Government uses lawsuit for shield

If it were not for the First Amendment, comprehensive reporting, hardworking reporters, and the Freedom of Information Act, the public would be left to hear only what their leaders want them to believe.

It is not uncommon to be denied information and accordingly have to resort to the Freedom of Information Act to get it. This happens most often when said information would make an official look stupid, hinder their reelection, or reveal they are dishonest.

The biggest pain in the butt is the time it takes to file and wait, and officials hope it is that wait which will make the reporter skip the detail in order to meet deadline. However, some newspapers of smaller markets who are relentless in seeking due information are being told to back down or get sued – and sadly it is working. 

Odds are in the newspaper’s favor because of the U.S.Constitution is on their side, but a small or medium newspapers do not have the money or staff to endure a yearlong court battle.

As Danny Westneat of the Seattle Times points out in his article, “The government wants to do its business in secret, and increasingly there’s no press left to stop them.” Read about this happening to the Malheur Enterprise by clicking  > here <



Singular they: Some say nay

In a March 24, 2017 op-ed in Texas Center for Community, Poynter Institute writer Kristin Hare peed herself over the AP Stylebook change allowing the use of “they” as a singular pronoun. Here is part of her rant:

“So AP plans to approve a singular ‘they.’ Why stop there? Let's do away with the difference between its and it's. And plurals and possessives. And equally outdated rules outlawing misspellings and comma splices.”

Godgod, Kristin! Why not do away with running your incomplete sentences together!

I knew about the AP Stylebook change a year ago, but apparently Hare just stumbled across it or lost an argument with a co-worker.

The “singular they,” as it is called, is using the word to describe one unknown person or one unnamed person, not knowing if it is a man or a woman. The argument is “they” is plural and the subject is singular. Here is an example:

“No teacher wants this to happen, but they don’t consider the consequence.” “No teacher” is singular and “they” is plural.

Most of us use singular they in language with no discomfort or aftertaste.

AP style rightfully banned the use of “he/she” and “his/her” long ago because it sounds and looks annoying, such as, “The winning cook must show his/her original submission to the judges.”

By the way, in a op-ed used by the Texas Center for Community earlier this year a writer used “s/he” in place of a singular they. I think s/he needs to have h/his head examined.

People who believe written language should not evolve with common usage should use words like “thee,” “thine” and “thou,” and while their co-workers are avoiding them here is something else to make them angry: If you were to use “he/she” to refer to one person, well, “he” is one and “she” is another, and that makes two, which is plural. Get it?


My first photography mentor

I want to write about my first and most influential news photography mentor, Tom Beesley (1945 – 2007), and explain how he influenced me in such a tremendous way. I miss Tom, but I will expand on that at the end of this post.

Tom Beesly
Tom was a longtime member of the Texas Press Association and earned a reputation in news photography to the point he was asked on occasions to speak at newspaper conventions. He is the only person I know personally who had a news photo picked up by the Associated Press and his professional career began as a field photographer for the US Army during the Vietnam War.

When he spoke about photography or a photo assignment he never spoke of f-stops,
lens selection, ISO, shutter speed and meter settings. While a few photographers love to talk about their equipment, Tom loved to talk about how he took a picture, such as his thought process, how he talked with his subject, what he did to get access or a perfect angle, and how sometimes plain luck made all the difference in a pictures. He expected the same when he spoke with other photographers as well because even at his skill level, Tom wanted to learn.

At a press convention a photographer cornered Tom and began enthusiastically describing his impressive equipment collection thinking Tom would engage in conversation of the same. Tom looked past him and at me with one eyebrow raised and tilted head as if to say “Get me out of here please.”

Tom also disdained boring, common photographs and explored ways to make the ordinary interested.

Here is one of his favorite photography stories: He was assigned to take a photo of garden club members and went to the event with cool ideas, such as individual shots though roses or placing subjects in and around tall clusters of flowers. However, that was not to be. The women, dressed in their Sunday best, insisted on standing side by side for a group photograph. Tom grudgingly took them outside and lined the women up when suddenly, “The photography gods smiled upon me,” as he liked to dramatically state. The lawn sprinklers came on just as he began shooting. Above the screams and shrieks Tom yelled, “Wait! Wait! I’m not finished,” and fired off a few quick shots while the women dodged the water and clutched their hats on their heads while trying to smile at the camera.

That was the picture he published.

Tom didn’t just think outside the box. Tom Beesly destroyed boxes.

I wanted to be like Tom so much I wore a pen around my neck on a string because he did – a trait I discontinued when he came to work for a newspaper where I was a reporter because I thought I would feel awkward.  In time we became peers as I began earning my own reputation in newspaper competition. After a few years apart we again worked together at a newspaper group where we were both head editors of different newspapers for the same parent company.

It is because of Tom that I teach and share how  and I find camera settings and equipment somewhat insignificant. It is because of him I completely believe a good photographer’s talent is in their head, not in their hands.


OK, I really miss Tom. He had a life-long love of motorcycle racing and his photography appeared in many motor sport magazines. He was also a motorcycle racer and he crashed during a race and died a few days later.

A month after his death I attended our annual press convention and award ceremony. The judging team (journalist from another state) broke the rules and told our company ahead of time that Tom’s newspaper won an award. This was done to give us a chance to prepare and avoid an awkward situation and also to allow his wife to be present. Mrs. Beesly said she would attend but did not want to go to the podium, so I told her I would accept the award, say a few words about Tom, and then bring the plaque to her. 
When the particular award was announced I accepted the award at the podium, held the plaque up and said, “For Tom.” That’s all I could say.

When I cleaned out his desk I found a beautiful, happy photograph of a girl holding an American flag which he took at a city Fourth of July event and printed in his newspaper. On the back of the frame was a hand written note, “You don’t stop playing because you get old, you get old because you stop playing.”

You are welcome to share this post. Share about your own mentor here.


Jerk of the Week Award

So, who is the biggest jerk in politics this week? No, it isn't a loudmouth presidential candidate. It is David Gowan, Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives.

David Gowan (Photo-Howard Fischer,
 Capitol Media Services)
Journalists have been printing dirt about the Speaker off and on almost since his election in 2009, but this week Gowan had enough of the pesky media after reporters discovered his shameless misuse of public money -  and after the state made cuts to public services, of all things. What does a jerk politician do? What else but try to find creative ways to ban reporters from public meetings without violating the First Amendment.

Thanks, Phoenix Society of Professional Journalists and Arizona Capitol Times, for the surprising story about a bad politician making bad decisions at a bad time. Go get ‘em!

Read about it HERE.


First Amendment – videos under fire

The camera phone is great for taking selfies and silliness or for turning any crime-conscious, concerned, or curious citizen into a news capturing machine and giving rise to a new term, “citizen journalist.”

On April 4, 2015 North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager stopped Walter Scott for a broken brake light. For unknown reasons the officer made Scott exit his vehicle and detained him. When Scott bolted and ran, Slager shot him multiple times in the back with his service revolver, reporting later that he shot Scott because the motorist struggled to take his Taser and he "feared for his life." The incident would have ended there and shortly forgotten if not for a youth who captured the murder on camera phone.

If such incidents on the news in recent years make you wonder why police misconduct is on the rise, I contend it is not. In fact, I believe our police officers are better trained and more citizen-conscious than ever before. However, there are some police who are going to make mistakes under pressure and a much, much fewer number who are outright bad cops. But the camera phone is now pulling the veil off bogus reports like “The suspect was resisting arrest,” “The suspect made an aggressive move toward me,” and “He tried to get my gun and I feared for my life.”

It is currently legal in all 50 states of the U.S. to video police activity and a Supreme Court ruling fortifies that videoing police activity is protected by the First Article of the Constitution, yet there are still incidents of police baring citizen from videoing and even police threatening photographers with arrest.

Restrictions are proposed that may limit the recording of police activity. A strict right to privacy bill was passed in 2014 in Illinois that no one could video or photograph anyone anywhere without prior consent of the individual, and for a time police there occasionally enjoyed enforcing a policy that no police activity, such as an arrest, could be videoed without prior consent of the person being arrested and the police officer. That bill was revised.

There are currently bills in their infancy in some states, including my own of Texas, requiring a sizable distance between the camera operator and the action. Supporters of the bill reason for the safety of the camera operator and that a photographer getting close to police can impede their duties. Such a bill has its merits but completely removes the ability of citizens to protect themselves with their own camera because, of course, you can not be a sizable distance from your camera and video yourself. So if you are stopped, detained or questioned you may not be able to use your camera if this bill is passed. Even if someone does video an incident from a distance, you may make an officer go berserk, like in this video.

Click here for an overview of current photographers rights presented by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The American Civil Liberties Union has produced an app available in New York, California, Missouri, Oregon, Mississippi, and soon other states called Mobile Justice which will automatically upload a video to the ACLU database for reviewing, eliminating the possibility of loosing a video by having your phone confiscated or destroyed. Some commercial cloud programs offer immediate cloud uploading with a paid premium account.

<NEW>  Here is a lengthy news report about Texas video laws under debate and groups that call themselves "cop watchers."

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