Your connection to industry & member news
Your connection to industry & member news
Your connection to industry & member news  |  Aug. 18, 2022
By Eric P. Robinson, USC School of Journalism and Mass Communications

Trial gag orders are no laughing matter

South Carolina Circuit Judge Clifton Newman was praised (here and here, for example) in early August when he rejected requests for gag orders from both the prosecution and the defense in the pending double-homicide murder trial against disbarred attorney Alex Murdaugh for allegedly killing his wife and son in the midst of a maelstrom of other charges involving fraud, theft and other illegal and unethical behavior.
The parties had requested that Newman seal—remove public access to—all the evidence in the double murder case and to allow the parties to seal all of their motions in the case.
In his order denying the request, Newman wrote that “[t]he public is entitled to know how justice is being administered.” Issuing the gag orders, he added, “would likely constitute the improper closure of the courtroom.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has held that public access to the courts—and most court documents—is protected by the First Amendment, and that access can be closed to the public only under extraordinary circumstances. In decisions in 1984 and 1986, the Court held that “proceedings cannot be closed unless specific, on the record findings are made demonstrating that ‘closure is essential to preserve higher values and is narrowly tailored to serve that interest.’” In other words, any closure or sealing of documents must serve an interest that overrides the public’s interest in open courts, and the closure or sealing must be limited to only what is absolutely necessary to protect that overriding interest. The Court added that a court ordering any closure must also explicitly justify its reasoning for the closure. Read more
SCPA hosted its annual Weekly Editors Roundtable last Friday at SCPA Offices. Daily Editors, now is the time to RSVP for your roundtable, which will be held Aug. 26.

SCPA Foundation Intern Wrap-Up

Bozard served as a reporting intern at The Times and Democrat. 
Bozard with SCPA Co-Executive Director Jen Madden and SCPA Foundation President Harry Logan.
Editor's Note: As the summer comes to a close, so does the SCPA Foundation's internship program. Over the next month, we'll re-introduce you to our three interns and share how their summers went.
UofSC senior journalism student Caleb Bozard said his eight-week SCPA Foundation internship at The Times and Democrat gave him the ability to adapt to a newsroom environment and develop new reporting skills. 
Bozard spent his summer as a reporting intern covering a variety of topics including health care, primary night and local election coverage, Roe v. Wade overturn, local shelters and food pantries impacted by inflation, local clubs and fundraisers, arts stories and more. 
"Lee Harter, Gene Crider and all of the staff at the T&D were constantly making sure I had what I needed to succeed and were always giving me chances to grow," Bozard said. "This summer, I covered a great variety of stories and even got experience in multimedia and wire service work, two of my biggest goals as a growing journalist."
Bozard said being in an environment surrounded by professionals gave him an insight to the universal skills needed in a newsroom. He also spent time assembling video packages and photos for his stories, which he said he had little to no experience with before the internship.
Executive Editor Lee Harter said the experience was excellent for the newspaper and Bozard.
"He performed much as a seasoned reporter, going after extra sources and exploring new ways to make his reporting interesting and relevant," Harter said.
Bozard said he's excited to put the skills he's learned this summer to use as News Editor for The Daily Gamecock, UofSC's student newspaper.
"I can’t give enough thanks to everyone who had a part in making this summer possible, especially to the SCPA Foundation and The T&D," Bozard said.  "I’m so excited to take what I learned this summer back to The Daily Gamecock and UofSC for my senior year!"

Invest in the future of our industry

The Foundation's internships and scholarships are provided by contributions from you! Please support the Foundation's valuable work by making your tax-deductible contribution today.

How to apply 

Internships are open to student journalists who attend a four-year college in South Carolina or reside in South Carolina and attend a four-year college elsewhere. Rising juniors and seniors, and recent college graduates are eligible. Applications for Summer 2023 will be available in September.

"Decided to stay" 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

SC AG threatens CCSD board with lawsuit, criminal prosecution over alleged FOIA violations

S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson has demanded the Charleston County School District’s board of trustees respond to parent allegations that it has violated the state’s open records law, warning the officials they could face a potential lawsuit or criminal prosecution.
The Lexington Republican sent a letter Aug. 16 to the board after receiving several complaints from parents saying the board wasn’t complying with the state’s Freedom of Information Act.
The parents allege the board failed to provide proper notice of agenda items at two recent meetings.
Under the FOIA, all meetings held by public bodies, including school boards, must be open to the general public. Government officials also must properly notify the public of when the meetings will occur and what will be discussed.
Wilson wrote in the letter that for decades the attorney general’s office has told public agencies “when in doubt, disclose.”
“This Office can and will bring suit against public bodies, who flout their duties under FOIA,” Wilson wrote. “Moreover, a consistent pattern of FOIA violations can lead to possible criminal prosecution for misconduct in office, which carry stiff criminal penalties.”
By Hillary Flynn and Avery G. Wilks, The Post and Courier | Read more

Spartanburg standoff: FOIA documents reveal tension, fear, heroism in 2021 incident

Thursday, July 1, 2021, began as a typical summer day for a crew of seven to nine Spartanburg Water employees repairing a clogged sewer line near Cleveland Park.
After returning from lunch, a stranger approached the crew, asked what they were doing, then pulled out a gun and opened fire, striking two workers.

"His eyes were as red as fire," one crew member who suffered a gunshot wound to his face later told an investigator. He said he thought "the guy was evil."
Spartanburg Police Department officers responded to the scene. At first, the officers thought it was a Spectrum/Charter worker who had been shot, but soon after arriving at the scene, they learned it was two Spartanburg Water employees. ...
The cable worker who died was identified as Perry McIntyre, 49, of Landrum.
The two separate shootings left two dead – McIntyre and Smith; and four injured – two water system employees, the mother of the victim and a sheriff's deputy. Names of the injured were redacted. 
Through the Freedom of Information Act, public records of the events and follow-up investigations were obtained by the Herald-Journal. Normally, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division would investigate officer-involved shootings but since SLED was involved in the incident, the Greenville County Sheriff's Office conducted the investigation.
The records detail the events that involved a shootout between the suspect, Smith and multiple law enforcement agencies.
By Bob Montgomery, Herald-Journal | Read more

North Myrtle Beach settling work discrimination claims. City paid others to avoid suits

North Myrtle Beach appears on the verge of settling a trio of discrimination lawsuits with former employees, but they won’t be alone if they receive payouts over their grievances.
Those three were among a group of at least 10 employees that city officials were concerned would file suits after they were fired during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to documents acquired by The Sun News through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Seven other former city employees terminated during 2020 were given payouts in exchange for signing agreements preventing them from suing the city or any of its officials and employees, the documents show.
By David Weissman, The Sun News | Read more

Legal Briefs

Drivers in Charleston, Greenville, Columbia and Myrtle Beach can see billboards like this starting Aug. 15. They are paid for by the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, or FIRE, a nonprofit that advocates for free speech. Photo provided to The P&C.

Free speech group targets abortion-ban proposal with billboards across SC

Billboards going up in response to a state senator’s abortion-ban proposal aim to remind South Carolinians that the U.S. Constitution still protects their First Amendment right to talk about abortions. 
The billboards, which read “Speech about abortion is free speech,” challenge a section in Sen. Richard Cash’s bill that would make it a felony to help a pregnant woman get an abortion, to include providing information by phone, email “or any other mode of communication.” Under his bill, which even his GOP colleagues oppose as extreme, that phone conversation could send someone to prison for up to 25 years.
The Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression is spending more than $100,000 on 20 billboards in South Carolina as a first step to squash the idea nationwide. Drivers in Charleston, Greenville, Columbia and Myrtle Beach will see the billboards for four weeks, starting Aug. 15, FIRE spokespeople told The Post and Courier.
The timing coincides with a special session the Legislature’s GOP majority created solely to consider an abortion ban.  
Cash’s bill has received a lot of attention since he introduced it June 28, shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned nearly 50 years of precedent on abortion rights and left the legality for state lawmakers to decide.
By Seanna Adcox, The Post and Courier | Read more
Related: That Facebook post about abortion could land you in jail — if South Carolina legislators have their way (By Will Creeley and Nadine Strossen, Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression)
By Andy Brack, Editor and Publisher of Charleston
City Paper

Column: Protect free expression in S.C. from intimidation

Imagine a development was coming to your neighborhood and you didn’t like it.  So you attended a public meeting in your town and complained.  
Or consider the community advocacy organization that publishes a video about a fallen carriage horse in a continuing and long effort to get more humane treatment for working animals.  
In both cases, you’d probably figure their opinions were part of the public debate in the marketplace of ideas, protected by free speech rights in the U.S. Constitution that allow citizens to speak out, protest and publish information.  
But in both instances, companies in South Carolina brought a special, cynical kind of lawsuit intended to chill debate by, in part, making people hire expensive lawyers to defend themselves.  They’re called SLAPP lawsuits, which stands for “Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation.”  More than 30 states have laws that protect people from these lawsuits.  South Carolina does not.
In the first instance, a 2016 lawsuit by a developer over a Mount Pleasant project ended up being settled after citizens who commented on the process were subpoenaed.  In the second, a Charleston County judge recently ruled the Charleston Animal Society did not defame a carriage company in 2017 by publishing videos of a fallen horse and saying it had “collapsed.”  It took four years for the ruling to be issued, but the company has already appealed it. Read more
Related: Video of carriage horse’s fall in downtown Charleston not defamatory, judge says (By Steve Garrison and Ema Rose Schumer, The Post and Courier)

Introducing The New Way to RECAP

For over a decade, the RECAP Extensions have liberated documents from the PACER system. One by one, our users have sent us millions of documents, which we have built into one of the largest open databases of federal court filings in the country.
While this system works well, sometimes it didn't feel like enough. Lawyers and litigants get notification emails from PACER that contain links to download PACER documents for free. Why weren't we getting those documents too?
Well, today we take the first step in changing that.
Starting today, litigants and lawyers that receive PACER notification emails can add the following email address to their account:
Once that email is added to your PACER account, we will get the same notifications you do (yours will be unchanged). When we get the notification, we'll download the available PDF and add it to our system. It's that simple. You add it once, we RECAP all your notifications going forward.
By Michael Lissner, Free Law Project | Read more

People & Papers


Former Aiken Standard publisher takes helm of Arkansas daily

Rhonda Overbey, former publisher of the Aiken Standard and The Post and Courier North Augusta/The Star, has joined The Saline Courier and Malvern Daily Record of Arkansas as regional publisher and advertising director. 
Overbey was publisher and advertising director of the Aiken Standard and The Star for six years before moving to Arkansas. 
Overbey is a native of Conway, Arkansas, and got her start in the newspaper industry during a summer of 1990 with the Log Cabin Democrat while a student at the University of Arkansas.
Read more  
SCPA Co-Executive Directors Jen Madden and Randall Savely visited the staff of The People-Sentinel in Barnwell last week. They met with Publisher Jonathan Vickery to discuss the newspaper’s first year of local ownership and ways to keep growing. 
A long overdue President's Cup presentation to Don Worthington of the Pageland Progressive Journal! SCPA Co-Executive Director Jen Madden and SCPA President Charles Swenson presented Worthington with the award at the Weekly Editors Roundtable last Friday. 
Please let us know about your new hires, retirements and promotions
so we can share your news in the eBulletin!

Industry Briefs

NLA is hiring staff, holding DEI Roundtable with partners to improve outreach and participation rate 

[The News Leaders Association has] been busy this summer reaching out to NLA members, partners and supporters to look for ways to streamline the News Leaders Association’s diversity survey to improve the participation rate after several years of disappointing results. We truly appreciate the 303 print and all-digital newsrooms of all sizes that participated in NLA’s 2021 Transformative Transparency Project survey. Overall, 12,781 journalists were included in that count. 
Unfortunately, after conducting a data integrity analysis in late May through mid June, we found various problems with the demographic information (collected from August to October 2021), rendering the current survey results incomplete, and, thus, an inaccurate picture of our industry. The analysis offers a teachable moment that we have embraced with zeal. I want to share what we are doing to remove the data collection barriers and get a true picture of our industry in 2023. 
As Meredith D. Clark, Ph.D., Research Director for the 2021 NLA Newsroom Diversity, noted in her draft report to NLA in late March, “The 2021 survey doesn’t represent a realistic snapshot of diversity in the U.S. There is both over- and under-representation based on where newsrooms are physically located, staff size and publications’ tenure – from legacy media to newer shops. Instead, the 2021 survey underscores the challenges ahead.” 
By Myriam Maquez, News Leaders Association | Read more

Want to improve your editorial page? Here are expert ideas

The International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors was founded mainly to advance the cause of editorial leadership in rural newspapers. It remains journalistically focused, and the hallmark of its annual conference is still the small-group sessions in which attendees critique each other's editorial pages and editorials. After the 2022 conference in Lexington, Ky., editorial-critique coordinator Tim Waltner gathered up a list of "best practices" from the session leaders for the August ISWNE newsletter. Here are most of them, with a few adds from the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which hosted the conference, in parentheses:
  • If you’re serious about improving your editorial page, make it a priority
  • Build slowly. A strong editorial page requires patience and a methodical and consistent approach that will appeal to readers and gain their confidence.
  • Package content appropriately. Clearly label editorial pages.
  • Avoid having news and editorial copy on the same page, but if it can’t be avoided, clearly label news and opinion. (If you're short of opinion material, local-history articles can work.)
  • Content should drive editorial page layout/design. Editorial pages are serious content and shouldn’t have fonts/design that make it look like a feature page.
By Al Cross, The Rural Blog | Read more


By Gene Policinski,  Freedom Forum

Perspective: The wrongness of letting government tell us to 'shut up – or else’

There may be no worse assault on our freedom of speech than a law that would permit the government to tell us to “shut up” when it comes to discussion and debate on a major social issue of our time – and to punish us if we don’t.
Freedom of speech under the First Amendment is rooted in the concept of a “marketplace of ideas,” where information and robust, uninhibited exchanges are protected to ensure all can speak and be heard.
As a concept, most everyone agrees with that approach, particularly those in the minority of the moment, who need protection from being silenced by what the nation’s founders saw as a potential “tyranny of the majority.”
The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade is producing yet another attempt to sabotage the marketplace approach to debate — to, in effect, tell us to “shut up or else.” Proposed model legislation by the National Right to Life Committee is being promoted to state legislatures with a goal of creating criminal and civil penalties for speech seen to be “aiding or abetting” abortions.
The vagueness of the proposed laws raises real constitutional questions. Would news reports about abortion that include comments by choice advocates, or that simply mentioned states where abortion remains lawful, spark legal action against journalists or news organizations that run afoul of this law? Read more

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