MNSPJ announces winners of the Popovich award

Each year, the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists recognizes those who fight for First Amendment rights with the chapter’s Peter S. Popovich Award.

This year, the award goes to a citizens group in Victoria, Minnesota, for their five-year effort to legally compel their City Council to open meetings, follow the law and provide public information to the public.

Ken Goulart, Larry Gubbe, Tom Funk, Alan Kildow, Sonya Braunschweig and a handful of citizens fought City Hall for basic public records like council meeting minutes and email communications. They were challenged and threatened, but they stood their ground and exercised their First Amendment right to speak out, holding the government accountable for its modus operandi of secrecy.

Read a Star Tribune story on the court case.

The group spent upwards of $20,000 of their own money, filed 21 Data Practices Act requests and spent thousands of hours researching records, filing requests for information, issuing correspondence and attending council meetings. When they were met with continued resistance from City Hall, the Victoria citizens took their battle to court and won a resounding victory with an order that showed four council members intentionally violated the Open Meeting Law 38 times.

In her ruling, Judge Janet Barke Cain said of the city officials: “The defendants express their ignorance of the OML to a degree this court finds shameful with regard to their duty to the public.”

The case will help journalists in Minnesota in that it serves as a warning to those who would flout the Open Meeting Law that violations will be taken seriously and that those who break the law will face consequences.

The group will accept the award and speak at this year’s MNSPJ Page One Awards banquet on June 14.

MNSPJ seeks board candidates

MNSPJ is seeking candidates for the 2018-19 board year. Join us!

The chapter is led by a diverse, volunteer board of media professionals, past and present, who are driven by a desire to promote and protect quality journalism and the public’s right to know. 

This year’s election will begin on June 20, with candidate statements due by June 15. Results of this year’s election will be announced at the MNSPJ annual meeting in July.

Any member in good standing with the Society of Professional Journalists can run for office. Interested candidates should send a biography and short statement of candidacy to minnesota.spj@gmail.com by June 15.

Questions can be directed to MNSPJ president-elect Joe Spear at jspear@mankatofreepress.com.

Join us for the MNSPJ Page One Awards

Tickets are available now for the 2018 Page One Awards, which will celebrate the best in Minnesota journalism.

Christopher Ingraham, a Washington Post reporter with an affinity for odd, off-the-beaten-path datasets, will be the keynote speaker. He expertly uses data to break down knotty topics, including gun policy.

In 2015, Chris attained upper Midwestern notoriety after reporting on a USDA report that ranked Red Lake County, Minnesota dead last in the nation for “natural amenities.” He subsequently visited the county at the invite of a local businessman, fell in love with the region, and moved there with his family the following year. He’s working on a book about the experience.

The Page One Awards will recognize the state’s top journalists, with awards for investigative reporting, beat reporting and story of the year. 

Buy tickets to the banquet here. 

Date: Thursday, June 14

Location: Town & Country Club
Town & Country Club
(300 Mississippi River Blvd. N., St. Paul, Minn.)

Time:
Reception begins at 5:30 p.m.
Dinner served at 7:00 p.m.

Please RSVP by 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, June 7.

MNSPJ opposes restrictions to cameras in courts

The Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists supports the Minnesota Supreme Court in its efforts to bring the sound and pictures of the courtroom into the homes of all Minnesotans.

On April 25, the court will take public testimony on an advisory committee’s proposal it make permanent a pilot program allowing cameras to cover some sentencings in courtrooms. Until the pilot program, the public had little or no access via pictures and sound to one of the most important branches of government — the one that can give or take away a citizen’s freedom.

The pilot program has proven to not only shed light on the taxpayer-funded justice system, but shown that transparency does no harm to the administration of justice or victims of crime. It has only given the people more insight into the emotions, complications and humanity that plays out in Minnesota courtrooms every day.

The Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists supports this hard-fought First Amendment right and opposes those at the Minnesota Legislature who would favor restricting how public audiences can see court proceedings.

We oppose ill-advised legislation that would shut down access to information that shows how the justice system works and return to a blackout system in Minnesota courtrooms.

We strongly disagree with DFL and GOP members of the House of Representatives Public Safety Committee who favored including the bill in final omnibus legislation that would also be problematic to the Minnesota Constitutional separation of powers, as outlined by the objections of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

Testimony at the public safety committee hearing on this bill was flawed, suggesting victims would no longer come forward should cameras be allowed. Those testifying provided no evidence to back up their claims. Under the current pilot program and the one proposed, victims cannot be photographed or recorded without their written consent.

Minnesota is far behind the transparency in government curve compared to our neighboring states, who all allow cameras in nearly all court proceedings while Minnesota’s plan allows cameras only after a verdict has been rendered.

The Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists holds the belief that camera access in courts equates to public access.

Signed:
Jenna Ross, MNSPJ president
Joe Spear, MNSPJ president-elect
Hal Davis, MNSPJ, FOIA committee
 
For more information, contact: 
Joe Spear
Managing Editor
The Free Press
Mankato Magazine
Minnesota Valley Business
Free Press Media
507-344-6382
jspear@mankatofreepress.com
Twitter @jfspear

Scholarship: Deadline extended to April 9!

Good news, college students: MNSPJ has extended the deadline for its $2,500 college scholarship through Monday, April 9. You still have time!

Any applications submitted between now and then will be judged against the full set of applications.

Here are the details: 

The Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists (MNSPJ) is now accepting applications for its 2018 student scholarship. This year, MNSPJ will award one $2,500 scholarship to a student pursuing a career in broadcast, print, online or visual journalism. A second winner will receive a $700 stipend to attend SPJ’s Excellence in Journalism, an annual national conference for professional and college journalists that will be held Sept. 27-29 in Baltimore.

Applicants must either be enrolled in a post-secondary institution in Minnesota or have graduated from a high school in Minnesota and be enrolled in college elsewhere. Preference will be given to Society of Professional Journalists members.

Click here to submit an application form –- the first step. Email the additional application materials to minnesota.spj@gmail.com. Here’s what’s required:

Application form, which can be found here
Resume
College transcript
Letter of recommendation
Essay (limited to 500 words): Why have you chosen journalism as a career?
Up to six samples of work via a link to your portfolio, a PDF of clips or story URLs

Applications must be received by April 9. The scholarship winners will be announced prior to MNSPJ’s annual Page One Awards banquet, where recipients will receive their awards.

Questions? Email minnesota.spj@gmail.com.

Editorial boards argue against bill that would ban cameras in courtrooms

Newspaper editorial boards are speaking out against a bill that would ban cameras in courtrooms. 

“Let courts decide on rules on cameras in Minnesota courtrooms,” the Star Tribune’s editorial board argued this week. While the bill’s author touted the legislation as necessary to spare the victims of crimes, the board pointed out that “Minnesota’s rules governing use of cameras in the courtroom already bar video recording and photography of all but the sentencing and post-guilty plea proceedings in criminal cases. Recording of witness testimony is disallowed.”

“Those rules,” the board argued, “have been painstakingly developed by the courts with much testing and public input.”

Another excerpt:

Minnesota’s courts have been uncommonly cautious about cameras in the courtroom. The Pew Charitable Trusts reported that as of 2012, all 50 states allowed recording of at least some courtroom proceedings. Minnesota then was still limiting cameras to civil proceedings, and then only with a judge’s consent.

It’s telling that supporters of the bill at Wednesday’s hearing offered no evidence of ill effects from the 35-some other states that have fewer restrictions than Minnesota. (The Minnesota Newspaper Association, of which the Star Tribune is a member, testified in opposition to Knoblach’s bill.)

Read the full editorial here.

The Mankato Free Press, too, cautioned against the bill, showing how having cameras in the courtrooms allowed the paper to get to the “truth narrative” of several stories.

“These were powerful images,” the board said, “that allow the public to judge how justice was delivered in a public court of law funded by taxpayers. That taxpayers should be denied this information runs contrary to the rules of self-governance.”

The editorial continues:

[Rep. Jim] Knoblach argued if cameras are allowed in courts, victims of sex trafficking would forever have to see their testimony replayed on the Internet. Again, nothing could be further from the truth. The rules don’t allow victims to be photographed or filmed. It’s prohibited.

It’s troubling that Knoblach continues to give credence to these false premises when they are so far removed from reality.

We believe photographs, as they say, are worth a thousand words and create a more complete picture of a different kind of truth that comes once a verdict has been rendered.

Any attempt to deny citizens a method for evaluating how their government works is a strike against self-governance and should be fought with vigor.