Like any good quick-thinking journalist would do, Steve Kroft took what was thrown at him and made the most of a bad situation. He was in New Orleans last September 11, working on a forensics story, when the terrorist attacks in the Northeast shut down airline travel across the country.
Temporarily stranded, Mr. Kroft said the best thing to do with his four producers and four associate producers accompanying him would be to "try to throw everybody together on a story. ... We figured airport security would be a good place to start."
The keynote speaker for the April 20 luncheon at the combined SPJ Region 1 and Radio-Television News Directors Assocation (RTNDA) Region II conference at Syracuse University, the CBS "60 Minutes" reporter stated bluntly that "scandal is the only way to describe airport security" in the United States in the wake of 9/11.
He related how a former Navy SEAL and his red team were able to penetrate airport security "almost any time" they tried.
"There was an appearance of airport security, when in fact there was not," Mr. Kroft said.
"Everyone pretended up until 9/11 that the system worked," he continued. "We can't count on government to do the right thing. It will choose expediency every time."
He said in 1996 legislation that mandated the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to get computerized up-to-the-minute tracking technology installed was formulated, but was eventually killed in Congress. Sixteen of the 19 terrorist hijackers had come into the U.S. with temporary visas, but the "government had no reliable records of who comes and who goes."
"The dirty little secret is that terrorism works," Mr. Kroft said.
The guest speaker, who is a 1967 Syracude University graduate, said a "sort of fatigue has set in" following the intense reporting of all things related to terrorism and Afghanistan post-9/11, and he fears signs of complacency have emerged. There still is no INS tracking system in place, Mr. Kroft said, nor have there been any INS shakeups or firings of personnel at the agency.
"It's been a bipartisan failure," he said.
Mr. Kroft concluded saying it is "our responsibility as journalists to find out whether that money (being spent) for anti-terrorism is being spent wisely."
Much of the flavor of the conference workshops, which mostly took place in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, was laced with references or direct ties to reprehensible terrorist acts. Reporter Dan Herbeck of The Buffalo News, who with Lou Michael co-authored "American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh and the Tragedy of Oklahoma City," chatted informally about his long authorship ordeal on April 19, which ironically was the exact seventh anniversary date of the horrific event in the Midwest.
He later joined with SU's Joan Deppa, principal author of "The Media and Disasters: Pan Am 103," and William Banks, from the College of Law and Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, to talk about reporting on biological and chemical terrorism, and how difficult they would be to prevent.
Ms. Deppa also led her own workshop, called "The Lessons of Terrorism," which discussed -- and criticized -- in greater detail media coverage of the Pan Am Flight 103 disaster over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December of 1988, an event that had direct connections to SU, as 35 students were on that plane returning to the United States from London, where they had been studying for a semester.
Professor Bob Lissit, a former network news producer who writes for the American Journalism Review and is a consultant to law firms on the ethics of hidden camera reporting, led a lively yet soul-searching workshop on how media people might reposnd if confronted by a terrorist group that has taken hostages at a bank, and threatens mass killings unless it is allowed to broadcast a message live over the television station that is covering the incident.
Students and professional journalists attending the session squirmed a lot and could give no comfortable answers, revealing such incidents, even if hypothetical, are fraught with gut-wrenching issues and decisions.
Media coverage of the Middle East and diversity in the newsroom were among the many other excellent workshop choices the more than 150 people attending the conference were afforded over the two main program days.
Region III Conference/National Writers Workshop, Atlanta
From freedom of information issues to covering the military to the AP Stylebook, the Region III Conference/National Writers Workshop had something for everyone.
About 100 professional and student journalists converged on Atlanta April 19-20 to hear from top reporters, editors and producers and to honor the best in professional and student journalism in the region.
Richard Griffiths, senior executive producer at CNN, opened the weekend talking about CNN’s coverage of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and its continued reporting of the war on terrorism. Griffiths said the terrorist attacks were a turning point for American journalism. It became relevant again, resembling the days of Watergate.
He discussed the problems and ethical questions CNN reporters and producers faced in their coverage: Should they point out the problems in airport security and give terrorists a road map? Should they turn over information found in Afghanistan and appear to be an extension of the government? There are a million ethical questions, Griffiths said, with the biggest one being “Can we be objective all of the time? Can you be objective when 3,000 people are killed?”
But seven months later, Griffiths said journalists are facing a struggling economy and financial pressures that hurt war coverage. It costs a fortune to fight a war and a small fortune to cover it, he said.
Griffiths urged the audience to uphold a tradition of excellence and to figure out how to keep the story relevant.
Other convention highlights included:
• SPJ FOI Committee Chairman Ian Marquand provided an overview of SPJ’s new FOI initiative, Open Doors. He explained the history of the project, how it will be distributed and how journalists will be able to use it to explain FOI to their readers and the public at large; to find story ideas; and to review the basics of FOI.
• About 25 conference attendees took an after-hours tour of the CNN Studios, peeking in on CNN news and Headline News studios.
• Roger Simpson and Migael Scherer with the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma at the University of Washington told the history of the center and how it sent representatives to New York to help journalists covering the terrorist attacks.
• Military reporters and military public affairs officers talked about current military and war coverage and provided tips and advice for covering the military beat effectively.
•Norm Goldstein, editor of the Associated Press Stylebook, enlightened students and professionals on how the Stylebook comes together, how entries are selected and decided on and how the Stylebook is making its way to a computerized version.
• At the Mark of Excellence Awards luncheon, students from Region III were honored for their outstanding work in 2001. Guests also heard a powerful talk from Jack McElroy, editor of The Knoxville News-Sentinel. McElroy was managing editor at the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, Colo., when the Columbine High School shootings occurred. McElroy discussed how the newsroom worked tirelessly to tell the stories of those killed in the shootings. He also showed some of the newspaper’s Pulitzer Prize winning photographs.
The conference wrapped up with the Green Eyeshade Awards, which recognized outstanding journalism in the Southeast. The Green Eyeshade Awards began 52 years ago and honor excellence in print and broadcast journalists in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.
The Region III Conference also was a time to research ways to revive SPJ in Atlanta, which does not have a chapter. Chapter representatives from the region discussed having the 2003 regional conference in Atlanta again in order to continue renewed interest in SPJ in the city. Anyone in the Atlanta area interested in helping revive an Atlanta chapter can contact Region III Director Holly Fisher at email@example.com or at (843) 873-9424.
Region IV Conference March 22-23 at
Bowling Green State University,
Bowling Green, Ohio
A small, but robust group of 50 participated in the annual Region IV
conference this year in Ohio, according to regional director Bruce Cadwallader.
Our special guest for the weekend was SPJ Executive Director Terry Harper.
The weekend began with a reception sponsored by the school of
communications and ended with an enlightening picture show by Pittsburgh
Post-Gazette photo editor David LaBelle. LaBelle not only spoke of the
future of photojournalism, but gave us some life-enriching anecdotes. Many
stayed for the entire seminar.
A lively discussion on public records was held by Jim Underwood, a media
member for 40 years who now leads his own consulting company. Jack Kresnak
of the Detroit Free Press held a wonderful briefing about his award-winning
series on "Murder by Neglect," an analysis of Michigan's child welfare
system through the case of one murdered toddler. He kept a breakfast
The afternoon sessions were highlighted with humor writing sessions and a
special segment on Bowling Green's internationally-famous tractor pulling
Students were the focus of the annual Mark of Excellence contest, which
this year saw entries from a record-setting 15 schools in the region. Ohio
State University took home the Sweepstakes award for the highest number of
award winners, followed by Kent State and the University of Cincinnati.
Kudos go to Dr. Dennis Hale and Linda Fritz Glomski of the BGSU School of
Communications Studies for hosting the event in the new Bowen-Thompson
Student Union. A silent auction raised money for SPJ's Legal Defense Fund.
More than 300 people attended the Midwest Journalism conference April 5-6 at the Double Tree Grand Hotel in Bloomington, Minn.
The conference is a joint effort by the Society of Professional Journalists, National Broadcast News Association, National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the Associated Press, the National Press Photographers Association, and the Radio Television News Directors Association. This is the second year these organizations have joined to put on this conference.
The Region 6 chapter leaders meeting was held the morning of April 6. The annual Mark of Excellence Awards Luncheon was held April 5. About 100
students attended to pick up their journalism awards. Angela Davis, an anchor and reporter for KSTP-TV in St. Paul and a former SPJ student chapter president at Maryland, was the speaker.
The weekend featured an appearance by U.S. Senate candidates Paul Wellstone and Norm Coleman, marking the first time these two have been in the same room since the beginning of this hotly contested and nationally watched campaign. Saturday night, legendary University of Minnesota football and basketball broadcaster Ray Christensen was honored and spoke at the NBNA awards dinner. Christensen broadcast Gophers' games for 50 years before retiring last year.
Minnesota Public Radio Personality Katherine Lanpher spoke at the Associated Press broadcast awards dinner Friday.
In addition to the special events, the conference featured two-days of professional development programs for students and professionals in print, broadcast and online journalism.
FT. Collins, CO
There is lasting impression that falls upon the audience when people tell their personal stories. It’s the type of impact that hits you when you least expect it days later and makes you think a little harder next time you are confronted with something similar.
The Society of Professional Journalists’ Region IX conference April 5 and 6 at Colorado State University touched on three subjects – creativity in the newsroom, covering terror and diversity in the profession – with the hopes that attendees would walk away with an inspiring story and something to think about.
Nearly 100 professionals and students attended the Saturday workshops and about 120 people listened to Leif Utne, managing editor of Utne Reader Online and associate director of Utne Communities, present “Re-inventing Journalism: Independent media, the Internet and beyond.”
Early Saturday, we learned that creativity works fast, coffee stimulates the mind and to always carry something to write on. Jonathan Berlin, a page designer for the Rocky Mountain News, believes creativity is about being bold, being different and being smart.
“Too many people read a newspaper for it to be a product of one person,” Berlin said. “It’s about not wanting the newspaper to be boring.”
Gwen Florio, who worked as a correspondent for the Denver Post in Afghanistan, explained the fear and adrenaline that came with reporting from a hostile country. She explained her thoughts after three journalists were murder in Afghanistan. “I just thought, ‘What if someone has to tell my children my throat was cut?’,” Florio said as she pointed out her daughter in the audience. Her account was easy to relate to yet hard to comprehend.
She also gave a foreign correspondent’s perspective to what happened to Daniel Pearl.
“We all would have done the same thing,” she said. “What he did, we would have felt very safe doing.”
As the conference wrapped up, diversity panelists explained what the term “diversity” meant to them. They described how diversity goes beyond the color of ones skin and asked each member in the audience to name one thing that made them unique. From disabilities to number of countries traveled, conference attendees illustrated how diverse journalists really are.
The conference was an overall success, receiving praise from professionals and students alike.
“Thanks again for putting on a wonderfully successful regional conference,” Region IX director Jay Evensen wrote to the CSU chapter. “I'm hardly exaggerating to say it was the best one I'd been to. All of the workshops were informative and interesting, and they engaged the audience, which is important.”
As BYU student Kasey Pruett put it: “I am glad that we took the time to be there. I think it really helps being able to get out of the newsroom and speak with individuals who have spent their lives working with something they love. … The information presented at the conference gave me new ideas and interests as an aspiring journalist.”
List of speakers
Creativity in the newsroom: Ryan Borgman, videographer at Fox 31 News; Leif Utne, managing editor of Utne Reader Online and associate director of Utne Communities; Kate Forgach, online editor at the Fort Collins Coloradoan; Lynn Klyde-Silverstein, journalism professor at the University of Northern Colorado; and Jonathan Berlin, page designer at the Rocky Mountain News.
Covering terror: John Hopkins, copy/layout editor of the Miami Herald;
Lesley Kennedy, fashion editor of Rocky Mountain News; Michelle Fulcher,
national editor, Gwen Florio, reporter, columnist, all of the Denver Post; James Highland, journalism professor at Western Kentucky University.
Diversity in the profession: Lynn Klyde-Silverstein, journalism professor at the University of Northern Colorado; Chris Cobler, editor, Tom Martinez, city editor, both of the Greeley Tribune; and Sarah Langbein, student and reporter at the Fort Collins Coloradoan.