Your connection to industry & member news
Your connection to industry & member news
Your connection to industry & member news  |  June 17, 2021

Celebrate Bill's retirement on July 15 in Columbia

SCPA members and friends, please make plans to join us at Bill's retirement party on Thursday, July 15, from 5-7 p.m. at The River Center in Saluda Shoals Park in Columbia.
We'll celebrate his 33 years as Executive Director of the Press Association over some good BBQ and cold drinks. 
In lieu of retirement gifts, Bill has requested that donations be made to SCPA’s FOI Fund, which helps newspapers fight open government battles. This is a fitting tribute to honor his more than three decades as a leading force in the fight for open government in the Palmetto State. If you'd like to make a gift in Bill's honor, you can donate online or mail a check to SCPA at 106 Outlet Pointe Blvd., Columbia, SC 29210.
If you plan to attend the party, please RSVP by July 8. 
Here are directions and other important details about the event.
By Eric P. Robinson, USC School of Journalism and Mass Communications

Government accessing electronic communications to identify sources: it can happen to you

The revelations that the U.S. Justice Department secretly sought information on reporters’ e-mail, phone and other communications has sent shock waves through media and political circles in Washington, D.C. The Justice Department sought the information directly from communication providers in order to identify the sources of various leaks of government information. It also obtained gag orders barring editors and lawyers at the reporters’ news organizations and the communications providers from informing the reporters that their information was being pursued.
The disclosures led President Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland to pledge that the federal government would no longer do this, even though both the Trump and Obama administrations also used this technique. But while reporters, editors and publishers both inside and outside of Washington who are concerned about press freedom may view these events with concern, for those beyond the Beltway it likely seems a faraway issue involving high-stakes reporting on national security matters and the like, which isn’t like the local news coverage they do.
But they would be wrong. For there have been numerous instances where local law enforcement have used similar methods to investigate leaks of information with way less apparent importance than national security. Read more

Members invited to a free webinar on revenue generation

Thursday, June 24 | 10 a.m. 
There is no reason to reinvent the wheel regarding identifying new revenue opportunities for your community newspaper. A panel of newspaper leaders will share the details about the successful initiatives they have launched at their publications. Ranging from contests and membership programs to merchandise, events and more, you will learn what it takes to get started on these exciting and profitable ideas. View more details and register here.

More upcoming PNA sessions:

There is no charge for SCPA members to attend these PNA Community Newspaper Forum events, thanks to support from the SCPA Foundation Smoak Fund. A confirmation with log-in instructions will be sent to each registrant one or two days prior to the session. If you cannot attend the live event, a recording will be made available following each event. Let us know if you have any questions.

Quote of the Week

“They wanted to present the false façade that she had resigned and keep it from the public until after the school year adjourned, ostensibly to avoid the criticism they would receive for their actions. Ending the employment of the one person that the board has the authority to hire and fire should take place with a public vote that lets the public know what is happening. These board members wanted to get rid of the State Superintendent of the Year in secret.”

-- Lexington-Richland Five trustee Ed White. 
From Adam Benson's report in The Post and Courier

"Can't go home" by Robert Ariail

If you can't get enough of award-winning Camden cartoonist Robert Ariail, enjoy his new strip featured every week in the Charleston City Paper, which has granted us ongoing permission to republish it. Called "Lowcountry," the weekly feature, which is available for syndication in South Carolina newspapers, focuses on politics, human nature, the environment and public policy. More: Contact publisher Andy Brack.

FOI Briefs

SLED releases new details in murder case of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh

The State Law Enforcement Division released details on June 15 of 911 calls made in the deaths of Paul Murdaugh and his mother Maggie, while also confirming police were treating the deaths as murders. ...
The agency further said it was “committed to transparency” and will release additional information, including information provided during the 911 call, at “the appropriate time.”
Colleton County provided a one-sentence report on June 9 from the murder investigation but has not released any other information. The document indicates more information can be found in supplemental reports, but state and county officials have refused to turn those over — in violation of the state Freedom of Information Act.
Such tactics have become commonplace among some area law enforcement agencies over the last several years. It’s a way of hiding public information from the public, particularly when it comes to high-profile murders, rapes and robberies.
But such information was made public by the Legislature to help people make informed decisions about safety in their communities and monitor how law enforcement uses their tax money.
State lawmakers, in fact, changed the Freedom of Information Act in 1998 to make clear that supplemental reports also are public records, not reservoirs of hidden facts. The amended law requires police to release all reports detailing the nature, substance and location of crimes.
Open-records advocates have long argued that the failure to release such details effectively denied people living in the areas of the crimes the ability to know they might be in danger. It also effectively denies police the opportunity to obtain volunteered information from residents who might have seen something, they said.
In the Murdaugh case, state and county law enforcement officials have said there is no immediate threat to the public, yet no suspects have been named or arrests made. That has left members of the public confused and on edge, with rumors spreading quickly to fill the void in official information.
Still, some police departments have moved away from such secretive tactics.
By Steve Garrison and Glenn Smith, The Post and Courier, June 15 | Read more 
Related: The Murdaugh murder case is rife with rumors and questions. (By John Monk and Jake Shore, The Island Packet and The State, June 15)
Related: SLED announces special Tip Line for Murdaugh double homicide case (By Michael M. DeWitt, Jr., Hampton County Guardian, June 16) 
Related Editorial: Release Murdaugh homicide report to quell rumors, comply with SC law (The Post and Courier, June 15)

SC law enforcement agencies deny access to public records in Murdaugh homicide case (By Steve Garrison, The Post and Courier, June 10)


Paul Murdaugh may have been killer’s target, sources say. Where the case stands (By John Monk, Kacen Bayless and Jake Shore, The Island Packet and The State, June 10)

Solicitor stepped away from the 2019 boat crash investigation. Why not now? (By Kacen Bayless, The Island Packet, June 16)

SC official seeks to increase secrecy about environmental lawbreakers

A state health and environmental agency board member is questioning a department policy of releasing information about people and businesses charged with breaking laws that protect public health and the environment.
J.B. “Sonny’’ Kinney Jr. said he’s concerned that those who have paid fines and corrected environmental mistakes are included in a monthly board enforcement report. The report lists everyone cited for breaking the law in previous months.
“If they’ve paid the fines and are now in compliance, should the staff be required to put this in here?’’ Kinney asked during the Department of Health and Environmental Control board’s meeting this past week. “Is there a reason why, as far as public records?’’ ...
The report he referred to, which is publicly available before every DHEC board meeting, summarizes each enforcement action the department has taken in recent months.
It provides a narrative explaining what violations people have committed and lists any fines DHEC has levied against them. The report also says whether the person, company or government charged with a violation has paid fines. ...
Jay Bender, an open records attorney from Columbia, said the enforcement report lets the public know who broke the law and to weigh whether fines are adequate.
“How do you know the fines are imposed legitimately and fairly unless you see all of them?"
Bender asked, adding that the public should have a right to know who has past environmental or health violations.
“Once you have served your sentence, you are still convicted,’’ said Bender, who has represented The State. “And the information that you were convicted and the penalty you received remains public.’’
By Sammy Fretwell, The State | Read more

Columbia fire station rocked by firings after sexual misconduct investigation

Five firefighters at one Columbia station, including one of the Fire Department’s top officials, were fired last month after a weekslong sexual misconduct investigation that department leaders now refuse to discuss.
Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins dismissed the five men from the city’s Atlas Road fire station on May 7, according to documents obtained by The Post and Courier through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Before the newspaper filed that request, a Fire Department spokesman refused to acknowledge any firings took place or answer a reporter’s questions about them — saying that would be a “personnel matter.” Jenkins declined to be interviewed for this story to answer the many questions that the internal documents raise. The firefighters in question also declined to be interviewed.
By Avery G. Wilks, The Post and Courier | Read more

Tanner email records reveal glimpse into Muschamp’s final days as Gamecocks head coach

On Thanksgiving night 2020, an email landed in the inbox of South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner.
“You need to go get him and not screw around,” it read. “Nothing good happens when you wait or hesitate.”
“Him” referred to then-Oklahoma assistant Shane Beamer. The email’s sender was Mack Whittle, a 30-year member of USC’s board of trustees.
Almost 30 minutes after urging Tanner not to “screw around,” Whittle was even more direct in a second email.
“Do not screw it up,” he wrote.
Whittle was hardly the only person with strong opinions regarding South Carolina’s search to fill its football head coaching vacancy.
From the firing of former coach Will Muschamp on Nov. 15 to the eventual hiring of Beamer on Dec. 6, Tanner received hundreds of emails with input on Carolina’s coaching search. Some were from passionate fans expressing their preferences, others were from donors. Former players reached out, and USC higher-ups like Whittle also made their voices heard.
Whittle’s email was just one of hundreds obtained by The State through an open records request for the time period the Gamecocks were working through their change in football leadership. The State initially requested these records Dec. 14, asking for emails, text messages and phone records for Tanner from Nov. 7 to Dec. 6. The request was not fulfilled until May 14, or five months later. ...
BEHIND OUR REPORTING: Using records obtained through South Carolina’s Freedom of Information Act, The State reviewed hundreds of emails from more than 2,300 pages of Tanner’s inbox and sent box from the month of Nov. 7 to Dec. 6. The State initially requested these records Dec. 14, asking for emails, text messages and phone records for Tanner during the time period listed above.
For various reasons, documents were not provided by USC until May 14, five months after The State’s original request.
By Greg Hadley, The State | Read more

Editorial: Corruption at John de la Howe demands criminal investigation, clean sweep

If you make a cash deposit of $10,000 or more, your bank has to inform the federal government, under a law designed to detect money laundering and tax evasion. If you deposit the cash in multiple slightly smaller amounts in order to evade detection — a process called structuring — you could be looking at the inside of a federal prison cell for 5 years. Twice that long in egregious cases.
The same idea in a S.C. anti-corruption law prohibits state and local agencies from dividing large purchases into smaller purchases so they can buy them from anyone they please rather than putting them out to bid. Unfortunately, the state procurement code doesn’t include criminal penalties.
Reporting by The Post and Courier’s Uncovered partner, the Greenwood Index-Journal, demonstrates that the Legislature needs to make dividing purchases to evade procurement requirements a crime — at least in egregious cases. And boy have we just seen an egregious case. Several, actually, all at the same school for troubled youth that, facing obsolescence, dreamed up a plan to transform itself into the “Governor’s School for Agriculture at John de la Howe.”
From The Post and Courier | Read more

People & Papers

Lancaster News editor Brian Melton retires

I’m packing up a slew of memories after 5½ years in the editor’s chair at my hometown newspaper.
Here are five – good, bad and bizarre – that will never leave me.
... I have truly enjoyed editing the past 660 editions of your newspaper, and most of them hit their mark. Doing this work has been an honor and a privilege, even when it was a withering slog.
[June 4] was my last day at The Lancaster News. In case you’re wondering – as I would – my retirement has nothing to do with the purchase of our parent company by Paxton Media Group, which [took affect last week].
I started thinking about wrapping things up after my inaugural heart attack last October. I felt 10 years older coming out of that, and I turned 65 in January. Publisher Susan Rowell and I have been planning my transition out of the job for months, and we told the staff April 19. We learned of Paxton’s purchase only last week. 
It is difficult to stop doing this, 41 years after I started, at a time when journalism in America is under attack and struggling to survive. I feel like a ship’s captain taking a lifeboat to shore, leaving the crew aboard with waves crashing over the deck.
But it’s time to go. Another editor will step in to do this job, differently and maybe better than I did it. Your 169-year-old newspaper will go on – Paxton has not bought it to close it – and I will spend more time with family and friends, getting acquainted with the concepts of diet and exercise and non-workaholism.
By Brian Melton, The Lancaster News | Read more

Post and Courier staff named Pulitzer Prize finalist for series on flooding

The Post and Courier was named Friday as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prizes — journalism’s highest honor — for its Rising Waters series that explored the effects of climate-driven flooding on the Charleston region.
The newspaper’s staff was recognized in the local reporting category for its work on the project, which was published between April and December of last year. Rising Waters documented how the accelerating forces of climate change pose an existential threat to the Lowcountry, from wetter hurricanes to “rain bombs” to flooding high tides.
The project, which involved a wide cast of journalists from throughout The Post and Courier newsroom, took a unique approach that melded investigative reporting with breaking coverage to expose this creeping threat in real time. Each installment was tied to a flooding event, revealing the science, politics and economics of climate change’s detrimental impact on the Charleston area in a very immediate way.
The judges called the series “an ambitious look at how water levels in the city were rising faster than previously thought that also explored the broader social, environmental and regulatory challenges posed by climate change.”
By Glenn Smith, The Post and Courier | Read more

Industry Briefs

AP says it will no longer name suspects in minor crimes

The Associated Press said earlier this week it will no longer run the names of people charged with minor crimes, out of concern that such stories can have a long, damaging afterlife on the internet that can make it hard for individuals to move on with their lives.
In so doing, one of the world's biggest newsgathering organizations has waded into a debate over an issue that wasn't of much concern before the rise of search engines, when finding information on people often required going through yellowed newspaper clippings.
Often, the AP will publish a minor story — say, about a person arrested for stripping naked and dancing drunkenly atop a bar — that will hold some brief interest regionally or even nationally and be forgotten the next day.
But the name of the person arrested will live on forever online, even if the charges are dropped or the person is acquitted, said John Daniszewski, AP's vice president for standards. And that can hurt someone's ability to get a job, join a club or run for office years later.
The AP, in a directive sent out to its journalists across the country, said it will no longer name suspects or transmit photographs of them in brief stories about minor crimes when there is little chance the organization will cover the case beyond the initial arrest.
By David Bauder, Associated Press | Read more

‘Nobody is ever just a victim’: 6 tips for journalists covering hate crimes

Amid rising attacks on racial, ethnic and religious groups, journalists are navigating the complex terrain around what constitutes a hate crime.
So how can they cover hate crimes and other attacks on vulnerable populations? Here are some tips from a recent National Press Club Journalism Institute panel.
First, understand what constitutes a hate crime
The FBI defines a hate crime as a traditional offense — like arson, assault, murder or vandalism — with the added element of bias, whether it’s against race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity. 
“Someone has to commit a crime. And then law enforcement has to be able to prove that the primary motivation for the commission of the crime was bias on some sort of protected identity characteristic,” said Lecia Brooks, chief of staff at the Southern Poverty Law Center and a public speaker and educator on hate crimes and the American Civil Rights movement.
But proving the motivation behind the crime can be difficult, especially if law enforcement officers are not trained on what to look for.
“There has to be some kind of clear indicators of motivation, including in the language that was used, was rhetoric or bias expressed during the commission of the crime?” Brooks added.
Focus coverage on the community impact whether or not it’s legally classified as a hate crime
While the distinction of a hate crime is important for legal reasons, that definition isn’t necessary for members of a community to feel unsafe.
By Holly Butcher Grant, National Press Club Journalism Institute | Read more

Eight ways smaller newsrooms can make audio pay

Here are eight ways to monetize audio and make money from podcasts.
1. Lean into scarcity with direct ad sales
Podcasts are a potentially appealing medium for advertisers, because they offer scarcity. Typically, you might only find three advertisements (or three advertising breaks) in a show.
This creates opportunities to sell ads — either read by hosts or as separate ads — which are usually found at the start, middle and end of the podcast.
Interestingly, in contrast to many other platforms, research suggests that the majority of U.S. consumers say they do not mind ads or messages from sponsors, if it enables them to access podcasts for free.
Data published in May revealed that news is the leading podcast content genre for U.S. podcast advertisers, capturing 22% of all podcast ad revenue, while mid-roll ad spots account for three-fourths (76%) of total podcast ad spend.
2. Unlock the power of host-read ads
Although Digiday has commented on how “podcast ads remain stubbornly old-fashioned,” Zoe Soon says “podcast hosts are becoming trusted influencers with loyal communities. That translates to more consumer engagement and, ultimately, stronger ROI.” Soon is vice president of the Consumer Experience Center of Excellence at IAB.
Spotify’s research has also found that host-read ads can be highly effective: “81% of listeners took action after hearing host-read ads during a podcast — anything from looking up a product online, to connecting with a brand on social media, to talking about a product with someone.”
By Damian Radcliffe, Reynolds Journalism Institute | Read more

News Leaders Association affirms its commitment to newsroom Diversity; pilots national Transformative Transparency Project

News Leaders Association announced this week the pilot of the Transformative Transparency Project, a comprehensive update to the former ASNE Diversity Survey. Since its inception in 1978, the survey has served as the news industry’s authoritative source of demographic data collection. Newsrooms including Indianapolis Star, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Buzzfeed and the Texas Tribune have participated in the pilot of the revamped survey.
As the nation has dealt with its own racial reckoning over the past two years, the news industry also is grappling with its biased legacy and how better to amplify the voices of more communities. Diverse newsrooms are essential to the success of those efforts.
A revitalized and deeper newsroom survey assesses where we are now, helping point us to where we need to be. NLA has developed a strategy to improve on the legacy of the former census that saw declining levels of newsroom participation over the past decade.The first phase of the research will be launched in July with organizational data collection continuing through August. In early 2022, a new element will be rolled out to allow individual journalists to self-report their demographic data and have their voices heard regardless of whether they are affiliated with a news organization, or if their newsroom otherwise chooses not to participate. Read more

Journalists demanding more action against online harassment

The Associated Press' recent firing of a young reporter for what she said on Twitter has somewhat unexpectedly turned company and industry attention to the flip side of social media engagement — the online abuse that many journalists face routinely.
During internal meetings after the Arizona-based reporter, Emily Wilder, was let go, several journalists expressed concern over whether the AP would have the backs of employees under attack from the outside.
“The Emily Wilder situation triggered this for many people on the staff,” Jenna Fryer, an AP sportswriter who spoke at one of the meetings, said in a subsequent interview.
Wilder was fired last month because of what the company said were tweets on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that violated AP's social media policy against offering opinions on contentious issues. Before her firing, a conservative group had sparked an online campaign against her over her pro-Palestinian views, and while the AP has said it wasn't responding to pressure, her dismissal ignited debate over whether the news organization acted too rashly.
Journalists are often subjected to racist or sexist slurs, vile insults and threats of rape, dismemberment or other violence from online readers.
By David Bauder, Associated Press | Read more

Columns

By Jim Pumarlo, Newspaper Consultant

Sharpen your editing with these press releases

The hyper partisanship in today’s political landscape was on full display with passage of the American Rescue Plan. It passed on a straight party-line vote.
A Minnesota congressman joined in the chorus of his fellow Republicans characterizing the bill as bloated and wasteful.
Weeks later, he issued a new round of statements. This time, he took credit for the millions of dollars allocated for local projects courtesy of the $1.9 trillion economic relief package.
Double-speak? The lawmaker staunchly defended both his vote and taking credit for the local funding. He was a longstanding advocate for the projects, but opposed the federal plan as full of spending unrelated to COVID-19.
Such exchanges are commonplace at all levels of government as omnibus bills are cobbled together to include anything and everything. It makes great campaign fodder for incumbents and challengers alike in the next election cycle. It’s unfortunate, as well, that most incumbents can get by with having it both ways without constituents playing close attention.
But such proclamations by politicians are an excellent reminder for editors and reporters to be the eyes and ears for their readers and to pay close attention to the PR machines. Read more

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