Wick Communications

Posts Tagged ‘First Amendment’

New publisher, old responsibilities

In journalism on 5 Jan 2018 at 11:01 am
The following is the text of an email sent to Wick Communications publishers and the board of directors earlier this week.
Like the newspapers under the Wick Communications banner, the venerable New York Times is largely a family affair. If you think Wick newspapers have deep roots, consider that Adolph Ochs purchased the struggling big-city newspaper in 1896 — three years before the birth of Wick Founder Milton I. Wick. This week, the tradition continued when Ochs’ great-great-grandson took over for his father as publisher of the Times.

Upon that auspicious occasion, this week that new publisher, A.G. Sulzberger, penned an open letter to customers of the world’s most important journalistic factory. It was a spirited and inspiring declaration that the industry standard-bearer would continue to lead the way. You can read it here. Wick CEO Francis Wick suggested that I might address it and that is why you are reading these words.

Sulzberger’s message is important to those of us in the trenches in places like New Iberia, La., and Montrose, Colo. We don’t cover a sprawling metropolis and we aren’t sending reporters to the ends of the earth, but we are fully engaged in the war at home. In 2018, it is not hyperbole to say journalism and the values underlying the First Amendment are under attack. Sulzberger put it like this:

There was a reason freedom of speech and freedom of the press were placed first among our essential rights. Our founders understood that the free exchange of ideas and the ability to hold power to account were prerequisites for a successful democracy. But a dangerous confluence of forces is threatening the press’s central role in helping people understand and engage with the world around them.”  …

He goes on to note what you already know. The business model that promoted an unwavering free press is, well, wavering. In Sierra Vista and Green Valley and Ontario, we, too, must find new ways to tell the stories of a new world. We will continue to reflect our communities with ink on paper, but we will also get better with audio and video, we will seek interactive solutions-oriented journalism that will literally leap off the page and into living rooms, classrooms and community rooms. We will host important meetings aimed and sharing and solving our communities’ most pressing problems, and we will deftly share our stories and our successes through ever-evolving social media. Storytelling like that has a value.

To me, Sulzberger’s nut graph is this: “The Times will hold itself to the highest standards of independence, rigor and fairness — because we believe trust is the most precious asset we have. The Times will do all of this without fear or favor — because we believe truth should be pursued wherever it leads.

Trust. Truth. Fairness. Independence. Rigor. Let these be words to live by in 2018.








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 »

The good guys win one

In Media law on 4 Sep 2015 at 7:58 am

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There was a fascinating and also sort of terrifying bit of courtroom drama this week in New Iberia, La., and it involved a Wick newspaper. The important thing is that the good guys won in the end.

The story is a bit convoluted, and I hope someone will let me know if I get any of the particulars wrong. But the short version is that an anonymous commenter on the Daily Iberian website wrote to impugn the integrity of a local attorney named David Groner. Here’s the comment:

I read the paper where David Groner is representing Deputy Sanders Butler in the sexual harassment. The only thing you need to know is that Butler helped Groner in his failed bid for State Senator against Fred Mills and Simone Champagne. That’s when the truth came out about Groner having a reputation for engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit and misrepresentation.

Now, that might strike you as unfair (and it did to me as well, at first). But the commenter linked to a 2008 Louisiana Supreme Court opinion that noted those very allegations. Groner was suspended from practicing law for six months, though that suspension was deferred upon completion of a supervised probation…. Read the rest of this entry »

Shields aren’t just for superheroes

In journalism on 29 May 2014 at 2:24 pm


Generally, I think of shields as being necessary for riot cops and Marvel superheroes. Not so much for journalists. But I may be wrong about that.

Last fall, there was momentum for passage of a federal shield law that would protect journalists from prosecution for failing to give up confidential sources. That momentum grew from the case of New York Times reporter James Risen, who faced jail time for failing to reveal sources in his reporting of the case of former CIA analyst Jeffrey Sterling who was being prosecuted for allegedly violating the Espionage Act. (Sterling, who was involved in sensitive weapons deals with Iranians, is accused of releasing national defense secrets after filing an discrimination action against the CIA. Juicy stuff!)

As USA Today’s Rem Rieder reports, the effort to shield journalists from prosecution has slowed to a crawl. Democrats say Republicans are holding up legislation even though more than 50 senators support a shield; Republicans say nanny, nanny boo-boo, I think.

I’ve always been on the fence about shield laws. Here’s why: As a general rule, I don’t think journalists should be afforded any special privileges. Keep in mind, a government that gives special shields or access or whatever, can also take it away. That is why I have always resisted official “press passes” from police agencies and the like. My press pass is the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. I shouldn’t have to wear a sheriff-issued press pass to attend the press conference or talk to a deputy at the scene of a crime. And don’t get me started on defining just who is a journalist. Read the rest of this entry »

Protecting minors in your coverage

In Ethics on 11 Apr 2014 at 9:04 am


Under what circumstances would you identify underage sex crime perpetrators or victims? What if it were perfectly legal to do so? What if other media outlets had already done so? Would you grant anonymity to the mother of a victim? Where would you run such a story in your newspaper?

These aren’t hypothetical questions. They are real-world quandaries that Wick journalists face all the time. For instance, this week alone:

  • In Roanoke Rapids, a 16-year-old boy was charged in sex crimes against younger boys. By state law, those over the age of 16 are considered adults so authorities released the name of the accused. Managing Editor Matt Lindberg had to decide whether it was fair to print the name of a teenager accused of such heinous crimes.

These are not easy questions. We want to be consistent and make defensible decisions. But we also want to take extra consideration whenever juveniles are caught on either side of these questions. … Read the rest of this entry »

Welcome to The FOIA Machine

In Media law on 25 Jul 2013 at 11:44 am

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A Serbian guy by the name of Djordje Padesjski is about to rock your world.

Padesjski is the founder of something called The FOIA Machine, which seeks to aid journalists and others in their attempts to get public documents from public agencies that sometimes have a vested interest in making that as difficult as possible.

If you’ve ever filed for Freedom of information Act request you know that there is very little that is more frustrating. Some agencies have appointed someone to help with the process. Others act like they have never heard of the concept of public documents. There are exceptions and roadblocks at every turn. Multiply that by hundreds of government agencies in 50 states and dozens of foreign countries that have open records laws and you can imagine the heartache attendant to getting government to give you what is rightly yours.

But imagine you could just fill out an online form that would automatically factor in differing agency rules and track your request. Developers have referred to it as “a TurboTax for government records.”

Padesjski pitched the idea while a Knight Fellow at Stanford University and he made some powerful friends. He won funding through the Knight Foundation and now he’s got investigative journalists, coders and data experts working on a prototype as well as thousands to invest in developing the site and a vision that could literally upend the way we all deal with government. This is a really, really big idea. … Read the rest of this entry »

Know your rights

In Books on 19 Apr 2012 at 2:47 pm

Half Moon Bay Review reporter Lily Bixler is leaving us next week to take a position with the Seattle Times. Which is terrific news for her, if not so much for us. As a result, she is cleaning out her desk. That is why she gave me her copy of “The Right to Know: A Guide to Public Access and Media Law.” It was a revelation on several fronts.

First, I had no idea that the California Newspaper Publishers Association published anything like that. Co-produced by the California First Amendment Coalition, it is written by First Amendment lawyers. It covers everything from the Brown Act, California’s public meetings law, and federal rights under the First Amendment. It is detailed and I find I learn something on every page. (For instance, I’ve never been entirely sure whether we were allowed on school grounds without the principal’s permission. We are not, as a result of the First Amendment, the book says, but California law specifically allows reporters on campus unless they are asked to leave.)

It is a phenomenal resource and can be ordered online for $30. While it may be useful to reporters out of state, I think it is sufficiently targeted to California law that it might just confuse the issue for those in the other 49 states.

I wonder if state press associations in other places produce something similar? It’s certainly worth asking. I know that many have attorneys on call who can be tremendous resources to reporters. It wouldn’t surprise me if they had publications like “Know your Rights.”


Something in between

In Online media on 2 Dec 2010 at 4:48 pm

Hey, what do we think of this guy? (Is it just me, or does Julian Assange look like the villain from a Batman sequel?) Is he a terrorist, as some with secrets suggest, or is he a journalist of a sort as he would have you believe? This AP story suggests that he may fall in the middle somewhere.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that Assange is the maverick leader of WikiLeaks. That is the Internet-only outfit that has “dumped” hundreds of thousands of sometimes classified documents on the Web for all to see. Some are damning. Some are just damn boring. In my opinion, most of them, while undoubtedly embarrassing to the authors and subjects, simply amplify things we already know. I tend to agree with Michael Tigar, the former Duke law professor quoted at the end of the AP story.

Anyway, an interesting debate has arisen as the United States and other aggrieved governments ponder how to respond to WikiLeaks. Some are suggesting Assange be charged with violating the Espionage Act and that could send a chill down the necks of honest-to-goodness journalists… Read the rest of this entry »

Let’s go libel touring!

In Media law on 27 Aug 2010 at 8:22 am

Continuing our weeks’ long tour around the virtual courthouse, we come to the strange outpost known as foreign libel court.

It seems that some international readers have been taking offense at the writings of American authors and then taking their case to court … foreign court. The term “libel tourism” has been around since at least 2005, when a Saudi billionaire sued New York-based author Rachel Ehrenfeld in a British court over her book Funding Evil. Ehrenfeld ultimately lost the case and was ordered to pay £10,000 and legal costs.

The reason writers are being sued elsewhere is because other countries don’t have the same reverence for free speech we enjoy. There is no First Amendment – and none of the so-called Section 230 protections afforded Internet Service Providers here either.

Well, earlier this month the good guys scored a victory. President Barack Obama signed the Speech Act, which forbids federal courts from recognizing foreign libel judgments that don’t jibe with our own First Amendment protections.

This is one of those things that isn’t likely to hit home in Wasilla or Ontario. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to keep abreast of any change in libel law, for obvious reasons.


You can’t shoot that!

In Photography on 30 Jul 2010 at 8:48 am

Is it against the law to photograph federal buildings? Not generally, no. But don’t expect the cop on the beat to know that.

Law enforcement officials – especially federal law enforcement authorities – are jumpy and have been for nine years. And with good reason. The events of Sept. 11 changed the way Americans look at their security. They caused many if not all of us to rethink what security means in a free society. Many well-meaning men and women with badges are of a mind to tip the balance too far toward the safe side and there are ever-more stories of ordinary Americans finding themselves in a legal hassle over inoccuous photos.

That is a problem for us professional journalists. We’ve been told we can shoot most anything as long as we do so on public property. But the explosion of digital photography – now almost everyone has a camera in the form of a cell phone with them at all times – has made the Secret Service and the ordinary beat cop nervous.

Annys Shin’s story in the Washington Post last week detailed many instances of police hassling photographers with some vague notion of personal or national security in mind… Read the rest of this entry »