Your connection to industry & member news
Your connection to industry & member news
Your connection to industry & member news  |  May 20, 2021

‘When in doubt, disclose.’ Public has right to know who dies in SC prisons, AG rules

Deaths that happen in South Carolina prisons can’t be kept secret and the names of the deceased and cause of death can be made public, the S.C. Attorney General’s Office said in an opinion Friday.
“This office strongly supports transparency and disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act,” the 11-page opinion said in a ringing statement supporting the principle of government openness.
“Indeed, we have consistently advised for decades: When in doubt, disclose,” the opinion said.
The opinion continued, “The operation of our prisons and jails and what occurs therein are matters of great public importance. For that reason, among others, prisoners have a diminished expectation of privacy while in prison.”
Failure to disclose the identities of dead inmates would be a violation of the S.C. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the opinion said. “Disclosure is mandatory.”
By John Monk, The State | Read more

SC superintendent battled the local newspaper. Then he used public money to start his own.

WINNSBORO — J.R. Green seethed with anger as he read an article in his local newspaper. The school district he leads was on winter break, but Green couldn’t stop fuming over the words on the page before him.
The Voice of Fairfield County reported that Green’s district had failed to meet certain state academic benchmarks. The article cited statistics to prove it.
Bristling at the critique, the superintendent fired off an email to his principals and school board. The missive, titled “False, Biased, and Misleading Reporting,” blasted the paper and accused its reporter of “marginalizing our students, staff, and system.”
“I want you to share this reporting with your staff so they understand the hostile media environment we face,” Green wrote that night in December 2018.
The fiery dispatch is emblematic of Green’s approach to uncomfortable questions and criticism during his nine years leading this high-poverty Midlands district of roughly 2,000 students.
In public forums, he has sidestepped questions about his taxpayer-funded salary and other points of contention. For years, he has rebuffed attempts to reveal how he spends thousands of dollars in public money. Most recently, when asked about a potential conflict of interest involving a former district employee from whom Green rents his personal home, Green refused to discuss details.
It’s one striking example of how easily government officials in South Carolina can shield information from the public. In its investigative series Uncovered, The Post and Courier is partnering with local newspapers to help shine a light on questionable conduct, and hold the powerful to account in areas with few watchdogs.
Across South Carolina, particularly in rural communities that have become news deserts, officials are less likely to be pressed on their decisions, and more prone to set the public agenda themselves.
In this latest installment, a Post and Courier joint investigation with The Voice pierced the veil that shrouds Fairfield schools, one of South Carolina’s smaller, but relatively well-funded, school districts.
By Joseph Cranney and Avery G. Wilks of The Post and Courier and Barbara Ball of The Voice of Fairfield County | Read more

Meet our SCPA Foundation interns

In the coming weeks, we'll introduce you to our 2021 interns and Mundy Scholar.
Bryn Smyth
Winthrop University
Hubert Osteen Memorial Internship at The Sumter Item

Bryn Eddy Smyth is an English major and educational studies minor at Winthrop University.
A native of Fort Mill, Smyth is the youngest of five and the daughter of Robin and John Eddy. Smyth is married to Joseph Smyth and is raising a dog, Maple, and a cat, Everest, with her husband.
Smyth’s professional background is mostly grounded in education, having had multiple internships across the Fort Mill and Rock Hill public school districts.
Smyth joined her campus paper, The Johnsonian, in August of 2020 as the news editor and promptly fell in love with the journalism field and hopes to first pursue a career as a high school English teacher, then later as a print journalist. Smyth is also interested in scholastic journalism and hopes to oversee a high school student newspaper during her career as a high school English teacher.
Smyth was recently hired as the editor-in-chief of The Johnsonian for the 2021-22 school year at Winthrop.
Smyth is a tutor at her university’s writing center and adores hiking and reading canon literature in her spare time.
“I am very excited for my internship at The Sumter Item and I know that through this internship I will acquire skills and knowledge that will greatly benefit The Johnsonian as well as any newspaper I pursue a career at post-graduation,” Smyth said. “I believe my being an English major will make me an asset to any newspaper I join.”

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Member Spotlight: Martin Cahn

Editor, Chronicle-Independent, Camden
What do you like best about your job?
As I told my predecessor as editor and my publisher when I was hired nearly 21 years ago, I love to write. So, even though I’m the editor of the paper, I’m a writing editor, covering just about everything within the borders of Kershaw County – at least as much as one man can! I love writing for a living and I love being able to tell the stories of the community, from residents doing cool things in the neighborhood to keeping folks up to date with what’s happening in local government. I also like writing my weekly (sometimes twice weekly) column where I often focus on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) issues, First Amendment rights and journalism in general. I’ve also written about everything from movies to books to family matters and more.

What is your proudest career moment?
My first thought was about some of the awards I’ve won, but I think the proudest moment of my career was when I became editor of the paper in 2012. That’s because, although I never got to work with them, my family was in the newspaper business. My grandparents owned and operated a weekly newspaper, “penny saver” and a printing press operation on Long Island, N.Y., for about 40 years starting in the 1940s. My grandfather was the publisher and my grandmother was the editor. My father and mother (after she married my dad) worked for them, too, for a while before my dad joined the U.S. State Department. So, after 12 years of being a reporter, becoming the editor of the paper was something that meant a lot to me in regards to the inspiration they had given me.

What's the most exciting thing going on at your paper? 
Frankly, just making sure we get the news out every Tuesday and Friday is exciting enough for us – we know how lucky we are to be doing that in today’s media landscape.
What’s your favorite SCPA member service?
Hands down, my favorite service is being able to get in touch with Bill Rogers, Jen Madden or Taylor Smith when something regarding FOIA comes up. They have all been absolutely invaluable to us over the years, including quite recently after a county councilman made a motion to add an item to an executive session right before the vote to go into that executive session. Since doing so amounted to amending the evening’s entire agenda, the presiding chairman should have made a ruling for exigent circumstances and called for a two-thirds majority vote. Taylor helped us make sure that our notice to the county and our story about it was correct.
What are some area attractions/restaurants in your community we shouldn’t miss? 
5. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Camden is the oldest inland city in South Carolina, dating back to 1732 when it was laid out as the town of Fredericksburg. That township later disappeared, but the town was re-founded as Pine Tree Hill in 1758 and then renamed Camden in 1768. So, there’s a lot of old homes and other buildings dating back to various points in the city’s history, including the Civil War era. Attractions include Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site, the Camden Battlefield and Longleaf Pine Preserve (about 8 miles north of town), and a new Revolutionary War visitors center is nearly ready to open. The horse industry is pretty big here, with the Carolina Cup steeplechase races coming up in May. The S.C. Equine Center where other horse-related events take place is just east of town. There’s also various historic sites throughout the county. The Arts Center of Kershaw County always has something going on, and there are tons of parks throughout the city and county. Downtown shops include antique stores, along with good restaurants (I don’t dare mention specific ones for fear of upsetting an advertiser or two) and retail stores. The biggest news for the city is that our historic Clock Tower building, which has served as an opera house, city hall, movie theater, and two department store, is being converted into a boutique hotel. Whew!

What is something most people don’t know about you?
Readers know a lot about me because I’ve written so much about myself in my columns over two decades. I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned this in my columns or not: My father, sister and I were part of a community theater group outside of Washington, D.C., when I was a kid. Every December, the theater would cast kids for musicals. Starting at 9 years old, I played a munchkin in The Wizard of Oz, the Dormouse in Alice in Wonderland, and a dwarf – we couldn’t use the names, but I was the equivalent of “Doc” – in Snow White. I think that’s what led to my working in radio for 14 years starting in high school.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I grew up a nerd or whatever we called ourselves in the 1970s and 1980s, so I’m a bit of a gamer, and to this day still play solo computer role playing games (I’ve never gotten into joining multiplayer stuff). My favorites in recent years have been the Dragon Age, Assassin’s Creed and Witcher franchises. I have also played Sid Meyer’s Civilization practically since the original came out. So, if I’m not playing back a TV show or movie on my computer or reading a book, I’m probably playing one of those. I will say that if you had asked me this question just a few years ago, I would have said spending time with my sons. I still do that, but at 19 and 20, they don’t want to hang with dad that much anymore. LOL, as we say in text messages!

Who would you like SCPA to spotlight? Email us your recommendations.

FOI Briefs

North Augusta to resume posting City Council documents ahead of meeting

From now on, North Augusta citizens are going to have a little more information about what City Council is voting on before they head to meetings.
Mayor Briton Williams, just one week into the job, announced May 10 that the backup materials for City Council meetings would be once again published ahead of the meeting.
“Citizens need to be able to know what we’re going to be voting and talking about so they can ask questions and respond in a City Council meeting,” Williams said last week.
“If they don’t have the City Council backup material in advance, it’s going to be real hard for them to know what to ask.”
By Lindsey Hodges, The North Augusta Star | Read more

USC may have violated FOIA in naming Pastides interim president

... After sending a news release Wednesday evening titled “UofSC President Caslen resigns; Pastides named new interim,” USC spokesman Jeff Stensland said May 13 that Pastides “is not officially interim president.”
Rather, USC’s board of trustees plans to approve Pastides — who has already told officials he would accept the interim role — for the position during a meeting on May 21 at 9 a.m., Stensland said. ...
Public agencies, such as USC, are legally prohibited from making major decisions without holding public meetings and casting public votes, said Jay Bender, an attorney with the S.C. Press Association. When USC had announced the board had named Pastides interim president without holding a public meeting or a vote, it appeared to violate the S.C. Freedom of Information Act, Bender said.
By Lucas Daprile, The State | Read more

People & Papers

AP Political Reporter Meg Kinnard looks out the second story window of her Blythewood home as she shares her fight to get the right breast cancer diagnosis in hopes of helping others. Photo by Victoria Hansen, SC Public Radio

Political reporter takes on cancer publicly

Light cascades across Meg Kinnard’s face as she stretches out beside a second story window in her Richland County home. Her skin glows beneath a colorful scarfed wrapped elegantly around her head.
There’s no sign of Kinnard’s signature long, black hair. She is a well-known political reporter for the Associated Press.
“We talk as reporters about how as long as your name doesn’t appear in the body copy of the piece then you’re doing okay because the story is not about you,” says Kinnard.
But this story is about Meg Kinnard and a journey she unknowingly began four years ago.
“I was doing a personal breast check and I found something that felt like a very small pebble in my left breast.”
So, Kinnard got her first mammogram at age 36. Doctors diagnosed the lump as a calcium deposit that would likely go away. But it did not. Kinnard says it grew larger and the skin around it began to change.
Radiologists continued to monitor the mass with regular mammograms. They did not recommend a biopsy until February of this year.
That’s when Kinnard got the results from a woman she’d never met. She had stage three breast cancer.
“That phone call knocked my socks off,” says Kinnard. “I wasn’t expecting that."
By Victoria Hansen, South Carolina Public Radio | Read more
Charles Swenson, editor of the Coastal Observer in Pawleys Island, was recently featured as part of the First Thursday Series from the Friends of the Waccamaw Library. Swenson has served as editor since the paper’s founding in 1982. He has collected a wealth of newsworthy tales along the Waccamaw Neck—serious, sad, silly, strange. In today’s multi-media, transnational age with 24/7 streaming news, he can speak to how a local newspaper provides straightforward, on-the-scene articles and creates community connections. Swenson is SCPA's Vice President of Weekly Newspapers. 

Industry Briefs

Publishers call on President to use local newspaper advertising to help reach goal of 70% vaccinated by July 4

The News Media Alliance and the National Newspaper Association (NNA) recently sent a letter to President Joe Biden, on behalf of their more than 3,700 combined daily and community newspaper members, encouraging the Administration to use advertising in local newspapers to help build trust and acceptance of vaccines.
On May 4, President Biden announced the Administration was releasing additional funding for coronavirus strategies, including $130 million to improve vaccine education and information, and an additional $250 million to assist state governments with outreach efforts to encourage citizens to become inoculated – particularly in states with lagging vaccination rates compared to the rest of the country.
According to the letter, signed by Alliance President & CEO, David Chavern, and NNA Executive Director, Lynne Lance, “We appreciate [President Biden’s] strong leadership in addressing the public health and economic crisis presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. News publishers across the country stand ready to work with [the Biden] Administration to meet [their] goal of getting 70 percent of U.S. citizens inoculated by July 4.”
From News Media Alliance and the National Newspaper Association | Read more

Sen. Cantwell to ask Biden Administration to include $2.3 billion for newspapers, broadcasters in infrastructure plan

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) told members of America's Newspapers on May 11, that she will seek about $2.3 billion worth of tax credits and grants  for local newspapers and broadcasters as part of President Biden's infrastructure plan.
Sen. Cantwell, who has been active in helping the newspaper industry address the challenges that many papers faced with regard to the Paycheck Protection Program, told participants at PIVOT 2021 that, while PPP loans helped the industry stave off its biggest challenges in the near term, additional help will be needed over the next two to three years.
She said a 67-page report that she published last October recognizes how much newspapers have lost due to unfair market practices and to changes in the way news content is delivered, adding: "We want to make sure you don't lose any more during this next two to three years."
Her proposal would include a combination of both tax credits (for employee health care, benefits and payroll) and grants administered through the Department of Commerce to help newspapers rehire some of the lost workforce and build back good local content.
By Cindy Durham for America's Newspapers | Read more

New campaign wants to ‘Protect Our Press’

A Boston-based independent, creative-led advertising agency, Allen & Gerritsen (A&G), wants to assist newsrooms in their fight for survival with a new initiative called Protect Our Press. The goal is to preserve local, professional journalism in communities across America.
“It’s time to admit that the advertising industry has been culpable in the decline of local journalism,” Will Phipps, A&G senior vice president of media, said in a press release. “Agencies have been complicit by excluding ‘news’ from clients’ plans, fearing the unpredictable nature of the category. But the reality is that there’s a great opportunity in the local news community, and when we start to collaborate with our clients to seize these moments, we have the ability to help build back this critical pillar of journalism.”
Protect Our Press calls on agencies, brands, publishers and individuals to take a pledge. It asks agencies to create a meaningful target, such as 20 percent of their programmatic budget to news sites; brands to review and rethink their approach to local news investments; publishers to create smarter, better value for Protect Our Press participants, and individuals to subscribe to one or more local news publishers.
By Evelyn Mateos, Editor & Publisher | Read more

Postal Service Reform Act of 2021 promotes sustainable Universal Service

National Newspaper Association last week celebrated the introduction of a bipartisan postal reform bill that it says could point the way to critical changes for the U.S. Postal Service.
The Postal Service Reform Act is expected to be moved quickly this week through the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.  It would mandate certain changes that NNA has championed for more than a decade, including integration of the full USPS retiree force into Medicare benefits, which should lower the financial burden on mailers over time.  It also prevents USPS from setting up a separate system for delivering packages, so that the volume and revenue benefits from the anticipated growth in parcel delivery will help to stabilize the system for all users.
 The bill also includes the Rural Newspaper Sustainability provision, championed by Rep. James Comer, R-Kentucky, which would allow Within County newspapers to increase their use of a sample copy allowance in current law from 10% of their annual Within County distribution to 50%. The increase has also been long sought by NNA.
The bill omits some provisions NNA has supported in the past, such as specific measurement of on-time rural mail delivery. But it adds in provisions requiring USPS to provide a website where any person could look up a specific address to determine service performance to that address. It is not yet clear how such a tool could work.  Congress would expect USPS to work out the details, if the bill is adopted.
By Tonda Rush, National Newspaper Association | Read more

Roundtable: How the struggles of the news industry impact suppliers

From pre-press to post-press, vendors continue to partner with newspapers, allowing us to improve quality and efficiencies. As our industry experiences sharp declines in revenue and circulation, these changes affect our bottom line, and our suppliers have fought right along with us.
Through email, phone and personal discussions, I gathered six suppliers in a roundtable discussion to share their views on the partnership between our industries. One vendor did a great job of summing it up: Collectively, we need to continue to drive the message home that “print is not dead.”
By Jerry Simpkins for Editor & Publisher | Read more


Bobby Baker, former editor of Manning Times, passed away in February 

Robert "Bobby" Joseph Baker, 39, passed away on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021, at his home.
Born on April 22, 1981, in Sumter, he was a son of Marcia Christine Richardson Baker and the late Troy Lynn Baker. He worked in the news media business and he was a member of New Salem Baptist Church.
Baker was former managing editor of The Manning Times. He also previously served as staff writer at The Sumter Item. Read more
Related: In Remembrance: Robert Joseph Baker (By Leigh Ann Maynard, The Manning Times)


By Jim Pumarlo, Newspaper Consultant

Start benchmarking performance of politicians

It’s customary to rate the president’s performance after the first hundred days in office. The stark contrast in personalities and policies of Donald Trump and Joe Biden provides plenty of observations and commentary. National issues range from the pandemic and the economy to immigration and racial unrest.
As we pass that benchmark, newsrooms should take a cue and seize the opportunity to check in on officials elected to local and state bodies, too.
The stories are valuable in at least a couple of respects. First, they provide substantive public affairs content beyond just reporting on meetings or specific votes. Second, these reports can be the beginning of building a resume of politicians’ work which will come in handy when preparing coverage for the next election cycle.
Certain questions can be explored and analyzed in any story, whether elected officials are newcomers or veterans and no matter on what body they serve. Read more

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