3 reasons to avoid copying TV reporter’s F-word rant

GIF of Charlo Greene

Courtesy of PerezHilton.com

Until last Sunday, few people outside Anchorage, Alaska’s TV news audience knew of KTVA-TV reporter Charlo Greene.

She changed that in one second on a live broadcast and became a prime example of what not to do when leaving an employer.

In signing off from the CBS affiliate on Sept. 21, Greene acknowledged playing a key role in the story she was reporting on medical marijuana and announced that she was switching allegiance from journalism to the cause of legalizing marijuana use in Alaska by telling viewers “As for this job, well … f**k it. I quit.” She then walked off camera to leave a stunned news anchor stumble through damage control.

From Anchorage to Albany, N.Y., the Web went wild over Greene, known off-screen as Charlene Egbe. Links to her flameout appeared on hundreds of sites. A YouTube clip of it posted by the Alaska Dispatch News had 12 million hits by the following Thursday.

She did what many people dream of doing.

But the backstory makes her cavalier farewell far from heroic or enviable. Greene had opened her own medical marijuana dispensary in the months before producing a five-part news report for the station on Alaska’s legalization initiative. She also had legal trouble related to her advocacy. KTVA’s news director said in a public statement that Greene never disclosed her conflict of interest to the station.

The station has reason to be embarrassed, but so too does Greene. The Dispatch News reports that advocates for the initiative found fault with her reporting and that Greene says she went rogue mainly to reverse waning support for the legalization movement.

In a post-meltdown interview with Vice.com, Green ended with this:

“If you’re going to quit your job, do it big. Why not? Your job probably sucks, so go ahead and get whatever you can out of it.”

Sage advice perhaps for inconsiderate nonconformists but toxic for everyone else. A truly effective workplace exit impresses both ex-employers and potential employers and preserves the shine on one’s own reputation.

By leaving KTVA the way she did, Greene badly bruised herself and the people around her in three ways:

By using vulgar language — We hear the F-word all the time in music, movies and casual conversation, but a stigma sticks to it in most professional and public venues, and usage is discouraged in workplaces, schools and stores. Greene demonstrated how the centuries-old F-word still cuts through our social sensibilities. However, the F-word is a one-trick pony; the second use lands a weaker punch than the first, and continued usage implies the user has a limited vocabulary — which undercuts anyone who works in communications.

By being unethical — Green apparently continued acting like a journalist even though in her mind she stopped being one. She told Vice.com that KTVA gave her a platform “to draw attention to the (marijuana legalization) issue” and hinted that her outburst formed sometime between Sunday and April 20, the date Greene says the advocacy group she heads received its business license. The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics says, “Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.” When professional ethics waft out the window with the pot smoke, credibility in all things likely follows.

By harming others — Greene obviously had her own interests in mind when she paraded her petulance. She neglected to consider, or was indifferent to, the impact of her actions on others, and that could rebound in her face. The Federal Communications Commission has levied fines on broadcasters who permitted even accidental on-air uttering of F-words. KTVA is apologetic; still, accusations by supporters of the initiative that Greene let bias and inaccuracy seep into her reporting have raised questions about why KTVA considers Greene’s activities surprising. Meanwhile, marijuana-use advocates in Alaska and Colorado say Greene’s profane exhibition potentially weakens their efforts to advance the issue with maturity.

Had Greene remained professional and objective, KTVA lacked a reason to probe her work behavior or her privacy. Digging too deeply amid the latter risked violating her civil rights. Personal responsibility, not an employer, determines an individual’s credibility.

Andy Warhol once said, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” This week, Charlo Greene received quite a bit more attention than that. Next week, nobody will take her seriously for even half as long.

SPJ salutes its best student journalists with MOE awards

Society of Professional Journalists logoFor the third consecutive year, I served as a judge for the Society of Professional Journalists‘ annual Mark of Excellence awards — honors that recognize the best print, broadcast, and digital journalism at large and small colleges and universities around the country.

The honors are handed out regionally each spring. This past weekend, the awards for my region, Region 7, were handed out during the annual regional conference, hosted this year by Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas.

Region 7 comprises Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska.

Little else inspires me as much as the students who win these awards and the faculty who nurture the students’ interests and endeavors. The collective display of drive and determination, and the quality of the work, assure me more than anything that journalism is far from dead, and in fact has a bright future.

This year, Kansas University, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Baker University had the most MOE recipients. Kansas came away with a total of 14 awards and Nebraska-Lincoln received 11 among large schools submitting entries. Baker University, a private, Methodist-affiliated institution in northeast Kansas, led the small-school category with 14 awards. Certificates were given to the winners and finalists during a banquet at the conference.

The first-place finisher in each category qualifies for a national MOE competition that includes all 12 of SPJ regions. The national winners will be notified later this spring and receive recognition at SPJ’s 2014 Excellence in Journalism convention in Nashville, Tennessee, Sept. 4-6.

The awards for each region are determined by a team of SPJ judges who each have at least three years’ worth of professional journalism experience. Directors are discouraged from judging their own regions.

Not all categories receive awards. If judges determine that none of the entries rose to the level of excellence, no award is given.

Large- and small-school divisions are based on total graduate and undergraduate enrollment. Each of the large schools has more than 10,000 students; each of the small schools has fewer. Some awards incorporated both divisions. Listed below are the Region 7 winners and finalists in each category. The spellings and titles reflect those that were submitted in the award-entry process.



Breaking News Reporting (Large)

Winner: “Explosions Shake Students” by Katelynn McCollough, Iowa State Daily, Iowa State University

Finalist: “Police Arrest Suspect in U.S. Bank Robbery” by Emily Donovan, University Daily Kansan, The Daily Collegian, University of Kansas

Finalist: “University Distances Itself from Journalism Professor’s Controversial Tweet” by Emily Donovan, University Daily Kansan, University of Kansas


General News Reporting (Large)

Winner: “Mental Health Issues on the Rise Among College Students” by Jakki Thompson, The Collegian, Kansas State University

Finalist: “Health Insurance on Campus” by Leah Wankum, Muleskinner, University of Central Missouri

Finalist: “UNO Makes History as First U.S. University to Trend on Twitter in India” by Sean Robinson, The Gateway, University of Nebraska at Omaha


General News Reporting (Small)

Winner: “Domino Effect” by Kavahn Mansouri and Spencer Gleason, The Montage, St. Louis Community College-Meramec

Finalist: “CU CARES for Students” by Amanda Brandt, Creightonian, Creighton University

Finalist: “BU Enrollment” by Jenna Stanbrough, The Baker Orange, Baker University


In-Depth Reporting (Large)

Winner: “Human Trafficking Series” by Danielle Ferguson, Iowa State Daily, Iowa State University

Finalist: “$1,163,237: Bookstore Director Admits to Stealing for 10 Years” by Megan Gates, The Standard, Missouri State University

Finalist: “Where Does the Student Activity Fee Go?” by Kristin Gallagher, Muleskinner, University of Central Missouri


Feature Writing (Large)

Winner: “Kirkwood Father Tries To Find Meaning in Daughter’s Death” by Allison Pohle, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, University of Missouri-Columbia

Finalist: “Can My Boyfriend Rape Me?” by Bailey McGrath, Iowa State Daily, Iowa State University

Finalist: “We’re the Working Poor” by Jourdyn Kaarre, Lincoln Journal Star, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Feature Writing (Small)

Winner: “Living the Life He’s Always Wanted” by Steffi Lee, The Simpsonian, Simpson College

Finalist: “Carrying the Weight” by Lauren Bechard, The Baker Orange, Baker University

Finalist: “Sarah Harris at the Boston Marathon” by Jenna Stanbrough, The Baker Orange, Baker University


Sports Writing (Large)

Winner: “Welcome to Woody’s World” by Alex Halsted, Iowa State Daily, Iowa State University

Finalist: “Jeff Withey Finds New Friend in @FakeJeffWithey” by Blake Schuster, University Daily Kansan, University of Kansas

Finalist: “Ukulele-Strumming Faifili Plays Different Tune as KU LB” by Mike Vernon, Topeka Capital-Journal, University of Kansas


Sports Writing (Small)

Winner: “Former BU Punter Puts Best Foot Forward” by Lauren Bechard, The Baker Orange, Baker University

Finalist: “Purdum Reflects on Extension with Jets” by Chris Duderstadt, The Baker Orange, Baker University


Editorial Writing

Winner: Editorial Board, The Campus Ledger, Johnson County Community College

Finalist: Sarah Hayes and Devese Ursery, The Florissant Valley Forum, St. Louis Community College-Florissant Valley

Finalist: Evan Holland, Creightonian, Creighton University


General Column Writing (Small)

Winner: Taylor Shuck, The Baker Orange, Baker University


Sports Column Writing

Winner: Mike Vernon, The University Daily Kansan, University of Kansas

Finalist: Josh Sellmeyer, The Journal, Webster University


Best All-Around Daily Student Newspaper

Winner: Iowa State Daily, Iowa State University

Finalist: The University Daily Kansan, University of Kansas


Best All-Around Non Daily Student Newspaper

Winner: Muleskinner, University of Central Missouri

Finalist: The Standard, Missouri State University

Finalist: The Montage, St. Louis Community College-Meramec



Non-Fiction Magazine Article

Winner: “Field Notes From Missouri” by the staff of Vox Magazine, University of Missouri School of Journalism

Finalist: “Dennis Dailey: A Decade Later” by Laken Rapier, Jayhawker Magazine, University of Kansas

Finalist: “When Liberty Goes Sour” by Abigail Eisenberg, Vox Magazine, University of Missouri School of Journalism


Best Student Magazine

Winner: DUH Magazine, Drake University

Finalist: Drake Magazine, Drake University

Finalist: OneWorld Magazine, St. Louis University



Breaking News Photography (Large)

Winner: “Coach Rhoads’ Reaction to Referee’s Call” by Kelby Wingert, Iowa State Daily, Iowa State University

Finalist: “President Obama” by George Mullinix, University Daily Kansan, University of Kansas

Finalist: “Take Back the Night” by Suhaib Tawil, Iowa State Daily, Iowa State University


General News Photography (Large)

Winner: “ROTC Training During Spring 2013” by Suhaib Tawil, Iowa State Daily, Iowa State University

Finalist: “Bacon Fest” by Kelby Wingert, Iowa State Daily, Iowa State University


General News Photography (Small)

Winner: “Intoxicated Olympics” by Chad Phillips, The Baker Orange, Baker University


Feature Photography (Large)

Winner: “Harrisburg Football Photo Essay” by Kevin Cook and Elizabeth Pierson, Vox Magazine, University of Missouri School of Journalism

Finalist: “Step Show Draws a Big Crowd” by Andrew Mather, Muleskinner, University of Central Missouri

Finalist: “Not Quite Ready” by Steph Anderson Chambers, The Standard, Missouri State University


Feature Photography (Small)

Winner: “Jazz Concert” by Chad Phillips, The Baker Orange, Baker University

Finalist: “Man With One Leg Rides Bicycle 150 Miles in Two Days” by Liz Spencer, The Chart, Missouri Southern State University

Finalist: “Downtown Farmers’ Market” by Liz Spencer, The Chart, Missouri Southern State University


Sports Photography (Large)

Winner: “My Ball!” by Steph Anderson Chambers, The Standard, Missouri State University

Finalist: “One Last Lap” by Steph Anderson Chambers, The Standard, Missouri State University

Finalist: “Pick Party” by Romain Polge, The Legacy, Lindenwood University


Sports Photography (Small)

Winner: “Women’s Soccer Playoff” by Tera Lyons, The Baker Orange, Baker University

Finalist: “Women’s Soccer” by Chad Phillips, The Baker Orange, Baker University

Finalist: “Winning a Point” by Chad Phillips, The Baker Orange, Baker University



Feature Reporting

Winner: “‘War of the Worlds’ in Context” by Kalen Stockton, KJHK 90.7 FM, University of Kansas

Finalist: “Max Brooks: Zombies, Vampires and Cultural Anxieties” by Chrissie Noriega, KJHK 90.7 FM, University of Kansas

Finalist: “A Little Help From My Friends” by Kassi Nelson, KRNU FM, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


In-Depth Reporting

Winner: “Backpacks: Tools, Fashion Accessories, Personal Statements” by Justin Wilson, KJHK 90.7 FM, University of Kansas

Finalist: “Vinyl Revival” by Scott Ross, KJHK 90.7 FM, University of Kansas



General News Reporting

Winner: “Unknown Circumstances Surround Lincoln Homeless Man’s Death” by Haley Herzog, NewsNetNebraska, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Finalist: “Charter Bus Problems for JCCC” by Heather Dace and Andrew Tady, JC3 Student Video, Johnson County Community College

Finalist: “Sex Trafficking in Nebraska” by Madalyn Gotschall, Time-Warner Educational Access Channel, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Feature Reporting

Winner: “Nebraska’s First Male Color Guard Member Lives His Dream” by Jenna Jaynes, Time-Warner Educational Access Channel, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Finalist: “Profile of Andreas Brandenberger” by Heather Dace and Nichole Schafer, JC3 Student Video, Johnson County Community College

Finalist: “Exotic Vet” by Aimee Durham, Mediacom Cable-22, Missouri State University


In-Depth Reporting

Winner: “Medical Marijuana in the Ozarks” by Riley Bean, Mediacom Cable-22, Missouri State University

Finalist: “Nebraska Law Enforcement Hit By Colorado’s Legalization of Marijuana” by Haley Herzog, NewsNetNebraska.org, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Finalist: “A Closer Look at the Affordable Care Act” by Brittany Velasco, LUTV, Lindenwood University


Sports Reporting

Winner: “Henry Josey: Road to Recovery” by Mihir Bhagat, KOMU-TV, University of Missouri-Columbia

Finalist: “Helias Players Get Second Chance at State and Life” by Jack Wascher, KOMU-TV, University of Missouri-Columbia

Finalist: “Don’t Blame Andrew Baggett” by Mihir Bhagat, KOMU-TV, University of Missouri-Columbia


News and Feature Photography

Winner: “Owen/Cox Dance Group Project” by Zoe Allen, Bernie Verhaeghe and Nichole Schafer, JCAV TV, Johnson County Community College

Finalist: “100 Missouri Miles” by Erica Semsch, Mediacom Cable-22, Missouri State University

Finalist: “KC Trends” by Stephen Cook, JC3 Student Video, Johnson County Community College


Best All-Around Newscast

Winner: “LCTV News” by the staff of Loras College Television, Loras College

Finalist: “Ozarks News Journal No. 801” by the staff of the Ozarks News Journal and Mediacom Cable-22, Missouri State University

Finalist: “Star City News” by the staff of the Time-Warner Educational Access Channel, University of Nebraska-Lincoln



News Reporting

Winner: “Breaking the Cycle: Meth Addiction in Council Bluffs” by Katie Kuntz, IowaWatch.org, University of Iowa

Finalist: “Lincoln’s Homeless Population Struggles with Cold Temperatures” by Casey Sill, NewsNetNebraska.org, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Feature Reporting

Winner: “Matters of Faith” by the staff of VoxMagazine.com, University of Missouri School of Journalism

Finalist: “Graffiti: The Art of Expressive Vandalism” by the staff of IowaWatch.org, University of Iowa

Finalist: “A Baker’s Dozen” by Katie Thurbon and Taylor Shuck, The Baker Orange, Baker University


In-Depth Reporting

Winner: “Matter of Seconds: Tougher Farm Safety Regulation Hard To Come By In Iowa” by Sarah Hadley, IowaWatch.org, University of Iowa

Finalist: “Former Student Attends Class with Pending Default on Student Debt” by Daniel Bauman, The Journal, Webster University


Sports Reporting

Winner: “For Amateur Mixed Martial Artist, a Long Road to Fight” by Maricia Guzman, NewsNetNebraska.org, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Finalist: “Freshman Softball Star Rachel Franck Dedicates Season to Younger Brother” by Sam Masterson and Josh Sellmeyer, The Journal, Webster University

Finalist: “Six Former Wildcats Chase NFL Dreams” by Chris Duderstadt and Brad Barnes, The Baker Orange, Baker University


Best Use of Multimedia

Winner: “Little Known Secrets” by the staff of VoxMagazine.com, University of Missouri School of Journalism

Finalist: The Road to the 29th Presidency” by Sara Bell, The Baker Orange, Baker University

Finalist: “Marquis Addison MSSU Basketball Feature” by Samantha Zoltanski and Sydney Marsellis, The Chart Online, Missouri Southern State University


Best Affiliated Website

Winner: NewsNetNebraska.org by the staff of NewsNetNebraska, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Finalist: Kansan.com by the staff of the, University Daily Kansan, University of Kansas

Finalist: KJHK.org by Marc Schroeder, Sarah Brennan, Taylor Umbrell and the staff of KJHK 90.7 FM, University of Kansas


Best Digital-Only Student Publication

Winner: Vox iPad app by Breanna Dumbacher, Vox iPad, University of Missouri School of Journalism

Finalist: Urbanplainsmag.com by the staff of the Urban Plains, Drake University

Finalist: Think-mag.com by the staff of Think, Drake University


SPJ is an 8,000-member professional organization that promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry, works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists, and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and of the press.

Please, please, PLEASE, think before you tweet

Think before you tweet

context (n.) — the portions of written or spoken statements that influence meaning or effect.

Philadelphia TV reporter and former anchor Joyce Evans may finally appreciate the meaning of this word, thanks to social media.

Kansas University journalism professor David Guth might as well, for the same reason.

Both have entered a pantheon of infamy wrought by ill-advised actions on Twitter, considered the fastest vehicle for embarrassment apart from reality TV. They are poster children for the importance of cramming context into the small space Twitter allows, no matter how tight the fit.

The question now is whether anyone who witnessed what they went through garners a shred of wisdom from the circumstances.

Evans ran headlong into a wave of unwanted attention this week after merging pop culture and breaking news into one cumbersome, 89-character blurt on Twitter for her employer, Fox affiliate WTXF-TV.

Evans' Tweet

Evans’ intent was clear; she wanted to surf the wave of attention spawned by broad public interest in “Breaking Bad,” the black-comedy crime drama on AMC that bowed out Sept. 29 after 62 episodes and a history of far-reaching social engagement.

But in channeling “Bad” the way she did, Evans trampled the distinction between reality and fantasy, and suggested she was deaf to the tone of each. Audiences tried to enlighten her.

Evans Criticism

An apology for her overstatement seemed in order. Instead, Evans compounded the problem by pushing off responsibility onto her Twitter followers.

Evans' Response

The subsequent fusillade stretched well beyond WTXF’s viewing area, silenced Evans’ usually busy Twitter feed as well as her Facebook page, and cost her the weekend anchor job she held since 1996.

Guth’s own Twitter reality check in mid-September, on the other hand, was purposeful and potentially more costly. The associate professor at the William Allen White School of Journalism and Communications exploded against conservative commentary on the shootings at the Washington Navy Yard on Sept. 16. Thirteen people died, including the assailant.

In response to perceived invective on Twitter by alleged supporters of the National Rifle Association, Guth posted:

Guth's Tweet

The reaction was predictable. Even Republican state lawmakers vowed retaliation, and the president of the Kansas State Rifle Association promised that her NRA chapter would campaign to have Guth fired.

KU at first distanced itself from Guth’s comments, then from Guth. The university hustled him off on a research sabbatical that was not scheduled to start until next year. His Twitter feed also came down.

Guth remains unapologetic. He said on TV after the tweet that he was “deliberately provocative,” and in an email responding to my request for comment, he wrote, “It’s unfortunate that my comments have been deliberately distorted. I know what I meant. Unfortunately, this is a topic that generates more heat than light.”

He said he expects to be back at KU at the conclusion of his sabbatical but declines to say anything more about what happened. The university is similarly silent.

As for what the rest of us expect, especially from professional journalists and educators, it’s something more than selfishness, something more than a middle finger pointed at our sensibilities.

When Evans hyper-extended her comparison, she made what many of us might consider an honest mistake. The lure of social media is in part due to its speed and the excitement that speed generates. In turn, we react without full awareness of what we’re saying and remain ignorant until the excitement subsides.

A 2009 study by the University of Southern California seems to confirm this, explaining that social media moves too fast for our “moral compass” to catch up with what we’re thinking.

“If things are happening too fast, you may not ever fully experience emotions about other people’s psychological states and that would have implications for your morality,” Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, a researcher for the study, told CNN. “For some kinds of thought, especially moral decision-making about other people’s social and psychological situations, we need to allow for adequate time and reflection.”

Sree Sreenivasan agrees. He’s a popular tech evangelist and one of the foremost advocates for sensible use of social media. At the Society of Professional Journalists’ national convention in Fort Lauderdale last year, he advised journalists against posting before thinking.

The owner of more than 50,000 Twitter followers, Sreenivasan waits three to six minutes between tapping a tweet and posting it because he knows that first words usually are not the best words, in any medium.

“Anything you share can and will be used against you,” he said.

This is sound and potentially career-saving advice for people such as Joyce Evans and David Guth who put hubris before introspection. In both instances, the Twitterers omitted context, either by accident or by design, then denied that their choice of words muddled their messages.

You are the best protector against your own embarrassment and ridicule. We need to remember that in this social-media inflected age, often our only guide to responsible behavior is staring back at us in the mirror.

Maybe Evans would still be a TV anchor and Guth still teaching if not for their unartful language. Unfortunately for all of us, their fame is based on what they said, not what they meant.

(Update: Guth will be allowed to teach again at Kansas next fall, the Lawrence Journal-World reports.)

Larry ignored me, and look what happened

Poor Larry. If only he had taken me up on my offer.

Larry Conners, courtesy of  the Post-DispatchThe Larry in question is Larry Conners, the once-ubiquitous, now erstwhile KMOV-TV news anchor. My offer was an invitation that he join the St. Louis Pro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

I can’t help but think that if he had accepted the invitation, maybe, just maybe, Conners wouldn’t be in such a fix today.

Instead, he’s learning a lesson about the vagaries of celebrity and social media, and those lessons can to be harsh.

Al Roker knows this. So does Anthony Weiner, Ashton Kutcher, Kenneth Cole, and the former Chad Ochocinco: Posting or tweeting with indifference, ignorance or insensitivity can tarnish reputations, perhaps beyond polish.

The Web bristles with examples of questionable social networking behavior, to the extent that a top tip for job hunters is sweeping out offensive material from their networking sites before sending out résumés.

Yet the harsh lessons persist, with no learning evident or behaviors changed. Conners, 66, a 37-year veteran of St. Louis television, sets the latest example.

Conners took a face plant on Facebook last week when he hinted at personal intimidation from the Internal Revenue Service resulting from his televised interview of President Barack Obama in April 2012. During the interview, he issued criticism allegedly passed along from KMOV viewers about the president racking up frequent flyer vacation miles at taxpayer expense.

Conners spoke out only now because he says he was inspired by a recent IRS admission that the agency allowed tougher-than-usual scrutiny of records coming from conservative interest groups seeking tax-exempt status.

On Facebook, Conners, while not revealing his politics, suggested the interview with Obama alone might have brought down scrutiny on himself. He didn’t mention though that his own tax issues predate the Obama interview.

On air a day later, Conners backtracked a bit from his insinuations, but that clarification apparently wasn’t enough. His employer first suspended him, then cut him loose, saying the Facebook post undercut his journalistic credibility and that of the station.

Since then, Conners has defended his intentions on a rival station. His next defense may come in court; Conners has hired an attorney.

I shake my head in dismay.

Three years ago, I was the newly minted president of SPJ’s St. Louis chapter, and as a courtesy to all major media members in the area sent out invitations to either join or rejoin the 114-year-old national society, which among other ideals espouses a Code of Ethics considered to be the standard for behavior among journalists.

The society not only posts this Code online, it has printed copies that the St. Louis chapter offers at most of its monthly meetings. High up in the Code’s wording, it exhorts journalists to “exercise care to avoid inadvertent error,” and to “distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.”

Given Conners’ lengthy tenure in television news, one might think he wouldn’t need a reminder. But that’s why SPJ posts the Code and prints the cards; we all need reminding.

Today, journalists toe a thin line between objectivity and subjectivity. The former underpins their credibility; the latter seeps through because media companies urge their talent to blog, post and tweet for the sake of higher readership and ratings.

Undeniably, social media has become a tool for news gathering, but it’s also a window into a person’s thinking.

And there’s another problem. Social media lets users believe they’re staring at a screen instead of a potential audience numbering in the millions. The impersonal nature of digital networking masks a deeper truth: We’re actually staring at each other, face to face.

That’s why Conners might be forgiven for his statements against the IRS, and his transgression dismissed, on a claim of social media ignorance. But he went a step further by concluding his Facebook accusation with the line, “Can I prove it? At this time, no.”

Those perhaps were the worst words he could have written. Proof forms the foundation of journalistic credibility and integrity. Absent proof, Conners’ words amounted to a rant. SPJ’s Code of Ethics is clear on this.

So, I wish Larry had taken me up on my offer to join SPJ awhile back. Then he might have had the Code on a card somewhere within view while he was Facebooking.

I’ll probably send him one anyway. He can still learn something from it.

4 tips on freelancing for newspapers

Freelance Writing TipsThanks to the economy, the market for freelance writers and editors has ballooned.

That’s because America’s slow crawl back toward fiscal stability gives daily and weekly print publications hope for revitalization via digital alter egos that prefer original content to aggregation — the hand-me-down stories culled from outside sources. These publications are limited, however, because when media corporations’ stock prices fell, staffs were cut.

The result: too many news operations with too few people to gather news. One estimate puts newspaper journalism’s total staff losses in the United States since 2007 above 40,000.

Enter the freelancer, perhaps now more valuable than ever to news organizations.

Freelancers operate on a per-story or per-project basis; they possess distinct talents and knowledge a news operation may lack; and, best of all — in the news operation’s mind but not necessarily the freelancer’s — their contracts need not include health benefits and retirement plans, the two biggest costs attached to full-time staff apart from salary.

So, while looking around for new clients, freelancers might consider calling the local newspaper to ask if it’s willing to farm out one or two or more writing assignments. But before calling or writing an editor, freelancers should be aware of a few things:

Expect to start small — Any aspirations of uncovering another Watergate-size scandal should stay in a drawer; rarely do first-time newspaper contributors receive a big investigative project to start, regardless of experience. The early assignments will be small — low-level government meetings, high school sporting events, etc. — to help editors gauge a freelancer’s dependability, writing skill and ability to accept criticism. Not even seasoned journalists shine in all of these areas, so being amenable helps land more assignments.

Expect the pay to be small — Typical compensation ranges between $25 and $50 per story, with three-digit sums possible for feature pieces only after a freelancer has a body of work under the newspaper’s masthead. Sometimes, however, newspapers will propose first-time assignments without compensation but dangle a contract if they are impressed with the results. Of course, the assignments may not be frequent enough to yield a steady income.

Know the value of deadlines — Newspaper and online journalism are fast-paced, get-it-done-now businesses that abhor lateness. If an editor says a story has to be completed and in hand by a certain time, freelancers should submit it well before that time, if possible. Otherwise, freelancers should be upfront with editors, ready to explain difficulties and ask for guidance; editors understand that plans can change and circumstances can be nettlesome. But missing a deadline — just one, even — without advance warning or rational cause undermines a freelancer’s credibility.

Read the newspaper — This may sound like a no-brainer, but in fact newspapers often hear from hopeful writers pitching ideas that lack a local angle, ideas that already were printed in some form, or ideas that amount to writers talking about themselves instead of talking to other people. Freelancers first must read either the print or online version of the newspaper (preferably both) and study several editions. Newspapers, like magazines, have writing styles and subjects of particular interest to their audiences; knowing these allows for intelligent conversations with assigning editors.

(Writer’s note: The post is a revised version of one I wrote in 2010 for The Independent Journalist, the freelancing blog of the Society of Professional Journalists, and for my former blog on Posterous.)

A partir del Cinco de Mayo

On the fifth comes my first.

Starting today, the day famously known as Cinco de Mayo, all the logic and lunacy symbolic of my first blog resumes here ─ where it should have been all along.

Posterous logoFour years ago, I staked my claim to this domain and anchored it to this publishing platform, unsure what to do with either one. The prevailing logic demanded my domain be an extension of my personality and house bits and pieces of it.

Instead, I resisted, because prevailing logic affords no permanence, only convenience. In time, that kind of logic changes, and logic, by definition, defies convention.

Then, three years ago, I began blogging. Well past the portmanteau’s freshness date, I know, but began in earnest no less. The first few posts were sporadic; later entries were better and bolder. I was on track toward regular blogging when three things occurred:

1) I became regional director for the Society of Professional Journalists, a job possessing demands that, to my surprise, wilted my routine.

2) My mother suffered a heart attack, then a stroke. Since then, she has slipped out of cogence and into hospice care. My trips to see her changed from random to routine.

3) My chosen blogging platform, Posterous, shut down.

The third factor proved more distracting than I imagined. Posterous had character and wide appeal. It was free to use and mindful of mobile users, becoming one of the first blogging platforms to make mobile posting seamless. High-profile bloggers made it their chosen platform, too. I felt, as one always does early in a relationship, that Posterous had staying power.

Then Twitter bought it. Then Twitter plundered it for talent. Then Twitter, on April 30, shut it down.

When the platform folded, my nascent network of regular readers fractured. True though, they followed me over from social networking, which takes more time out of my day than acceptable. Still, if my thinking ever deepened, those followers now lacked a venue to witness the plunge.

So, today, I dust off this domain to make it into what it should have been from the start. That it happens on May 5, or Cinco de Mayo, is coincidence, if maybe a happy one.

Of course, I could retrench at another free blogging site (and I have, to a degree). But I’m paying for this one, it sat dormant way too long, and even if this publishing platform changes, the ideas expressed here ought to remain here.

I hope.