Tag Archives: Missouri

Parties and the press

JEFFERSON CITY – The Jefferson City press corps has voted to give the Missouri Times until the end of March to clean up the news organization’s ethics mess or face the possibility of losing credentials to cover events in Missouri’s state capital.

Ten representatives of wire service, print and broadcast news organizations met Monday to discuss the lobbyist-sponsored parties that Times’ publisher Scott Faughn had held for lawmakers at the newspaper’s office in Jefferson City. While some press corps members appeared ready to vote to take away the Times’ allocation of capital office and parking spaces, the group approved a motion giving it the chance to draft a newsroom policy of editorial independence as well as time to demonstrate that the lobbyist-sponsored parties were no longer taking place.

Collin Reischman, the Times’ managing editor, told the group Faughn was not a journalist and was unschooled in ethics policies. And Reischman said Faughn was trying to hire a consultant to give advice on the development of a mission statement, an employee handbook and “best practices” that would prevent problems in the future.

“I do take issue with the way Scott does things,” Reischman said. “I told him fifty different times that he shouldn’t do them again. If it were up to me, there wouldn’t be any parties.”

While capital city reporters and lawmakers had been aware of the Times’ parties for months, the issue became public Jan. 4 when Rudi Keller of the Columbia Daily Tribune reported details of as many as six events, including the fact they “went largely unreported to the state Ethics Commission.”

James Klahr, the executive director of the Missouri Ethics Commission, said Tuesday that “it would be a good idea” for lobbyists who spend money on lawmakers, either individually or in a group settings like the Times’ parties, to report it to the commission.

The reporting requirements aside, several reporters present for Monday’s meeting said the parties violated journalistic ethical standards by creating an apparent, if not a real, conflict of interest.

“This has raised credibility questions for us,” said Phill Brooks, a journalism professor at the University of Missouri and the KMOX radio reporter covering the capital. “We uphold standards of editorial independence and the avoidance of a conflict of interest.”

Brooks noted that two years ago, when the press corps first accredited the Missouri Times, he requested a written policy that described its editorial independence since both the Times’ founders, Faughn and former House Speaker Rod Jetton, had been involved in politics. Brooks said he never got the policy.

POLITICAL ACTIVITIES

The Times publishes a weekly print product that’s distributed free of charge, and makes stories available on an Internet website: http://themissouritimes.com. Reischman said the press run is usually 1,000 to 2,000 issues, but sometimes has been as large as 5,000. The publication has two full time reporters, Reischman and Rachael Herndon, whose editorial independence was questioned during Monday’s meeting.

Herndon was identified as the president of the Cole County Young Republicans as recently as June of last year. Copies of emails were distributed at Monday’s meeting showing that prior to the November general election, Herndon was going door-to-door campaigning in behalf of Bryan Stumpe, the Republican candidate for Cole County circuit judge. In encouraging others to work for Stumpe, Herndon’s email said, “The current judge is one of the last Democrats holding office in Cole County.” The incumbent judge, Patricia Joyce, retained her seat.

“Standards that we expect are not being met when a company is soliciting lobbyists for parties and a reporter working for a paper is a party operative,” Keller said.

“I’m not denying that that was problem,” Reischman responded, “But we are rectifying that now.”

In an interview, Reischman said he had been aware of Herndon’s prior political work and that he had told her she had to stop it. But he said he apparently hadn’t been emphatic enough on that point. “I should have been more clear,” he said. Since then, Reischman said, he had had a “come to Jesus meeting” with Herndon, and she remains a reporter.

Neither Faughn nor Herndon responded to a Gateway Journalism Review reporter’s requests for comment.

According to the Missouri Times web site, Herndon studied communication and art history at the University of Missouri in Columbia, and previously worked as a campaign staff member. Reischman has a journalism degree from Webster University.

The web site also describes Faughn as the Missouri Times’ publisher and president of SEMO TIMES, a weekly newspaper in Poplar Bluff, Mo. It also describes Faughn as a member of the St. Louis Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. The SPJ’s Code of Ethics says journalists should “avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived” and “remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.” The code also says journalists should “refuse gifts” and shun “political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.”

Faughn is the former mayor of Poplar Bluff. In 2007 he was convicted in Cape Girardeau County of three counts of forgery.

ALLOCATING SPACE

Journalists covering state government are members of the Missouri Capitol News Association. The organization meets infrequently as the need arises, usually to allocate resources for reporters such as office accommodations, parking spaces and a spot at the Senate press table.

The organization’s bylaws require that for an entity to be credentialed, it must distribute news to a broad segment of the public, be independent of any lobbying activity and demonstrate its ability to cover the capital for at least six months. In addition to the Missouri School of Journalism, KMOX and the Columbia Tribune, journalists at Monday’s meeting represented the Associated Press, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Kansas City Star, St. Louis Public Radio, the Missourinet, KRCG-TV, and the Jefferson City News Tribune.

After agreeing that Monday’s meeting was open to coverage by the Gateway Journalism Review, the group discussed plans by the Republican-controlled state Senate to remove reporters from a press table on the floor of the chamber and sequester them in a spot in an upper gallery. It also voted to accredit Eli Yokley, who writes for a blog Politicmo and supplies news to the Joplin Globe, KY3-TV in Springfield and the New York Times.

After airing the controversy about the Missouri Times, the group agreed to reassess the news organization’s performance at a meeting that will be scheduled some time around the legislative Spring break, the last week of March.

Missouri film wins Chinese ‘Oscar’

A film that recounts the Joplin Globe’s coverage of the deadly tornado that devastated that southwestern Missouri city in May 2011 has won the China Academy Award for Documentary Film in the Foreign Language category.

The Missouri film, “Deadline in Disaster,” beat competition that included a National Geographic project that focused on the decade of the 1980s and a BBC documentary on the history of the world.

More than 160 people were killed in the Joplin tornado, including an employee of the newspaper. The documentary recounted how the newspaper staff overcame personal hardships to help the community cope with the tragedy.

“Deadline in Disaster” was funded by the Missouri Press Association Foundation, and was directed by Beth Pike and Stephen Hudnell, both Emmy-award winning journalists. Also assisting in the project was Scott Charton, a former Associated Press correspondent.

More information about the film can be found at the website http://www.deadlineindisaster.com

Student paper at Webster University faces cuts

The longtime student newspaper at Webster University, the Journal, was facing an uncertain future this spring as the administration’s budget ax was about to swing.

The weekly Journal, reporting on its own chances of survival, said its 30 issues a year might be cut to four or five in the 2015 budget, and the number of student staffers receiving pay could be cut from 10 to two.

Some students and faculty believe the administration is upset over controversial stories the Journal has done, and one way of putting a clamp on the upstart newspaper is through the budget. But this is disputed by Webster’s public relations spokesman, Patrick Giblin.

Eric Rothenbuhler, dean of the School of Communications, said in an email to Gateway Journalism Review March 31 that “the budget plans are still under discussion.” He added that when the university’s board of trustees finally approves the cuts in May, the story will be about “what we are doing to improve our journalism program and the student media here at Webster.”

The Journal has reported that Webster has predicted a budget shortfall for the second year in a row, and that the 2015 budget needs to be reduced by $6 million from last year’s budget. Webster’s total budget for the 2014 year was $221.4 million, with 95 percent of revenue coming from tuition. Webster has struggled with declining enrollments over the past few years, according to Journal stories.

Cuts also would be made for the Ampersand student magazine and the Galaxy student radio station. But the Journal cuts have aroused the most opposition among students, faculty and media advisers, causing a large turnout at a Student Government Association meeting in March.

Rothenbuhler told the Journal that when students heard about the proposed cuts, “it was unfortunate, but it happened.” He said his plan was to make the School of Communications “more digitally oriented” so as to follow other universities that are moving to digital student media.

“It is possible to save a little money on printing and shift some resources from print to digital,” Rothenbuhler was quoted as saying.

The faculty adviser for the Journal, Larry Baden, said the budget cuts proposed by Rothenbuhler would cut the Journal’s printing budget, going from about $30,000 a year to $5,000 a year, thereby reducing the number of issues to four or five.

“I’m greatly concerned,” Baden said. “It’s important there be a printed newspaper, and that people have access to it.”

He said he was not in favor of switching the Journal’s reporting to mainly digital media, because he believes not as many readers would go online. He also said he thinks the newspaper provides a better opportunity for the student journalists to learn about reporting, editing and layout.

Gabe Burns, a junior, will become the Journal’s editor-in-chief next year, but he wonders how he will be able to put together a staff if the budget cuts are made.

“It will severely hurt the program,” Burns said.

He noted that the Journal pulls in about $27,000 a year in advertising, with 70 percent going back to the university. He said he’s also concerned that most of the paid positions will be eliminated.

“It’s more than just the money,” Burns said of his newspaper experience. “It helps my education.”

He said the Journal is respected by students, faculty and university employees, and it keeps the campus community informed and entertained.

When asked if he thought the cuts might be less severe, Burns replied, “I’m hopeful, but not optimistic.”

Some believe the Journal’s aggressive reporting have made it a target. Here are some stories that may have rankled school officials:

  • The university bought replacement homes to house its president, Elizabeth Stroble, and its provost, Julian Schuster, costing $935,000 and $385,000, respectively.
  • The university spent heavily to establish a chess team by luring grandmaster Susan Polgar and her team from Texas Tech.
  • Funding was found for two associate dean positions in the School of Communications.
  • A professor at the Geneva campus of Webster University was charged, along with three others, in the slaying of a man in California. She is in custody awaiting trial.

Some observers think the Journal is quick to shine an unfavorable light on the administration, but they add that administration officials are too thin-skinned and can’t tolerate criticism. Rothenbuhler, who students think is not well-versed in newspapering, and Baden have been at loggerheads, with Rothenbuhler coming to the Journal office to voice his concerns regarding stories.

Baden said there often is contention between university student newspapers and school officials.

“I’ve been assured that this (controversial stories) has nothing to do with what’s being proposed,” he said. “I’m hopeful that’s the case.”

Social media campaign by former Post-Dispatch writer alleges mistakes in series about mistakes

The “Jailed by Mistake” project published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch this past fall had all of the earmarks of enterprising journalism in the public interest.

The series grew out of a letter that prisoner Dwayne A. Jackson sent the Post-Dispatch in January, 2012, complaining that he had spent three months in jail after St. Louis police picked him up on criminal charges against another Dwayne A. Jackson.

Jennifer Mann and Robert Patrick reported on the miscarriage of justice against Jackson, then started digging and filing Sunshine Act requests – all the while covering their daily beats. By the time the project went to press Oct. 27, the Post-Dispatch reported that 100 people had been arrested in error over the past seven years and spent a collective 2,000 days in jail.

In many instances, one family member with criminal trouble would use the identity of another family member or a friend. The aliases resulted in a welter of police and court records that were hard for police, prosecutors, judges and reporters to sort out.

The stories garnered national attention in Slate, which wrote: “The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has been doing some great work lately reporting on the number of mistaken-identity arrests in that city.” The St. Louis American praised the series and said it should win a Pulitzer. KTRS-AM morning host McGraw Milhaven interviewed Patrick for 15 minutes, saying the stories were “scary stuff” and “great work.”

The series seemed to epitomize Joseph Pulitzer’s “Platform,” published every day in the Post-Dispatch, to “never tolerate injustice” and “never lack sympathy with the poor.”

But in the months since publication, a former Post-Dispatch editorial writer who went to work for St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay meticulously documented what he thinks were mistakes in the series about mistakes. The top Slay administration official, Eddie Roth, has gone about it in an unorthodox way: publishing a series of criticisms on his Facebook page running even longer than the original series.

The Post-Dispatch at first stood by its stories. Then, after Gateway Journalism Review published a story in November about Roth’s questions, the paper acknowledged an error. Cortez Cooper, whom the paper had cited prominently for having served 36 days in jail for a charge against his brother, turned out not to have served time.

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce joined the criticism. After auditing 10 percent of the Post-Dispatch’s 100 cases, she concluded that the paper had overstated the days wrongfully served in jail by 550. She said she assumed there were similar errors in the other 90 percent of the cases, which would substantially lower the number of days reported. In a Nov. 26 letter to editor Gilbert Bailon, she called for an independent audit of the stories’ accuracy.

Bailon said nothing about an independent audit in his Dec. 11 response. He provided the paper’s timelines on the cases that Joyce had singled out. He said the paper stood “ready and willing to correct any factual errors” but would need to see the documentation of the mistakes.

Joyce responded with a letter of her own stating, that she couldn’t make confidential records available to the paper: “…your reporters’ conclusions have a significant potential to be inaccurate … because they lack access to the information required for this analysis. … The Post-Dispatch does not have the legal authority or legal access to the documents needed to verify the accuracy of the documents you are representing to the public.”

The letters between Joyce and Bailon concentrated on several cases where Joyce said prisoners were jailed for their own parole or probation problems, not mistakenly for relatives’ charges as the Post-Dispatch had reported.

In one case, Joyce wrote that Jason Thomas was held 117 days on his own “parole hold” rather than for a charge against his brother Daniel, as the Post-Dispatch had reported. Bailon responded by saying that the Department of Corrections had told the paper that Jason’s parole never had been revoked, so “there was no parole violation to hold him on.” Joyce acidly replied to GJR that she stood by her claim, and that “we understand the difference between a parole hold and a parole violation.”

A “parole hold” means a criminal convict is being confined because of suspected parole violations. A person on parole hold can be lawfully detained pending a parole revocation hearing, even if parole ultimately is not revoked.

As Joyce wrote to GJR: “We have access to all sources of data, including many that are not available to non-law enforcement personnel. We have the legal expertise that allows us to accurately interpret the data.” The Post-Dispatch does not have access to confidential court documents needed to paint the entire picture of a case, she said.

For their part, Mann, Patrick and their main editor on the series, Pat Gauen, said in an interview at the newspaper’s headquarters in December that Joyce and Roth stonewalled them on records and refused to deal with them seriously on the story. They called Roth’s Facebook venue a “one-sided outlet where you can say whatever you want to say.”

The real injustice, said Patrick, is “it seems … you are guilty of being who they say until you prove otherwise. … A lot of people will walk around with a record of a court order … if (the police chief) is saying that is what you have to do … we have a problem.”

Lawyer-Journalist

Roth is a lawyer and former St. Louis Police Board president who decided a decade ago to switch to journalism. After a stint at the Dayton Daily News, he worked on the Post-Dispatch editorial page until 2011, when he joined the administration of Mayor Francis Slay. He is the mayor’s director of operations.

Few newspaper investigations are put under the microscope like this one by a person who knows both the law and the conventions of journalism.

Here are the main criticisms that Roth and Joyce have made:

  • The Post-Dispatch did not talk to most of the 100 people whom the paper said were wrongly jailed. The reporters said they talked to the defendant or lawyer in about a dozen cases. One who wasn’t interviewed, Cortez Cooper, never was jailed as the series stated.
  • The characterization of the system as “broken” was “false and inflammatory,” Roth said. The paper’s own data show errors to be rare and declining significantly. “The P-D used every trick in the book to obscure that reality,” wrote Roth, who added: “Why? Because a story about a system that works well and steadily improves under difficult circumstances … isn’t big news.”
  • The Post-Dispatch’s methodology was flawed. Reporters could not get access to relevant confidential documents. The stories were heavily based on police and court records that prosecutors warned before publication would lead to factual errors.
  • The series accused top city officials of blaming the victims and exhibiting indifference based on statements taken out of context.
  • The newspaper switched the burden of proof for its story to the city by saying it would report what the public records showed unless the city was able to refute the records.
  • The one correction that the paper eventually made was grudging.
  • The newspaper has never reported that Joyce says its numbers are exaggerated. “To this day, the Post-Dispatch has not told its readers that the chief prosecutor for the City of St. Louis has found profound errors and exaggerations,” Roth said.
  • Some of the paper’s claims were stated as facts without attribution or qualification, even though they were based on sometimes faulty records.
  • The paper mischaracterized a lawsuit it cited in suggesting there could be “hundreds” of mistaken arrests. The paper said lawyers were “planning a class action,” even though the court already had turned down class certification.

The Numbers

Most of the Post-Dispatch’s 100 cases were older ones. Roth said half were five years or older, and only about a dozen related to the past two years. That is out of a universe of 30,000 arrests a year.

“The reporters found fewer than one case a month in 2012, and about one case every other month in 2013 – a steady and marked improvement in the system over the five-year average,” he said.

Mann and Patrick said one reason there are fewer recent cases is that their Sunshine Act request covered the period up to early 2012, and that the cost of obtaining computer records for 2009-2010 was deemed excessive.

Post-Dispatch editors decided not to pay about $750 to $1,000 to obtain some 70 computerized records for that period, even though Mann urged the editors to obtain them.

Gauen said he didn’t regret the decision made by other editors not to pay for the records. “I’ll stand by the decision,” Gauen said, adding: “I don’t think they are that important.” He said the project never was driven by the magnitude of the numbers.

One factor in the debate over the numbers is a lawsuit pending in federal court on the issue of wrongful imprisonments. The stories reported that lawyers “planning a class action” claim to “have discovered more than 80 wrongful arrest cases with their own research and believe the actual number could be hundreds.”

Roth maintained that the “reporters used the specter of a ‘class action’ to create the impression of a vast trove of cases that might be coming before the federal court. If the reporters knew that the request for class certification had been denied months earlier (and, indeed, had been found ‘futile’ by the federal court) they should have informed their readers.

Patrick said, however, that the lawyers in the case acknowledge they asked for class certification too soon and are planning to file a new class-action case. He and Mann emphasized they were extremely conservative in their investigation and suspected the number of people wrongfully jailed was considerably higher than the 100 they reported. If the city had provided the information it sought, they would have been able to better verify their numbers, they said.

At a hearing in early January in the court case, U.S. District Judge Audrey Fleissig said in court that the city had clearly been negligent in the case of Cedric Wright, who spent 58 days in jail in 2011 on another man’s charges.  The other man apparently had used Wright’s name as an alias. The city knew that one of three charges against Wright was bogus but didn’t take the next step of freeing him from two related bogus charges.

Roth said he couldn’t comment on the particular case but said, “People make mistakes. The mistakes are infrequent. We regret every one of them — as evidenced by a system that fundamentally is high performing and constantly improving.”

On the burden of proof issue, the reporters and editors say they didn’t switch the burden to the city officials. They said they simply wanted to give city officials time to respond to their evidence.

But Joyce told Bailon: “If the Post-Dispatch is adopting a standard where such complex and historical data is published as fact unless corrected by this office, I can only believe that such a standard will lead to further inaccuracies.”

The Case of Cortez Cooper

Roth points to Cortez Cooper to illustrate several criticisms: the failure to talk to defendants, the absence of attribution for important claims and the grudging approach to correcting errors.

The Post-Dispatch’s original story stated without qualification:

“Earlier this year, Cortez Cooper spent more than a month in jail because his brother, Cecil Cooper, used his name during a drug arrest before being released pending charges. Despite a fingerprint report within 21 hours showing that the wanted man was really Cecil, an arrest warrant was issued two months later for Cortez. He was jailed for 36 days.”

Roth said this statement should have been attributed because it was based entirely on records, and the newspaper had acknowledged in a disclaimer that the records “can be inconsistent or inaccurate.”

The Post-Dispatch editorial page contacted Roth the day after the story ran to ask why Cortez Cooper had been wrongly jailed. (The editorial page ended up not writing an editorial.)

Roth and Joyce determined that the claim was wrong, and the Gateway Journalism Review brought the Cooper case to Bailon’s attention. By this time, Patrick had made contact with Cortez, and he said he never was jailed.

Cortez and his mother went to police headquarters with Patrick tagging along. Police, once again confusing one Cooper for the other, handcuffed Cortez. He was released after a short time when he showed police a court paper explaining the situation.

Patrick’s front-page story the next day focused on the problems Cortez had at police headquarters. Under the headline, “Man battles to free himself from St. Louis police paperwork glitch,” Patrick reported the Cortez faced “another episode in the record-keeping system that contributes to a wrongful arrest problem, outlined in a Post-Dispatch investigation published Oct. 27. The paper reported that at least 100 people had spent more than 2,000 days behind bars on wrongful arrests, based on available records over about five years.”

The story then included these paragraphs, which Roth views as a grudging, confusing correction:

“Eddie Roth, operations director for Mayor Francis Slay, … challenged the story’s characterization that Cortez Cooper had been wrongly held for 36 days in the drug case against Cecil Cooper.

Neither he nor other officials would provide proof to contradict what was otherwise clearly stated in jail records and police arrest logs: that Cortez was arrested and held on a warrant that turned out to be intended for Cecil.

Interviewed for the first time Monday, Cortez Cooper acknowledged that he was never jailed.”

The day after the story and correction ran, McGraw Milhaven interviewed Patrick on KTRS radio for 15 minutes. Much of the interview focused on Cortez Cooper’s problems. Patrick did not mention that the series had mistakenly said Cortez was jailed. Patrick said he did not mention the error because Milhaven was interested in the rest of the story about Cortez being handcuffed at police headquarters.

Based on Patrick’s account of what happened to Cortez, Milhaven remarked, “It sounds to me like these people were just walking down the street and the cops said, ‘Hey, you, we want to talk to you,’ and they arrest the guy thinking it is somebody else.”

This is exactly what St. Louis public officials say is not happening. Susan Ryan, a public relations consultant for Joyce, said in a videotaped interview with the Post-Dispatch before the series ran that it was important for citizens to know that the average person “isn’t driving down the street and being stopped and arrested for something he didn’t do.”

She said that, in the main cases the Post-Dispatch reported, the person wrongly jailed already was in the criminal justice system.

Asked if she meant that people with criminal records should be treated differently, Ryan responded: “I’m not saying that at all. I think that all three agencies would tell you that they take this very seriously, and they don’t want anybody wrongly arrested.”

Callous Indifference?

The Post-Dispatch cited Ryan’s comment as a sign that city officials’ attitudes had hardened after the initial stories in 2012, when Roth and others talked about the importance of avoiding any mistakes.

The suggestion of indifference offended Roth from the moment the series hit the street with a front-page read-out headline quoting him saying: “I don’t worry about this.”

The quote got a lot of attention. The Huffington Post reported that “of the public officials interviewed for the piece, Eddie Roth, a senior aide to St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, comes off the most callous.”

The St. Louis American said Roth looked like a “callous, ignorant jerk.” Later, the American suggested that Roth’s New Year’s resolution should be: “I resolve to start worrying about the fact that the city whose operations I direct has a record of arresting and incarcerating the wrong people, leaving actual criminals at large.”

Roth complained immediately to the Post about the quote, and it added a sentence: He said he has faith in the system’s ability to correct mistakes.”

The Post-Dispatch reporters and editors were split on whether to add the sentence. Mann opposed the addition, arguing that Roth would claim – as he did – that it was an admission of error. Gauen decided to add the sentence out of an abundance of caution.

“I don’t think it changed anything,” he said.

But Roth still thought the paper misrepresented what he said. Here is what he said:

“We like stuff done right. And so … we don’t like to see things that might not be right. Even though we can look at this and say the chances of a citizen getting mistakenly caught up in the system is almost to the vanishing point in its rarity, we understand how important this is to the process, and we don’t like any of them. We don’t want there to be any. So, if we see any, we don’t like it.

“We take some comfort — I take some comfort — in knowing we have a really excellent system, with really dedicated people. I don’t worry at night, and worry is kind of my main form of fitness exercise. I worry about a lot of things, I don’t worry about this even though I know it is imperfect…. But I don’t like to get any of them wrong, and the idea that anybody would spend one minute more in jail then they are required to is not something that is satisfactory to me.”

Misdirection?

Gauen called the claims by city officials “baloney” and “misdirection” designed to distract from the serious injustices the paper uncovered. He said he was “flabbergasted there is not more interest in fixing the problem.” Mann added that the city had not yet obtained mobile fingerprint devices for district stations, a step that could address the problem.

Said Gauen: “I think that their attempt to spin this thing has embarrassed them, and they are withdrawing. They are very resistant to representing their point in any serious way. … I have the impression that Jennifer Joyce is done … that they have declared victory and left the field.”

He added: “These are people who have their own agendas” who take any “shred that we were wrong” as an excuse not to “look any deeper” at the problem because they “don’t want to see anything deeper.”

Gauen also said “… the records are wrong. Nobody seems to have an interest in going back and fixing the records. … They never suggested they had any remorse” for giving people like Cortez Cooper a criminal record.

Roth responded that “the Post-Dispatch reporters came to us with questions not about errors in records, but about whether people were being jailed by mistake. That’s what the reporters asked about. They called their exposé: ‘Jailed by Mistake.’”

Roth said Gauen’s statements were “angry words, not words of a measured, thoughtful editor. This is a major reason why Post-Dispatch readers deserve, as the circuit attorney has recommended, an independent evaluation of the reporting and stories.”

He added that “the editors and reporters are offended at having been publicly confronted with their errors and omissions. They also appear to resent how new media gives people aggrieved by flawed journalism a chance to correct the record. They … mount no serious defense to the detailed criticisms of their investigative, reporting and editing methods. Instead, they lash out. … This illustrates how uncomfortable these editors and reporters are with the give-and-take of serious social media.”

Freivogel, publisher of Gateway Journalism Review, is a former St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter and editor, and a colleague of Eddie Roth and the Post-Dispatch reporters and editors involved in the series.

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.

Reporters get ethics, law wrong in vacated murder sentence

Editor’s note: This is a preview of a story that appears in the winter 2014 print edition of Gateway Journalism Review.

When Ryan Ferguson was released from prison Nov. 12 where he had been serving time for the murder of a newspaper sports editor, television journalists from across the country swooped down on Columbia, Mo., home of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism.

The big story provided a teaching moment for one professor, concerned about accuracy, media ethics and the appearance of objectivity. A lesson was to be learned, too, about convergence, and how an event can be transformed or amplified by the various forms of media buzzing around it.

Ferguson’s release prompted live television coverage that showed reporters hugging members of his family, Internet postings and blog entries containing inaccuracies, and Twitter-fed debates over whether journalists should be cheerleaders. On national television, a network legal affairs correspondent misinterpreted a Missouri court opinion.

“I was appalled really at the media circus that went on after Ryan was released,” said Jim Robertson, managing editor of the Columbia Daily Tribune. “It just made me feel cynical about our profession.”

Ferguson spent nearly 10 years behind bars for the murder of Kent Heitholt, a Tribune sports editor who was found strangled and beaten in the newspaper’s parking lot on Nov. 1, 2001.

Mills to step down as dean of Mizzou’s School of Journalism

Dean Mills, who has served as dean of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism for nearly 25 years, announced Feb. 6 that he would be stepping down effective Aug. 31.

“I realize I can’t hold onto this job forever just because I continue to enjoy it,” Mills wrote in an email to his colleagues. “It’s time (some of you might say way past time) for the school to have a new dean.”

Mills will remain on the campus in a part-time position as director of the fellows program at the Reynolds Journalism Institute, an enterprise launched and funded during Mills’ tenure to experiment with new ways to deliver journalism.

Steve Weinberg, author of a history of the world’s oldest journalism school, said Mills leaves a legacy that includes expansion of the school’s international connections, especially in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

With Mills leading the journalism school, the female faculty was expanded “with the gender gap closing significantly,” Weinberg said.

Mills earned a doctorate in communications in 1981 from the University of Illinois. Before coming to Missouri in 1989, he served as director of the Pennsylvania State University’s School of Journalism before becoming coordinator of graduate study in communications at California State University-Fullerton.

Mills also served as Moscow bureau chief for the Baltimore Sun in 1969 and worked as a reporter in Washington, D.C., between 1972 and 1975.

Covering the St. Louis winter

This winter, the most-talked-about local news is the weather. It seems like every few days we have another storm of some type.

This puts extra pressure on the local television stations who know that people are tuning in to see what it is going to do – and when.

Technology has helped weather coverage a great deal. All of the stations can now broadcast video of conditions around the area live as their reporters and photographers drive around.

This was valuable in this week’s storm, as different parts of the area were affected in different ways. While the snow was relatively light in Kirkwood, reporters in St. Charles County showed a different (and more snowy) picture there.

This is the kind of coverage that can be very valuable.

However, sometimes viewers feel it can go too far. Some were upset Feb. 4, when KSDK Channel 5 pre-empted “Jeopardy” for extended weather coverage. But given the danger of the storm for drivers, it probably was the right call.

All of our local stations have, for the most part, done a superb job keeping people informed, ranging from accurate forecasting to updates from the Missouri Department of Transportation and Illinois Department of Transportation on road conditions.

We are lucky to have several good on-air meteorologists. Here is my ranking of the top five, along with a few honorable mentions:

  1. Dave Murray (KTVI) is the dean of local weathercasters. He is the consummate professional who is passionate about weather as he keeps viewers informed in a way all can understand. He is willing to go out on a limb four times a year with seasonal forecasts. Then he is willing to grade himself on how accurate the forecast was. The only downside (and most likely not in his control) is the lack of forecast detail he provides during his second appearance in the 9 p.m. newscast. People who miss his first forecast (which occurs in the first half-hour) don’t get much from his second forecast.
  2. Mike Roberts (KSDK) is best described as smooth and soothing. His forecasts are understandable and delivered in a very conversational way. He clearly enjoys what he is doing, and that comes across to viewers.
  3. Chester Lampkin (KSDK) is a newcomer who has the potential to go a long way. He is extremely likable, but also knowledgeable. When he makes a mistake, such as mispronouncing a community, he is quick to correct it. Viewers can tell he wants to get it right. Lampkin clearly has a future in a major market or national role if he so chooses.
  4. Kristen Cornett (KMOV) is Channel 4’s best on-air meteorologist, even though she rarely appears in prime time. She comes across as a person who enjoys telling viewers about what’s coming. She can be light when the forecast is sunny and quite serious when the weather turns bad.
  5. Chris Higgins (KTVI) is the workhorse of weather at Channel 2. Viewers may find him in studio, outside, or driving through the snow to report on current conditions. He is always easy to understand – and, like all the others in the top five, comes across as competent and nice.

Honorable mentions for superior work go to:

  • Kent Ehrhardt (KMOV).
  • Angela Hutti (KTVI).
  • Cindy Preszler(KSDK).
  • Bree Smith (KSDK).
  • Glenn Zimmerman (KTVI).

Finally, we cannot forget John Fuller, one of the longest running on-air weather personalities in town. The venerable Fuller spent years on Channel 5, then moved to the Channel 2/11 operation. He has a consistent, no-nonsense style combined with a pleasant smile. Viewers just have to like him.

4-degree guarantee

KMOV should consider revamping its current “4-degree guarantee” program. The idea is if the forecast high temperature for the next day is within 4 degrees of the actual temperature, a charity gets $50. It’s a great idea. Still, it should be refined. After all, the forecast actually is a 9-degree guarantee, as the station considers its forecast correct if the temperature is exact, 4 degrees too high or 4 degrees too low. Because it is such a wide range, the station should consider an even higher donation if it misses the range. Perhaps instead of a charity getting nothing (as it does now), the station should fork over $100 for any it misses. This idea would have almost no impact on KMOV’s annual budget, but it potentially could have a big impact on a small charity that needs the money.

Weather bloopers

During all the recent bad weather befalling St. Louis, the news, weather and traffic people have had to spend hours and hours talking on live television. Naturally, this resulted in some bloopers. Here are a few, though none are intended as criticisms; given all the live coverage, mistakes naturally happen. It does not tarnish any of these people’s reputations in any way.

  • Channel 2’s Anthony Kiekow had a problem with grammar as he told viewers, “I’ll give you an idea of how much snow has fell.”
  • Channel 5’s Sara Dayley informed her audience that “Highway 70 is closed west of 70 due to an accident.”
  • Channel 4’s Katie Horner was showing her “futurecast” map of when snow would be falling. She said, “As we approach rush hour, notice the snow is really coming down.” Unfortunately, the map showed absolutely no snow over the St. Louis area at that time.
  • Even NBC’s Brian Williams was a bit off as he reported on the weather; he called the storm “a rare and unusual event.” Is that redundant, or repetitive?