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Syracuse University Disinvites Journalist Over Ebola Fears

Fri, 10/17/2014 - 12:22pm
Jim RomeneskoOctober 17, 2014JimRomenesko.com

The Washington Post’s Michel du Cille was supposed to critique student portfolios at Syracuse’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications this week, but the university told him today to stay away. The reason: The photojournalist was in Liberia last month covering the Ebola crisis. “I am pissed off,” says du Cille, who returned from Liberia 21 days ago. “I am disappointed in the level of journalism at Syracuse, and I am angry that they missed a great teaching opportunity. Instead they have decided to jump in with the mass hysteria.”

Reporting on Ebola: How Journalists are Trying to Stay Safe

Fri, 10/17/2014 - 12:14pm
Zoe MintzOctober 17, 2014International Business Times

During the 13 days she spent covering the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guardian newspaper journalist Monica Mark took every precaution. She checked her temperature every morning, every night and at any moment she felt the slightest twinge or ache. She hired a driver to avoid a taxi that could have been contaminated with someone exposed to the virus. In-person interviews were conducted at a distance. Washing her hands and boots with chlorine became second nature. So did wearing long johns and long-sleeved shirts in West Africa’s blazing heat. Wiping sweat off her brow was out of the question. Mark is among dozens of journalists who have traveled to West Africa to report on the Ebola outbreak that has killed thousands and continues to threaten the lives of health workers, family members and children. But the job has put journalists in the crosshairs of a virus that has a 70 percent mortality rate. NBC News freelancer Ashoka Mukpo reminded the world of this when he was diagnosed with the deadly virus on Oct. 2 while covering the outbreak in Liberia.

National Press Club Events Should Never Be 'Off the Record'

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 1:26pm
Lena WilliamsOctober 16, 2014NewsGuild-CWA

An "on the record" Press Club event, a 2013 panel discussion about media consolidation sponsored by the Guild. Columnist Lena Williams is at table, second from left.


The National Press Club won’t come right out and say it erred in allowing the media to be muzzled at an event featuring Robert Ford, former U.S. ambassador to Syria. But journalists’ outrage over the off-the-record speech Oct. 8 is forcing the club to review its policies about renting its meeting rooms to speakers who don’t want their comments reported. The club violated its own principles by letting the International Stability Operations Association place last-minute media restrictions on Ford’s speech. No press at an institution dedicated to America’s free press? The century-old club for journalists and communications professionals was publicly excoriated in social media forums and news reports after Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank wrote that he was barred from reporting on Ford’s speech because it was off-the-record. “It’s unseemly for current and former government officials to be hobnobbing privately with government contractors,” Milbank wrote immediately after the event. “But it’s a whole other level of outrage for them to do it at the National Press Club – a century-old shrine to the free press – and to forbid journalists to report what they say.” He’s right and the Press Club knows it. Myron Belkind, president of the Press Club, all but admitted so when he called for a review of the club’s policy on room rentals during a Board of Governors meeting Oct. 10. Because Ambassador Ford’s speech was booked by a private company, Belkind said the Press Club didn’t set the rules. “When the event is ours, the ground rules are ours,” he said. “When the event is organized by an outside group, they establish the ground rules. It is rare for events here to be off-the-record. Rare, but it does happen.” I don’t want to sound sanctimonious, but off-the-record speeches should never be held at an historic bastion of press freedom whose stated mission is to “enhance the profession of journalism.” In news reporting, if a source asks to go off the record, reporters can choose to accept or deny the request, and the source can choose to speak out or not. Reporters had no such choice at the Press Club on Oct. 8. They were blindsided and mislead by the group of defense contractors sponsoring the event, according to Milbank. A news release issued by the International Stability Operations Association said nothing about media restrictions. The event was listed on the Reuters news wire. But when reporters and camera crews showed up, an ISOA official turned them away. After protesting, Milbank was told he could listen to Ford’s remarks as long as he didn’t write about them. It’s not the first time the Press Club has come under fire for silencing the very people it exists to serve. On February 2009, David Plouffe, Barack Obama’s campaign manager, delivered an off-the-record speech in a club meeting room rented by Georgetown University. When word leaked out that the event wasn’t on the record, journalists protested and the Press Club president sent a letter of complaint to Plouffe’s agent. But Plouffe didn’t budge, and the club allowed the event to go on as scheduled – with Milbank in the audience wearing what the Huffington Post described as a “a make-shift sandwich board that read, ‘I’m non-Plouffe-d’ on one side and ‘un-Plouff-able’ on the other.” The Press Club hosts more than 2,000 events a year. It depends more than ever on revenues from its event business, as members’ dues have declined along with jobs in the media industry. Milbank reports that membership has dropped to 3,100 from a high of 5,500. And 1,400 of today’s members, nearly half, are public relations professionals. From a financial standpoint, it’s easy to understand why the club doesn’t want to be too picky about who can book events at its downtown Washington headquarters. But it must be picky. Having built its prestigious reputation hosting presidents, world leaders and newsmakers of every sort, the club can’t afford to put a “for sale” sign on its principles. Belkind, the club president, says newsmakers, book tours and press freedom events are always on-the-record. But that’s not enough for some club members, who believe the policy should apply to any and all individuals or groups that book events. “If you rent here, it’s open to the press,” National Press Club member G.Wesley Pippert told the club’s annual meeting on Oct. 10. Pippert, a retired UPI reporter who was the wire service’s senior Middle East correspondent in Jerusalem, said visitors to the club “must adhere to its press freedom ideals.” Members were rightfully dismayed that the club’s leadership was slow to respond to Milbank’s column and a mention in Politico. “The Press Club was silent on that and our reputation took a big hit,” former club President Jonathan Salant said at the meeting. Even so, the Press Club seems ambivalent about how to handle future bookings. Belkind said it’s possible the club will ask clients to seek permission in advance to hold an off-the-record session. That’s not good enough. The Press Club should bar off-the-record events on its premises, period. It has the clout, prestige and leverage to demand that outside companies adhere to the basic principles of a free press and the public’s right to know. Washington is full of hotel meeting rooms that organizations and speakers can rent and turn the press away. But the press should never be turned away from the Press Club.  

New York Guild Members Vote Down Time, Inc.'s 'Final' Offer

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 1:01pm
StaffOctober 16, 2014The Newspaper Guild of New York

After months of negotiations between the New York Guild and Time Inc. on a new contract for more than 200 newsroom employees, Guild members have turned down the company’s so-called final contract offer in a nearly unanimous vote (pictured). In addition to cutting an array of benefits and compensation, the rejected “last, best and final” offer would let management replace much of the home-grown journalism of its most venerable and respected magazines – Time, People, Sports Illustrated, Fortune and Money – with outsourced content from low-wage countries. It would allow for the subcontracting of up to 60 full-time regular positions and all of the current 100 temporary positions – more than half of the journalists at the five magazines. In an August filing, Time Inc. disclosed that one of the ways it was seeking “operational efficiencies” was “through global sourcing of staff.” “Time Inc.’s proposal to hollow out its own company is simply not acceptable," New York Guild President Bill O'Meara said. "Management wants the ability to send 160 editorial jobs overseas, which would be a massive blow to some of the nation’s most important and respected magazines."

Ken Doctor: Is Aaron Kushner Just Lurching from Idea to Idea?

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 11:27am
Ken DoctorOctober 16, 2014Nieman Lab

Looking at the future of the Orange County Register, Ken Doctor writes, "We don’t know exactly who pushed Aaron Kushner into new, semi-face-saving role as overseer of the editorial pages, the kind of move that usually happens to publishers toward the end of their careers. Kushner, by age 40, may be setting a land-speed record for entry, meteoric rise, embarrassing fall and exit from the newspaper industry."

DOJ Prosecutors Indicate They Still Want Risen's Testimony

Fri, 10/10/2014 - 4:04pm
Matt ZapotoskyOctober 10, 2014The Washington Post

Federal prosecutors hinted Friday that they still intend to subpoena a New York Times reporter to testify in their case against a former CIA agent accused of being one of his sources — an action that could put them in the uncomfortable position of advocating for penalties against the respected journalist for doing his job. Assistant U.S. Attorney James Trump said in court that the “prosecutors’ end” of the subpoena process was “nearly complete,” but they still needed to comply with new Justice Department guidelines governing investigations involving media members. Trump said those guidelines now require approvals from the director of national intelligence and the attorney general before such cases can proceed — a process which he estimated would take “a few weeks.” While Trump did not firmly commit to issuing a subpoena, his comments suggest another showdown is in the works with New York Times reporter James Risen. Risen fought a previous subpoena to testify in the case of former CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling all the way to the Supreme Court, which declined to intervene after a lower court said Risen and other reporters could be compelled to reveal their anonymous sources in leak cases. Photo: Risen speaks at Newspaper Guild banquet Tuesday night, accepting the Guild's Herbert Block Freedom Award.

National Press Club Speakers Shut Media Out of Sessions

Thu, 10/09/2014 - 12:34pm
Dana MilbankOctober 9, 2014The Washington Post

I’d like to tell you what Robert Ford, former U.S. ambassador to Syria, said at the National Press Club on Wednesday about recent developments in the war against the Islamic State. The diplomat, who resigned in protest earlier this year because he found it “ever harder to justify our policy” in Syria, had some valuable insights. I’d also like to tell you what Caitlin Hayden, official spokeswoman for President Obama’s National Security Council, had to say in that very same National Press Club ballroom a few hours later. But I’m afraid I can’t tell you — because the speeches they gave were off the record. They were so declared at the last minute by the group of defense contractors that hosted the event. It’s unseemly for current and former government officials to be hobnobbing privately with government contractors. But it’s a whole other level of outrage for them to do it at the National Press Club — a century-old shrine to the free press — and to forbid journalists to report what they say.

Herbert Block Freedom Award Winner James Risen: As Government Crack Down, Journalists Must Speak Up

Wed, 10/08/2014 - 2:46pm
Janelle HartmanOctober 8, 2014NewsGuild-CWA


James Risen told a Newspaper Guild audience Tuesday night that the U.S. government's crackdown on whistleblowers and leaks is an urgent threat to America's free press, one that demands journalists do something that doesn't come naturally: Speak up and fight back.


"We as reporters don't like to lobby on our own behalf, we don't like to be special pleaders. But the government's taking advantage of that. They're taking advantage of that by coming after us one at a time," Risen said in accepting the Guild's highest honor, the Herbert Block Freedom Award. 


"That is why I've decided I have to begin to speak out," he said, after eight years of near silence while fighting the government's demand that he testify against an alleged source. "Having been forced by the government to be a part of a news story instead of just writing about news stories, I feel like it's incumbent on me to express myself.


"I do believe that today our business is facing an existential challenge from the government."


Since the government first issued a subpoena against him in 2006, the veteran New York Times reporter and author had been mum about the ordeal, which he's taken all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.


Now, breaking his silence, many of Risen's comments have come at award ceremonies like Tuesday's, honoring him for doing what all journalists hope they will have the courage to do in such a circumstance: risk jail and fines by defying a subpoena and protecting an anonymous source.


"I've been a reporter for more than 30 years and I've never gotten involved in politics, I've never spoken out politically," Risen said. 


"I think this is a threat -- this is a point at which the government is coming directly at us, when we as an industry and as a community of journalists have to stand up on our behalf."


The Newspaper Guild's Herbert Block Freedom Award is named for the famous Washington Post editorial cartoonist, better known as Herblock, a proud Guild member for 67 years. For 56 years at the Post -- spanning eight U.S. presidencies -- Block expressed his opinion daily with his pen, a razor-sharp wit and a deep compassion for the "little guy" fighting unbridled power. To Block, like Risen and the other men and women who have won the award since Block's death in 2001, the antidote was a free press.


Speaking about Block, Risen said it's "hard to live up to the kind of legendary life that he had. It's really quite amazing -- how long he lasted, the challenges he took up throughout his career as a cartoonist and the impact he had, particularly during the Nixon administration and Watergate."


"He made it on to the Nixon administration's enemies list, which I think is one of the best badges of honor in journalism," he said.


Risen also took time to honor the evening's other professional and student journalist winners. The Center for Public Integrity's Chris Hamby, together with Brian Ross and Matthew Mosk from ABC News, won the Heywood Broun Award, named for the famed New York City columnist who helped found the Guild in 1933. The winners' collaborative effort on black lung disease exposed a shocking coal industry conspiracy to deprive dying miners of medical benefits. Both the Broun Award and the Herbert Block Freedom Award include a $5,000 prize.


"My uncle died from black lung," Risen said. "Even though he was an above ground supervisor, he still got black lung and died. I just think that's great journalism."


The Washington Post team of Debbie Cenziper, Michael Sallah and Steven Rich won a Broun substantial distinction award and $1,000 prize for exposing how city policies made it possible for greedy tax lien buyers to prey on the district's most vulnerable homeowners. A second substantial distinction award went to Cynthia Hubert and Phillip Reese of the Sacramento Bee for their exhaustive investigation of a Las Vegas mental hospital that "dumped" patients by busing them to dozens of cities around the country, places where no one and no help was waiting for them. 


Two student journalists were honored with David S. Barr Awards, named for the Guild's late attorney. Both college winner Victor Ferreira of Toronto and high school winner Rachel C. Hartwick of Cincinnati, investigated homelessness in their communities. Accepting their awards, they spoke of their desire for careers that continue to expose injustice and give voice to those who otherwise wouldn't be heard.


"The fact that young people are still willing to go into this business fills me with optimism," Risen said, congratulating the student winners. "My own son is now a journalist. And so I do believe we have a future. But I think that at the same time we are facing the kind of challenge if we don't recognize and address now, the future may not be as good as we would like." (Photo: Risen with student winners Ferreira and Hartwick.)


For Risen, the challenge arose from his 2006 book, "State of War," about the Bush administration and the CIA. The U.S. Department of Justice under both Presidents Bush and Obama has pursued him. With the Supreme Court's refusal to hear the case, an appeals court ruling against Risen stands. Nationally, organizations of journalists and First Amendment activists, including the Guild, continue to put pressure on Attorney General Eric Holder to drop the subpoena.


"First the Bush administration and now the Obama administration in the war on terror has used the mantra of the post 9/11 world, which is we have to keep America safe, to crack down on journalism, to prosecute whistleblowers and to try to brand people as traitors for telling the truth," Risen said.


But national security isn't the government's only target, he said, as officials in all sorts of agencies crack down "on the ability of the press to cover not just national security but any kind of issues that the government considers sensitive."


"I've been under part of a criminal investigation now for almost eight years and I spent much of that time not saying anything publicly. But I feel like now is the time that we have to recognize that if we don't do something about this as an industry, the government will keep coming after us.


"What I mean by doing something, I mean that we have to double down on investigative reporting. I think it's incumbent on the industry at a time of great financial stress to continue to conduct investigations, to do even more than we have," he said. "I know that's easier said than done now when the pressures are all on getting more clicks online or showing more cat videos. But that's what the government's counting on.


"They're counting on us not caring enough. They're counting on the apathy of our readers and viewers. They're counting on our willingness to ignore what happens to one or two of us, and to think that we'll find some economic model where we can tolerate this kind of pain. And so I try to urge people in our business not to let that happen.


"I don't have a magic wand, I don't have any magic formula of how to do that. But all I know is that, what I try to tell editors and managers, is that investigative reporting is not as expensive as they think it is. It just requires patience and time, and allowing some good reporters to do their job." 


He urged journalists to "lobby" their editors and executives "to let you do stories in greater depth, greater length," the kind of projects the Guild recognized Tuesday.


"I'm very happy to see the kind of work that's been done by the winners here tonight," Risen said. "It makes me feel much better about the future of our business."












Global Media Couldn't Best Local Journalists in Ferguson

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 2:58pm
David CarsonOctober 10, 2014NewsGuild-CWA


Photojournalist David Carson is a member of the United Media Guild at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. We thank the Post-Dispatch for allowing us to publish several of Carson's Ferguson protest photos here and in the fall Guild Reporter. The photo of Carson in riot gear was taken by a member of a police tactical team.



The August events of Ferguson, Mo., are known around the world. A police officer shot and killed an unarmed teenager and the resulting protests, rioting and looting went viral.


The only thing that spread more quickly than images of Michael Brown’s lifeless body in the street were social media-fueled rumors and speculation.


Separating fact from fiction in the tidal wave of tweets, videos and photos on social media was a challenge. Police refused to release even basic details or verify facts. Protesters believed and repeated stories that were wrong.


As the story exploded on social media, and journalists arrived from across the country and around the world, the crowds grew—from peaceful activists and community organizers to smaller groups of troublemakers from outside the St. Louis area.


It was a fascinating and dynamic situation. Demonstrators openly argued about what direction the protests would take: A peaceful, loud, sustained protest in search of justice for Michael Brown? Or a more confrontational and violent approach?


I watched each day as a full 80 percent of the crowd sought peaceful protest. But at night, especially early on, the protesters advocating violence had their way.


Even the media was a target. My coworkers Steve Giegerich and Paul Hampel, both reporters, were struck in the head from behind while covering protests. And P-D religion reporter Lilly Fowler had her iPhone stolen from her hands as she was sending a tweet from the scene.


I was also assaulted. A small group of rioters chased me down the street and one struck me in the head. The blow knocked me to the ground, shattering a camera lens and breaking a camera. I had a helmet on, but I hit the ground hard. As I looked up, the man kicked me. I kicked back, and swung my broken camera at him, as I lay on the ground.


Peaceful protesters, who stepped forward to help in each assault, far outnumbered the violent. But you had to be constantly aware of your surroundings. Some media outlets hired security guards and many of us on the scene wore bullet-proof vests, helmets and, when needed, gas masks.


The way the police dealt with the media was unpredictable. I had both good and bad interactions with officers. I was threatened with arrest numerous times for just standing and watching the events. I wasn’t arrested, but other journalists were—professionals of the highest caliber—just for doing their jobs.


Blurring the lines between protesters and working media were “citizen journalists” and activists identifying themselves as journalists. Some of them did a nice job documenting the event. Others came with agendas and no concern about professional journalism’s standards of neutrality.


I’m biased, but I believe my coworkers and Newspaper Guild members at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch provided the most accurate source of information. Reporters, editors and my fellow photographers worked tirelessly to cover the story in print, online and on social media. The depth and breadth of the journalism we produced illustrates what an asset newspapers are to the community and why they’re still needed.


More than a month removed from the events in Ferguson all the satellite trucks and the national media have left. There is a lull in the air.

But the Guild members of the Post-Dispatch are continuing to produce stories about Ferguson, digging deeper and committing the sustained resources to a story that only a local paper can provide.


Guild Organizes Staff at Progressive Take Action Minnesota

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 1:15pm
StaffOctober 6, 2014Minnesota Newspaper & Communications Guild

A majority of employees at TakeAction Minnesota have overwhelmingly decided to organize as a new unit of the Minnesota Newspaper & Communications Guild. TakeAction, a progressive group dedicated to racial and economic equality, joins current Guild members in Minnesota at the Star Tribune, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Clean Water Action, interpreters at Hennepin County Medical Center, and others. “We are delighted to welcome TakeAction employees to our union,” said Janet Moore, president of the Minnesota Guild. “As smart and dedicated folks, they’re an incredible fit with our organization.” Employee Terin Mayer said, "TakeAction has long stood with the labor movement and now we stand as a part of it. This shows that as a progressive organization, we walk the walk.” Even management is pleased: "We congratulate our staff on choosing the Newspaper Guild as their exclusive representative for collective bargaining," Executive Director Dan McGrath said. "As a people’s organization committed to making Minnesota more equitable and democratic, we fervently believe in the right of all workers to organize and bargain collectively. Our staff is no exception. We appreciate the respectful and professional manner in which our staff conducted their organizing work, and we look forward to bargaining a first contract in the same spirit.”

Tempers Flare as Dallas Restaurant Refuses to Let Critic Pay

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 10:20am
Nancy NicholsOctober 6, 2014D Magazine

After a Dallas Morning News food critic dined with her husband and another couple at Proof + Pantry last week, the restaurant owners -- who had recognized her -- refused to bring a bill, assuming that would prevent her from reviewing their business. The owners refused to take a credit card for the $450 meal and when the party left cash on the table, the owners attempted to return it to the newspaper the next morning. Then things got ugly.

At ESPN, Big Business and Aggressive Journalism Collide

Fri, 10/03/2014 - 12:04pm
David FolkenflikOctober 3, 2014NPR

ESPN is the NFL's largest business partner, currently paying the NFL nearly $2 billion a year to broadcast its games. But NPR says ESPN is "also home to some of the most aggressive investigative reporters who cover the league." As NPR's David Folkenflik reports, that creates attention that has reemerged during the NFL's domestic abuse scandal.

Job Security, Pensions on the Line at Bezos-Owned Post

Thu, 10/02/2014 - 3:08pm
StaffOctober 2, 2014NewsGuild-CWA


    Guild members were out in force in front of the Washington Post for a lunch-hour protest today, nine days after the start of promises to be tough bargaining at the newspaper now owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Job and retirement security are both on the line.   In bargaining a year ago, "we said the publisher might have put forward the most contemptuous proposal in memory," said Freddy Kunkle, co-chair of the Post unit of the Washington-Baltimore Guild. "We were wrong. We think this one is as bad, maybe even worse”

The company is proposing major pension cuts and changes that would eliminate medical retirement benefits and begin to dismantle the defined benefit pension. The changes are already being made for nonunion workers. Employees hired before 2009 could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits if Post management gets its way

Further, the company “is seeking to gut the union’s provisions on job security and move closer to the kind of place that could hire and fire you at will,"Kunkle said. Adding insult to injury, management proposals call for cutting severance pay in half and getting rid of recall rights in layoffs. And the union itself is under attack as the Post seeks to eliminate automatic dues deduction. 

In a message to members, and those who don't pay dues, Kunkle urges them not to stand on the sidelines and watch the Post "join the ranks of all those companies we editorialize about that have abandoned the middle class."



Long Congressional Vacations Leave FOIA Reforms in Limbo

Thu, 10/02/2014 - 2:18pm
Lena WilliamsOctober 2, 2014NewsGuild-CWA


Days after the Senate Judiciary Committee indicated it was going to mark up the bipartisan FOIA Improvement Act of 2014, Congress adjourned Wednesday for the fall mid-term elections leaving the bill on a long list of unfinished business.

The bill, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, proposes several critical changes to key federal access to information statutes, making it easier for journalists and ordinary citizens to obtain government records, including inter-agency memorandums.

But in an election year, with constituents to answer to, such matters apparently weren’t considered a priority for politically motivated lawmakers.

Supporters of the bill can take some solace in knowing that the FOIA wasn’t the only piece of legislation to get short-shrift. When Congress left town -- a week before its originally scheduled date of Sept. 29 – it had passed just two bills since its summer vacation: a stopgap funding bill to avoid a government shutdown Oct. 1 and authorization to arm Syrian rebels to fight Islamic extremists.

Public interest advocates, fearing the FOIA will die at the end of the year if Congress does not act soon, have urged Americans to contact their senators to tell them to support the legislation.

Amid threats of another government shutdown, FOIA had not been viewed as a high-priority. Without public pressure to pass FOIA immediately, Congressional leaders pushed it aside.

 Leahy has called FOIA, “one of our nation’s most important laws,” and expressed his commitment to expand and improve it.

 “I have sought for decades to make our government more open and transparent,” Leahy said in a joint statement with Cornyn in June.

Leahy said strengthening FOIA “will enshrine into law the presumption of openness that the president laid out on his first day in office when he said the FOIA should be administered with a clear presumption and ‘in the face of doubt, openness prevails.’”

The FOIA Improvement Act amends the Freedom of Information Act to:

  •  Require federal agencies to make agency records available for public inspection in an electronic format.
  •  Limit the authority of an agency to charge a fee if the agency misses a deadline for complying with a FOIA request.
  •  Establish a presumption in favor of disclosure and prohibit the application of exemptions from FOIA based on technicalities.
  •  Expand the authority and duties of the Chief FOIA officer of each agency for promoting compliance with the FOIA disclosure.

One of the bill’s most important amendments concerns “Exemption Five,” which applies to inter-agency or intra-agency memos or letters that currently are not publicly available.

The Leahy/Cornyn bill adds a “public interest balancing test” to require federal agencies to consider the public interest in disclosure of government information before invoking a FOIA exemption.

Leahy said that the 2013 Secrecy Report from OpenTheGovernment.org showed that federal agencies used Exemption 5 more than 79,000 times in 2012 – “an incredible 41 percent increase from the previous year.”

 “This does not exemplify the presumption of openness that we expect from our government,” Leahy said.

The fact that Congress has left Washington doesn’t mean Americans have to wait to fight for the FOIA bill: Tell members of Congress campaigning in their home districts and their opponents that you want and expect them to act on the bill before the end of the year.

The Guild and other concerned First Amendment and open government advocates say Americans must make Congress and President Obama understand that democracy itself is at stake.

As Senator Leahy put it: “Both Democrats and Republicans understand that a commitment to transparency is a commitment to the American values of openness and accountability and to the public’s right to know what their government is doing.”



Egypt Seizes All Copies of Newspaper to Censor Article

Thu, 10/02/2014 - 12:50pm
David D. KirkpatrickOctober 2, 2014The New York Times

Egyptian authorities on Wednesday confiscated all the copies of one of the country’s largest private newspapers in order to censor an article, just days after President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi vowed in an American television interview that there was “no limitation on freedom of expression in Egypt.” In fact, the censorship is another example of constriction of news media freedom since the military takeover in July 2013 that brought Mr. Sisi to power. The article, in the newspaper Al Masry Al Youm, was the latest installment in a serialized interview conducted with a senior spy before he died.

NY Times Offers 'Richest' Buyouts Ever to Newsroom Vets

Wed, 10/01/2014 - 10:01am
StaffOctober 1, 2014The Newspaper Guild of New York

New York Times management is offering all Guild-covered newsroom and editorial department employees with at least five years of service a buyout that would be its richest package ever for veterans with at least 20 years under their belts, the New York Guild reports. On top of the minimum buyout requirements spelled out in our contract – three weeks per year for members with 11 or more years of service (up to two years pay) and eight months of Cobra medical coverage – the company would throw in an extra 35 percent of the value of the package for employees with at least 20 years of service. Photo: New York Times Guild members overwhemingly approve a new contract in 2012.

Poynter Applauds Guild Member's 'Jaw-Dropping' CBC Story

Tue, 09/30/2014 - 11:05am
Al TompkinsSeptember 30, 2014Poynter

Last Wednesday, a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation evening newscast "dedicated 15-and-a-half minutes to a single jaw-dropping story. It is the story of a horror that a woman said she witnessed 58 years ago and spent decades trying to get someone to care," Al Tompkins writes. That someone was Paul Hunter, a member of the Canadian Media Guild at CBC, a correspondent, "who is one of the best journalists I know. Hunter is at home in war zones and earthquake debris. He travels the world reporting on the biggest stories and the worst of human misery. And yet, even in the worst situations, I have always noticed his reporting reveals a heart that has not hardened." Hunter spent three years chipping away at the story: A woman's 58-year-old memories of witnessing her own father murder three Aboriginal teenage boys on a farm north of Toronto -- murders that had never even been reported. Photo: Hunter with his source, Glenna Mae Breckenridge.

Ferguson Demands Fat Fees from Press for Public Records

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 11:19am
Jack GillumSeptember 29, 2014Associated Press

Bureaucrats in Ferguson, Mo., responding to public information requests to turn over files about the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, are charging nearly 10 times the cost of some of their own employees' hourly salaries. Under Missouri law, the city could give away the records for free if it determined the material was in the public's interest to see. Instead, the city has demanded high fees with little explanation or cost breakdown. It billed The Associated Press $135 an hour — for nearly a day's work — merely to retrieve a handful of email accounts. That fee compares with an entry-level, hourly salary of $13.90 in the city clerk's office. Price-gouging for government files is one way that local, state and federal agencies have responded to requests for potentially embarrassing information they may not want released. "The first line of defense is to make the requester go away," said Rick Blum, who coordinates the Sunshine in Government Initiative. "Charging exorbitant fees to simply cut and paste is a popular tactic."

A Car Theft Story Reminds Us Why Journalism Matters

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 11:11am
Butch WardSeptember 29, 2014Poynter

Between the investigative reporting that wins prizes and the fluff that fills too much newshole today at under-staffed papers, there are still local stories that matter. Butch Ward writes about a Wichita Eagle story by Dion Lefler about thieves stealing a car that its owner, Cleet McGhee, used to get to cialysis. Lefler interviewed Cleet at his motel, photographed him and saw the security video that recorded the car theft. He also talked with police before writing the story. Done in a day. Then good things started happening -- donations, offers of rides and ultimately a new car for Cleet. "Journalists covered a lot of important stories this week," Ward writes. "The bombing attacks on ISIS. The domestic violence crisis in sports. The spread of Ebola. But back in June, Dion Lefler covered an important story, too: the theft of Cleet McGhee’s car. That, I am again reminded, is why journalism matters. That’s why, when they’re reviewing the applications of all those journalists who are reapplying for their jobs, I wish Cleet McGhee had a vote."

Jon Oliver Does Real Journalism, No Matter What He Says

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 10:55am
Asawin SuebsaengSeptember 29, 2014The Daily Beast

“It’s not journalism, it’s comedy—it’s comedy first, and it’s comedy second.” That’s what John Oliver told me when I spoke to him about his HBO news/satire program, Last Week Tonight. I asked him whether he saw a journalistic element in his new comedy show, which spends a half-hour each week covering what host Oliver and his staff have deemed the top stories of the past seven days. His answer was a categorical “no.” “It’s a comedy show, just about things that we’re interested in,” Oliver said. “So, yeah, we’ll kind of look off the map a little bit, which will mean we’ll end up looking at Supreme Court cases and foreign elections and international issues just because they’re interesting and people don’t joke about them much, and there’s fun to be had there…There might just be a single serious point wrapped up in 35 stupid jokes.” I call bullshit.