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.

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
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 Here’s what’s required:

Application form, which can be found here
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

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.

Sunshine at the Statehouse: a March 29 event

Join MNSPJ for Sunshine at the Statehouse, a conversation about efforts to improve transparency in government. MinnPost legislative reporter Briana Bierschbach and Matt Ehling of the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MNCOGI) will discuss bills at the Legislature that would affect what information would be open to journalists and the public. Have a beer and hear about what’s happening this session.

DATE: Thursday, March 29
TIME: Doors open at 6 p.m. Panel at 6:30.
LOCATION: Grumpy’s in downtown Minneapolis
1111 South Washington Avenue

Sunshine Week: MNSPJ supports open-government efforts

In recognition of national Sunshine Week, the Minnesota Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists declares its support for the open-government tenets behind several transparency initiatives at the Minnesota Legislature.
We support these efforts to ensure continued public access to government records in light of threats, to thwart efforts to keep secret public employee performance information and to shine light on instances of sexual harassment among public employees and elected officials. MNSPJ also wholeheartedly supports and endorses efforts to subject the Minnesota Legislature and its staff to the Minnesota Data Practices Act.
Among the bills being debated at the Legislature, MNSPJ calls attention to these three:
• HF 1185 – Three-year e-mail retention. The Minnesota Supreme Court’s reading of the word “official” in Minn. Stat. 15.17 (in the Kottscahde v. Lundberg opinion) has been used to narrow the types of records that must be retained by government entities. The effect of the proposed change would be to require that all government data be placed on a retention schedule that specifies the length of time it must be maintained for. Recently, some government entities (including the City of Saint Paul and Hennepin County) have started to destroy e-mails that contain data useful for government oversight. Read MNSPJ’s statement in 2017 about this issue:
• HF 1316 – Government cannot use “personnel data” exception to limit access to otherwise public video. Amends Minnesota Statutes 13.43 to specify that certain video recordings of government employees continue to be public data even when classified as “personnel data.” The bill is in response to the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision in the KSTP TV v. Metropolitan Council case involving videos that contain recordings of two incidents involving the drivers of Metro Transit buses. Read more the case and MNSPJ’s position on it here:
• Rep. Lesch/O’Neill bill to institute new process to review sexual harassment claims at the House, including public reporting of certain matters. MNSPJ supports the public reporting and public process provisions of the procedural changes to the House rules.
MNSPJ along with the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MNCOGI) support the principles that define these bills. Without action on these important bills, the press and more importantly, the public, will be denied access to the information it needs for self-governance.
In this time of burgeoning threats to public access to information and attempts to obstruct and indeed punish journalists seeking to report the truth, MNSPJ calls on all journalists and the public to support these efforts by legislators who see the value in a free press.

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
Twitter @jfspear


Alex Friedrich worked for Minnesota Public Radio News, the Pioneer Press and other newspapers during a 25-year career. He wrote the following for MNSPJ’s ongoing series, Tell us Your Story, a salute to former journalists who have moved on to new adventures.


The morning I was laid off from MPR News two years ago, I was stunned.

Me? I thought.

You’ve laid off ME?

That evening I considered calling friends at some Twin Cites news outlets. I’d show them who could bounce back.

After all, I’d had a rewarding career. I’d covered high-profile scandals and disasters here at home, and historic political moments in Europe and the Caucasus. I’d done investigations that brought about change, and written some goofy stories I still laugh about.

But I knew journalism wasn’t the gig it used to be. 

Budgets were tight, and travel budgets even tighter. By 2015, a big trip for me was an overnighter to an outstate Minnesota college. (Woo hoo!)

And the digital age had turned the old daily deadline into an all-day grind: news spots, debriefs, blog posts, tweets. Sometimes I had hardly a minute to think about what I was writing.

So when I thought about clawing myself back into the ring, I thought: Nah. Ain’t worth it. News is a young person’s game now.

And soon I started to think: This layoff is actually a good thing.

I’d long harbored the desire to teach. Getting the ax was the kick in the butt that I needed.

I rang up folks on my old higher-education beat, and they were surprisingly receptive. Who’d have thought I could use my old master’s degree in economics to teach at a community college?

By January 2016, I was running classes on two campuses.

Teaching is just like news, really: Take a complicated subject. Explain it in terms your average person can understand. Add a few anecdotes and some humor to make it interesting.

The students are your readers/listeners/viewers. They appreciate a good story. They seem to dig my old war stories as a business and economy reporter. And I use lots of news stories to illustrate the week’s topic.

I was up for one disappointment. At first I thought that being free from the newsroom meant I could show my political stripes. Not so.

I’m really under the same old constraint of political neutrality, though it’s self-imposed this time. I wear these shackles once again because I’d hate for a student to tune out my economic lessons because he or she doesn’t like my politics. And my students say they appreciate it.

What I relish most is the time and freedom I have – what reporters always crave. With no deadline hanging over my head, I can take plenty of time to research and actually think — THINK — about the material I’m about to present.

Make no mistake: It’s a lot of work. Most of it is outside of the classroom.

But I’m my own boss. My dean handles administrative matters, but I run the show in the classroom. My ideas. My approach. My voice.

I still don’t travel for work, of course. But when winter or summer break rolls around, I’ve got my airplane ticket in hand – and plenty of time to enjoy the trip.