Your connection to industry & member news
Your connection to industry & member news
Your connection to industry & member news  |  Oct. 15, 2020
By Eric P. Robinson, USC School of Journalism and Mass Communications

Lessons Not Learned

Within the past few weeks, there have been a number of examples of government bodies and officials ignoring the open records and open meeting requirements of South Carolina’s Freedom of Information Act, and in some of these cases seeing consequences as a result.
Unfortunately, these latest incidents are part of a pattern of misinterpreting or ignoring the requirements of the law that has continued even after changes to clarify and reinforce FOIA were passed in 2015. More amendments in 2017 expanded the law to explicitly cover electronic records.
With these amendments, the statute is clear: public bodies—including any entity funded in whole or in part by public funds—must announce meetings and their agendas in advance (and can add last-minute items only under exigent circumstances); must hold substantial policy discussions and make decisions at public meetings; and must make the minutes of meetings and other records public. 
Yet on Oct. 9 Circuit Court Judge Jocelyn Newman held that the Richland County Council’s 2018 decision to give a fired county administrator an almost $1 million settlement was invalid because the settlement was not included in the agenda of the meeting where the council voted to approve the settlement, and because most of the discussion occurred in a non-public session, with only the final approval vote in public.
In her ruling, Newman wrote that “[w]hile FOIA does not require public discussion of such details [regarding the settlement, the lack of discussion on such a complex topic (coupled with the chair’s slip of the tongue that the matter had already been accepted and approved) indicates that the public vote was simply a ratification of a private vote.” Read more

SCPA hosts media law experts for Zoom Chat on Oct. 23
Counselors Off The Cuff

Join a panel of media law experts on Friday, Oct. 23, from 2-2:45 p.m., for a no-holds-barred discussion on the legal, First Amendment and open government issues you’re facing.
Panelists include: SCPA Attorneys Taylor Smith and Jay Bender; Dr. Eric P. Robinson, assistant professor at the USC School of Journalism and Mass Communication and Of Counsel to Fenno Law in Charleston/Mount Pleasant; Meliah Bowers Jefferson of Wyche Law Firm; and Carl Muller of Carl F. Muller, Attorney at Law, P.A.
This event is open to SCPA’s professional and collegiate members. It will be available live and on-demand so you can watch at your convenience.
Thanks to our generous #SCPRESS20 sponsors, there is no cost for members to attend this event! 
RSVP by Oct. 19 so we can send you the Zoom instructions.

Hall of Fame nominations due Dec. 4

The S.C. Journalism Hall of Fame was established in 1973 to recognize and honor men and women who have excelled in their craft and made significant contributions to journalism and their communities.
Requirements for admission specify that a nominee must have made his or her journalistic reputation in South Carolina. If the reputation reflects achievements outside the state, the nominee must have been a native of South Carolina. Nominees must have been deceased for four or more years.
Nominations may be made by anyone now or previously employed by or associated with a South Carolina newspaper.
Nominating materials should be completed and submitted to SCPA by Dec. 4.
Because SCPA was not able to hold an in-person meeting in 2020, we will honor the 2020 Hall of Fame recipient at the 2021 Annual Meeting and Awards. 

SCPA accepting contest entries through Dec. 4

The 2020 News Contest is now open and accepting entries through Dec. 4. 
Each member editor should have received an email from SCPA last week with your log-in credentials.
The contest period is from Nov. 16, 2019, to Nov. 15, 2020.
Contact SCPA if you have any questions about the rules or if you have any trouble with the digital entry platform. 
#SCPRESS20 Sponsor Spotlight:
UofSC School of Journalism and Mass Communications
Tell us about your organization:
Founded in 1923, the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of South Carolina is a nationally accredited program that strives to improve and strengthen the societal roles of the professions of journalism and mass communications through teaching, research and service. We offer six undergraduate majors spanning the spectrum of communications careers, as well two master’s programs and a Ph.D.

What services/resources/opportunities can you offer to SCPA member newspapers?
Looking to hire an intern or fill an entry-level position? Our career services team can help. SCPA member newspapers can also partner with our Social Media Insights Lab for story-enhancing social media data. We also offer volunteer opportunities, including speaking to classes and mentoring students. 

What’s the most exciting thing going on at your organization?
Our new Biometrics and User Experience Lab opened in the spring and will help students and faculty members take research to the next level. Beyond research, we’ve successfully adapted our classes to continue providing students with a robust education, despite the challenges presented by COVID-19. See recent examples of our student journalism here. Finally, our Master of Mass Communication program is going online in Spring 2021. Are you interested in getting your master’s degree with us? Learn more here.

Why do you support SCPA and our member newspapers?
We support SCPA and its member newspapers because a free and fair press is the cornerstone of a strong democracy. Journalists hold those in power accountable and help the public make sense of the world. Our mission is to prepare them to do, and we continue to support their endeavors after graduation. 

Fun fact about you and/or your organization?
We are the oldest journalism and mass communications school in South Carolina, and we’ll celebrate our 100th anniversary in 2023.
 
Know someone that you’d like SCPA to spotlight? Email us your recommendations.

FOI Briefs

Despite pledges of transparency, Columbia withholds public records from police shootings

In the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, the Columbia Police Department’s top brass pledged a renewed commitment to keeping the public informed of cases in which their own officers use force on citizens.
“We’re transparent, we’re accountable and we always will be, because that’s what’s expected, and that’s what a professional police department looks like,” Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook told reporters in June.
But since then, skirting South Carolina’s open records law, his department for months has withheld reports that document recent Columbia police shootings and other complaints against some of the officers involved.
The Post and Courier requested the records in July under the state’s Freedom of Information Act after it came to light that Columbia police officers used deadly force in separate incidents in 2019 and earlier this year.
By Joseph Cranney, The Post and Courier Columbia | Read more

Court: Richland County’s $1 million settlement vote with former administrator invalid

A South Carolina court on Friday invalidated Richland County Council’s decision to pay former county administrator Gerald Seals $1 million, ruling the council vote violated state law.
The decision leaves the county in the position of having to reaffirm its controversial payment to Seals with a new vote, or to somehow find a way to reclaim the money paid out to a man a majority of council members at the time wanted to fire.
Judge Jocelyn Newman said the 2018 vote violated the state’s Freedom of Information Act because the council failed to specify the nature of its discussion in a closed-door session, did not notify the public it would vote on a potential settlement offer at the meeting, and indicated the council had decided to accept the settlement behind closed doors, without a public vote or discussion.
By Bristow Marchant and Sarah Ellis, The State | Read more

Judge rules SC officials illegally withheld information about business deals

Officials in South Carolina have been improperly withholding information about millions of dollars in state grants and tax incentives that are handed out to corporations every year, according to a new court order. 
Circuit Judge Robert Hood issued a ruling late last week that found the S.C. Department of Commerce was violating the S.C. Freedom of Information Act by keeping details about those economic development deals from the public. 
The court decision stems from a lawsuit that was filed by state Sen. Dick Harpootlian, D-Columbia, last year. 
By Andrew Brown, The Post and Courier | Read more

Behind-the-scenes, some city council members had early concerns about apology resolution

When Spartanburg City Councilwoman Meghan Smith suggested in a letter to her council peers this summer that the city apologize to its Black residents for racist policies of the past — something no other city in South Carolina has done — she was prepared to engage in tough conversations.
The public never got the opportunity to hear those conversations.
Protesters gathered at Spartanburg Mayor Junie White's Exxon gas station on South Pine Street last month asking the city to pass a resolution apologizing to Black residents for past policies. That resolution was passed unanimously on Sept. 28, but not before council members hashed it out for more than three months in emails. Records show some disagreements early on about the wording of that resolution.
Before the council approved the resolution on Sept. 28 without discussion, they spent more than three months talking through the language of the resolution in emails and phone calls in an effort to reach consensus, records obtained by the Herald-Journal show.
Behind the scenes, some council members disagreed early on, and one of them attempted to remove the apology from earlier versions of the document altogether.
By Dustin Wyatt, Herald-Journal | Read more

Legal Briefs

Reporters Committee examines Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s record on press rights issues

On Sept. 26, President Donald Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. As we have for past nominees, the Reporters Committee has reviewed Judge Barrett’s record and publications to develop a better understanding of her views on issues relevant to press rights.
That record is relatively light. Judge Barrett has joined very few published opinions addressing First Amendment issues and has written fewer. Her academic work, for its part, is primarily focused on questions of judicial method rather than particular areas of the law.
By Grayson Clary, RCFP | Read more

People & Papers

S.C. publisher launches weeklies in Bamberg and northeast Orangeburg county

Andy O’Byrne Sr., publisher of the Aiken Leader, The Calhoun Times Leader and The News-Era, launched two new weekly publications on Oct. 7.
The Bamberg County Leader and Orangeburg Leader will be published each Wednesday. 
The Orangeburg Leader will cover northeast Orangeburg County, east of the Four Hole Swamp.
In a note to readers, O'Byrne wrote, "...we are stepping into the void of local news left by [the sudden closure of the Advertizer Herald, Santee Striper and Holly Hill Observer]. We know that local journalism and a local paper are part of the building blocks for a strong and vibrant community and economy."
The Bamberg paper's contact info is: bambergcountyleader@gmail.com and (803) 662-0428. The Orangeburg Leader can be reached at orangeburgleader@gmail.com and (803) 974-9083.

Free Times publisher promoted to regional leadership role

Evening Post Industries, parent company to The Post and Courier and Free Times announced earlier this month that Free Times publisher Chase Heatherly has been promoted to the position of Regional Chief Revenue Officer for Evening Post’s Community Newspaper Group.
The group includes news media operations in multiple South Carolina communities: Summerville, Mount Pleasant, Georgetown, Myrtle Beach and Kingstree.
As CRO, Heatherly will provide leadership to and oversee the newspaper management teams. He will continue to serve as publisher of Free Times and The Post and Courier Columbia. He will remain based in Columbia.
From The Post and Courier Columbia | Read more

Editor Cecilia Brown says farewell to Moultrie News readers

As they say, time flies when you’re having fun. Being the Editor of the Moultrie News for the past two years has been such a joy, honor and pleasure. But now, as I say good-bye to our East Cooper readers before I take a new job opportunity, I wanted to take a moment to say thank you.
When I took over the reins of editor from Sully Witte, I didn’t know how many councilmembers our local municipalities had. I didn’t know what the Mount Pleasant Chamber of Commerce talked about at their monthly meetings or who the principals were of area high schools. But most of all, I surely didn’t know how much I would fall in love with the East Cooper community and the people that make up this beautiful Lowcountry area I had the privilege of covering.
The opportunities and memories I have had while at the Moultrie News have been tremendously wonderful. Every minute, from moderating the election forums, judging local contests, teaching kids about newspapers at job fairs, and writing features about the many inspirational people and things within our community, have each been rewarding in their own way. And I will always be grateful for how welcoming and encouraging our readers have been while I was the editor.
By Cecilia Brown, Moultrie News | Read more

Industry Briefs

A community’s voice: Allen University students to research role of John McCray, Black press

Occasionally, someone comes along and really shakes things up.
During the 1940s and early 1950s, South Carolina’s segregationist status quo got shook something fierce by a number of prominent people, such as NAACP activists Modjeska Simkins and James M. Hinton, attorneys Thurgood Marshall and Matthew Perry, federal judge J. Waties Waring and, not least, the newspaperman John Henry McCray.
McCray was arguably the state’s most important Black journalist ever, and his newspaper, The Lighthouse and Informer, one of the most progressive. It called aggressively and repeatedly for racial equality, rejecting accommodation and incrementalism.
Thanks to a recent $44,000 three-year grant from the National Park Service (funded with revenue from federal oil leases), students at Allen University in Columbia, a historically Black school affiliated with the AME Church, soon will have the chance to investigate McCray’s tumultuous life and noteworthy achievements.
Under the supervision of Kevin Trumpeter, the school’s dean of arts and humanities, students will pore over digitized copies of The Lighthouse and Informer with an eye toward the larger civil rights narratives of the period, such as the NAACP’s successful legal battles over school teachers’ unequal pay, voting rights and integration of the Democratic Party. They could also initiate an oral history project and participate in a culminating public event.
Trumpeter said the effort, postponed slightly because of the COVID-19 pandemic, will teach its participants researching and interviewing skills, South Carolina history and more.
By Adam Parker, The Post and Courier | Read more

People use, on average, six different sources to gather information about Covid-19

Where did you hear that? A new study found that though people often turn to traditional media sources — 91% reported getting information about Covid-19 from newspapers, TV, or radio — they’re also paying attention to multiple other sources, including government websites, friends and family members, and social media.
The study, by researchers at NYU’s School of Global Public Health, found that people use six different sources, on average, to gather information about Covid-19 and that the numbers were higher earlier in the pandemic, when the novel coronavirus was, well, more novel.
Those with children and with college degrees used more sources, while those who were male, aged 40 and older, not working or retired, or Republican tended to rely on fewer sources, the study found.
By Sarah Scire, Nieman Lab | Read more

Scipps Howard hosts P&C reporters for Oct. 19 webinar

The Scripps Howard Foundation is hosting reporters from The Post and Courier on Oct. 19, from 1-2 p.m., as part of its Scripps Howard Awards webinar series. 
The event will feature Jennifer Berry Hawes, Stephen Hobbs and Glenn Smith. The Post and Courier won the 2020 Scripps Howard Award for Distinguished Service to the First Amendment, the Edward Willis Scripps Award.
Their entry "It's Time for You to Die" examined a killing spree at a maximum-security prison in South Carolina that left seven inmates dead. The staff used innovative methods to report the story when state corrections officials were not forthcoming with information. 
The three reporters will discuss how they got around an official blockade of information to obtain key documents and interviews with more than 100 inmates. They will also highlight what they discovered about the gangs that rule the prison and the contraband economy that empowers them. Here's more info and how to register.

How The Associated Press plans to report the election results

For more than 170 years, the world has relied on The Associated Press to count the vote in U.S. elections and deliver the results. We have done this through the Civil War, the pony express, periods of unrest, and world wars.
Counting the vote and calling races is a critical function of the American democracy, and of America’s decentralized election system. It is an essential role that AP has played for nearly two centuries and one that AP will again deliver on in November.
As it does in every election, AP will collect and verify U.S. election returns in every county, parish, city and town across the country, covering races down to the legislative level in every state. This year AP will declare winners in 7,000 contests, doing the work so that the public knows as soon as possible who wins not only the White House, but control of Congress and every state legislature. Thousands of broadcasters, newspapers, digital outlets, and others will rely on AP’s results.
By Sally Buzbee, Nieman Reports | Read more

Columns

By Chris Trainor, Index-Journal

The beauty of a two-newspaper morning

If I was lucky, someone would leave a newspaper behind.
Because two-newspaper mornings were the best mornings. No better way to start the day, especially for a kid who liked to scour the box scores.
Folks from Abbeville, and likely from other parts of the Lakelands, probably remember the Dutch Oven restaurant, which was on Main Street, just north of historic Court Square. It’s gone now, but for many, many years it was a go-to spot for a great meat-and-three lunch. The kind of place where’d you’d pop in and spot a sampling of just about everyone in town — attorneys from nearby law offices, city sanitation workers on their lunch breaks, mill workers still shaking off the cobwebs from third shift — lined up waiting to get fried chicken and rice & gravy and okra and maybe a piece of cornbread.
But for many years, the Dutch Oven also served breakfast and, when I was growing up, that’s when my family often visited the venerable restaurant. In fact, there was a period of time when we’d get breakfast there several times each week, even on some mornings before school. Like the lunch shift, breakfast time at the Dutch Oven also had a steady cast of regular customers, many of whom we saw each time we went in. I can still picture Jimmy Smith, who at the time ran the local TV repair shop, sitting in at his regular table down the right wall, leaned back with his right arm thrown over the back of the booth. Read more
By Jeff Wallace, Guest Columnist, Aiken Standard

Daily newspaper a hard habit to break

Newspapers are on my mind first thing in the morning.
My morning begins with a trek down the driveway to pick up the morning paper. By then, I’ve already checked the headlines online, but I can’t wait to have the feel of paper between fingers while reading the morning news.
Newspapers have been part of my life since childhood. They were my livelihood, and I just can’t seem to break the habit in retirement. When away from home, I constantly look at the headlines in checkout counters and news racks on the street.
Now more than ever the local newspaper in whatever form it is delivered – on paper, e-edition, Facebook, Twitter or email – is one of the most important pieces of information that comes my way.
National news has become so fragmented and often filled with opinion, that one must search far and wide to get a perspective that is not partisan in one direction or another. But the local news is typically not divided into right vs. left, liberal vs. conservative or party vs. party. The local newspaper is one of the few places that readers can find out what is occurring in the place that matters most – their hometown. Read more

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