Your connection to industry & member news
Your connection to industry & member news
Your connection to industry & member news  |  May 18, 2023
By Eric P. Robinson, USC School of Journalism and Mass Communications

Is “Actual Malice” Really Not an Insurmountable Hurdle?

This column has repeatedly discussed the numerous attacks on the landmark New York Times v. Sullivan precedent and the “actual malice” standard that it added to American libel law. 
Under the “actual malice” standard, public officials and public figures suing for defamation must prove not only that the defendant(s) made a false statement that harmed the plaintiff’s reputation, but also that the defendant(s) made the statement with “actual malice:” either knowing that the statement was false or with “reckless disregard” for whether it was true or false, meaning that the statement was such that the defendant should have harbored serious doubts about the truth of the statement.
This is generally considered a high hurdle for libel plaintiffs: so high, some (including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas) argue, that it essentially makes it impossible for public officials and public figures to ever win a defamation case. 
But some recent cases in which public figure plaintiffs were able to show “actual malice” may indicate that the Sullivan standard is not insurmountable, and that public officials and public figures can indeed win in defamation cases.
The most recent of these cases is the jury verdict for E. Jean Carroll in her lawsuit against Donald Trump. While the jury’s award of civil damages to Carroll for what the jury unanimously determined was sexual abuse by Trump got most of the attention, the jury also held that Trump had libeled Carroll in an Oct. 12, 2022 post on his Truth Social site about the case. Specifically, the jury held that Trump had made the statement with “actual malice.” Of the total $5 million awarded by the jury in the case, $2.98 million was for defamation: $1 million in compensatory damages, $1.7 million to rehabilitate Carroll’s reputation, and $280,000 in punitive damages. Trump continued to disparage Carroll after the verdict, which could be the basis of another libel claim. Meanwhile, Trump has appealed the jury verdict. Read more
If you use a tractor feed printer, an SCPA member newspaper has 60+ boxes of labels plus ink cartridges. There's no cost, but we'll need to arrange pick up. If you can use these, please let us know and we'll connect you. 

Ariail's "Lowcountry" cartoon available for syndication

Award-winning Camden cartoonist Robert Ariail's weekly "Lowcountry" strip cartoon is available for syndication in S.C. newspapers. Topics include politics, human nature, the environment and public policy. Check out recent "Lowcountry" cartoons on the Charleston City Paper's site and contact publisher Andy Brack if you're interested in picking it up.

FOIA & Legal Briefs

Sun News investigation exposed SC failing to protect injury victims. Now the law is changed

Companies looking to take advantage of vulnerable South Carolinians by paying them quick cash in exchange for future proceeds from lawsuit settlements will now face a much tougher task.
Gov. Henry McMaster signed a comprehensive reform bill Tuesday that protects severely injured accident victims and their families who receive long-term payments because of traumatic brain injuries, and other injuries.
“This is a much needed step to ensure that our most vulnerable South Carolinians are no longer preyed upon by unscrupulous flim-flam artists,” McMaster said in a statement. 
The bill, which passed unanimously through both the S.C. Senate and House earlier this year, was filed by Sen. Luke Rankin, R-Horry, in response to an S.C. McClatchy’s investigative series, Cashed Out, published in September. The series detailed how JG Wentworth and other companies like it have for years purchased accident victims’ future structured settlements for immediate lump sums worth an average of about 25% of the sold future payments.
South Carolina’s law governing these transactions requires the deals to be approved by judges, but the law hadn’t been touched since its implementation in 2002, and McClatchy found the companies were often directing the transfers to preferred judges, who offered little scrutiny.
Rankin said he was happy to be part of fixing the issues brought to his attention through McClatchy’s reporting.
By David Weissman, The Sun News | Read more

Judge who signed secret order releasing killer made similar orders before retirement

The circuit court judge who signed the secret order releasing convicted killer Jeroid Price signed off on several other sentence reduction orders just before his retirement in late-December 2022.
In a quiet, in-chambers deal with a solicitor and defense attorney, Fifth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Casey Manning signed off on an order releasing Price from prison some 16 years early. The S.C. Supreme Court has since voided the order and law enforcement are searching for Price.
The order was signed off on Dec. 30, just one day before Manning retired and his last working day on the bench. But recently released records show he signed off on half a dozen similar orders during his last weeks as a judge.
Manning signed six other sentence reduction orders from Dec. 20 to 28, according to records compiled by the S.C. Department of Corrections following a request from Gov. Henry McMaster. The judge also signed off on another sentence reduction order in March 2022.
By Caitlin Ashworth, The Post and Courier Columbia | Read more

Public shut out of water treatment plant report

On Tuesday night, May 9, the Fairfield Joint Water and Sewer System (FJWSS) commission voted during a special called meeting to go into executive session to receive “legal advice concerning a draft wastewater plant alternatives analysis.”
According to The Voice’s media attorney, the executive session may not have met the requirements of the South Carolina open meetings law.
The analysis was a long awaited report by the FJWSS’s contract engineer, Bill Bingham, owner of American Engineering, intended to provide information that could assist the FJWSS commission in determining the best place to build and discharge a new wastewater treatment plant for Fairfield County. There are two primary options – one would discharge into Cedar Creek; the other would discharge into the Broad River.
The purpose of the report was to analyze the costs and timeline for designing, planning, permitting and constructing each of the two wastewater treatment plant options.
On Friday, May 5, an agenda was posted that showed the report would not be made in public, as those who regularly attend the meetings had expected, but behind closed doors in the May 9 executive session.
Prior to the May 9 meeting, The Voice asked FJWSS commission attorney C.D. Rhodes how the Freedom of Information law provided for such a report to be presented in private.
Rhodes explained that there were several reasons, including that the report to be presented was still in draft form and, therefore was not a public document and that such a private discussion was allowed under the attorney/client privilege.
According to Jay Bender, media attorney for the South Carolina Press Association, of which The Voice is a member, both reasons may not have met the requirements of the S.C. Freedom of Information Act for open meetings.
“A document becomes a public record when it is in the possession of the public body or used by the public body. There is no language in the law that conditions public access to records upon the record being approved,” Bender said.
By Barbara Ball, The Voice of Fairfield County | Read more
Last Friday SCPA participated in a panel discussion on the public's right to know at the South Carolina State Library in Columbia. Special thanks to our speakers: SCPA Attorney Taylor Smith; Jonathan Vickery, publisher and owner of The People-Sentinel; and Barbara Ball, publisher and owner of The Voice of Blythewood and & Fairfield County; pictured with Co-Executive Director Randall Savely. If you missed it, it will be put on the library’s Youtube soon.  Members, if you'd like a FOIA/libel refresher, it's not too late to RSVP for today's training on Zoom from 2-3:15 p.m. 

Industry Briefs

The work of a local reporter intersects with all aspects of community life. (Photo by Clark Merrefield)

How newspaper reporters help my community

A first grade student interviews a local reporter to find out how news stories get made and why community journalism is vital to civic engagement.
Note from Clark Merrefield, senior editor for economics and legal systems at The Journalist’s Resource:
A couple of weeks ago, my son, Theodore, came home with a social studies assignment from his first grade class. He goes to public school in New York. The students were assigned to learn and write about a “community helper” — suggestions included a police officer, nurse, firefighter and other civic professions.
Being in journalism, I have talked with him about what a news reporter does. For his project, Theo was interested in doing something having to do with the news media, but he wasn’t sure where to start. I said, “What if you interviewed a local reporter, to find out what they do?” He asked what an interview was, and I explained it’s when you talk to someone to find out information about something they know a lot about.
He said, “OK! I think I could do that!”
As a reader of the Queens Daily Eagle, one of our local newspapers, I reached out to their reporter, Ryan Schwach, to see if he would be up for a grilling from a first grader.
Within a few hours, Ryan got back to me and graciously agreed. Then, to come up with questions, Theo and I talked about a few things he might like to know from Ryan.
... The transcript that follows of the conversation between Theo and Ryan has been lightly edited for length and clarity. It’s a reminder of the critical role local journalists play in informing communities large and small through breaking news, investigations and features on elected officials, organizations and neighbors that matter to their readers.
By Theodore Merrefield special to The Journalist's Resource | Read more

USC Social Media Insights Lab report shows World Press Freedom Day sparks global conversation

The 30th anniversary of UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day prompted more than 400,000 social media mentions and billions of views worldwide, according to the Social Media Insights Lab at the University of South Carolina.
The celebration unfolded May 2-4 in New York City and elsewhere. The theme, Shaping a Future of Rights, emphasized that countries with the highest levels of freedom of expression enjoy higher levels of protection for civil, political, economic and social rights.
The lab’s powerful Brandwatch Consumer Reports software identified 412,000 posts talking about the day in more than 90 languages. Most came from Twitter. The number of people who saw those posts was substantial. According to Brandwatch, posts on Twitter were seen 9.9 billion times! The comments came from world leaders, including Pope Francis, as well as private citizens. 
“The interest this year was significantly higher than last,” said St Cyr Luttmer, lab coordinator. “We found 139,000 more posts mentioning the day than in 2022, an increase of more than 50 percent.” ...
The lab is part of the University of South Carolina College of Information and Communications. It is used for teaching, academic research and public reports intended to help people better understand issues of the day. View a full list of reports and follow the lab on Twitter at @UofSCInsights

‘Show up’: Why (and how) journalists should respond to reader comments

Your article has been published and shared widely. The comments section is lighting up. Do you respond? 
Engaging with reader comments might not be high on every journalist’s priority list, but it’s an important part of building trust and community. By responding to comments, journalists can continue the conversation, answer follow-up questions, and even combat mis-or disinformation.  
We asked Joy Mayer, director of Trusting News, to share best practices for journalists when responding to comments online.
Why should journalists consider responding to comments?
Mayer: The comment sections connected to news stories often remind me of a poorly thrown party. Imagine you decide to have people over. You stock the bar, put on some music, and throw open the door. And then you … leave. You hope (assume?) people will be on their best behavior, and you expect to come home to a house that’s still in order.
Ridiculous, right? We count on an event’s host to connect people, to gently redirect someone who gets a bit unruly, and to call someone a cab and send them home if necessary. Everyone appreciates a host who values guest experiences.
This is true in the comments as well. Journalists can and should play host — validating good behavior (hitting “like” on a user’s comment is so quick and simple), contributing to conversations, answering questions, and reprimanding people who are ruining the vibe.  
By Holly Butcher Grant, National Press Club Journalism Institute | Read more


By John Foust, 
Advertising Trainer

What makes an ad campaign?

Amanda told me about taking over the advertising account of a business which had been placing ads in her paper for a long time. “In our first meeting, the owner said he had been running what he called a ‘campaign’ for over a year. I pulled a few recent issues out of my briefcase and placed them on his desk.
“As we looked at his ad in each issue, I asked a few simple questions – how they were working, how he got the idea to run the same thing without any changes, and so on. He admitted that he initially thought running the same ad all the time would create name recognition. But eventually, he got so busy that advertising fell off his radar, even though the ads didn’t work as well as before. Read More

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