Friday, May 25, 2012

One high school teacher needs more training

After hearing about a heated classroom exchange between a high school student and his teacher, you wonder how many OTHER teachers are similarly ignorant of everyone's First Amendment freedoms.

Seems the student had something borderline critical to say about President Barack Obama.

The teacher suppressed/muzzled/gagged the student bigtime.

You don't dare say anything negative about the president of the U.S. in at least one classroom in Rowan County, N.C.

Turn your sound up and have a listen:

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Edited/condensed sidebar for Guy's book

Time to rethink an old “rule” of ethics
By Lawrence Timbs

Ask professional journalists or editors about their stance on prepublication review by a source, and you’re likely to get that familiar flinch or bristle that you’re even broaching that question.
They’re prone to note that as professionals, they’ve been well trained in collecting, writing and packaging information. Accuracy, many will emphatically insist, is journalism’s holy grail.
Furthermore, in a digital environment, where there’s a never-ending rush to break or post stories online, who’s got the time or patience to run a story by a source for review and fact checking? And besides, once a story goes online, readers have plenty of opportunities to point out errors.
Never mind that a source unknowingly or unintentionally got a fact wrong or may have violated someone’s privacy, or, worse, libeled someone and thus has potentially put the news outlet and others in legal jeopardy.
Prepublication review in an online news environment?
Nah! Ain’t gonna happen.
But maybe it should—at least in some instances.
Will the sky really fall if a source politely asks to review a story before it’s posted or published, and the news outlet consents? Will the First Amendment champions of freedom and independence go into convulsions?
After all, a sizable percentage of Americans, according to a 2009 report from the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, have very little confidence in the accuracy and fairness of information from the news media.
And journalists, if they truly honor their own codes of ethics, should not be above or beyond the notion of prepublication review.
Yet, still, even in today’s online news environment, where getting the story out first so that it can then be instantly picked up (with all its potential errors), prepublication review seems anathema.
Why such a railing, in newsrooms, against this sort of commitment to accuracy and responsibility to readers?
Perhaps it stems from professional arrogance. It’s as if journalists and their sources—as well as their readers—are at odds with one another. Little wonder there’s all that recoiling at the idea of prepublication review.
My own experience with prepublication review wasn’t bad. In retrospect, while it may have smarted just a tad, I learned something very valuable and became a better journalist for it.
It occurred in 1979 or 1980. Can’t remember the exact year but one of those, I believe.
I was general manager/editor of a twice-a-week 8K-circulation community newspaper in rural south-central Illinois.
I had heard about a physician in the local community who faithfully and rigorously jogged every day for exercise. He was pretty well known and respected, as I recall, and seemed to be in excellent health. He regularly ran marathons (26+ miles).
What really got my attention as a journalist/editor was when this same physician suddenly had a massive heart attack. In those days, as I recall, it was believed that someone who ran marathons was immune to having a heart attack.
So, again, my journalistic antenna went up when this well-known paragon of fitness physician had to be transported by ambulance to St. Louis for life saving heart surgery.
He survived the surgery and returned a few weeks later to his practice in the town where we circulated our newspaper.
I called him and asked if he would consent to being interviewed about what he had been through, and explained to him that my story angle would be that he had proven the exception to the commonly held belief that you-can’t-have-a-heart-attack-if-you-run-a-marathon.
He agreed to talking with me for the record.
After I had written my story and a day or so before we went to press, he called me and asked politely if he could review the story before it was published.
Trying to contain my frustration, I politely explained that we had a firm policy at the paper against pre-publication review and that he had nothing to worry about. I assured him that I would be accurate and ethical and that the story would generally be an upbeat piece about how he had survived a heart attack.
But he still insisted on reviewing my story before it was published.
Again, I resisted, but again he pressed me for giving him the chance to look over what I had written.
“You know, Larry, I agreed to talk to you when you contacted me. Seems like you could extend this one courtesy to me,” he said. “If not, I won’t ever have anything to do with your newspaper again.”
I told him I’d consider his request.
You know what?
After a sleepless night, I ended up the next morning inviting him to come to my office to read the story before I submitted it for publication.
The guy came. I handed him the story. He retreated to my office, spent about 15 minutes in there with the story and exited with a smile and a handshake. He thanked me for doing a very good job.
I recall that he requested only one minor word change of what I had written.
In retrospect, yes, I had violated our paper’s stringent prohibition against pre-publication review.
But I had also gained.
I had cultivated and maintained a contact with an excellent source of information in our community—one that the newspaper would rely upon many times in the future, as it turned out.
Bottom line: In a small community, you as an editor or journalist should try never to burn a bridge or alienate a valuable source.
Even if it means you have to adjust your ethics.
Okay, all this happened to me eons ago—way before the Web and before journalists had to scramble to deal with not only posting printed stories but also creating videos and podcasts of those same stories. My story was a simple human interest feature about a local doctor who had miraculously survived a massive heart attack, not about a potentially libelous topic or deep dark scandal.
What I wrote was not risky or legally troublesome, and still I relented to prepublication review. And things turned out pretty well.
If prepublication review can help improve, even just a little, the accuracy and fairness of information in today’s demanding digital news environment, media professionals should not be so quick to dismiss it. After all, the premiums today on truth, accuracy, fairness and responsibility are the same as they were in 1980.

—Lawrence Timbs is an associate professor of mass communication at Winthrop University.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Wells Fargo Championship favorite memories

Spent three days at the Quail Hollow Club Golf Course in Charlotte this week--helping again, as an ambassador/volunteer, with the Wells Fargo Championship.

Most of the top players in the world were there, with the exception of Bubba Watson, winner of the 2012 Master's. (Bubba has a new baby and wanted more family time.)

Tiger Woods, the most famous name in golf on the planet, unfortunately did not make the cut, so he went home after Friday.

But I did get very close to him on Thursday afternoon. My work station was between the ninth and tenth fairways. I along, with thousands of others, had waited for quite some time for Tiger to play the ninth hole.

After all, what's more exciting than to get near someone who one day will eclipse the great Jack Nicklaus' record (18) of golf major championships?

As it happened, Tiger hit a long shot off the tee on number nine but it veered right of the fairway into some pine trees. His ball came to rest on a bed of pine needles near a tree.

Not lost, but in a bad place.

We waited for about 10 minutes for Tiger and his caddie (and PGA officials) to arrive at the ball for shot #2.

At best it would be a really difficult shot--even for the former number one ranked player in the world.

Reason being: the ball was not on grass but on pine needles ("a bad lie," as they say in golfdom.) Tiger would have a clear, clean swing at it (a good thing) but in front of him was a tall tree and on both sides of that tree were more trees--all of them barriers to the fairway and green.

I wondered what he would do. Try to hit a low, half throttle (sort of field goal) shot and go through those trees and get safely into the fairway?

Or would he actually go for the green from such a precarious spot? To do that, he'd have to come down exceedingly hard on the ball and try to lift it quickly OVER the trees, OVER the fairway and onto the green.

You know what?

He did the riskier latter, and it didn't work. The ball didn't clear the tree; it hit a branch and plummeted back to the ground--again on a bed of pine needles.

"Get back!" I yelled to all those sun-baked spectators seated on the edge of the fairway--just beyond the trees and between Tiger and the green (about 200 yards away from the errant ball). "He's still in the trees! He's going to hit again! The ball could hit you! Get out of the way!"

For his part, Tiger did not cuss. He did not spew venom. He threw no F-bombs. He said nothing that I could hear (and I was within a few feet of him.)

Instead, he pulled out an iron (maybe a seven or eight) and swung again.

Solid contact. The ball took off, high, like a missile. It cleared all obstacles and plopped gently onto the green where it came to rest.

One of the best golf shots I've ever seen. The man may no longer be ranked number one in the world, and, yes, he missed the cut at Quail Hollow, but he's still a force.

Tiger Woods, ranked seventh in the world before the Wells Fargo Championship, will win again, will regain his top ranking, and

WILL break Jack Nicklaus' record.

Meanwhile, the winner yesterday at the Wells Fargo Championship at beautiful Quail Hollow was 23-year-old Rickie Fowler from California. Charlotte Observer columnist Tom Sorenson described Fowler, dressed in orange from head to toe, as looking a bit like a cream sickle. The young cream sickle, who resembles Johnny Depp, won $1.2 million, as a result of what he did on the first hole of a playoff late yesterday afternoon. You have to be good (and lucky) to beat Rory McIllroy (the current number one ranked golfer in the world) and D.A. Points in a playoff, but that's what Fowler (who won for the first time in his fledgling PGA career) pulled off. Talk about drama! Turn up your sound and enjoy his winning approach shot:

"Let's go do the hop!"

This blog post is for the late (and eternally young) Dick Clark.

None of us boomers will ever forget "American Bandstand."

Thanks, Dick, for all the memories.

Some of the earliest ones were in black and white. Turn up your sound and enjoy the "American Bandstand" dancing:

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Dog story touches our hearts

I've always preached the mantra of dog journalism.

Meaning people can't resist a good dog story.

Deep down inside, all of us truly love to read about three things: dogs, sex and money. (Not sure which order to put those in.)

Comes now an article, which ran a few days ago in The (Rock Hill, S.C.) Herald about a pooch named Matlock. (His picture accompanies this blog post.)

Seems the poor little pit bull-boxer was maliciously shot, and, but for the love and care of a good Samaritan veterinarian and other angels, would now not be with us.

Who would shoot a poor, defenseless, friendly animal?

I always say dogs are far better than people. This hateful, dispicable crime proves it.

Here's the story, written by Jonathan McFadden (one of my star students), that appeared a couple days ago in The Herald:

Donations from vet's office save 'miracle’ dog shot in York
Workers at veterinary clinic pool money to pay for surgery

By Jonathan McFadden -
YORK -- Not a single whimper or yelp came from Glenn Knight’s 10-month-old pit bull-boxer mix after it had been shot in the jaw and back and left to die.
It was Knight who couldn’t stop shedding tears, he said.

On Wednesday, Matlock, one of three dogs Knight treats like “my kids,” escaped from the fence in Knight’s yard in York.
“I went looking for him everywhere,” he said.

When he pulled back into his driveway a little later, Knight found that Matlock made it back to the yard.

But as Matlock lay on its side, its back showed a gaping hole of exposed flesh where there should have been short brown fur. Its jaw had been hit by a bullet, and a piece of its tongue was missing.

“It brought tears to my eyes,” Knight said.“It amazes me that someone could shoot a dog like that and leave it.

But to staff members at White Rose Veterinary Clinic in York, it was more amazing that Matlock was still alive when Knight desperately rushed the dog into the office as they were about to close. “What I first saw was a poor little dog,” said Sylvia Chappell, doctor of veterinary medicine and owner of White Rose Veterinary Clinic. “I’ve never seen a gunshot (in an animal) like that.”

Chappell also saw a lot of muscle damage. She was preparing to tell Knight that they would have to euthanize his dog when Matlock began to move.

It was enough to convince Chappell that Matlock could be saved.

The next hurdle was the $465 cost for Matlock’s surgery.“I didn’t have the money to keep the dog alive,” Knight said. “I’ve been out of work. ... I just went back to work. I was going to have to put him down.”

Clinic staff members and Operation CARE (Carolina Animal Rescue Effort) stepped in, pooled their resources and agreed to cover Knight’s bill.“They took money out of their own pockets to help me,” Knight said. “That was so fantastic; the way the economy is now, people don’t do that. People don’t take out the time to help you out any more.”

It’s not something the clinic will make common practice, staff members say, but Matlock was worth it.
Veterinarians dressed Matlock’s wounds Wednesday. On Thursday, they prepped Matlock for a two-hour surgery that would leave stitches on the jaw and back and a protective funnel to wear temporarily to let the wounds heal.

By Friday, Matlock “the miracle” was enjoying hugs and posing for pictures. But he’s not out of the woods yet.
Because the bullet blew out a part of his tongue and some of his teeth, Matlock is having trouble eating, which may cause difficulties during recovery, said Kathy Jackson, clinic practice manager. They’re also watching for infections.

Neither Chappell nor Jackson understands why someone would shoot Matlock.

During exams, “he was so gentle and wonderful,” Chappell said. “I could do his exams without sedating him.”

“If a dog is not aggressive or hurting someone, it’s disgusting to shoot a dog like that and leave it in the pain it’s in,” Jackson said.

Matlock is one of three boxer pit -bull mix pups born to a mother that was hit by a car. Knight took in the small litter. “He’s been a real good dog; he’s not aggressive,” Knight said. “I just can’t believe somebody would do that.”

Want to donate? To donate to Matlock’s surgical bill, or any of the many animal rescues at the clinic, call (803) 818-5121 or find the clinic on Facebook.