Your connection to industry & member news
Your connection to industry & member news
Your connection to industry & member news  |  Feb. 18, 2021
By Eric P. Robinson, USC School of Journalism and Mass Communications

New administration means changes on press issues

Any change in presidential administrations, especially when it involves a change of party affiliation, means changes in a lot of federal government personnel, stances on issues and policy changes. This is especially true as the Biden Administration takes over from Donald Trump. And many of the changes will likely be in the new administration’s policies and attitudes regarding the press.
The Biden White House has already re-instituted the daily briefing by the White House press secretary, a ritual that dates back to the Herbert Hoover administration in the 1920s that had been all but abandoned during the Trump presidency. While there’s debate on the value of the briefings, they do offer an opportunity for the press to get answers—or, perhaps, evasions—to questions on various issues.
But there are also numerous policy issues that affect the news media—and newspapers in particular—on which the Biden Administration is likely to have different approaches than the Trump presidency did.
Access to Government Information: The Trump administration took extraordinary, unprecedented measures to limit access to information, such as requiring campaign and administration employees to sign legally dubious non-disclosure agreements, and unsuccessfully going to court to enforce them by trying to stop publication of books by ex-administration officials. The President and others in his administration also routinely destroyed documents despite legal mandates that they be preserved. The Trump administration also stopped releasing White House visitor logs, a practice that the Biden White House has already revived.
The Trump Administration denied a record number of requests under the Freedom of Information Act. In a November 2019 speech Attorney General William P. Barr directly criticized the Act, saying that “[the process of government] cannot function properly if it is public, nor is it productive to have our government devoting enormous resources to squabbling about what becomes public and when, rather than doing the work of the people.” This attitude led to policies allowing political appointees to vet agencies’ FOIA responses.
While President Biden has not issued a formal policy on access to government information as quickly as President Obama did (even if his administration failed to live up to it), he has issued a memo pledging “a recommitment to the highest standards of transparency.” And his nominee for attorney general, Merrick Garland, has a judicial record of supporting public access to government information. The Society of Professional Journalists has urged the Biden administration to rescind policies restricting government employees from speaking to the press. Read more

Contest winners announced

Deadline to submit corrections is Feb. 23

Winners of SCPA's 2020 News, Associate/Individual and Collegiate Contests are now live for proofing. Winners come from 3,270 incredibly strong contest entries! These results show that despite the challenges of COVID-19, S.C. newspaper journalists worked tirelessly over the past year to produce incredibly impactful journalism. We are so proud and thankful for all you do and cannot wait to honor you later this year!
The deadline to submit corrections is Tuesday, Feb. 23.
We are currently working to move our Annual Meeting & Awards Presentation from March to the fall when we are hopeful that it will be safe to meet in person. While the actual awards presentation will not take place until the SCPA Annual Meeting, winners may be released starting March 1. You are welcome to release winners in March or wait until the fall when awards are presented. Secret awards, cash prizes, judges’ comments and the President’s Awards for Excellence will be announced at the Annual Meeting. We’ll also honor the 2020 and 2021 S.C. Journalism Hall of Fame recipients at the Annual Meeting. If you cannot attend the meeting, we will ship your awards after the convention in fall.
More details about awards, presentations, duplicate plaque orders and more coming soon! Let Jen know if you have any questions.

P&C launches 'Uncovered'

Editor's Note: As of Sunday's project launch, The Post and Courier had partnered with nine other SC news organizations to investigate potential abuses of power, misuse of taxpayer dollars and reports of misconduct. The P&C will publish stories in tandem with  community partners so that information can reach the widest possible audience. The aim is to shine the brightest light possible on conduct that is holding our state back, benefitting the few at the expense of the many. News organizations interested in teaming up on this journey should contact Glenn Smith. Partners can publish all or some of this work or as some have chosen do their own reporting.
Corruption festers when people aren’t looking, when the spotlight doesn’t shine. Without fair scrutiny, public officials with weak ethical backbones bend the rules. They help themselves to public money. They help their cronies instead of people they represent. Like a virus, corruption mushrooms, and so do the costs to you and other members of the public.
Sunlight can disinfect, but South Carolina has lost some light.
Despite promises to clean up corruption, South Carolina lawmakers crafted toothless ethics laws. Despite a parade of scandals, lawmakers failed to give the State Law Enforcement Division enough resources to go after government cheaters. And these failures intersect with two other trends:
The U.S. Department of Justice and FBI have a long history of swooping in to stop shady sheriffs and crooked legislators, but federal corruption investigations have plummeted across the nation. At the same time, community news organizations have folded or are just hanging on, creating “news deserts” where public officials operate without reporters keeping tabs.
This darkening void of scrutiny has profound consequences. Unchallenged, lies can lead to boondoggles, such as the $9 billion collapse of South Carolina’s nuclear project. Corruption chips away at trust, as we’ve seen with South Carolina’s sheriffs — 14 charged since 2010.
In fact, over the past six years, at least 100 public officials were arrested on criminal charges related to their government work.
Cases like the Department of Motor Vehicles worker in Spartanburg, charged with taking a bribe to let a man skip the line.
And the town administrator in Allendale who siphoned more than $10,000 in grants to fix his car and home.
And the financial analyst in Jasper County who embezzled $274,000 by creating bogus invoices.
And the chief financial officer for Berkeley County schools who pocketed $1.3 million of the district’s money.
Over time, corruption like this can infect morale as honest employees see superiors get away with abuse. It spreads as less honest employees join in. It harms the public servants trying to do the right thing. It affects all of us as corruption breeds cynicism toward solving real community problems.
That’s why The Post and Courier has launched “Uncovered,” a project to cast new light on questionable government conduct, especially in smaller towns. We’ll work with community newspapers, leveraging The Post and Courier’s investigative resources with reporters who know their towns inside and out. We’ll publish our findings simultaneously.
This collaboration has only begun, but a team of reporters already pored through more than 12,000 pages of spending records and state ethics complaints. We’ve interviewed whistleblowers who are furious about the sense of entitlement they’ve witnessed — how some officials use their positions like personal ATMs. We’ve sifted through federal prosecution data, uncovering the disturbing decline in public corruption cases.
And we’ve asked researchers and government watchdogs about potential solutions, including remarkably easy steps that could make a difference.
(By Tony Bartelme, Glenn Smith, Joseph Cranney and Avery G. Wilks, The Post and Courier | Read more)
Related: Accountability suffers as newspaper closures grow in SC, nation (By Glenn Smith and Tony Bartelme, The Post and Courier)

Related Editorial: We all want good government. Here’s how we can make it happen. (The Post and Courier)

Related: SC governor and lawmakers want to close ethics loopholes for big-spending gas districts (By Tony Bartelme and Avery G. Wilks, The Post and Courier)
Member Spotlight: Kasie Strickland
A house divided! Kasie, a Cleveland Browns fan, is pictured with her husband, Jon, an LA Rams fan.
Managing Editor, The Sentinel-Progress, Easley

What do you like best about your job?
Hands down, photo shoots. Especially when it's a piece on something outdoorsy. I love shooting waterfalls and nature parks. There was a story I did last year on these rock climbers and I learned to rappel so I could shoot at level -- so much fun. 

What is your proudest career moment?
Winning "Best of the Best" in column writing. We're a (very) small weekly paper, to know we were on par with "the big boys" was pretty satisfying.

What's the most exciting thing going on at your paper?
We've been doing a lot of niche products lately and they've offered an opportunity for me to write about different things. I've enjoyed the change of pace and it's pretty cool to see your work in something other than broadsheet.

What’s your favorite SCPA member service?
The legal advice has come in handy more than once. I also enjoy the editor roundtable meetings.
 
What adjustments have you made during COVID-19?
We closed our office to foot traffic and I've been doing interviews mostly by phone. Many of our municipalities have began live streaming council meetings -- which is helpful, but you miss the opportunity to ask follow-up questions so I guess it's a bit give and take.

When it’s safe to get out and about again, what are some area attractions/restaurants in your community we shouldn’t miss?
There's some pretty cool stuff opening up in downtown Easley -- specifically the Silos project I'm looking forward to checking that out. If you're into nature stuff, Pickens County has a lot of outdoor attractions.
 
What is something most people don’t know about you?
I'm terrified of public speaking. There was a debate I moderated earlier this year and I was sure I would die. Somehow I made it through, but seriously, I absolutely hate it. 
 
What do you like to do outside of work?
I'm pretty much a homebody (especially since COVID). I enjoy cooking, reading, Netflix binging... the usual. I have two young boys so I spend a lot of time doing laundry and cleaning the house.  
I'm a big Doctor Who fan and I like doing paint by numbers. I also knit and usually have a couple of different projects on my needles at any given time. I love the Cleveland Browns and am positive every year is finally going to be "Our Year" -- which my husband finds hilarious. One day ...  

Know someone that you’d like SCPA to spotlight? Email us your recommendations.

FOI Briefs

Beaufort Co. wants a new public records policy. Why parts of it are ‘problematic’

Beaufort County is considering a new policy that could restrict the public’s right to access government records.
The uniform Freedom of Information Act policy approved by the county’s executive committee last week seeks to “balance Beaufort County’s commitment to transparency and openness” while protecting confidential information, the policy states.
Officials applauded the move to create a policy. They wanted a roadmap for how to respond consistently to requests for public records from reporters, lawyers, business owners and everyday citizens trying to find information about such things as taxes, real estate and trash and recycling programs.
But the county government has struggled with transparency in recent years — and the new policy approved by committee includes several problematic hurdles for citizens who want to know what their government and elected officials are doing, legal experts say.
By Kacen Bayless, The Island Packet | Read more

Editorial: Taxpayers deserve answers on secret payment to former Charleston County attorney

It wasn’t a huge surprise that Charleston County officials weren’t willing to explain the secret payment made to former county attorney Joe Dawson just because one of the newest council members asked them to.
After all, some if not all council members knew in advance about the $216,000 payment — half a year’s pay for the since-confirmed U.S. District Court judge — and if they had wanted the public to know about it, they would have taken steps to make it public, rather than forcing The Post and Courier’s David Slade to ferret it out. Which, thank goodness, he did.
But surely no one could have predicted the response freshman Councilman Kylon Middleton got when he asked at Thursday’s County Council meeting who had drafted the contract.
Chairman Teddie Pryor calmly assured Rev. Middleton that he could get an answer, but said, “I think that’ll be an executive session item that we can discuss on Tuesday.”
State law allows governing boards to discuss more of the public’s business in secret executive sessions than we consider appropriate — but not nearly as much as many governing boards insist it does.
It allows public bodies to meet in secret to discuss “employment, appointment, compensation, promotion, demotion, discipline, or release of an employee,” but the contract in question deals with future work as “an independent contractor,” so that wouldn’t apply. It allows secret meetings to discuss “negotiations incident to proposed contractual arrangements,” but since the contract has already been signed — and another part of the law makes it clear that the exemption for proposed contracts expires once a contract is signed — that wouldn’t apply either.
From The Post and Courier | Read more

Industry Briefs

Gannett and McClatchy collaborate to offer local reach for national advertisers

Gannett and McClatchy, two of the most iconic and acclaimed local media companies, with deep roots in over 300 local communities, have announced a new offering that will give national brands the ability to connect seamlessly and more meaningfully with local audiences across a vast multi-channel network. 
Advertisers will now be able to reach two-thirds of the top local media markets with local properties including the Miami Herald, Austin-American Statesman, The Kansas City Star, Arizona Republic, Detroit Free Press, The Sacramento Bee and more, representing 200 million digital and 8.4 million print consumers through customized, targeted solutions and within a trusted, brand-safe environment. The collaboration  simplifies the buying process and facilitates access to local audiences in a highly efficient manner, allowing both companies to better serve their brands’ customers. 
From USA TODAY NETWORK | Read more

It’s time for journalists to take their own mental health seriously

... Journalists occupy a unique position at the intersection of news, mental health, and societal norms. Those called to the profession of journalism likely have intuitive listening gifts and can easily put themself in the shoes of another — a capacity for empathy. At times, journalists have led entire nations to endure moments of collective trauma and adversity. I’m thinking here of the reporting on 9/11 and in the immediate aftermath of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. In that sense, journalists are not unlike mental health professionals in that they help us process emotional trauma and transform chaos into “meaning-making,” which allows others to heal.
But journalists are not likely to be trained mental health professionals, requiring each to rely on their own experiences and skills to navigate the flood of emotions that come with the work.  Luckily, there are many positive coping skills that journalists can use to process difficult experiences and emotions. These can include processing difficult situations with colleagues, journaling or other self-reflective practices, attending to the body with regular exercise and a healthy diet, and investing in individual psychotherapy, which can provide a protected space to check in with your feelings and process difficult emotions with a professional.
By Dr. Glenda Gordon, Center for Health Journalism | Read more

Columns

By Jim Pumarlo,
Newspaper Consultant

Initiate conversations with your readers

A reader questions your policy for reporting suicides. A retailer challenges your staff to produce timely and relevant business news.  A reporter is confronted for printing a press release charging a candidate with unfair campaign practices without contacting the accused for a response. A family member gets emotional over publication of an accident photo.
These scenarios plus many more are excellent topics for newsroom discussion. Most editors will likely respond directly to the individuals who raise the questions.
But how many newsrooms explain their policies and operations to readers on a regular basis? A column by the editor or publisher should be a fixture if you want to connect with readers.
Fresh off a contentious election season, this is an excellent time to review and identify ways to communicate with readers. Election coverage always prompts questions from readers on everything from candidate announcements to the rollout of press releases to treatment of letters to the editor.
My recommendation: Be on the offense. First, don’ let questions fester. Respond immediately to individual inquiries. Second, communicate with your entire readership. If the question is on the mind of one person, it’s likely piqued the interest of others, too.
Educating readers on a variety of topics should be a priority. What are your guidelines for wedding, engagements and obituaries? Do you publish photos of all proclamations – why or why not? What circumstances warrant publishing the salaries of public officials? Which public records do you regularly monitor and publish?
The lineup of issues is endless. Read more

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