FOIA reform sought
in new legislation
A bill pre-filed this week in the S.C. House of Representatives would amend S.C.'s FOIA to make government much more transparent and responsive. This is the second attempt by Rep. Bill Taylor (R-Aiken) to reform the FOIA. Last spring his similar bill won approval in the House 101-1, but stalled in the State Senate in the final days of the legislative session.
"This is about opening up government to the citizens who pay for it; they have a right to know what their government is doing," said Taylor.
Loopholes in the current FOIA allow state agencies, school districts, towns, cities and other government entities to drag their feet on requests, sometimes for months on end.
"A law that is not enforceable is not a law at all," said Rep. Taylor. "There is additional teeth in the bill so if citizens seeking information from government feel they are getting stonewalled they can seek immediate relief in Magistrate's Court rather than waiting many months or more to have their grievances heard in Circuit Court,” Taylor said. "Magistrates would be able to order the government unit to comply and would be able to fine those responsible for not complying with the FOIA to be in civil contempt."
SCPA Executive Director Bill Rogers lauded the bill for adding considerable heft to the FOIA. “A major weakness in our law is enforcement, and this change would make it much easier for a citizen to get a public record without the expense of hiring a lawyer,” he said. “The bill will also prohibit the exorbitant fees some agencies charge for copies of public records.”
The key provisions of H. 3163 would:
- Cut the length of time from 15 calendar days to 7 days to initially notify a person if their FOI request can be met.
- Cut compliance time from 30 business days to 30 calendar days.
- Prohibit state and local entities from charging fees for staff time spent complying with FOIA requests.
- Allow state and local government entities to charge only prevailing commercial rates for copying records.
- Disallow charging for documents available in digital format.
- Increase fines for FOIA violations from $100 to $500 (1st violation), $200 to $1,000 (2nd violation) and $300 to $1,500 (3rd violation).
- Allow for Magistrates to provide immediate legal relief and enforcement who could hold individuals in government in civil contempt for failing to comply with the FOIA requests.
"This legislation monumentally strengthens South Carolina's open-government law by not allowing government officials to hit FOIA requestors with large, punitive research and copying fees which have the practical effect of stymieing transparency," said Rep. Taylor.
USC law professor and FOIA expert Jay Bender agrees. “In response to this legislation several government-funded special interest groups will complain about the cost of making public records public. That argument is fraudulent. If the General Assembly has found, as it has, that it is vital in a democratic society that public business be performed in an open and public manner, it is incumbent on public bodies to anticipate requests for records and budget and staff for a timely response. That is the price of democracy.”
Rogers said grassroots support is needed to move this bill forward. "Passage of this important legislation needs to be a grassroots effort. Every citizen should demand open and transparent government.”
Here's the full bill.
Registration deadline nears for SCPA's legislative workshop
House Caucuses' agendas to be given
For the first time, the House Republican and Democrat Caucuses will be presenting their 2013 legislative agendas during lunch at our Legislative Workshop for the Media, which will be held on Thursday, Jan. 3, at the Statehouse in Columbia. Rather than holding their normal press conferences during the first week of the session, both caucuses will be represented by their leadership during lunch to make their presentations and to be available for questions. Among those representing the House Republican Caucus will be Speaker Bobby Harrell from Charleston and the new House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister from Greenville. Representing the House Democrat Caucus will be House Minority Leader Harry Ott from Orangeburg, Rep. Joe Neal from Richland, Rep. Chandra Dillard from Greenville, and Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell from Lancaster.
In addition to the Caucus' presentations, this workshop is your one-stop shop to get a preview on the top issues of the 2013 session and to interview key members of the General Assembly. Confirmed panelists include Sens. Thomas Alexander, Kevin Bryant, Wes Hayes, Larry Martin, Shane Massey, Yancey McGill, Harvey Peeler and Vincent Sheheen, and Reps. Rita Allison, Bruce Bannister, Kenny Bingham, Derham Cole, Gilda Cobb-Hunter, Harry Ott, Murrell Smith, Bill Taylor and Brian White. Les Boles, Director of the Office of State Budget, will give an overview of revenue and spending projections for the coming year.
Make plans to join your state legislators from 9:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. as they discuss various topics including the budget, cyber security, state employee salaries, tax reform, ethics reform, open government reform, restructuring and more. All discussions will be on the record.
This year's workshop is open to newspaper members only, not associate and individual members.
The cost to attend this event is $50 per person for members of SCPA, SCBA and the AP. Lunch will be provided. The deadline to register is Dec. 27. A $10 per-person late fee will be charged for registrations made after that date.
Click here to register.
|SCPA to host Feb. workshop on updating your newspaper's design
Has your newspaper's design fallen behind the times? Too busy to update it? Is your newspaper's design sending the right message to readers and advertisers?
SCPA is offering a way to update your design through a one-day workshop featuring nationally-known designer Ed Henninger on Feb. 14 at SCPA Offices in Columbia. This training event will take place from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.
It is tough at a small newspaper to deal with
design when you are busting it to get the paper out every week. But we guarantee this time will be well-spent.
The workshop will provide the training publishers, editors and staff designers need to help them with the design
details – and will offer a new way of thinking about design that will make work easier and faster.
We know that design is more than just fonts, colors and
photos. It's a better way to plan a newspaper. Design drudgery will become a thing of the past and you'll have
more time to work on those special packages you've always wanted to create.
Topics will include: headline hierarchy, the dominant photo, photo editing, placing the visual first, spacing and structure, modular
design, horizontal v. vertical, photo frames, text wraps, looking for the modules in the page, working around
ads, flush left v. justified text, flush left v. centered headlines, briefs and calendars, the boxed rule, jumps and jump heads, keyboard shortcuts, separators, photo pages, baseline grids, templates, font
management, style sheets, libraries, object styles, the
cheat sheet and one-piece design elements.
Those who attend this workshop may have some design elements or approaches that are tops on their list. We'll tune the workshop to respond to your needs by asking for a list of items to cover.
In only one session, you can learn more than they ever thought possible about news design and how to make it work better at their small newspaper. And, yes, we can
teach old dogs new tricks!
Register here! The cost is
$45 for SCPA members, $60 for non-members.
Opinion: Court puts public bodies ‘on notice’ about agendas
A recent state Court of Appeals ruling represents another victory for the public and the Freedom of Information Act.
In essence, the court ruled public bodies cannot amend their agendas to add items not already posted within the 24-hour notice period currently required of bodies when giving notice of upcoming meetings.
Under the state law, public bodies – school boards, city and county councils and the like – must notify the public of regular and special-called meetings at least 24 hours before they take place. Moreover, these bodies must provide details of their agendas so the public is fully aware of what is to be discussed and potentially voted on.
Yes, new matters beyond a public body’s planned meeting agenda can and do periodically surface, but such matters need to be addressed and handled in a proper fashion to ensure the public has time to lend its voice to the matter.
But there exists a more obvious reason this fortunate court ruling came down the pike. As much as we would like our elected public bodies to perform their duties in honorable and lawful fashion, believe it or not, there are times when some will see an opportunity to slip something onto the agenda and handle it with little fanfare and notice until all is said and done.
Limehouse criticized over airport board appointment
The Post and Courier reported earlier this week that some lawmakers are crying foul over the telephone tactics a colleague used to appoint his person last month to the Charleston County Aviation Authority.
They say state Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, ignored the state’s public meeting laws — and an earlier vote of the House delegation — to get Mallory Factor on the board, without other lawmakers having a chance to consider 18 others who also had applied for the seat.
Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, said the appointment stemmed from a conference call and violated the state’s Freedom of Information Act.
“I’ve got 38,000 people I represent, and I’m not going to let their voices be X’ed out because somebody wants to elect somebody by a phone call and I’m not a part of that phone call,” Stavrinakis said. “The public has a right to expect way, way better than that.”
But Limehouse said the vote to elect Factor was taken in August, and Limehouse simply polled members later to ensure they still supported him.
“Anytime you have anybody vetted for a particular seat that the delegation appoints, I think it’s only proper to do it for transparency in front of everybody,” McCoy said. “I think we have to have this vote done in an open delegation meeting. I support transparency.”
County legislative delegations are public bodies and subject to the state’s open meeting laws, which don’t allow action to be taken after a series of phone calls, S.C. Press Association director Bill Rogers said.
“You can’t just call people up. They’re taking action,” Rogers said of the appointment. “I think it could be challenged in court.”
Orangeburg School District Board updates policy regarding public documents
The Times and Democrat recently reported that the Orangeburg Consolidated School District Five Board has updated its policy to omit the following statement, which is in the current policy: “Materials distributed to the board which reflect staff recommendations in their final form are open to the public unless exempt from disclosure by law or of a personal nature such that public disclosure thereof would constitute unreasonable invasion of personal privacy.”
SCPA Executive Director Bill Rogers says the public is legally entitled to see those documents.
Board policy does not supersede the law, Rogers said.
Newsroom of the future webinar set Jan. 16Study: Papers’ mobile migration nearly complete
Newsroom leaders including Raju Narisetti of The Wall Street Journal and analyst Ken Doctor will convene online Jan. 16 to discuss the news industry’s future in a free, two-hour webinar hosted by the World Editors Forum, the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association and the University of South Carolina College of Mass Communications and Information Studies.
The webinar will begin at 2 p.m. (EST).
The first hour will focus on the lessons we have learned from the media transformation that has occurred in the 10 years since the World Association and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) opened its prototype newsroom of the future and training facility, Newsplex, at the University of South Carolina.
The second hour of the webinar will focus on the future of news publishing and innovations in newsrooms.
Other participants will include Cherilyn Ireton, WEF executive director; Western Kentucky University Professor Kerry Northrup, who conceived Newsplex; Saf Fahim, the architect who designed Newsplex; former BBC training executive Jonathan Halls, who now provides leadership workshops for media organizations; as well as working journalists from around the world who trained in Newsplex. Present in Newsplex will be Charles Bierbauer, the dean of the University of South Carolina College of Mass Communications and Information Studies; USC journalism faculty and students; as well as members of SNPA.
The webinar will be accessible via the Newsplex website. Webinar viewers will be able to text their comments and questions throughout the event. Afterward, excerpts from the webinar will be accessible through the Newsplex website.
“A lot has happened in 10 years, so we are going to have a lot to talk about,” said Newsplex Director Randy Covington. In February, Newsplex’s current physical facility will close, but “we aren’t going away,” Covington explained.
“We will still offer the same training and services,” Covington said, “and when construction of our new school of journalism is finished, there will be a new newsroom of the future."
From essentially a standing start four years ago, 90 percent of North American newspaper and magazine publishers are now producing mobile content, with 22 percent of publishers describing those efforts as profitable, according to a survey conducted by the Alliance for Audited Media.
AAM, formerly the Audit Bureau of Circulations, said virtually all publishers that responded to its fourth annual cross-platform study said they will have some type of mobile product by 2014.
“Media companies know that delivering content whenever and wherever consumers want is key,” said Eric John, AAM’s vice president of digital services, in a statement. “This year’s survey results show that publishers have embraced tablets, smartphones and the Web as an integral part of their overall cross-platform publishing strategy. They are meeting their readers where they live — in print, on tablets and smartphones, and on the Web.”
How can we explain shootings if we don't report on mental illness?
By Andrew Beaujon, Poynter
After a tragedy like Friday’s shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, it’s easy to find out an individual state’s gun laws. It’s far harder to assess a state’s approach to mental health issues. Responsibility for that failure lands heavily on the collective shoulders of the U.S. news media, whose job is to answer the “why” questions: We might not be able to answer why someone would gun down kindergartners, but couldn’t we help our audience figure out what society is doing for the mentally ill? Freeing up resources is hard when news isn’t breaking, and mental health is a beat few news organizations feel they can afford. Usually, it’s the side beat of a health reporter or a columnist, or the province of investigative journalists. News organizations find it understandably easier to funnel reporting time toward a takedown of a bad institution, for instance, than toward chronicling the boring, frustrating, everyday truths of mental healthcare: Mentally ill people are statistically less violent than drug and alcohol users, many get better and yet few people get the treatment they need.
Even in a newsroom, mental health issues are easy enough to view as exotic and distant. In an essay in the American Prospect in 2008, Richard Friedman notes that 46 percent of Americans “experience some type of diagnosable mental illness or substance-abuse disorder during their lifetime.”
'I believe journalism is improving, not declining'
By Steve Buttry
I can hardly believe I'm ready to write a second blog post about a single paragraph in a 122-page report. But I question the notion that the quality of news coverage in the United States has been declining and will get worse before it gets better.
Here's passage in question, from the Post-Industrial Journalism report by the Tow Center for Digital Media:
The effect of the current changes in the news ecosystem has already been a reduction in the quality of news in the United States. On present evidence, we are convinced that journalism in this country will get worse before it gets better, and, in some places (principally midsize and small cities with no daily paper) it will get markedly worse.
I blogged Monday about the community-size issue. Now I want to address the issue of whether news coverage has been declining and will get worse before it gets better.
I absolutely disagreed with the contention that community size is the primary factor affecting the quality of a community's journalism. I'm less certain of the question of declining quality, past and present. I'm not going to say they're wrong, but I can't agree with their statement of the reduction in quality as a fact and with their conviction that journalism is going to get worse.
Without question, the quantity of newspaper journalism has declined with the loss of 26 percent newsroom jobs since 2007, according to the American Society of News Editors newsroom census of daily newspapers. Quantity of news is certainly related to quality, and lots of those cuts have been buyouts and firings of outstanding journalists whose loss has, without question, also harmed the quality of newspapers.
Dec. 21: Collegiate Contest Deadline' Rules, tags and forms available here
Dec. 24-25: SCPA Offices Closed. Happy Holidays!
Jan. 1, 2013: SCPA Offices Closed. Happy New Year!
Jan. 3: Legislative Workshop for the Media, S.C. Statehouse
Jan. 11: Weekly Publishers' Roundtable, SCPA Offices, Columbia
Jan. 16: Webinar: Classified Outbound Calling, Revenue That Sticks!
Jan. 16: Webinar: Newsroom of the Future
Jan. 17: Ad Basics, SCPA Offices, Columbia
Jan. 18: SCPA Foundation Internship and Scholarship application deadline
Jan. 24: Webinar: In Cyberspace No One Can Hear You Scream: Trademarks, Copyrights and the Internet
Feb. 14: Ed Henninger workshop on updating your newspaper's design, SCPA Offices, Columbia
March 22-24, 2013: SCPA Annual Meeting and Awards Presentation, The Westin Poinsett Hotel, Greenville