Wick Communications

Archive for the ‘Legal’ Category

Cops and reporters

In Legal on 31 Aug 2017 at 3:12 pm

This is the late Arthur Felig, who police called “Weegee” for his Ouija-like prescience of where to be at crime scenes.

Recently, there has been an uneasiness along the demilitarized zone that usually separates police from the media in this country. Violent clashes between protesters have left reporters and cops in the middle and sometimes the police have trampled on First Amendment rights in order to restore order. Meanwhile, the commander-in-chief has repeatedly berated some of the best journalists in the country, giving cover to local officials who have never thought much of your pesky questions.

Closer to home, there have been problems in Sierra Vista, Ariz. Several Sierra Vista Herald/Review journalists have reported unreasonable orders from the local police while both sides attempt to do their respective jobs. On more than one occasion, Sierra Vista Police officers have ordered reporters to less advantageous vantages ostensibly because they were worried about the safety of reporters.

What do you do when a cop at a fast-moving scene tells you to stand back so far that you can’t do your job?

This week, I posed that question to Dan Barr, a media law attorney for Perkins Coie. Barr works for the firm that authored a very good handbook for journalists that can be downloaded through the Arizona Newspaper Association. It turns out his advice is much like that I have given before: Build a strong relationship before you meet police at some scene, and once you are there, remember you are more apt to get what you want by being respectful than belligerent. … Read the rest of this entry »


Defending your work

In Legal on 24 Aug 2017 at 11:55 am


Any journalist who has been on the job a while has had the curious feeling of seeing his or her work somewhere else, posted without permission. It’s creepy and it can be illegal. We seem to be seeing more and more republishing of our work that redirects traffic away from our revenue streams. Let’s talk about that and what we might do about it.

First a case in point. Sierra Vista Herald Publisher Jennifer Sorenson (if you haven’t met her yet, say hello!) recently noted that a pair of Facebook Groups were circumventing the newspaper’s paywall by posting the full text of Herald stories on the site. That meant the Herald’s valuable work product was being distributed for free, against the publisher’s wishes, to thousands of readers who were therefore disinclined to pay for the news.

Jennifer was rightly taken aback and it sparked quite a bit of comment at the highest levels of the company.

So, what do we do about this?

I think the first step is to identify the culprit. The second is to understand the motivation. Action comes third.

In this case, I suggested that Jennifer might send a message to the administrators and politely ask that they stop doing this. I’m not sure if she managed to reach them that way at this writing, but we’ll see. … Read the rest of this entry »

When the lawyer calls

In Legal on 14 Jan 2016 at 3:18 pm


In the course of human events, you will screw up. You’ll mess up a name, misspell the restaurant you’re profiling, get the score wrong. It happens. Trust me. You’ll write a correction and move on. It’s generally all you can do.

Occasionally, the mistakes are more important than a misspelling. Sometimes, they really irk someone in the story. You likely know how those days go, too. The city manager calls, screaming that you got the budget figures wrong. The nice lady in your office is mad because you indicated her living husband has died. The local businessman calls your boss because you said — incorrectly — that his beloved eatery closed.

It’s usually a good idea to try to explain the mistake, cop to being human, and promise a correction. It may be a good idea to make the change online (along with an italicized note saying you’ve done so.) The quicker you can admit to your mistake and take corrective action, the better for all involved, yourself included.

But what do you do if a lawyer calls?

That’s when it’s time to shut up. Not because you are trying to hide anything or pretend the mistake didn’t happen, but simply to protect yourself and your organization. The lawyer likely isn’t calling to discuss the mistake in general terms. The mere fact that a lawyer has been consulted should be an indication to you that the stakes have risen beyond the apology stage.

At this point, be unfailingly polite, but you don’t have to be overly generous. An attorney may probe for information he can use against you in court. If you tell him on the phone that you never liked that rat-infested restaurant he represents, you can expect that to come up when the court tries to determine whether actual malice played a role in your mistake. Thank the attorney for his call, ask for a call-back number, refer him to your publisher. If pressed for specific information on the matter at hand, tell him that all you have to say about the story is embodied in the story itself. … Read the rest of this entry »