Your connection to industry & member news
Your connection to industry & member news
Your connection to industry & member news  |  Feb. 11, 2021
By SCPA Attorney
Jay Bender

The Readers Speak

From the earliest days newspapers in this country have published letters from readers. A survey of early American newspapers reveals that a large portion of the content came from the letters of “correspondents.”
The tradition of publishing letters to the editor continues, and in many instances online reader generated comment surpasses the volume of traditional print letters. In terms of potential legal liability a distinction must be made between traditional letters to the editor and third-party comments on interactive websites operated by newspapers.
If a paper publishes a letter to the editor, the content of that letter will be evaluated legally according to the same standard that would apply for news reports and editorial commentary generated by the staff of the paper. In other words, a publisher is not protected from liability for libel, invasion of privacy or copyright infringement for any material published in the paper. And, as if an editor or publisher didn’t have enough to worry about, there is potential liability in those special Valentine love notes that get published this time of year in your classified section.
Letters to the editor, and even op-ed pieces, are favored by papers because they provide a window into the audience of the paper. To avoid being bitten by these well-intentioned practices, editorial decisions must be made with the same rigor that would be brought to bear on a piece written by a staff member. But, a word of caution here, don’t edit letters to the editor or op-ed pieces. If you find a portion objectionable because it seems untrue and defamatory, or there is some other problem with the submission, send it back with instructions for changes to be made by the author. If the re-submission remains troublesome, reject it. While you’re at it, find out if the person whose name is on the letter or op-ed submitted it.  A paper has no obligation to publish letters to the editor or op-ed submissions. And, no, you’re not violating someone’s First Amendment rights if you decline the invitation to publish their material unless your paper is owned or operated by the government. Read more

Contest results to be posted Friday afternoon

Winners from roughly 270 SCPA contest categories will be posted online for proofing purposes no later than 5 p.m. Friday, Feb. 12. The list will include winners from the News, Associate/Individual and Collegiate contests.
The deadline to proof your newspaper’s winners is Tuesday, Feb. 23. Submit all corrections to Jen Madden.
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 March 1. You are welcome to release your winners starting March 1 or wait until the fall when awards are presented. Secret awards, cash prizes and the President’s Awards for Excellence will be announced at the fall meeting. If you cannot attend the meeting, we will ship your awards after the convention in fall.

SCPA partners with the League of Women Voters to host virtual redistricting training on March 26

The new U.S. Census numbers will be coming out later this year, and issues related to redistricting will be a major coverage topic. Since this only happens every 10 years, many journalists covering redistricting are going to be coming cold into a legally and technically challenging subject.
SCPA is partnering with the League of Women Voters of South Carolina to host a virtual training session on Friday, March 26, from 11 a.m. until 12:15 p.m. about redistricting.
Matt Saltzman (Clemson, Math Dept.) and John Ruoff (who has been a redistricting consultant with LWVSC since 1990), will be conducting the training and providing resources and additional info to SC journalists. It’s a lot to fit into a short training, but we hope to cover legal issues around redistricting including law and court cases, the redistricting process and criteria, the Census, how SC got where we are now, a timeline and what we can expect when the census data appear in 2021. We’ll also offer story ideas, resources (including a glossary of terms) and contacts for journalists.
This event is hosted by the S.C. Press Association and the League of Women Voters of South Carolina. Registration is open to SCPA, AP and SCBA members.
There is no cost to attend this event thanks to sponsorship by the SCPA Foundation Smoak Fund.
Register to attend
Member Spotlight: Travis Jenkins
With restaurant dining options limited because of the pandemic, Travis has spent even more time around his smoker and grill than normal.
General Manager and Editor, The News & Reporter, Chester

 What do you like best about your job?
I like that there isn’t a routine. You can plan your day and think “OK, I’m going to work on…” whatever, but then that changes with no notice or warning. Would’ve been impossible to know when I woke up one Thursday in late September expecting to get ahead for the next week that the county supervisor was going to be indicted for drug trafficking. A few weeks before that I was driving out-of-town to cover court when we had a major industrial fire. No two days are alike and they’re never predictable…ESPECIALLY in Chester.

What is your proudest career moment?
Kind of an odd one. I was covering an election several years ago and a former city councilman was there poll watching or calling in results to a friend of his that was running. He had been the center of some controversy and I’d had to write some not-always-flattering stories about him. He called me over and greeted me as I’d not seen him much since he left office.
“You wrote a lot of things about me I didn’t like reading, but you were always fair,” he said. That’s it. What better compliment could you get if you do what we do for a living?
What’s your favorite SCPA member service?
Jen, Bill, Jay, Taylor. Jen Bill, Jay, Taylor. Just print those names a few hundred times.

What adjustments have you made during COVID-19?
Funny thing…at the state basketball championship games in Columbia in early March, I was down covering Great Falls. At halftime I went to the little hospitality room (because a good journalist never turns down free chicken fingers). I saw someone I hadn’t seen in a while and extended my hand. He grimaced and said “Hey, we better just bump elbows or something.” I thought, “what a weenie.” That seems so dumb and cloddish on my part now. It was just starting and I had no clue how serious it would be and how long we’d be dealing with it. We’ve made a lot of the standard adjustments (one customer in the office at a time, lots of Lysol, masks etc.) The biggest adjustment, I guess, was learning what Zoom was and using it. Luckily a couple of our local bodies put their meetings on Facebook Live, so that’s helped, though I feel like you miss a little something watching that way. And as it has progressed, it’s just been a matter of figuring out how to cover a pandemic. Getting past just raw numbers and things that don’t always have context. 
When it’s safe to get out and about again, what are some area attractions/restaurants in your community we shouldn’t miss?
In the very near future there is going to be whitewater recreation in Great Falls. The possibilities that will offer in terms of recreation, tourism and the economy as a whole are really exciting. As far as food, there’s some great places, but given my preferences I’m going to recommend pulled pork, brisket or the sweet roll cheesecake at Buttermilk’s BBQ

What do you like to do outside of work?
My sister actually has a podcast (Rock and Roll Heaven) that was picked up by a network but lost her cohost. I’m guessing A LOT of people said “no” because she ended up asking me to join her. She probably regrets that now but hasn’t fired me yet, so that’s cool. I do a really silly blog about 1A high school football. Also, with restaurant dining options limited because of the pandemic, I’ve spent even more time around my smoker and grill than normal (I’m sending a picture as proof because no one wants to look at me anyway).

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

FOI Briefs

State court system won’t reveal key details on judicial discipline

For the second time in recent months, the S.C. Judicial Department has sided with secrecy about how the court system operates.
In October, the department denied The Nerve’s request under the state Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for a list of judicial staff making at least $50,000 annually – records which are considered public for any government agency under the FOIA.
Less than three hours after The Nerve published a November story revealing the denial of the request, the department released the salary list without explanation.
On Dec. 10, The Nerve submitted another written FOIA request to the department asking that it identify which types of judges – magistrate, family, circuit and appellate court judges among listed examples – received disciplinary sanctions imposed by the court system or had other official actions taken against them, as indicated statistically in annual reports published by the department.
The Nerve at the same time also requested the identities of all current members of the 26-member state Commission on Judicial Conduct, an arm of the S.C. Supreme Court – made up mainly of judges under state law – that is supposed to police judges’ ethical conduct.
Court officials never responded to the December request, despite two written reminders on Jan. 13 and Monday, sent jointly to Supreme Court chief justice Donald Beatty – the administrative head of the state court system – and department spokeswoman Ginny Jones, that they had missed a legal deadline under the FOIA to respond.
By Rick Brundrett, The Nerve | Read more

People & Papers

Longtime Walterboro editor Katrena McCall retires

Katrena Smoak McCall has retired from The Press and Standard newspaper. Her last official newspaper was the Jan. 21 issue.
The Press and Standard officially began in 1877 and went through many changes, including merging two rival papers in the late 1800s, until her grandfather William Wightman Smoak took over the business and published his first newspaper on August 15, 1906. Since those days, a member of McCall’s family has been highly involved in the writing, editing, and production of The Press and Standard.
She said her earliest memories of being at The Press and Standard are of her grandparents running a stationary store in the storefront and printed the newspaper in the back. This was in the mid 50s before technology came and made the publisher’s life much easier.
In those days, very little had changed since Ben Franklin had published his newspapers. Lettering made out of heavy metals and lead were used for titles, headlines and advertising which had to be set up in a line in a small frame, letter by letter, and later cleaned in vats of gasoline. Letters of the alphabet in many various styles and sizes were separated in wooden boxes or compartments set along the wall next to lead tables.
“I remember running and playing on top of four-foot-high lead tables used to set type, until one day when I knocked over the entire box of the letter A, and they all fell on the floor,” she said. “There was every size and style of the letter A you could imagine. As a 4-year old, I remember my punishment was that I had to pick up every single piece of metal and put all the letters back in the correct compartment. There were hundreds and hundreds of them. It took me all day,” laughed McCall. “But I never played up there again.”
By Vicki Brown, The Press and Standard | Read more

Schechter named National Press Foundation Statehouse fellow

Maayan Schechter, State House reporter for The State, has been selected for a National Press Foundation fellowship on “Covering the Statehouse in a Time of Crisis.” Schechter is one of 25 journalists from across the country who will participate in eight online training sessions over the next three months. On the horizon in 2021 are plummeting state and local tax revenue; new U.S. Census numbers and the related issues of redistricting and gerrymandering; COVID costs and containment efforts; rising health-care costs; campaign finance; and the health of state and local pensions. Expert instructors will help journalists with accessing and localizing federal datasets; putting the impact of the federal government into context; covering Congress and the White House from afar; fact-checking, community engagement and solutions journalism; and making the most of TV or Zoom appearances.
Schechter has covered the State House and politics for The State since 2017, and previously worked at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News. Read more

Industry Briefs

Help NLA with transformative transparency

The News Leaders Association is looking for digital and print newsrooms across the country to participate in a limited-time pilot test for their Transformative Transparency project — which succeeds the annual ASNE Newsroom Diversity Survey.
Transformative Transparency project is a comprehensive data-collection and implementation strategy that will provide the industry with a more nuanced understanding of demographics within the journalism workforce, and the tools and resources they need to set diversity goals and achieve them.
If your newsroom is interested in helping test this important project before the wider rollout, please submit this form, and NLA will be in touch.

Can better corrections improve news readers’ trust?

The path to improve reader trust may be simpler than we realize.
Sure we should develop artificial intelligence tools that serve up accurate information to readers faster and more accurately than humans can. But perhaps we can also find ways to listen and engage with readers better than we have in past decades?
For example, perhaps we can improve the corrections process so that readers are working — in crowdsourced fashion — to improve the accuracy of our news and information? Perhaps we can thank and reward readers who help us improve accuracy rather than treating them as nags.
By Paul Glader for Poynter | Read more

Obituaries

Longtime newspaperman Mac Hill dies

Edward McAfee Hill, 87, “Mac” to those who knew and loved him, died on February 4, 2021 from complications of Covid-19. ... Mac had a fondness for journalism, especially sports writing. In 1958 he graduated from the University of South Carolina with a BA in Journalism. He enjoyed many years in the newspaper industry, having been sports editor, city editor and managing editor for several large publications [including the Greenville Piedmont, The State, The Charlotte Observer, Augusta Chronicle and Statesboro Herald], but his love was always in sports. He held offices in the SC Sportswriters Association and while at The State newspaper, he was involved in establishing the SC Sports Hall of Fame. Read more

Columns

Newspaper veterans share Columbus Street memories

By Edward M. Gilbreth, Charleston physician and columnist, The Post and Courier
OK, everybody, it’s your lucky day and the morning will get off to a good start with some of the personal reminiscences of newspaper personnel going back decades, when they were fired by youth and surrounded by giants at the center of the universe known as print media. The reminiscences, edited for brevity, were stirred by a recent announcement that newspaper operations will soon be leaving 134 Columbus St.
Bill Walker, who started out as a cub reporter for The News and Courier in June 1967, following graduation from Washington and Lee writes:
“There were four of us rookies that summer, and Arthur Wilcox was in charge of training us. We would meet in a room and receive instruction from Mr. Wilcox before going out on our assignments. My first day on the job, I asked whether it was a ‘good thing to know how to type.’ Mr. Wilcox’s jaw dropped as he said to me, ‘You don’t know how to type?’ I answered, ‘No sir, but I have very good handwriting.' Read more
By John Foust, Advertising Trainer

What makes a good headline?

Imagine the editors of a prestigious news organization sitting around a conference table discussing a breaking story. The story is written and all they need is a headline to convey its importance to readers. Someone says, “I’ve got it. Let’s use one word: ‘Look.’ We can give it more impact by making the two o’s look like eyeballs.” Everyone nods in agreement, and the headline runs. 
Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? But something similar must be happening in advertising conversations, because ‘Look’ has been a popular headline for years.
Popularity doesn’t equal effectiveness. Even though it’s frequently used, “Look” is one of the worst headlines you’ll ever see. It’s a product of lazy writing. It communicates nothing of value to readers. 
The headline deserves more respect than that, because it is the most important part of an ad. Research shows that four out of five readers do not get further than the headline. Unfortunately, this means that only 20 percent of the people who read an ad headline will read any of the body copy. Read more

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