The First Amendment Under Attack

I was honored to attend the New England First Amendment Coalition Awards Luncheon on Friday, February 24th in Boston. I was at the event courtesy of Emerson College and attended with several journalism students.  We had no idea an event to celebrate those who had fought to protect the First Amendment would happen as the White House was taking another step to block the free press from doing their job.

The event was taking place as the White House chose to exclude several members of the press corps from a daily briefing with Press Secretary Sean Spicer. When I first heard about the incident, I thought there had to be more to the story. There have been times when a Governor or other elected official has chosen to meet with select members of the media to get their message across. Even President Obama would hold these “off the record” meetings. This was not an off the record meeting. This was the announced daily briefing which is normally opened to the press. It was held off camera, in an office and media outlets that had been critical were not allowed to attend.

I thought it was important to read articles by those who were allowed in, and those who were not. Breitbart News using the decision by President Obama to meet with reporters “off the record” and in private as a defense. However, did comment later in the article that banning reporters from the press briefing was unusual and clarification of the decision was pending.

Breitbart Response

CNN which was blocked from the briefing released a strong statement calling the move unacceptable and vowing to continue coverage of the Trump Administration

CNN Response

The New York Times also responding calling the move disturbing and unprecedented.

New York Times Response

The Washington Post, who was at the “gaggle” went more in-depth. In fact, the report mentioned President Trump served as an anonymous source himself in several stories in the early 1990s

Washington Post Response

So what does this have to do with a luncheon in Boston? Quite a bit, since coverage of the White House and President Trump seemed to be on the mind of Margaret Sullivan, Media Columnist for the Washington Post. She received the Stephen Hamblett 2017 First Amendment Award for her work as a journalist to hold public bodies accountable. Her speech held the room as she talked about the rights of the press in the age of President Trump.

She added President Trump’s decision to blacklist media outlets during the campaign and calling the press “the enemy” shows he has no understanding of the role a free press plays in America. She referred to Senator John McCain’s comments about the issue on NBC’s Meet the Press where he said suppressing the media is how dictators get started.

John McCain Comments on NBC’s Meet the Press

She expressed concern over President Trump taking aim at “leakers” saying should he chose to prosecute those who provide information there are no national shield laws to protect them. Reminding those of us in the audience that the Obama administration “went down that road several times and backed off.” She questioned if the Trump Administration would do the same.

Sullivan did say she remains hopeful about the role of journalists in America, and new polls prove the reporting is more important than ever.

USA Today: Quinnipiac Poll

Sullivan sent a message to all of us in the room, ranging from accomplished journalists to college students, that seeking the truth is more important than ever. Stating “I’m more convinced every day that most Americans know very well that just as the First Amendment protects us, we must return the framers great favor and protect it. We do that by insisting on the truth, seeking it relentlessly and standing up for those who provide it.”

It is now up to us, journalists, to ensure the First Amendment does not get squashed. We need to ask the tough questions and demand answers, on every level of government. Learn about the Freedom of Information Act and how it applies in your state, fight to improve transparency. There are those who do not believe the media is doing its job and creating “fake news.” The only way to combat that attack is the truth. The students in attendance seemed to leave with a strong resolve to fight for he truth.

Feet to the Fire

trump-trudeauFor journalists across the nation watching coverage of President Donald Trump makes you squirm, to say the least. The recent press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was frustrating to listen to on so many levels.

I was driving to work and listening intently, knowing there were several areas where the two leaders disagreed, and hoping the media in the room would push the issue and ask the tough questions, pushing for answers.

This was the question posted by Tonda MacCharles of the Toronto Star’s Ottawa bureau.

“President Trump, you seem to suggest that Syrian refugees are a Trojan horse for potential terrorism, while the Prime Minister hugs refugees and welcomes them with open arms. So I’d like to know, are you confident the northern border is secure?”

President Trump’s answer follows:

“You can never be totally confident. But through the incredible efforts — already I see it happening — of formerly General Kelly, now Secretary Kelly, we have really done a great job. We’re actually taking people that are criminals — very, very hardened criminals in some cases, with a tremendous track record of abuse and problems — and we’re getting them out. And that’s what I said I would do. I’m just doing what I said I would do when we won by a very, very large Electoral College vote. And I knew that was going to happen. I knew this is what people were wanting. And that wasn’t the only reason, that wasn’t my only thing that we did so well on. But that was something was very important. And I said we will get the criminals out, the drug lords, the gang members. We’re getting them out. General Kelly, who is sitting right here, is doing a fantastic job. And I said at the beginning we are going to get the bad ones — the really bad ones, we’re getting them out. And that’s exactly what we’re doing. I think that in the end, everyone is going to be extremely happy. And I will tell you right now, a lot of people are very, very happy right now.”

There was no mention of the northern border, just reference to the immigration crackdown taking place currently. There was never a follow-up by another reporter, in part because so few reporters were called on, and they appeared to be specifically selected.

Not once was there a question about National Security Advisor Michael Flynn

Business Insider Story

There continues to be concerning to many journalists about who is allowed to ask questions during a press availability and who is not, while Trump is known for bucking the establishment that also presents a concern for transparency.

Newsbusters: Who were the reporters?

You can watch the press conference here:

Watch Press Conference Here

So how do you cover the Trump administration? Several media outlets are asking that same question Reuters is giving its staff some guidance.

As journalists, we need to keep pushing and looking. You may not get the direct answers from the White House so it may be best to cover other beats more intently.

Do not be intimidated. That is exactly what several journalistic organizations say they will do.

Media Matters, Do Not be Intimidated

We know the rules are different in the Trump Administration, but the American people deserves to learn what is happening in the White House.

As a journalist, I am frustrated, as an educator I need to remind the future journalists that they cannot cave and continue to ask the tough questions. When you do not get the answers, ask again, and maybe even take a new approach by asking someone else in the administration.

I Am Afraid of My Blog

Why I am afraid of my blog, and what can I do about it?

I am assigned weekly blog for a class I am currently taking, this is the most frightening thing I think I have done in a long time. There are a few reasons for my fear.

All through journalism school we are taught to keep opinions to ourselves. We are taught to be neutral in reporting, and I am afraid that I may say something on my blog that will break that rule.

What if people do not like my blog? Even scarier, what is someone actually reads it? I have spent years telling my children, and now my journalism students, to keep a low profile on social media, and be careful what you post. For me, this has meant a lot of pictures of my dog, a few happy thoughts, and keeping my opinion to myself.

Writing a blog is risky business for a person like me, but it is something that has to be done.

So I did a little research about how to blog as a journalist, and a teacher, and why I should. Here are a few articles I have come across.

In the end, it will make me a better journalist and a better educator:

Journalists Need to Blog

It will give me a place to put the work I am passionate about, and gives me ownership of the stories I write.

Sharing is Caring

In the end, blogs need journalists, and journalists need blogs. It is the new wave of participatory journalism.

 The Wave of the Future

While for journalists publishing work the rules still apply. Be ethical, check your sources, and be transparent. How more transparent can you be while working on a long project than blogging about it along the way? Start teasing about that major investigation you are working on through the blog. Talk about what steps you are taking to get the information into the public eye, make the reader part of the process, and they will be invested in the end product. To me that is the purpose of journalism bloggers, I just hope I can live up to the hype.

How can you help?

Some ideas on what to blog about?

Tell me it’s OK, you are scared too!

Fake Out For News

The Buzz word right now seems to be Fake News. You hear it everywhere, see classes scheduled to talk about, and maybe even plan to attend a workshop. The question remains what exactly is Fake News?

Fake News is just that, stories that are made up by people or organizations to drum up support, or tear down another person or organization.  It is often used to generate clicks by advertisers, take a quick look at your Facebook feed. There are sure to be dozens of Fake News stories, they are really advertisements.  How many of you have clicked through to read about that miracle weight loss plant?

There was a lot of discussion about Fake News during the Presidential Election campaign. Remember that story of a pizzeria shooting in North Carolina that was tied to Hillary Clinton’s child sex ring? Yeah I know that is clearly fake news, but the story took hold and at least one poll reportedly showed more than 10% of Trump supporters believed the story.

Source Material – Pizzagate

Facebook, Google and other social media sites are working on ways to filter and identify Fake News for the consumer. However, their efforts will not be perfect and as a journalist you need to be diligent.

Source Material – Efforts to Fight Fake News

Question everything, do not believe the photos you see on Facebook or Twitter that seem to be unreal, they could be. Find the source of information and verify before sharing it yourself.

Technology is great, but it has gotten so easy to mimic actual news sites that people who want to create Fake News and put it out there can do so with a few keystrokes. The problem Fake News tends to spread quickly, because it is often outrageous.

Fake News is often a misconception by a quick fingered Twitter comment. Look at the case study from the New York Times where a person in Austin, Texas connected a large group of buses to a group of protestors and connected the two. The intent was to inform, not deceive. The story was not true but was shared thousands of times, and many still believe it is accurate even after a correction.

Source Material – Austin Texas

As a journalist you have to be careful of 2 things. Do not get sucked into believing Fake News, and begin sharing it, and do not generate it by Tweeting observations as fact. It is better to be right that first.