Accountability Journalism

This page provides resources and examples of accountability in journalism from The Rural Blog. Please click here to access other blog items related to accountability in journalism.


Friday, February 10, 2012

More states opening courts to camera coverage

camera If your state has not opened its courtrooms to cameras, it is part of a shrinking minority. All the state "have declared themselves willing to open up some court business to cameras, although the levels of openness vary from state to state," reports Maggie Clark of Stateline. "Within the last year, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Illinois have all amended their court procedures to be more camera-friendly." (iStock Photo)

But the devil has been in the details. “Lots of states say they permit cameras,” says Kirby, “but there are a lot of barriers,” Radio Television Digital News Association General Counsel Kathy Kirby told Clark. Until last March, Minnesota required journalists apply for camera access before a trial, and a party to the case could refuse access, so few trials were opened. Minnesota’s Supreme Court now allows only district judges to bar cameras.

Clark's story is pretty comprehensive, and mentions several states. To read it, click here.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

High Country News is looking for stories of the West

High Country News, a magazine and website about the American West, "is looking for new print and multimedia story ideas and voices," Managing Editor Jodi Peterson writes.

"We're especially interested in stories related to public lands, natural resources and the environment. We also welcome West-specific stories about people, politics, economics, culture and aesthetic values. Politics in particular will be a special area of focus as we head up to the election, as will stories on the West's economy," Peterson writes. "Because we have a long publishing cycle and an 11-state region to cover in a small news space, we want local stories that have significance across the entire region and that are told in ways that go beyond what daily newspapers report. We are committed to deep reporting, thorough investigations and insightful analysis."

The magazine seeks inquiries from "experienced journalists," Peterson writes. "Our ideal stories are timely and news-driven, and include strong storytelling, compelling characters, a clear, jargon-free style, and a dedication to intellectual honesty. We want writers who can view topics with a critical eye and dig deeply into issues. We also would like our writers to be as diverse as the region they cover, and encourage Native American, Hispanic, and other under-represented journalists to send us queries. In particular, we are looking for short proposals for our 'Currents' department in the front of the magazine."

For a description and examples, see hcn.org/about/submissions. Send inquiries to editor@hcn.org with "story query" in the subject line. For audio or video proposals, use "multimedia story query." The magazine has some specific topics of special interest for multimedia stories on its submissions page.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Wash. AG would let local officials record closed sessions, to prevent or resolve questions of legality

One of the biggest bugaboos of covering elected or appointed boards is the "executive session," in which we presume the discussion often goes beyond the limited topics authorized by the state open-meetings law. That is usually hard to prove, but Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna may have a good idea to address the problem.

As part of his 2012 legislative package, "McKenna is asking lawmakers to adopt a bill that would allow government bodies to record executive sessions. It’s not mandatory, it’s permissive," The Olympian reports in an editorial. "Then if a question arises . . . there’s an audio or video recording to settle the question."

The state-capital newspaper noted that earlier bills to require such recordings have been defeated by lobbyists for local governments, but a permissive law would allow local officials to "refute an allegation of an illegal meeting and provide greater accountability for public attorneys that they are not allowing elected officials to hold illegal meetings."

The paper concluded, "We believe that audio or video recordings of executive sessions would also create a psychological barrier for elected officials – to keep them from straying into subjects and having discussions that they should not engage in behind closed doors." We agree, and hope the bill passes. The only law we know of like this is one in Florida that requires a court reporter for closed sessions for discussion of litigation and makes the transcript public at the end of the litigation.

Monday, January 09, 2012

TV station goes to the wall in fight for public records

In 2011, a National Freedom of Information Coalition study revealed the public has a growing interest in government transparency, but media companies are shying away from open government lawsuits mostly because carrying these lawsuits forward takes time and money news organizations don't have, reports Al Tompkins of The Poynter Institute. Exceptions to this trend matter, though, as Tompkins points out in a case study about TV station WGAL in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which serves a mostly rural area.

News Director Daniel O'Donnell told Tompkins the station has been in a two-year legal battle to retrieve autopsy records about a local college student. When the station asked for the records, the coroner "imposed an old Coroner’s Act statute that said he would not release the cause of death in a case until 30 days after the new year." WGAL appealed the case to the state's open-records office and lost. The Hurst Television Group owns the station and when O'Donnell approached its legal team, they told him to "press on, even though it would be costly and time consuming."

The cause of death has long since been discovered, but the legal battle continues because, as O'Donnell told Tompkins, "We simply cannot allow public officials to dictate the timing of the release of details of something as important as the cause of a person’s death. ... This is purely about legal access to vital and we believe, public, information." He said the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case. (Read more)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Editor at weekly putting heat on secretive energy projects says county official assaulted him

A thrice-weekly newspaper's watchdog reporting about local-government support of two secretive energy projects got physical this week, as the county's energy and development director punched an editor in the arm, according to a story in today's Appalachian News-Express of Pikeville, Ky. The criminal complaint by News Editor Chris Anderson said Charles Carlton "approached me and hit me with a closed fist in the left arm above the elbow" as he opened the newspaper's front door for Carlton, who said, "You son of a bitch; what are you people harassing me for?"

Appalachian News-Express "According to court documents, Anderson said the incident occurred shortly after he had sent an open- records request to Pike [County] Judge-Executive Wayne T. Rutherford’s office, which would have been forwarded to Carlton for fulfillment," News-Express Editor Russ Cassady wrote. His story said Carlton issued a statement repeating a denial that he hit Anderson, but said "It was a reaction through frustration because it seems every time I spend considerable amounts of time and energy negotiating with large national and international companies the newspaper intervenes at critical moments and makes it very difficult for me to get anything accomplished."

Cassady wrote that Carlton "has been at the center of controversy since late last month, when the News-Express released the results of an investigation of a pair of coal-to-liquid fuel plants proposed for Pike County. Carlton, in his capacity as director of energy and community development, figured heavily in both the projects and in the News-Express investigation, which found that the county may have illegally provided equipment and labor to a private company working on private property." For that story and two sidebars, click here.

Today's story notes, "This incident is the second in less than two years in which a News-Express staffer was involved in an altercation regarding a news story." In the first, Pikeville Mayor Frank Justice hit former editor Jerry Boggs in the face and later issued a public apology. The online News-Express is subscription-only, but the pages containing today's story are posted here and here.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Local paper broke Penn State story in March; reporter calls it 'a huge testament to local news'

Breaking news videoUncovering the story of a former Penn State football coach's alleged rapes of boys "was all local journalism," Harrisburg Patriot-News reporter Sara Ganim told Howard Kurtz this morning on CNN's "Reliable Sources." (CNN image)

"Its a huge testament to local news," the 24-year-old Penn State journalism graduate told Kurtz, who initially referred to the 71,000-circulation Advance Publications newspaper as "The News-Patriot." Ganim said, "It was all local journalism, going to my sources. ... I spent a lot of time knocking on doors and getting shooed off properties."

Ganim said the newspaper "did have some pushback" to her stories that first reported the investigation, starting March 31, but "I actually expected a lot more than we got. . . . For the most part people were happy that we were bringing this out." The stories didn't get much play beyond Pennsylvania until ex-coach Jerry Sandusky was indicted this month, perhaps because they were based on interviews with people who had testified before a grand jury, reporting that was difficult for non-local media to match, Ganim said.

The story of Sara Ganim "is also the story of a family-owned media company, Advance, of a second-generation newspaper editor, David Newhouse, of a publisher, John Kirkpatrick, who understands what a newspaper means to a community, and of a newsroom that has the deep local connections and also the courage to keep going no matter what the potential cost to its own reputation," Carl Lavin writes on his 07newsroom blog.

For Ganim's original story, click here. For her latest summary, focusing on authority figures and "What did they know and when did they know it?" go here. Her last-Sunday story about why the probe took so long is here.

Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues
School of Journalism and Telecommunications, College of Communications & Information Studies
122 Grehan Building, University of Kentucky, Lexington KY 40506-0042
Phone 859-257-3744 - Fax 859-323-3168

Al Cross, director al.cross@uky.edu