NEW SPJ GEORGIA CHARTER MEMBERS
Welcome to the new charter members of SPJ Georgia! Don’t forget that you can join and further your journalistic ambitions and the industry in Georgia.
- Leah Betancourt, CBS affiliate WTOC, digital content director, @l3ahb3tan
- Karen M. Bridgeman, Eatonton Messenger, managing editor
- Ron Bridgeman, Eatonton Messenger, senior editor
- Carolyn Carlson, Kennesaw State University, assistant professor, @
- Carolyn Wildes Cunningham, Cunningham Copyediting, owner
- Phelps S. Hawkins, Savannah State University, assistant professor
- Jacques Rozier, Gannett, multimedia producer, @
- Devon M. Sayers, CNN, national assignment editor, @
- Mary K. Strangis, VOX Teen Communications, director of media and programs, @
- Wesley Michael Watt, Office of U.S. Congressman Phil Gingrey, staff assistant
- Lindsay Wood, freelance writer, @
- Curt F. Yeomans, Clayton News Daily, staff writer, @
MEMBER RESEARCHES FREEDOM OF INFORMATION
SPJ Georgia member Carolyn Carlson said many government public information officers (PIO) are interfering with the requests from reporters for information the public has the right to know. She said it is a form of censorship.
Carlson, assistant professor of journalism at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Ga., and also a member of SPJ’s Freedom of Information Committee, along with her graduate research assistant, Megan Roy, disclosed results of two SPJ-sponsored surveys regarding journalists’ experience in obtaining public information at the National Press Club Sunshine Week 2014 presentation on March 19 in Washington, D.C.
“Not all PIOs are controlling, but it is getting worse in the federal and state levels and is starting to influence at the local level of government,” Carlson said.
The first survey tabulated how political and general assignment reporters are seeing the level of control by PIOs increasing for several years.
“The PIOs want to cover only the positive news of the government,” Carlson said. The survey revealed that many PIOs are blacklisting reporters from talking to officials or even sitting in on interviews. She said many PIOs are even recording interviews and participating in the interview process.
“When I was a reporter in the 70s, 80s and 90s, there were hardly any PIOs back then; now there are PIOs everywhere,” she said. As the public information field has evolved, the PR professionals have exercised more control on what information comes out of their agencies. “Over half of the reporters said they have to go around the PIOs to get interviews,” Carlson said.
For the second survey, SPJ worked along with the Education Writers Association to focus on the experiences education reporters are facing in accessing public information. Again, these reporters commented on the inability to get an interview or information needed to report the whole story for the readers. Over 1,500 education reporters were surveyed with more than a 12 percent reply rate.
“Young reporters think that is the way it is done — the new normal — a one-sided point of view,” said Carlson. Finding the courage and determination to move past the PIOs is what Carlson is advocating. “Don’t take no for an answer when wanting information and use your journalism skills in regard to gathering information; take action and don’t have the PIOs set up the process.”
David Cuillier, SPJ president and director of the University of Arizona School of Journalism, stated on SPJ’s website, “What is so frustrating for journalists is that they have important stories they want to tell the public but government agencies often do everything they can to muzzle and manage the message.” He said ultimately, the public loses because it is not getting the information it needs to self-govern. “This isn’t about the government vs. the press. It’s the government vs. the citizen.”
To accomplish this goal of writing for citizens, Carlson said journalists should write about the obstacles they are facing as reporters when information requests are deleted, redacted or ignored.
“If it is in the public interest, write about it,” she said. “It is not going to change until the public learns about the information.”
Carlson has conducted four surveys covering the Freedom of Information Act and how journalists work to promote open research and reporting on government agencies. In 2013, public service officers were selected for a survey, and in 2012, federal reporters working in Washington were surveyed. Carlson said her analysis will be published for academia.
Cuillier; Kathryn Fox, a member of the NPC Freedom of the Press Committee and freelance reporter; and Emily Richmond, public editor of the Education Writers Association, along with Carlson were panelists at the Sunshine Week event.
SPJ’s Freedom of Information Committee is active in recommending letters for President Obama and congressional leaders to sign addressing the First Amendment. This committee also recommends which court cases SPJ should become active in pursuing.
-Sharon Dunten, SPJ Georgia interim board member
UPCOMING EVENTS & CONTESTS
April 4-5: SPJ educators, are you looking for training and great tools for teaching? Attend Journalism Interactive in College Park, Md.
April 8: SPJ Georgia is partnering with Ed2010, an editors’ group, to hold a mixer at Apres Diem in the heart of Midtown Atlanta. Click to RSVP and find out more details.
Sept. 4-6: SPJ Excellence in Journalism national conference is held in Nashville, Tenn. Watch for more details on SPeachJ, Facebook and Twitter.
SPJ GEORGIA MEMBER NEWS
Aberrance Quarterly is a seasonal women’s magazine created and run by high school journalists. Georgia high school students published the first issue of the magazine in the state. You can view the spring issue here.
If you would like to share news about an SPJ Georgia member, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
BOARD MEETING REVIEW
On March 4 at the Commerce Club in Atlanta, the SPJ Georgia interim board met. Sharon Dunten, Ruksana Hussain, Jason Meucci and Adina Solomon were in attendance.
The following are highlights of the March 4 interim board meeting:
- SPJ Georgia has opened a bank account.
- Ruksana will provide an update on the financial report each month before the board meeting.
- The board meeting in April will develop a budget for SPJ Georgia.
- SPeachJ will concentrate on giving more prominence to membership.
- Charter members will receive a gift of some sort.
- The board discussed how to involve members who want to help the chapter.
- The board discussed how to expand to new regions in Georgia and how to divide the different regions.
- The board talked about an upcoming SPJ Georgia event in Eatonton.
- The board discussed how to work with youth interested in journalism, including working with high school publications and university SPJ chapters.
The next board meeting will be held in Atlanta on April 1, location to be decided. Please contact email@example.com if you want to attend the meeting. Please note that all records are open to SPJ Georgia members upon request.