Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Brief #10: Freedom of Information Act

Freedom of Information Act

 It seems to me that there has always been a battle between the people of our country, who want to know what the government is doing (especially when it affects them), and those who work for the government, who want to do their job in their own way, and not have to answer to the people (or anyone else) - especially since there is a lot of bureaucracy in government that seems to hamper getting things done. Although I have some sympathy for the government officials, wanting to ignore the rules and just fix problems, it's we, the people who elect the government, and who have the right, via the press, and the Freedom of Information Act, to know what's going on behind closed doors. There are many exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) as well. The Federal FOIA applies to the executive branch of the government, but the states each have their own Freedom of Information Act.  Sometimes, it’s companies, not individuals, who are using the FOIA to get the information from the government, such as in this Arkansas case that started last year. Video

(Take the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act Quiz!)

An attorney named Steve Shultz has been suing the Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC), using the state's FOIA, to release package inserts and labels for the three drugs used in state executions. The ADC wants to redact theinformation that would tell exactly who was making and distributing the drugs.  Drug companies don't want their drugs to be used for state executions; it's bad for their businesses. It's difficult for the ADC to find sources of the drugs. If these sources were made public, it would make it more difficult for them to get access to them, or to find replacements for the drugs. The secrecy provisions of the state's Methods of Execution Act permits them to redact the information. Video

 None of the articles I've read explain exactly why Shultz is suing; it could be that he has a client who wants to use the information to either sue the state for a past execution in a wrongful death lawsuit; or he wants to prevent the state from performing more executions.  He could also be representing the drug companies.  Drug manufacturers and their distributorshave been suing ADC for years; they claim that the state obtained their drugs illegally (the companies did not give them permission to use them for executions).  In this case with Shultz, the courts keep telling the ADC to release the information, but then they appeal to higher courts. Because there are three different drugs, there are three different lawsuits, which makes things even more complicated.  Video

 The latest ruling from the Arkansas Supreme Court said thatthe ADC could redact certain information fromthe labels that could identify who sold or supplied potassium chloride to the state.  They've sent it to Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen, who gets to decide which information must be redacted.  The court has disagreed with the ADC's assertion that the information must be kept completely secret because they're only supposed to use FDA-approved manufacturers for their drugs. Not knowing whose product they're using makes it impossible to tell if they're in compliance or not. It's interesting to note that Judge Griffen is also a death penalty protester.

cartoon about government secrecy

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Brief #9: College Media

college newspapers

The phrase "college media" can mean many things, from student or university blogs, to social media posts, to the school newspaper or TV studios. I decided to focus my post on U.S. college newspapers (many of which are online-only, like our own "The Bray").  I knew very little about college newspapers, so this was an interesting fact-digging assignment for me. I worked on my junior high school paper in 9th grade, and I drew some cartoons for my school paper in Palomar Community College in 1980. I wrote some articles for The Bray last semester. I've been at many universities, due to my husband's job, and some of their papers were good, and some not so good.  Other than that, I know zilch about school papers. Video

The Bray Online - Southern Arkansas University's newspaper

From what I've been able to tell with my online research, today's college newspapers face three main challenges: whether to keep printing or move online entirely (or to blogs and social media); how to get funding in the face of budget cuts; and facing censorship. Video

The Daily Aztec - San Diego State's newspaper
Unlike professional newspapers, school papers are usually funded by the university (via student fees), or they have advertisers, or both. These papers are always free, so they can't charge a subscription fee. Our paper here at SAU pays the students for articles and photos, which I was surprised to learn. I thought school papers were either put out by a particular journalism class, or they were run by volunteers (like a campus club), which is how papers are done in high schools and middle schools (at least, as far as I remember). On the other hand, many colleges no longer have journalism degrees or even journalism classes. Our major is "Mass Communication" and focuses on online media and PR as much as journalism. However, the writers and photographers of the school paper are not necessarily Mass Comm majors. Video

The Statesman - Stony Brook University's newspaper

I was shocked that university papers are having financial cutbacks because I thought they were well-supported by the colleges. Apparently when colleges try to cut costs, the school paper budget is one of the things they do slash. I suppose if a school paper is not popular with the students, and not well read by others in the community, and there is no Mass Comm or Journalism degree, they shouldn't charge students extra money for it. That makes sense. Unfortunately, I think that funding is cut even when the papers have many readers.

The Vidette - Illinois State University's newspaper
Many school papers stopped printing an actual paper and have gone digital. Sometimes it's because of printing costs, but also it's because today's students are more comfortable with digital newspapers. Also, today's students tend to be environmentally conscious, so it makes sense that they would rather not kill more trees or have to recycle newspapers instead of having a digital paper (even if going digital is not necessarily any more ecologically-friendly.) Some college newspapers are using social media to help bring in more readers. Video

The Crimson White - The University of Alabama's newspaper

I was even more shocked to learn that some college administrators try to control what the newspaper talks about.  Here at SAU, the administration has a "hands off" policy when it comes to the paper. The paper isn't even hosted on the SAU website. It's completely independent and student-run. The advisor only advises and doesn't tell the editor or reporters what to do.  The first amendment is alive and well here in Southern Arkansas.

The Highlander - UC Riverside's newspaper
 College newspapers also vary widely in their writing styles, resources and circulation numbers.  Top universities like Harvard train their students in newspapers and magazines that are very similar to real-world major newspapers. Some colleges have moved their operations entirely to blogs or social media. I suppose that's the wave of the future in student newspapers. Video

Toreador - Texas Tech's newspaper

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Brief #8: Investigative Journalism


Journalists of all types generally pride themselves on their honesty and integrity.  They are schooled in professional ethics.  Their job is to search for the truth and to report the facts.  These days, journalists and their ethics are under attack by the President of United States and those who follow him.  The recent news stories about Sinclair Broadcast Group shows a further clash between those with money and power, and journalists.  Video

Sinclair logo

Sinclair Broadcast Group started in the seventies, but now they have almost 200 news stations across the country.  A loophole in the law, as well as political shenanigans, have enabled them to buy up a lot of stations. They contribute to the consolidation of the media that has been going on in the U.S. for quite awhile. According to recent news reports, they tell their reporters in these news stations exactly what to say in their editorials (which are always conservative).  Americans rely on the news to be accurate, and if a news person is delivering an editorial commentary, it's expected that the commentary is their own, as a local voice of the community.  It's shocking to learn that so many of these stations are just delivering whatever their bosses want them to say, without regard to journalistic integrity. This story of "must-read editorials" was in the news this week when someone put many of the stations' videos together to show just how alike they were. Although some reporters have been warning us about Sinclair for a while, it was a viral video from a sports news site Deadspin that recently brought Sinclair into the public awareness. Video

Kushner struck deal with sinclair

This video not only shows you the synchronized news stories, but it tells all about how Sinclair is growing, and what lies they've been telling, especially in their home city of Baltimore. It's pretty scandalous.  Although it's true that newspapers, TV news stations, news networks and the like are businesses that want to make a profit, it's rare that the people in charge so obviously care more about making money and pushing their own greedy agenda than they do about the integrity of their programming.

The leftist magazine The Nation rightly points out that this is chilling - not because it's right-wing news - but because having ONE source (or few sources) for the news is bad for democracy.  Their company website claims that they're "one of the largest and most diversified television broadcasting companies in the country."  I don't think they understand what "diversified" really means.

The group has been accused not just of pushing a right-wing agenda, but of favoring Trump and his allies. Trump has also praised Sinclair, while he's denounced all other news sources, except for FOX news.  This all goes against everything journalists believe.  The reporters should be as unbiased as possible, and reporting real news, not reporting with any agenda.  An editorial should not be promoting the interests of a corporation whose goal is just to make money and to have power, not to represent the community or discuss real issues.  It's ironic that the editorial that drew the attention of the media was about "fake news," when that's what these editorials seem to be. Video

This article pose the hypothetical question, "What would happen if President Obama acted like Trump on Twitter, and Sinclair were a left wing news organization?"  Of course, it's a silly thing to speculate because Obama would never act that way, and there really aren't any left wing news organizations.  Many journalists may have liberal or progressive beliefs, but they don't let those beliefs get in the way of their journalistic goals.  It would be unethical for them to do that. Video

As legendary investigative journalist Bob Woodward says about reporters who cover President Trump, "it’s important to get your personal politics out. It's destructive to become too politicized." Someone needs to teach Sinclair about these basic press ethics.