Tag Archives: Illinois

Social media firestorm surrounding Daily Egyptian decision catches administrators by surprise

The social media firestorm that surrounded the decision by Southern Illinois University’s board of trustees to put off voting on a media fee for the 98-year-old Daily Egyptian newspaper caught university administrators by surprise.

DE alumni from as far away as Iraq leaped to the paper’s defense, flooding social media, including the hashtag #savethede on Twitter.

Other examples included:

  • The DE staff stayed up the entire night after the board meeting producing a special 17-page online edition containing its reaction and the reaction of alums at http://dailyegyptian.com.
  • Well-placed DE supporters in the General Assembly arranged for a special $70,000 appropriation, earmarked for the DE, to be added to the SIU appropriation bill.
  • Jackie Spinner, former Baghdad bureau chief of the Washington Post, showed up at the state capital and was walking out of a Senate leadership offices as the university’s new president, Randy Dunn, was arriving.
  • Paul Pabst of the popular Dan Patrick sports program posted a YouTube video in support of the DE (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2dhyPNwStA&feature=youtu.be)

Dunn, who said his email account was being bombarded with messages from DE alums, responded to the social media storm by saying the DE “is not going to cease publishing on my watch as president of the university.” He added that he hadn’t had time since taking office May 1 to study the fee proposal.

Dunn told William Freivogel, director of the School of Journalism, that he could take the media fee back to the executive committee of the Board of Trustees in June, in time to get the fee in place for the fall.

Dunn has asked Freivogel to put together a working group of media professionals to take another look at the need for a fee. A second group of DE alums also will review the proposal. All of this will occur in time for Dunn to return to the board committee by late June.

In a statement, Freivogel said he had vetted the fee last fall with a group of media professionals, including DE alums. That review had led to the development of the fee proposal, which was approved by Undergraduate Student Government, SIU’s chancellor, Rita Cheng, and the university’s outgoing president, Glenn Poshard.

In the statement, Freivogel said that “even though I believed we had thoroughly researched the fee proposal, I would form the group (Dunn) requested. I told him I would also want to run that group’s findings past the devoted DE alums, whose support has been so heartening in recent days.”

The $9 fee per student per semester fee for the four-day-a-week DE compares to a $7.80 fee already in place at Carbondale’s sister campus in Edwardsville for its weekly paper. The fee for the DE would raise about $260,000 a year, which is the projected deficit for the DE.

The DE’s ad revenue is about 50 percent of what it was in 2006, a trend similar to those reported at other student papers.

The trouble at the Daily Egyptian comes at a time when other college papers in the region are having trouble. The University of Missouri St. Louis recently refused to re-impose a student fee. At Webster University, Eric Rothenbuhler, dean of the School of Communications, cut the money going to the school newspaper. Details can be found online at http://gatewayjr.org/2014/04/04/student-paper-at-webster-university-faces-cuts.

In addition, Eastern Illinois University announced it would not publish a print edition this summer because of financial problems.

Former CIA agent Sterling ‘an afterthought’ as Supreme Court ponders Risen case

Editor’s note: Scott Lambert’s weblog can be found at http://slambert22.wordpress.com/

Jeffrey Sterling is the afterthought.

The 1989 Millikin University graduate with a law degree from Washington University is now little more than a footnote as media rush to defend Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist James Risen in his battle against the U.S. government.

As a New York Times reporter, Risen reported on a failed CIA operation in Iran in his 2006 book “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.” The government tapped his phones and took extraordinary measures to determine Risen’s source. Those searches pointed to Sterling, who was arrested and indicted under the Espionage Act. Risen has refused to name his source and promises to go to jail before giving him up. The government is trying to force Risen to testify – and after a 2-1 appellate court decision went against him in 2013, Risen asked the Supreme Court to hear the case.

As of the beginning of May, the Supreme Court had not decided on whether to take the case. Count Sterling as one who hopes the Supreme Court decides not to take his case. In November 2013, Edward MacMahon, Sterling’s attorney filed a brief with the Supreme Court asking the court not to stay his trial any longer. Sterling has maintained his innocence from the start and wants the chance to go to trial. He’s been waiting long enough.

“It is apparent that I am an afterthought in this entire case, there really has been no focus on me, other than being the de facto defendant,” Sterling said. “The longer this case goes, the more I as a person become irrelevant.”

The media see the case as a battle between the press and government overreach in hunting down whistleblowers. The government wants to shut down whistleblowers within its ranks and considers the press as part of the problem. Sterling wants a trial.

“This case has turned into more of a battle between the government and the press with me as a pariah for both sides,” he said. “I just happen to be the conduit, or a means to an end, particularly for the government. So the impact on me continues to be that my life is forfeit while the government and press have their battle.”

The press have paid little or no attention to Sterling the man, often getting the facts of the case wrong as stories rush to the Risen angle. They pay little attention to Sterling’s decade-long fight against the government that started with the first racial discrimination case filed against the Central Intelligence Agency, the loss of his job and the eventual ruination of his career.

A 2013 story by students from Millikin documented Sterling’s tribulations from 2001 to now. Little has changed for the man who once asked his boss at the CIA, “When did you realize I was black?”

In the last year, Sterling queried Washington University about returning to school to earn an advanced law degree in the field of right of publicity. The school, after talking with him for a day, declined.

Earlier this year, Sterling thought he’d finally found a job.

“I had applied for a job with a government contractor by the name of Serco who was slated to administer applications for the Affordable Care Act,” Sterling said. “During a group interview session, I was offered, and accepted, the job. I attended the first day of orientation, received my employee number, had a picture taken for my ID and even signed up for benefits.”

Sterling thought he’d caught a break. It didn’t last long.

“I was escorted out the next day,” he said. “I was told that I did not pass the background check.  I made no arguments other than stating that I had been convicted of nothing.”

It didn’t matter. Sterling’s name pops up on a background check and jobs go away. He can’t find work, and he can’t sell his name on the lecture circuit because he doesn’t know how the story ends. So he waits. And every day he checks to see if the Supreme Court has decided to hear Risen’s case. If it does, media and government will finally have a chance to clear up the Branzburg v. Hayes ruling of 1972. And Sterling will continue to wait, the afterthought. Once the trial finally starts, will media finally pay attention to Sterling?

“Given the focus to this point, once Risen’s involvement is over, the media will have no real interest in me or the case,” Sterling said.

Alton Telegraph newsroom evokes fond memories

Slambrouck - Alton Daily Telegraph copyEditor’s note: This is a story that appears in the winter 2014 print edition of Gateway Journalism Review.

I fell in love with the Alton Telegraph newsroom. Who wouldn’t, with its dangling cables, stacks of yellowing newsprint, reference books – that’s right, BOOKS – on cabinets with wheels and reporters’ desks adorned with the bric-a-brac from years of school-board meetings, election nights and city council debates?

Founded in 1836, the Telegraph would watch journalistic history come to this Mississippi River town. Abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy moved his newspaper from St. Louis to Alton, where he expected less opposition to his views. Instead, he and his Alton Observer became targets and he was slain by a mob of anti-abolitionists.

Today’s Telegraph editor, Dan Brannan, seated at his desk, let me wander for an hour to take these photographs. I couldn’t help but feel the Telegraph’s struggle to survive. Now owned by Civitas, its news staff has dwindled to a handful and its print circulation has declined.

Whatever the future holds, newsrooms like this have an ambience not found in the more sanitized digital-news offices of today. Their struggles to survive make their gun-metal gray furniture and abandoned Styrofoam coffee cups all the more appealing – at least to anyone who once sat at desks like these, wheeled backward on squeaky chairs and fiddled with a tangled phone chord while scribbling notes for the next day’s story.

Details lacking in TV coverage of bridge opening

A bridge! A bridge! Abridged?

The recent opening of a new bridge over the Mississippi River at St. Louis got grand coverage from the city’s television news stations.

Footage of the sparkling span dominated morning reports by Fox News Channel 2, KMOV Channel 4 and KSDK Channel 5 on the Friday before the official opening on Feb. 9.

Cheerleading, in fact, was in top form as anchors and reporters gave testimony to an engineering achievement accomplished with admirable efficiency.

It was a good story about civic progress.

But the journalists’ day job – reporting – was noticeably, ah, abridged.

Details on how to use the new Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge got scant attention in the reporting medium with great visual and immediacy capabilities. Neither in words nor footage nor graphics did viewers gain a clear understanding of how the new bridge fit into the landscape.

Motorists approaching from Illinois might have been the most confused, both in the changes to the roads that approach the new span, as well as what to do once they’d crossed it.

Subsequent newscasts headlining the difficulties motorists were having should suggest that there was room for better initial reporting on this historic event.

Carolyn Kingcade is a senior lecturer in the School of Journalism at Southern Illinois University.

Courtroom devices get different state treatments

Editor's note: This is a preview of a story that will appear in the next print issue of Gateway Journalism Review.

While almost all state trial courts allow some level of still and video camera coverage of court proceedings, the rules on usage of modern communications devices and techniques – blogging, tweeting, texting and emailing using cellphones, tablets and other devices – are a wild patchwork of policies which vary from state to state, courthouse to courthouse, and often even courtroom to courtroom.

An example of this is in two wildly diverging policies adopted in late 2012 in Kansas and Illinois’ Cook County. In mid-October, the Kansas Supreme Court amended the state’s courts rules to explicitly permit tweeting and texting from courtrooms, becoming one of only a handful of states that explicitly allow such coverage of their courts. In mid-December, meanwhile, Cook County chief judge Timothy Evans issued an order barring devices “capable of connecting to the Internet or making audio or video recordings” from all of the county’s courthouses where criminal matters are heard, effective Jan. 15.

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Editorial endorsement hits, misses

Despite the decline in the number of political endorsements made by Midwest newspapers, editorial editors still think the process is a civic duty. There is some disagreement, however, whether or not the endorsements influence voters.

As a foll

ow-up to an article in the fall 2012 issue of Gateway Journalism Review, here is a quick look at a few of the endorsements from some Midwest newspapers as compared to the election results.

Presidential race

Hits:

Tulsa World endorsed Mitt Romney – Oklahoma went to Romney

Chicago Tribune endorsed President Obama – Illinois went to Obama

Misses:

Columbus Dispatch endorsed Romney – Ohio went to Obama

Kansas City Star endorsed Obama – both Kansas and Missouri went to Romney

St. Louis Post Dispatch endorsed Obama – Missouri went to Romney and Illinois to Obama

Governor

Hits:

St. Louis Post Dispatch and Kansas City Star endorsed Jay Nixon (D) over Dave Spence (R)

U.S. Senate

Hits:

Columbus Dispatch endorsed Sherrod Brown (D) over Josh Mandrel (R)

St. Louis Post Dispatch and Kansas City Star endorsed Claire McCaskill (D) over Todd Akin (R)

U.S. House

Hits:

Columbus Dispatch endorsed:

Missouri 3rd District – Joyce Beatty (D) over Chris Long (R)

Missouri 12th District – Pat Tiberi (R) over Jim Reese (D)

Missouri 15th District – Steve Stivers (R) over Pat Lang (D)

St. Louis Post Dispatch endorsed:

Illinois 12th District – Bill Enyart (D) over Jason Plummer (R)

Missouri 2nd District – Ann Wagner (R) over Glenn Koenen (D)

Missouri 8th District – Jo Ann Emerson (R) over Jack Rushin (D)

 

Illinois wiretapping law restrictive at best

At a time when millions of Americans have a cell phone with video and audio capability and when videotapes of police misconduct often are the stuff of news reports, Illinois is leading the nation in prosecuting citizens who tape officers in public.

Illinois has one of the three most restrictive eavesdropping laws in the country, along with Maryland and Massachusetts. And Illinois police and prosecutors are not shy about using the law to punish the taping of arrests and interrogations.

Chicago authorities recently have charged a street artist and a stripper for violating the law.  Both face 15 years in prison.

The street artist, Charles Drew, actually intended to get arrested in an act of civil disobedience targeting a Chicago ordinance banning the sale of art on the street without a permit.  That would have been a misdemeanor, but he ended up charged with a felony for arranging a tape of his arrest.

Tiwanda Moore, the 20-year-old stripper, went to police headquarters to complain about an officer she said had fondled her and left her his personal phone number.  An officer receiving Moore’s complaint tried to dissuade her from pursuing it.  She began recording the conversation with her cell phone.  When officers discovered what she was doing, they charged her under the eavesdropping statute.

Moore was scheduled to go to trial this week and Drew in April.  Moore is relying on a exception to the eavesdropping law that allows a conversation to be recorded surreptitiously if a crime is about to be committed.  She maintains that the officer’s effort to discourage her from filing a complaint was committing a crime.

The ACLU in Illinois went to court to challenge the state eavesdropping law as a violation of the First Amendment, but a Chicago judge threw out the suit last month. The ACLU is appealing.

Most states, such as Missouri, allow conversations to be recorded as long as one party to the conversation consents.  That means that a newspaper reporter in Missouri, for example, generally can record a telephone conversation without telling the person on the other end of the line.

Twelve states have two-party consent laws for eavesdropping, meaning that all parties must consent to an audio recording.  But Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts have the toughest interpretation and enforcement.  The other nine states have an exception to the law that allows recording of public police conversations.  In Maryland, one of the three states with tough laws, the state attorney general has issued an opinion indicating that those taping officers in a way that does not interfere with their work should not be prosecuted.

Prosecutors and police in Illinois, however, think the strict enforcement of the law is important.  The Fraternal Order of Police in Chicago said audio recording of police on the street performing their duty could affect how the officer does his job.

That is exactly what civil liberties groups want. The public impact of the Rodney King tapes is well known.  Video and audiotaping of police is often the best evidence of police misconduct.  A recent surveillance video of police officers in Houston beating a teenage burglary suspect has resulted in criminal cases and discipline against the officers and provoked a strong public reaction after it was released to the media.

The National Press Photographers Association sees the prosecutions of those videotaping police activities in public as the latest effort of authorities to harass photographers performing their job.  In a statement, the association said:

“Despite consistent court rulings protecting the First Amendment rights of both citizens and the media to take photographs in public places, and despite many law enforcement agencies spelling it out in their official policies, the officer on the street either doesn’t get the word or decides to act on his own in the name of ‘security’ or ‘terrorism laws,’ often citing rules that don’t exist and exerting authority that’s non-existent. And recently in some states police have started citing old wiretapping laws that have been on the books for decades as their excuse for ordering photographers to cease videotaping officers as they’re doing their jobs in public, either during traffic stops or street arrests or while interfering with photographers who are breaking no rules and who are posing no threats to safety.”

Emanuel’s battle-of-the-ballot trumps all issues in Chicago mayoral race

Just when it looked like the Chicago news media were fixing to focus on the issues – wham! – the Illinois Appellate Court tossed the frontrunner in Chicago’s mayoral race off the Feb. 22 primary ballot.

True, that appellate decision only laste

d for three days—on Jan. 27 the state Supreme Court restored Rahm Emanuel to the ballot. But the off-again, on-again battle of the ballot has made it hard for everyone—press and public—to re-focus on the stuff that really matters.

So much for sober-sided stories about the worrisome city budget deficit, needed pension reforms, the imperiled expansion of O’Hare International Airport or the abuse of tax increment financing.

Which is too bad, because until the surprise Appelate Court decision on Jan. 24 the Chicago dailies had been doing some quality interpretive pieces on the real issues and where the four major candidates stand. The question now, after the fire drill, is whether teacher can settle down the class and get back to the math lesson.

That’s a tough assignment because Emanuel’s struggles have been nothing if not entertaining. Beginning last fall the big running story on the race to replace Mayor Richard M. Daley, who is retiring after 22 years in office, had been whether Emanuel is a legal resident of Chicago. His residency, and hence his standing to run for the elective office, had been challenged in that Emanuel has been living in Washington for the past two years where he served as President Barack Obama’s chief of staff.

Late last year the press pack had a field day—make that a field week—covering public hearings held by the city’s Board of Elections to go over the facts of the case. Emanuel had rented his house on the Northwest Side to an odd fellow who not only refused to move out upon Emanuel’s return but circulated his own petitions to get on the mayoral ballot. How bizarre is that?

Next, platoons of election lawyers for and against Emanuel made their case to the Election Board’s puffed-up, bow-tied hearing officer who moonlights as a conservative talk-radio pundit. At one point testimony centered on what, exactly, was inside the storage boxes the Emanuel family left in a basement of their North Side house. Was it trash or family heirlooms? Did not the contents, including Mrs. Emanuel’s wedding gown, speak to intent-to-return? Just how is a candidate’s stand on pension reform supposed to compete with that?

Then it was the public’s turn to testify, whereupon a parade of civic cranks, including a homeless lady calling herself “Queen Sister” and wearing a crown described in one story as a “golden donut,” tore into Emanuel for transgressions less real than imagined, from complicity in the Waco, Texas, conflagration to being a secret agent for Israel.

It all made for titillating television and colorful print sidebars, but after all was said and done the hearing officer ruled for Emanuel on Dec. 23 … and a Cook County Circuit judge affirmed that finding on January 4. Finally it was time to get back to the things that mattered. And the focus was made even clearer that first week in January when another major candidate—Congressman Danny Davis—opted out of the race, leaving ex-U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun as the only substantial African-American still in the running.

Substantial? This time around the media has pretty much ignored the “marginals”—political amateurs who collected sufficient signatures to get their names on the ballot but have few followers and fewer campaign funds. Several were “challenged off” due to deficient signatures. At this writing there are four majors—Emanuel, Moseley Braun, former schools and parks board president Gery Chico and City Clerk Miguel Del Valle—plus two marginals: perennial candidate William “Doc” Walls III and community activist Patricia Van Pelt Watkins.

Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell reasonably complained that the exclusion of any on-the-ballot candidate from civic- and media-sponsored debates “smacks of elitism. Even the most qualified candidate can’t get very far if their campaign is marginalized by the media.” Mitchell has a point. The Chicago media need some sensible, transparent guidelines about how such decisions will be made in the future.

That issue aside, news coverage of the race improved substantially once it was generally presumed Emanuel would be on the ballot. Perhaps editors and news directors took to heart an unusual op-ed in the Chicago Tribune by former Fox News Chicago political editor Jack Conaty. Under the headline “Are we ever going to get to the issues?” Conaty complained the ballot brouhaha was getting so much press that “Rahm” has “already been branded as a one-name sensation, like Cher or Madonna or Sting.”

So as if observing a New Year’s resolution, the Tribune and Sun-Times began in January to produced full-page, issue-oriented profiles of the four majors. Even daily stories off the campaign trail focused on this issue or that. Then again, what is considered an important issue by political reporters isn’t necessarily all that important. There’s a tendency to keep hitting the hot buttons. Example: Newspaper stories and TV field reports slavishly echo the candidates’ bashing of the privatization of city parking meters. In truth, the only serious problem with the meter deal was that the Daley administration did not get full value from the investor group that leased all 36,000 curbside spaces for 75 years … and then began charging $5-an-hour (downtown) and $1.50 (neighborhoods) using hi-tech meters that accept all major credit cards. People are outraged at the higher rates and the candidates have taken up the cry. But the concepts behind the meters – privatization and market-driven user fees—are sound, which is why enlightened governments around the country are leasing away everything from toll bridges to airports.

Then there’s the ever-present issue of race. One of the biggest challenges covering politics in Chicago is not to be naïve about race while not over-emphasizing the city’s enduring racial and ethnic divides. Chicago’s population breaks down roughly one third white (non-Hispanic), one third African-American and one third Hispanic. But Hispanic voter turnout lags, so the voting breakdown is more like 45 percent white, 40 percent black and 15 percent Hispanic.

A mid-January Tribune poll showed Emanuel running well ahead with 44 percent. Carol Moseley Braun was running second at 21 percent with Chico at 16 and Del Valle 7 percent. This surprised many because Moseley Braun failed to impress as a one-term U.S. Senator and more recently has had well-publicized personal financial problems.

But her strong showing doesn’t surprise Don Rose, dean of the city’s political consultants, who says virtually any black candidate can depend on 20 percent of the vote when matched against any combination of whites or Hispanics. Same goes vice-versa, with whites having an even larger racial “base” vote. So much for post-racial politics in the Age of Obama.

What this means is that Emanuel may well fall short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff election on April 5 against the second-place finisher. That portends a likely Emanuel versus Moseley Braun runoff , with Emanuel expected to win handily. Why? Because a majority of Chico and Del Valle voters are expected to shift to Emanuel in the runoff.

Then there’s the sympathy factor. He may have a reputation as a hard-nosed politician—a guy who once sent a dead fish to an opponent and who tosses around the “F” bomb at staff meetings—but three months of “will-he-or-won’t-he” be allowed on the ballot has made Emanuel seem more victim than Visigoth.

This was especially true during the orgy of front-page headlines triggered by the appellate decision to throw him off the ballot. Turns out a key supporter of Gery Chico is Alderman Edward Burke, longtime boss of the South Side’s 14th Ward and chair of the city council’s powerful finance committee. Burke is also longtime chair of the county Democratic Party’s judicial slating committee. That means hundreds of judges in the state’s court system—including the two Appellate jurists who ruled against Emanuel in the 2-1 decision—owe their black robes, however indirectly, to “Eddy” Burke.

So as the city waited for the Supremes to affirm or overturn, news analysts wondered aloud whether Burke would dare lean on a sitting judge for a ruling favorable to Chico? Meanwhile, reporters flocked to the Supreme Court chambers of Justice Anne Burke, who happens to be the alderman’s wife, to ask whether she would recuse herself from deliberations. (She didn’t, siding with the 7-0 majority for Emanuel.)

But all that’s history. The campaigns now can get back to the issues … although, even this policy wonk must admit this has been more interesting than tax increment financing.