MNSPJ joins legal petition in Wetterling case

“The Minnesota Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has joined a motion to intervene to review public information from files emanating from the Jacob Wetterling abduction case.

MNSPJ, along with other journalism organizations, filed to be part of a larger legal discussion on what records collected in the case may be public and which will remain private. We look forward to discussing these matters with the court and supporting public access, government transparency and First Amendment rights.”

The Minnesota Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists exists to support the First Amendment rights of all journalists in Minnesota and to promote the sound and ethical practices of journalism. The Minnesota chapter advocates for access to public information for the public at large and dedicates itself to pursuing openness and government transparency.

Contact: Joe Spear, MNSPJ board secretary

507-317-8073

MNSPJ annual meeting July 18

The Minnesota Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists will have its annual meeting 7 p.m.,  July 18 at The Cardinal Restaurant and Bar, 2920 E. 38th St., Minneapolis. All members are invited to attend.

MPR reporter, Star Tribune staff among top 2017 Page One Award winners

Journalists from across the state were honored Thursday evening at the 2017 Minnesota SPJ Page One Awards.

Laura Yuen, a reporter for MPR News, took home Journalist of the Year honors while Andy Mannix, a reporter for the Star Tribune, was named Young Journalist of the Year.  The staff of the Star Tribune received the Story of the Year award for its coverage of music icon Prince’s death.

Hannah Allam of BuzzFeed News gave the keynote address

Meanwhile, Tony Webster, a public records researcher and data activist, received the 2017 Peter S. Popovich Award, which is given to a person or organization that exemplifies the fight for First Amendment rights.

The Page One Awards recognize the best in Minnesota journalism.  More than 130 journalists working in print, TV, radio and online attended the event, which was held at the Town & Country Club in St. Paul.  The entries for this year’s awards were judged by members of the San Diego pro chapter of SPJ.

Hannah Allam, a former Pioneer Press reporter who covers U.S. Muslim life for BuzzFeed News, gave the keynote address.  Allam called for a deeper and more nuanced coverage of Muslims, noting that many find themselves caught in the middle, “defending their faith from barbarism at one end and bigots at the other.”  To the journalists in the room who may cover issues related to Islam, she said: “I hope we focus on the facts — not the hysteria or alarm-ism.”

Minnesota SPJ also announced the winner of a $2,500 scholarship — Madeline DeBilzan, who recently completed her freshman year at Bethel University, where she is studying journalism and business.

The awards ceremony was hosted by Tom Weber of MPR News.

The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), the oldest and largest organization of journalists in the U.S., was founded as Sigma Delta Chi in 1909.  The Minnesota Chapter, which has about 100 members, was founded in 1956.

If you would like to order duplicate awards or have any awards-related questions, please contact Minnesota SPJ at minnesota.spj@gmail.com.

The full program, with the complete winner’s list, can be viewed here.

MNSPJ helps open state prisons to cameras again.

As a result of First Amendment advocacy efforts by the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists, the Minnesota Department of Corrections has decided to allow photojournalists back into Minnesota State Prisons to take photographs and video under certain conditions. This is a significant step forward after cameras were completely banned by a policy implemented in 2015.

MNSPJ leaders met with Department of Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy and his communications staff in February. We heard Commissioner Roy’s concern for victims and had a chance to articulate our position — that photojournalists serve an important role in shining light on one of the largest and most powerful institutions of state government.

The updated policy now allows photography of groups of prisoners involved in activities as well as images of prison cells and facilities, although continues to ban all inmate faces and names. The DOC also retains complete discretion as to who is interviewed and which programs are covered.

Earlier this week the DOC updated their website to reflect the updated policy and are now taking media requests. A number of requests have already been granted, including:

http://www.kare11.com/news/prisoners-supporters-run-5k-in-solidarity/433573672
http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2017/06/06/super-bowl-inmate-artwork/

While allowing cameras back is an important step, MNSPJ continues to object to the MN DOC’s policy banning all faces and names and will work for access that better aligns with the cameras in the court pilot program.

MNSPJ is committed to advocating for First Amendment rights for all journalists in Minnesota.

Tell Us Your Story: Martiga Lohn

Martiga Lohn, a former newswoman for the Associated Press who works for the state Department of Human Services, wrote the following for SPJ’s ongoing Tell us Your Story series, a salute to former journalists who have moved on to new adventures.

For more than 20 years, I gave journalism everything I could. 

But when I had a child and needed journalism to give me some flexibility back, it just wasn’t going to happen. Not in that job, not at that time. 

Martiga Lohn, who covered the state Capitol for the AP, now works for the state Department of Human Services.

While leaving journalism wasn’t an easy decision, it was the right move for me and my family.  I wouldn’t trade the extra time with my daughter for any number of bylines. 

It’s already been more than four years since I left.  Everything I learned in journalism along the way helped lead me where I am today.  I have a meaningful job with the Minnesota Department of Human Services, where I help people work with reporters and offer insight into how the media works. My skills are respected and valued, and my work-life balance is much more balanced these days.

I started working as a reporter when I was still in high school, covering my school’s sports teams and writing features for my hometown weekly.  They taught me to typeset and drafted me to stuff circulars into the printed papers, sending me home with inky hands. 

Years later, when I went to work for a daily newspaper, I would wake up and run downstairs to get my paper every morning — so thrilled to see my work and the work of my fellow reporters in print. 

Journalism took me to a lot of places, from earnings news conferences for pharmaceutical companies in Germany to the press corps campouts outside end-of-session negotiations at the Minnesota Capitol (or sometimes at the Governor’s residence or State Office Building).  I got to write about presidents and artists, bus drivers and mechanics, voters and visionaries.

What really sticks with me now are the times I had to go out and talk to “regular people” — outside grocery stores, inside restaurants and bars and American Legions, at protests on the streets. Approaching people with an open notebook never came to me naturally, but I appreciate now even more how necessary it was.  The news needs their voices. 

There aren’t many jobs that challenge you to get out of your comfort zone by walking up to strangers and asking them to share deeply held opinions and feelings.  Looking back, it’s moving to me that so many people were generous with their time and willing to be quoted in my stories.

And then suddenly one day, I was on the other side of the equation.  I was surprised when a reporter approached me.

It was the middle of the day during the week in downtown Minneapolis, about a year ago.  I had just gotten my preschool-age daughter out of the car and was plugging the meter before we headed inside to a music class.  A white SUV with a TV station logo pulled over across the street.  A reporter jumped out and bounded over to us.  He asked for an interview about something to do with one of the stadiums.  It happened so fast I didn’t fully register what he wanted to talk about.

Even though I’m not a reporter anymore, I have yet to unlearn all the rules of journalism.  Reporters can’t use other reporters as sources, so I would never have agreed to be a “regular person” for another reporter while I was a reporter.  It felt so odd to be asked.  I also felt camera-shy, and caught up in the throes of trying to get my preschooler somewhere on time.  So I said no, and he went on his way.

I guess I’m still coming to terms with myself as a former member of the profession. 

Martiga Lohn worked as a reporter for the AP, Bloomberg News, the Duluth News Tribune and several non-daily newspapers.

Have a reflection to share?  Send it to the Minnesota SPJ at minnesota.spj@gmail.com.

Tony Webster receives 2017 Peter S. Popovich Award award for fighting for First Amendment rights

The Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists is excited to announce Tony Webster, a public records researcher and data activist, as its 2017 Peter S. Popovich Award winner.  Webster’s dogged work to make government more transparent exemplifies the spirit of the award, which honors those who fight for First Amendment rights.


 Journalists could learn a lot — and many have — by watching how Webster, a software engineer and researcher, uses the Data Practices Act and Freedom of Information Act. He requests records early and often about topics important to Minnesotans, like law enforcement’s use of emerging surveillance technology and housing fraud in North Minneapolis. Over the past two years, Webster has been in court challenging a sheriff’s denial of access to emails about facial recognition technology. The Court of Appeals recently rejected the sheriff’s argument that requests to access emails by topic or keyword are too difficult to comply with.
 
This spring, Webster plans to launch Goverage (twitter.com/goverage), a non-profit organization to help journalists and the public use and enforce their rights under state public records laws. In addition to making data policies and court documents about freedom of information litigation more accessible, Webster says Goverage will do research on how compliant government agencies are with the many transparency provisions of law.
 
Webster publishes much of what he finds on his website, tonywebster.com, where he calls himself a “web engineer, public records researcher and policy nerd.” Through his Twitter account, @webster, Webster raises awareness in real time about efforts to keep public information secret, calling out public officials and their offices for bad — and sometimes good — handling of data requests.

Webster will accept the award and speak at this year’s MNSPJ Page One Awards banquet scheduled for June 15th.