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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Covering the Federal Budget

Linda Topping Streitfeld by Linda Topping Streitfeld 0 comments

Linda Topping Streitfeld

Federal budget season is here in Washington again, and the National Press Foundation has some help for journalists who seek to cover it. Steve Gettinger, Deputy Managing Editor of CQ Weekly, and NPR Senior Business News Editor Marilyn Geewax came in to talk about the budget. Their half-hour chat is here.

Geewax had some tips:

* Look for how the budget affects real people. Can you locate a household in which a new child-care tax credit would enable a parent to return to work? What road or bridge work is NOT getting done in your community because of uncertainty about funding the Highway Trust Fund? How would free community college benefit say, nursing students at a private school? And what do current students think about a possible influx into their already-crowded classes?

* Don’t be caught up in politically generated hysteria around the debt ceiling, “fiscal cliff,” or threats that the government will shut down. With rare exceptions, things are resolved.

* Talk to people who have been around for a while: members, committee staff, agency staff and knowledgeable lobbyists.

When writing about the annual budget process, remember that we’re only talking about a third of the complete national budget. The rest is spent on things that automatically renew, including Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, etc.

Other topics: Annual spending, debt. vs. deficit, dynamic scoring, the sequester. Watch here.

Some historical context from Gettinger, whose notes are here. My favorite highlights:

* The U.S. government lived without a budget for 132 years, until passage of the 1921 Budget Act. Before that, agencies went straight to Congress to ask for money.

* Lyndon Johnson expanded his budget to account for all types of receipts and expenditures – including loans, fees, and special treatment for Social Security (which happened to help make the deficit from the Vietnam War look smaller).

* A weakened Richard Nixon was forced to sign the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974. This set up what we know today as “regular order.”

Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, now Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University, has strong feelings about how far we have diverged from that process. I spoke to him via Skype, and you can see the conversation here. Hamilton also is a big fan of good journalism, though he laments how few journalists really understand the massive and complex federal budget.

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Monday, January 26, 2015

When Super Bowl Becomes Super Bowl™

Kevin M. Goldberg by Kevin M. Goldberg 0 comments

Every year about this time a certain professional football game seems to attract national – no, international – attention. Its popularity raises the temptation to set up events, promotions, contests or general advertisements leading up and into the “Big Game.” As I recently noted in a post for my firm’s Commlawblog, the NFL actively polices its trademarks, including “Super Bowl” and many others. Some may say they’re over the top, seemingly cracking down on anyone who uses the league name or logos, team name or logos or any use of the words “Super” and/or “Bowl” in conjunction with commercial promotions or events; others would go so far as to say the league’s actions rate a “scandalous” tag (and not just with regard to trademark enforcement). Follow the links embedded in my post to learn the NFL’s attempts to stop the use of terms that would only seem to be tangentially-related to the Super Bowl trademark.

The good news: there is still significant leeway for legitimate non-commercial use of these trademarked terms, especially in your news coverage. As I explain, you can use Super Bowl, team names and logos and other trademarks in “bona fide news stories before and after the game.” The line is crossed when you use them in a way that suggests an official connection between you and the league or teams (especially in a way that creates the impression that the league endorses your publication, station or website).

Where the NFL and its trademarks are concerned, it’s clearly not all fun and games.

Kevin M. Goldberg is an attorney at Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth LLC and he is vice chairman of the National Press Foundation.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

#DidYouKnow: Rules for Hiring Interns

Kevin M. Goldberg by Kevin M. Goldberg 0 comments

By Kevin M. Goldberg

My work as an attorney focuses mainly on the “pure journalism law” issues facing reporters and the media in the areas of First Amendment, access to information, copyright, trademark, et al. But from time to time I see a related issue that just grabs my attention. As a former journalism intern, recent litigation over the legality of unpaid internships is one of those issues.

Full disclosure: You should know that the National Press Foundation, where I serve as vice chairman of the board of directors, pays its interns minimum wage.

If you haven’t been following, the issue is pretty simple. In April 2010, the United States Department of Labor released its “Fact Sheet # 71: Internships Under the [FLSA]” which provided some clarification on whether interns performing work for a for-profit business have to be paid a minimum wage under federal law. The fact sheet identified six criteria to help determine whether interns should be paid:

1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;

2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;

3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;

4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern, and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;

5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and

6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

It didn’t take long for former interns – and enterprising lawyers willing to represent them – to start filing lawsuits. As I explain in a post I wrote for my firm’s “CommLawBlog” in August 2013, these were mostly filed in federal court in New York and were mostly successful. More lawsuits ensued.

Things took another turn in 2014, as I explained in a second post for CommLawBlog. Despite significant success in early litigation, the interns’ fortunes got even better when a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted “conditional class certification” to former Gawker interns. This will make it easier for formerly unidentified plaintiffs to join this case and makes it more likely that other cases will be filed in the future.

In summary, while the days of unpaid internships of the type I enjoyed – where I was just happy to get experience and some school credit – may be numbered. At the very least, many media – and other – companies will have to look closely at their internship programs and determine whether changes are warranted to ensure they fully comply with the Department of Labor’s and federal courts’ interpretations of who qualifies as an “unpaid intern” and who should be paid.

Kevin M. Goldberg is an attorney at Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth LLC and he is vice chairman of the National Press Foundation.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Aftermath of Ferguson

by Sandy K Johnson 0 comments

Ferguson wasn’t the first news story fraught with racial overtones and it won’t be the last. White cop shoots black man, the story that erupted from Ferguson last August and picked up steam with similar violence in New York City and Cleveland. “Hands up, don’t shoot” went viral on Twitter.

What happens when a newsroom finds itself in that vortex? What happens when hundreds of reporters from across the country and across the world find their way to your community to cover a story like Ferguson?

The story exploded within 24 hours, putting enormous pressure on local newsrooms including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the dominant regional media.

The challenge: “We could keep up with the daily stuff but how do you do that and still look at some of the in-depth issues and the systemic issues that caused Ferguson to happen in the first place?” said Adam Goodman, Post-Dispatch assistant managing editor. Watch Post-Dispatch editors explain their coverage in this video (below).

As the Post-Dispatch struggled to cover the breaking news story and the underlying causes, reporters from all over began parachuting in. Many of them were reporters of color and they felt keenly the importance of accurately portraying the story. One of them, AP’s race and ethnicity reporter Jesse Holland, said it was a story he couldn’t resist.

“The story was too big for me not to go,” Holland told journalists at an NPF seminar. He felt a responsibility to get the story right.

“We have to pay attention to not just the facts of the story. We have to pay attention to how we present those facts,” Holland said.

Back at the Post-Dispatch, the newsroom wrestled with that every day.

“Small words make a big difference,” news editor Ron Wade said. The newspaper was criticized for an online headline that referred to a “mob” that formed after the shooting of Michael Brown. “That angered the community and they saw us as painting them in a certain light that created tensions.” It is a fine line that the media walks to this day.

Holland noted that the United States will become a majority minority nation in a few decades, and that every policy issue has gradations of race.

“Welcome to the race and ethnicity beat because whatever you write about, you'll be covering race and ethnicity,” Holland said.

Questions for discussion: How does race affect your beat? Have there been times when you were uncomfortable addressing a racial issue?

Editor’s Note: The Post-Dispatch created this video at NPF’s request. Post-Dispatch editor Gilbert Bailon is this year’s recipient of the Benjamin C. Bradlee Editor of the Year award for his leadership of the Ferguson coverage. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Attack on Journalists: “I Am Charlie”

by Sandy K Johnson 0 comments

You could almost feel the chill when the news erupted from Paris this week. Two terrorists gunned down journalists at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, leaving 12 dead and a feeling of shock and alarm among journalists across the world.

But chill is exactly what the terrorists intended: a chilling effect on freedom of the press. Within hours, shock gave way to anger and then to solidarity.

“Cartoonists and journalists around the world should be permitted to express themselves freely without fear of reprisal,” the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists said. “These types of attacks only serve to illustrate how important the free spirit of cartoon commentary is, and how cartoonists make a difference in helping to expose hypocrisy.”

Importantly, the AAEC added, “Furthermore, newspapers should not avoid publishing material from the magazine that allegedly incited the incident. More freedom of expression and not less demonstrates courage in the face of attacks. Shrinking from a newspaper’s watchdog role only encourages more terror.”

Heather Dahl, chairman of NPF’s board of directors, said, “The National Press Foundation, which trains journalists around the world, mourns our fallen colleagues at Charlie Hebdo and stands resolutely strong for a free press around the world.”

The Society of Professional Journalists organized a campaign to create a logo “Je Suis Charlie” – “I am Charlie” – after it lit up Twitter and social media after the attacks. NPF and dozens of other news organizations joined the logo campaign.

Clay Bennett, editorial cartoonist at the Chattanooga Times Free Press and winner of NPF’s 2014 Clifford K. & James T. Berryman cartoon award, said an attack on journalists anywhere is an attack on journalists everywhere.

“The tragic event in Paris this week is a reminder of not only the tremendous power of free speech, but also of the terrible price that’s often paid by those who dare to exercise it,” Bennett said. “The staff at Charlie Hebdo showed heroic courage in the face of the most intense coercion imaginable. Hopefully, their sacrifice will inspire us all to stand up to any and all threats to our journalistic independence.”

Adam Zyglis is an editorial cartoonist with The Buffalo News and the 2013 winner of NPF’s Clifford K. & James T. Berryman Award for Editorial Cartooning. Zyglis produced a cartoon within hours in tribute.

“I am still in shock and disbelief from this horrific assault on free speech. It is an all-out affront to all of our American values and way of life,” Zyglis said. “I was just in Paris this past October for an editorial cartooning festival, and an event for Cartooning for Peace. I met with several French cartoonists, but unfortunately I didn't get the privilege to meet any of the fallen in person. However, I knew several of them through their powerful work. There is a void in the world of satire today, but their work will live on. Today, my heart is still in France.”

Heather Dahl captured the mood among journalists: “Sometimes events are so terrible as to beggar words. Yet the slaughter in Paris commands us to speak forcefully for the freedoms that define and protect us: freedom of speech, freedom of the press. We cannot be silent in the face of those who silence words and lives with bullets. This attack was not just on just one publication. It was an attack on all media.” 

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