Brief filed on behalf of The Item in Sumter FOI appeal
The Sumter Item’s challenge to a circuit court ruling barring public access to a report on the autopsy performed on a man shot and killed by police continued as the newspaper’s brief was filed with the South Carolina Court of Appeals.
Bill Rogers, SCPA executive director said, “If the lower court ruling is allowed to stand there will never be any public scrutiny of police shootings.  It is possible that the autopsy report is consistent with the police account of the shooting, but, if it isn’t, the public is entitled to know so that appropriate, hard questions may be asked.”
SCPA Attorney Jay Bender filed the brief on behalf of The Item, and argued that had the General Assembly intended a blanket exemption from disclosure for autopsy reports, it would not have amended the law to add specific exemptions for autopsy photos and video recordings after the death of NASCAR racing legend Dale Earnhardt.  The South Carolina General Assembly restricted the release of photo and video records relating to autopsies after news organizations in Florida published autopsy-related photos of Earnhardt.
Earlier this year a circuit court ruled that autopsy reports were “medical records” which are not subject to the provisions of the FOIA which allow members of the public to inspect and copy public records.
The Sumter Coroner who denied the paper’s request for the autopsy report was defeated in a June primary, but his opponent was removed from the ballot for having failed to properly file his statement of economic interest at the time he filed as a candidate.
The appeal is being financed in part by the SCPA Freedom of Information fund.
To view the brief, click here.

Supreme Court justices hear clash over FOIA v. First Amendment
By John Monk, The State
State Supreme Court justices quizzed lawyers on both sides of a thorny issue last week involving a statewide public school advocacy group, freedom of speech and the S.C. Freedom of Information Act.
“What we have here is an unprecedented case,” attorney Kevin Hall told the justices. Hall, a Columbia lawyer, is representing Rocky Disabato, a Charleston man who sued the S.C. Association of School Administrators seeking access to its internal records, including telephone records.
The association gets broad support from taxpayer dollars because many of its members – school administrators – pay their dues with money from their school districts’ coffers, Hall said.
For that and other reasons the S.C. Supreme Court should declare the group a public body subject to the Freedom of Information Act’s records’ disclosure provisions, Hall said.
John Reagle, the attorney representing the association, acknowledged that technically the group is a public body. But he said it is a nonprofit corporation set up to be an advocacy group for public education issues in South Carolina. He urged the court to find that the FOI can’t be applied to any private, issue-oriented advocacy organization.
As a private group, the association has First Amendment rights of freedom of speech – which means it needs to be able to formulate policies in private without intrusive public scrutiny, Reagle argued.
Referring to a 1991 case in which the state Supreme Court found that a private University of South Carolina foundation’s records were subject to the Freedom of Information Act, Reagle said that decision was proper because the foundation was “acting as the agent of the university in what it was doing, so the records are really the (public) property of the university.”
Toal observed that the Freedom of Information Act has many exemptions about disclosure and asked Reagle why he didn’t avail himself of the exemptions instead of asserting that all association records are off-limits.
“The exemptions simply kick the dispute down the road, so you are arguing about whether exemptions apply,” Reagle said.
When Hall told the justices that receiving public money made a group subject to the Freedom of Information Act, Toal said, “Providence Hospital (which is run by a religious group) takes a lot of public money ... I don’t believe the meetings of their trustees would be subject to public intervention.”
In fact, said Toal, Hall’s client Disabato targeted the association because he objected to the association’s filing of a lawsuit seeking to get former Gov. Mark Sanford to accept federal stimulus money.
“He (Disabato) wants information about their speech,” Toal told Hall. “He doesn’t want information about how they spend public money. He wants information about a lawsuit they brought and the political positions they advocate.”
If the Supreme Court rules too broadly in this case, Toal said, it may precipitate numerous other Freedom of Information lawsuits against private groups that accept any public money.
“The trial court answered the wrong question," SCPA Attorney Jay Bender said. "The question is not whether school administrators have the right to engage in political activity in a collective fashion, but whether school administrators can use public money to engage in political activity. I think that the school administrators are free to join together to participate in political activity, but if they use public money to support that activity, their actions are subject to public scrutiny under the Freedom of Information Act.”

SCPA members invited to newsroom training at UNC next week
SCPA members are invited to attend the APME's NewsTrain, set for Oct. 19, at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. The Associated Press Managing Editors' highly acclaimed training program is making one of its four stops during 2012 in North Carolina. Weekly and daily members are invited to attend the NewsTrain, which will last from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Sessions will include:

  • How to Shoot Great Short Video
  • Beat Mapping
  • Social Media: Growing Your News Brand
  • Social Media: Reporting Tools
  • Continuous Coverage

Click here to view detailed course descriptions.
The cost is only $50 -- a great deal for a full day of training from the best in the industry. Lunch is included. The deadline to register is Oct. 12. Sign up here!

Weekly editor pens book on community journalism
Myrtle Beach area editor Michael Smith has recently published a 215-page book titled “Confessions of a Community Journalist.”
The book is a how-to guide to take some of the trial and error out of working for a community newspaper.
It is written not from the textbook approach of a college professor, but from that of an award-winning weekly editor.
Smith does a great job of offering coping skills on emphasizing local news coverage while dealing with the multi-tasking that comes with the territory of working for a community paper.
“Despite what editors at metro dailies and wire services may think,” he writes, “community journalists are not the bottom of the heap….we do it all.”
Smith starts with a good chapter on planning then goes on to cover topics that include reporting, photography, writing, design and digital reporting.
The book is available through Amazon in both print and digital versions.
I wish I had had this book when I left a daily to run a weekly in West Virginia.  Lots of information here.
Smith is editor of the award-winning Carolina Forest Chronicle in Myrtle Beach. -- Bill Rogers          

The Journal welcomes new staff members
The Journal of Seneca recently promoted one staffer and hired three new staff members.
Mikayla Kreuzberger has been promoted from designer/writer to full-time writer. Kreuzberger is a graduate of Walhalla High School and the University of South Carolina. She has worked for the paper for a year, and will cover the towns of Walhalla and West Union, while also writing Lifestyle stories.
Norman Cannada will cover the City of Seneca, the Oconee County police beat and more. Cannada was reporter, sports editor and managing editor of The Easley Progress/The Liberty Monitor. He also worked at the Wake Weekly in Wake Forest, N.C. and the Durham (N.C.). Cannada left the newspaper industry to work in inner-city ministries programs in West Virginia, where he ended up pastoring a church. He recently decided to return to the newspaper industry.
Monica Kreber, a native of Mount Pleasant, joins the staff as a writer. She will write features and cover the towns of West Minister and Central. She majored in journalism at Winthrop College, where she was the assistant news editor and arts and entertainment editor for The Johnsonian, the student newspaper. During her time in college Kreber interned at her hometown paper, the Moultrie News.
Amanda Bradford joins the paper as a designer and part-time writer. She graduated with a degree in journalism from State University of New York in Plattsburgh. During her time in college she was the associate news editor at Carolina Points. Bradford also interned at the Daily Courier-Observer in Massena, N.Y. and at the Lake Champlain Weekly in Plattsburgh, N.Y.

Bluffton Today wins SNPA award for print quality
SNPA recognized excellence in newspaper printing at its News Industry Summit earlier this month.
First-place awards in the SNPA Print Quality Contest were presented to the Bluffton Today in the non-daily category.
Judges evaluated entries only for those quality attributes that can be objectively measured: black ink density and uniformity, color ink density and uniformity, color register, page alignment, litho defects and other defects.

Publisher confidence up significantly in Fall 2012
The Cribb, Greene Publisher Confidence Survey Fall 2012 responses seem to point to much stronger positive forecasts from newspaper executives on the near-term future. One hundred and eight newspaper publishers/executives completed the 2012 Survey with a little over half owning both daily and non-daily papers and the balance owning only non-dailies.
In particular is a strong increase in executives who believe that the local economy in their markets is improving – up from 14% in 2011 to over 40% in 2012 who believe their markets are up. Those who think their market economies are declining went from 26% in 2011 down to 13% in 2012. The results of this question appear to indicate that publishers believe their economic situation is improving significantly.

An upbeat 2013 report for smaller newspapers
Borrell Associates CEO Gordon Borrell believes print revenue will rise 0.5% next year, with smaller papers seeing the greatest improvement.
“Mid-sized papers, those in the 50,000 to 100,000 circulation range, are expected to see mixed results, with revenue staying mostly flat,” reports Eric J. Smith.
Borrell predicts large metro papers will continue to see declines in the 4% to 6% range.

The Orange County (Calif.) Register is hiring dozens of reporters, focusing on print-first expansion
After being sold over the summer, the newspaper is hiring about 50 editorial staffers and adding new print sections — because print's where the money is.

Community newspapers should not overlook baby boomers
Community newspapers that don't target news, information and advertising to baby boomers make a huge blunder. Make that a multi-million dollar debacle.
The U.S.'s 77.3 million baby boomers, essentially people born between 1946 and 1964, are the most affluent consumer group in America, spending almost $2 trillion on goods and services each year. Other notable facts about baby boomers:
· They own a sizable percentage of America's financial assets.
  How to fix a common communication flaw
The flaw: You're meeting with a prospective client, but you seem to be communicating on different wavelengths. When you mention a key sales point, your prospect barely acknowledges it. And when he or she talks, you feel like the entire conversation is off topic. The experience reminds you of the two proverbial ships passing in the night, with neither crew being aware of the other.
The fix: The problem may be a matter of complete disinterest – a result of trying to sell the wrong thing to the wrong person. But as long as you've done your homework on the prospective advertiser's business, it's more likely a clash of communication styles.

Oct. 7-13: National Newspaper Week

Oct. 11: Advanced InDesign and PDF Training, SCPA Offices, Columbia

Oct. 18: Ad Basics, SCPA Offices, Columbia

Oct. 25: Ad Design That Sells, SCPA Offices

Nov. 1: Advanced Adobe Dreamweaver (Part Two of Two), SCPA Offices, Columbia

Nov. 15: Weekly Publisher's Roundtable, SCPA Offices, Columbia

Dec. 6: Daily Publisher's Roundtable, SCPA Offices, Columbia

March 22-24, 2013: SCPA Annual Meeting and Awards Presentation, The Westin Poinsett Hotel, Greenville