about the relevance of professional journalism organizations such as SPJ and RTDNA (Radio-Television Digital News Association), it is stories such as Folkenflik’s that raise the question — why aren’t journalists actively seeking our help in such matters?  Perhaps we’re not viewed as viable enough to spur action on the part of local governments or global corporations?

While SPJ has not been completely silent on issues related to the coverage of the spill, it should have been a central force in the ongoing discussion about acess to information on this story.   In a June 7 news release, the leadership of SPJ joined other journalism organizations that called for President Obama to ensure access to monitoring data.

Seems to me SPJ and other groups may have an image problem.  Do journalists see us a first responder when issues of access to information arise?   Why or why not?     Maybe I’m over-reacting, making too much of one story.  Or maybe we as an professional organization need to a better job of conveying to working journalists that we ARE there and available to go to bat for them.