Wick Communications

Posts Tagged ‘press’

Defamation suit dismissed

In First Amendment on 31 Aug 2017 at 2:56 pm

There was an important victory on the freedom of speech front last week, and it involved a certain former Wasilla, Alaska, mayor.

A federal judge in New York on Tuesday dismissed a suit brought by former national political candidate Sarah Palin that claimed the New York Times defamed her in an editorial. She held in her suit that the Times acted with actual malice when it suggested in an editorial (it quickly changed) that Palin’s political rhetoric led to the shooting of a congressman in a Washington D.C. park.

The judge disagreed:

“What we have here is an editorial, written and rewritten rapidly in order to voice an opinion on an immediate event of importance, in which are included a few factual inaccuracies somewhat pertaining to Mrs. Palin that are very rapidly corrected,” Judge Jed S. Rakoff of Federal District Court in Manhattan said, according to a report in the Times. “Negligence this may be; but defamation of a public figure it plainly is not.” … Read the rest of this entry »


Access denied

In First Amendment on 17 Nov 2016 at 5:07 pm


Renée Jean, energy editor for the Williston Herald, has written a series of extraordinary stories about the ongoing Dakota Access Pipeline dispute in North Dakota. One of the most interesting, for my money, is her first-person telling of the obstacles to reporting the story. It appeared earlier this week online and in the print edition.

The pipeline story is big news everywhere, of course. A company called Energy Transfer Partners proposes a 1,172-mile pipeline capable of transporting 470,000 gallons of sweet crude every day from North Dakota to Illinois. Proponents say it would be safer than transport by rail and truck and benefit business in the Bakken oilfields and beyond. They might even suggest that it is part of the infrastructure necessary to make the nation more energy independent.

Opponents counter that it is an inherent risk to the water supply throughout the region. They say it destroys burial sites and other places that are culturally significant for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, which has sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for permitting the project.

As I’m sure you are aware, the currently stalled construction has spawned protests across the United States. Meanwhile, I’m told the vast majority of people in the Bakken region support construction.

Tensions are high and it’s a volatile situation for reporters like Renée. … Read the rest of this entry »

The meaning of the Fourth Estate

In journalism on 28 Jul 2016 at 2:37 pm


Last week, I mentioned “the Fourth Estate” in a post about the need to listen better, to give people insight into the press’ decisions and effectively let the people into our branch of community institutions. It got me thinking about the term, what it implies and what It shouldn’t mean.

These days, in America, it most often refers to the press. There are the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. Then there is us: the watchdogs, the fourth estate of government.

But it is not an American term of art. While there isn’t complete agreement, the term was apparently coined by an Irish statesman named Edmund Burke in the late 1700s. He was referring to the press that was allowed into the House of Commons at a time when the British government included three houses — the Lords Spiritual, the Lords Temporal and the Commons.

When I was growing up, I interpreted it as a term of respect for a noble profession that helped galvanize public opinion during World War II and held the executive in check during Watergate. The Fourth Estate was a necessary check on abuses throughout government and the need for it was codified in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. … Read the rest of this entry »

Photography is a tough business

In Photography on 24 Sep 2015 at 2:09 pm
What do photographers worry about? The World Press Photo Foundation answers.

What do photographers worry about? The World Press Photo Foundation answers.

More than at any time in the human history, our communication is dominated by photographic imagery. Yet, professional photographers have never been more endangered, professionally and personally.

They are laid off. They are attacked by angry crowds. In a world in which everyone has a camera in his or her pocket and we all seem to think of ourselves as photographers, the real pros are disparaged.

Yet, the work of the pros is instantly recognizable. Amateurs get lucky from time to time, but professional photographers get the shot every time. There are millions of photographs taken every day. If you are transported by one today, chances are it was taken by a pro.

This week, the World Press Photo Foundation, in conjunction with Oxford and Stirling universities, released a first-of-its-kind study of the work lives of professional news photographers the world over. The results are not surprising, nor are they encouraging.

Some key findings: Read the rest of this entry »

Who needs who more?

In sports on 13 Aug 2015 at 4:28 pm


So, there is this football team in England (soccer, if you are from the colonies) that has decided to freeze out the press in the town. No more access to players, no press passes, etc. The owner says, in so many words, “the newspaper needs us more than we need the newspaper.

This is one of the increasingly common results of our collective drop in circulation and the lack of prestige of the press generally. In a way, the less-than charming team owner is right. It is important for the local newspaper that it have exclusive, exhaustive coverage of the popular local sports team. And here I want you to substitute your local high school or college coach or athletic director for that English soccer team. Let’s stipulate that it is a symbiotic relationship; the team benefits from coverage that drives interest in the team and the news organizations benefit from the traffic of people interested in the team.

So what do you do when the guy in charge takes your press pass? … Read the rest of this entry »

Are we mainstream?

In journalism on 7 May 2015 at 3:21 pm

mainstream pic

What exactly is the “mainstream media?”

This week I attended a panel discussion at Stanford University with the clunky title, “Dare to struggle, dare to win: Grassroots activists on the decades long fight to end police brutality and mass incarceration.” It was a fascinating discussion of what many in the audience believe is a prison-industrial complex designed to punish people of color.

Many of the presenters were inspiring and it was led by dream hampton, who is an icon of the hip-hop world as well as a filmmaker and activist. These weren’t merely complainers; they were powerful activists who are doing good work in the community.

More than once, someone on the panel made a knowing reference to the complicity of “the mainstream media.” You could see the heads nod in agreement in the crowd. Perhaps it is only normal and somewhat fitting that the Fourth Estate take its lumps along with other institutions in the country when it comes to upsetting those who would upset the apple cart. Many media companies do have a vested interest in protecting the status quo.

I asked someone in the audience what she thought of when she thought of the mainstream media, and she said, “You know, Fox News.” I told her I worked for a small weekly newspaper that I considered mainstream. She assured me I wasn’t part of the problem and I thanked her for that. Then I told her that, for my money,big regional newspapers in places like St. Louis and Baltimore were doing important work covering all aspects of the current civil rights movement. Does she consider those newspapers part of the problem?

“Well, I haven’t seen that kind of reporting,” she said. … 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 »