Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Screw transparency - two lessons in hidden government and the piggy bank

I'd call your attention today from two stories from Columbia, S.C., that show how public officials do their best to hide the money that flows from the government "piggy bank."

Our first exhibit

A story from The Nerve on how EnginuitySC appears to be quietly stepping away from its much-touted nuclear initiative now that the V.C. Summer nuclear project has collapsed. But of even more interest to me is the info, deep in the story, that this government-backed nonprofit  has contracted out its management to a firm, Sagacious Partners, run by Engenuity's current and former directors.

(Also interesting to me is that Sagacious manages to neglect to mention Engenuity anywhere in its partners' bios that I can see (a search on the page turned up nada). And, yes, EngenuitySC is a quasi-public agency - it's often referenced that way in government reports and budgets, and it has received millions of state money, which makes it subject to the FOIA.)

The effect of contracting out management is to hide the actual salaries under a lump-sum payment to Sagacious (though an FOIA for the contract might be revealing, but not necessarily -- see the next entry). I invite you to tool through Engenuity's Form 990 tax return that The Nerve helpfully has linked to.

Our second exhibit ...

Comes from the investigative site Quorum Columbia, where investigative reporter Ron Aiken dropped an open records request on Richland County for details of what it's paid in legal bills recently.

The total? About $5 million.

Except the county won't say what it paid for. It redacted all the details.

 The site is by subscription, but here's an excerpt:
Quorum’s review of the County’s legal spending from May 2016 to August 2017 showed payments to:
  • McNair Law Firm (governmental affairs), $354,689
  • Gignilliat Savitz & Bettis (employment and labor law), $252,125
  • Attorney Malane S. Pike (governmental affairs, property tax/assessment issues), $260,933
  • Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough (governmental affairs), $45,104
  • Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein (governmental affairs, accounting and finance compliance), $207,979
  • Willoughby & Hoefer (governmental affairs), $3,874,488.
The amounts are easy to discover.
The work performed for them is not.
For this story Quorum asked for both the latest invoice and copy of the contract between the County and each of the firms listed. In the 44 pages provided, any and every mention of specific work performed by a firm on invoices submitted was completely redacted. The only information even hinting at the nature of the work came in generalized summaries in the original contracts between the firms and the County, some of which were signed long after the firm or individual was receiving large, regular payments from the County.
Here's an example:



As pointed out in the story, there's a real question here about flagrant abuse of the attorney-client privilege exemption, not to mention that taxpayers footed these bills for outside counsel when the county also has a well-paid legal office. (Aiken also provided a link to a PDF of the full county response. It's a beauty of redaction to behold.)

Just a reminder that even when a Legislature says clearly that the public's business is supposed to be ... well ... public, that's open to creative interpretation.

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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Our media paranoia runneth over

This was a note in today's Connecting, the daily email newsletter for AP retirees and others who are interested. For copyright, I won't post the photos, but have given the links. (This is the Connecting archive, where a PDF of the issue should eventually show up thanks to Paul Shane, the indefatigable editor.)  

Was this AP photo 'sanitized' by cartoonist?

Here is HPD SWAT member Daryl Hudeck as he carries Catherine Pham and her son Aiden to safety: https://www.apnews.com/e8ee6288b0f7466eaf4743ffee3fbc5a

Here is the Indianapolis Star's Gary Varvel's version of that photo (note, this is a collection page, so the cartoon may start moving toward the bottom after a few days). http://www.indystar.com/picture-gallery/opinion/columnists/varvel/2017/08/28/gary-varvels-hurricane-cartoons/105043796/ A

And This is what someone wrote in to Connecting:



OK, we've officially gone bonkers.

Yes, cartoonists are supposed to provoke strong reactions. But to accuse Varvel of "sanitizing" the photo with his editorial cartoon? Artists simplify for a reason -- to make a point. Should Varvel have put "SWAT" or "POLICE" on the cap? (That wasn't on the original that I can see, though it's hard to make out what is there.) Perhaps, but then can't it be argued that would marginalize EMS,  firefighters, and all the volunteer rescuers who have headed to the area to help?

Varvel's interpretation celebrates the idea that all of humanity, no matter or race, our occupation or our political persuasion, pulls together in times of such crisis.

He didn't put the person standing in the back in either? Should all the other rescuers be annoyed? He didn't put the submerged car in either - should the automakers be pissed? He didn't put the highway in. Should the road builders be ticked off? 


We have become paranoid -- looking for a bogeyman  and perceived grievances under every (media) rock.
This writer, and others, apparently, who share his views, have  tried to take what I consider a noble image, both the original and Varvel's, and  turn it into yet another point of divisiveness. Fortunately, I think Varvel's will prevail.

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Friday, March 24, 2017

Flyer: AP finally bends to common usage

The pressure became too much to bear.

Time to update those style quizzes. From today's ACES meeting, AP finally bends to common usage:

"AP style now uses flyer with a Y for frequent flyer and advertising flyer. An exception is 'take a flier,' as in take a risk"

https://twitter.com/APStylebook/status/845343227435794433

The full AP entry:

Flyer is the preferred term for a person flying in an aircraft, and for handbills: He used his frequent flyer miles; they put up flyers announcing the show. Use flier in the phrase take a flier, meaning to take a big risk.  

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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Another SC FOIA audit has too many failing grades

 It's nice to know that in South Carolina, the more things change, the more things stay the same, at least when it comes to state agencies' arrogance over the S.C. Freedom of Information Act.

When I supervised the first statewide FOIA audit at the AP almost 20 years ago, we found widespread violations (and even creepier stuff, such as police or sheriff's offices running license plate checks on those asking for basic information that is routinely supposed to be public, even without a request).

During the years, my reporting classes have routinely tested local police and sheriffs, with the same scofflaws, led by Columbia, at the bottom every time.

The SC Policy Council recently ran its own limited test. First, the conclusion because it is important and because I don't want it to get lost at the bottom:

There simply aren’t that many FOIA requests for agencies to deal with. One of the most popular arguments against tightening the state’s FOIA law goes something like this: If you require agencies to respond more substantively to requests, those agencies’ public information offices will do nothing but respond to fishing expeditions by people looking for scandal. Our study doesn’t support that conclusion. Only the Department of Transportation received a significant number of FOIA requests; other agencies received far fewer. As for DOT, a $2 billion agency with a robust public information office should be able to handle 400 or 500 requests in a year.

So here's what the Policy Council did:
On November 8, 2016, we asked for:
► the number of FOIA requests the agency has received in the past three fiscal years;
► the number of FOIA requests to which the agency the responded by producing documents over the past three fiscal years;
► the names/identities of those who have submitted FOIA requests to the agency in the past three fiscal years;
► an itemized list of each FOIA charge for the past three fiscal years; and
► an itemized list of each FOIA charge that was collected in the past three fiscal years and a detailed summary how the funds were spent.
The state agencies were these: Clemson University, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Department of Education, the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), the State Ports Authority (SPA), Santee Cooper, the South Carolina Research Authority (SCRA), the University of South Carolina (USC), the South Carolina House of Representatives, and the South Carolina Senate.

The results -- and keep in mind that South Carolina's law has a 15-day limit for the agency to acknowledge the request but no actual time limit on when the agency must produce the records (the grades are mine based on something similar we did with the AP audit):
  •  Clemson: Said it got the request, never provided the records. Grade: D
  • Commerce: Generally provided the information, but cited 52 cases of exemptions. However, Commerce does have a broad exemption for economic development deals in progress. So, even though I'm always somewhat skeptical because that exemption has been abused, give it a good-faith effort. And it did supply requesters' names, so it earned a B.
  • Transportation: Provided most of the info, but refused to supply the names, citing the law's privacy exemption. Because that privacy claim is doubtful (more on that later), a C+.
  • Education: Said it got the request, never provided the records. Grade: D
  • MUSC: Said it got the request, never provided the records. Grade: D
  • Ports Authority: Responded fully. Grade: A.
  • Santee Cooper: Responded fully. Grade: A.
  • Research Authority: Responded fully except for one request. Again, because it deals in areas where the economic development exemption could creep in, grade it A-.
  • University South Carolina: Did not even respond. Grade: F.
  • S.C. House: Responded fully within the law's constraints, except that five members pulled the "legislative memoranda, communications, etc." card from the deck and blocked their specific information. Does that exemption rankle? Yes, but it is on the books and at least the House leadership and staff tried. Grade: B.
  • S.C. Senate: Pulled a blanket memorandum exemption and piled on with the potentially bogus personal privacy exemption. Grade: F
So if you're plotting out the grades in this class:
 A/A-: 3 .... B+/B: 2 ... C+/C: 1 ... D: 3 ... F: 2

A D is considered failing in your major, and government agencies' "major," as said clearly at the top of the FOIA and in court decisions, should be serving the public interest with disclosure. That 45% of the class has failed says a lot. On the other hand, there are also 45% A's and B's, which were rare in the original audit. So dum spiero spero.

But in this, the "So Sue Me (repeatedly, most likely) State," it has been difficult to get lawmakers, even those intent on improving the FOIA, to understand the extent to which the privacy exemption is being abused - and the extent to which the abuse is growing.

The Columbia Police Department is the champ in this area, blocking records that clearly should be open, even without a request. But there are plenty of other agencies and departments not far behind.

That link has a detailed discussion. But a quick recap:
  • Private information in public records must be segregated and the rest released.
  • S.C. courts have shown an inclination to narrowly construe any privacy exemption and certainly not extend it to matters of any public interest. (The attorney general's office looked at the court record and basically told a sheriff to stop trying to invent exemptions, including privacy.) A crime victim would seem to be, as unfortunate as this is, a person of limited public interest. So would a person, to my mind, making an FOIA request:
  • As the state Appeals Court put it in the Burton case: Our Supreme Court has defined the “right to privacy” as the right of an individual to be let alone and to live a life free from unwarranted publicity.  Sloan v. South Carolina Dep’t of Pub. Safety, 355 S.C. 321, 586 S.E.2d 108 (2003).  However, “‘one of the primary limitations placed on the right of privacy is that it does not prohibit the publication of matter which is of legitimate public or general interest.’”  Society of Prof’l Journalists v. Sexton, 283 S.C. 563, 566, 324 S.E.2d 313, 315 (1984) (quoting Meetze v. Associated Press, 230 S.C. 330, 95 S.E.2d 606 (1956)).  Indeed, the Court has held that, as a matter of law, “if a person, whether willingly or not, becomes an actor in an event of public or general interest, ‘then the publication of his connection with such an occurrence is not an invasion of his right to privacy.’”  Doe v. Berkeley Publishers, 329 S.C. 412, 414, 496 S.E.2d 636, 637 (1998) (quoting Meetze, 230 S.C. at 337, 95 S.E.2d at 609).
  • Who is making FOIA requests is a matter public interest, both to see if a handful of requesters are flooding the system and as another check on power and influence. Institutions (companies, foundations, etc.) generally don't spend their time and money making FOIA requests unless they are researching a matter of deep interest to them, which also usually means it or will become a matter of public interest.
 I know bad cases make bad law -- I'm always afraid of that. And nothing is a slam dunk when it comes to privacy, especially in these days of national security hacking and wiretap revelations.

But I sure wish some player with enough resources to wait out what could be a protracted court case can find a named plaintiff and take on one of these "failing" agencies or the Columbia cops. Until then, periodic FOIA audits are likely to be South Carolina's own "Groundhog Day."

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Saturday, February 04, 2017

Buried treasures in Trump's orders

The coverage of President Trump's executive orders has been intense and informative.

Yet I can think of no other time that it is incumbent on us as journalists -- and just as citizens or plain old human beings -- to read the texts of those orders (I'd encourage you to bookmark that link) and ponder (and seek a range of informed guidance on) what they really say. This means every journalist because, as we've seen already, the tentacles of these have the potential to  reach into almost every community.

I know, it is a lot to ask in a world already demanding too much of our time and mental processing power. But while the media coverage (and what we filter from it) gives us the most salient, emotional points, these orders are filled with gifts that have the potential to  keep on giving (tongue firmly planted in cheek, lest you interpret that as an endorsement).

For instance, in one of Trump's immigration orders (there are at least three, if you count the one primarily dealing with the border wall) is language prompting our typical sky is (well could be) falling stories.

The alarm is well-placed, but you also need to put it in wider context and understanding of the system. Such stories tend to rouse the populace for a relative instant, but the process is a long grind that requires constant vigilance. What usually happens is that the emotion subsides, we move on to other things, and the long, slow engagement is left to the lawyers and lobbyists (and a few journalists, if we are lucky) whose natural habitat is deep in the muck (that swamp Trump said he wants to drain?).

Now, more than ever, to follow that usual pattern is to wake up one day and go WTF?

The screening system order - perspective
 
Yes, you should be concerned about this proposed screening system (if nothing else but for the retaliation it could invite on the world stage).

But as with all such things (including most laws passed by Congress), the devil will be in the administrative details. What needs to be watched closely, of course, is the agency rule making under this authority. I agree the language is very broad. So is a lot of legislation. Definition of irony - the same process has been used to promulgate many of the regulations across government that the Trump administration finds abhorrent.

Here is the language (you'll have to scroll down to Section 4): "This program will include the development of a uniform screening standard and procedure, such as in-person interviews; a database of identity documents proffered by applicants to ensure that duplicate documents are not used by multiple applicants; amended application forms that include questions aimed at identifying fraudulent answers and malicious intent; a mechanism to ensure that the applicant is who the applicant claims to be; a process to evaluate the applicant's likelihood of becoming a positively contributing member of society and the applicant's ability to make contributions to the national interest; and a mechanism to assess whether or not the applicant has the intent to commit criminal or terrorist acts after entering the United States."

The "such as" standard does not not mean, for instance, that in-person interviews would have to be done for every person. "Uniform" as used in law does not necessarily mean the exact same thing for everyone. It means you can set up a series of exemptions, but the policy has to be applied uniformly, not arbitrarily, and there must be clearly stated (and constitutional) reasons for the disparate treatment.

Don't read this as my endorsement. Far from it. It's scary what could be done under this language. I'm suspecting the ultimate end is to create a vast database, far more intrusive than now. (And with just a few legal gymnastics, well, we'll extend that to U.S. citizens who have traveled to whatever countries we think are baddies -- or house baddies -- because, you know, you might have picked up the germs and we can never be too careful and ...

Think I'm being a bit paranoid? Perhaps, but remember the "enhanced interrogation" legal gymnastics or those WMDs Iraq supposedly had?)

But wait, there's more ...
 
But while this order has garnered the lion's share of publicity, just as concerning is some of the language in the other immigration/border orders that has not gotten a lot of publicity. For instance, here is the language buried in another executive order:

Sec. 5. Enforcement Priorities. In executing faithfully the immigration laws of the United States, the Secretary of Homeland Security (Secretary) shall prioritize for removal those aliens described by the Congress in sections 212(a)(2), (a)(3), and (a)(6)(C), 235, and 237(a)(2) and (4) of the INA (8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(2), (a)(3), and (a)(6)(C), 1225, and 1227(a)(2) and (4)), as well as removable aliens who:

(a) Have been convicted of any criminal offense;

(b) Have been charged with any criminal offense, where such charge has not been resolved;

(c) Have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense;
(d) Have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a governmental agency;

(e) Have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits;
(f) Are subject to a final order of removal, but who have not complied with their legal obligation to depart the United States; or

(g) In the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.

I don't know about you, but (b) - littering?, (c ) - WTF?, (e) - what does "abused" mean, (g) - no room for abuse there, eh?

Ought to give a lot of pause.




I like to think due process is one of those things that borders on a human right and that (once we decided it should apply to everyone) has distinguished the United States.

Also, consider these sections:

Sec. 13. Office for Victims of Crimes Committed by Removable Aliens. The Secretary shall direct the Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to take all appropriate and lawful action to establish within U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement an office to provide proactive, timely, adequate, and professional services to victims of crimes committed by removable aliens and the family members of such victims. This office shall provide quarterly reports studying the effects of the victimization by criminal aliens present in the United States.

Sec. 14. Privacy Act. Agencies shall, to the extent consistent with applicable law, ensure that their privacy policies exclude persons who are not United States citizens or lawful permanent residents from the protections of the Privacy Act regarding personally identifiable information.

Fascinating to me that we propose to establish a government bureaucracy devoted solely to victims of crimes by removable aliens. (How are they different from other crime victims?)

And we'll suspend privacy laws for anyone not a citizen or lawful resident? Seems we've seen something like this before in the Japanese internment camps and in Nazi Germany?

At least, for now, we're not proposing they be penned in or wear a special mark.

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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Bannon and the NSC - as a journalist, make sure you read the law

Amid all the hand wringing about Steve Bannon and the National Security Council, there has emerged a shorthand (that Bannon is "part of the National Security Council") and a meme (that Bannon somehow will have to undergo Senate confirmation).

Both are ill-advised and remind us again why it is important to read the law


As I understand it, he twas not appointed to the NSC but invited to attend meetings of the principals committee, an interagency working group. The distinction is important.

If you look at the U.S. Code, his position does not actually qualify for appointment to the council, since his is not a secretary or undersecretary (and I don't know of any appointment provision subject to Senate confirmation beyond this). To fit him into those specified categories would be a stretch:

"The Secretaries and Under Secretaries of other executive departments and of the military departments, when appointed by the President by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to serve at his pleasure."

The other members of the NSC specified by law are the president, vice president and secretaries of state, defense and energy. Other people may be invited to attend, but they are not members of NSC just by attendance. Trump's executive order is fairly careful in parsing this out.

The principals committee, on the other hand, as an interagency group, contains a wider array, such as the attorney general, treasury secretary and homeland security adviser. No Senate confirmation to serve on it is required. It is at the president's discretion.

There are also several other committees (see the executive order) that can have fluid membership and do not require confirmation.

The joint chiefs were never, by statute, part of the NSC (though the president may invite them to sit in). And while Bannon will have great influence over national security policy as part of the principals committee -- and that is properly the subject of much agitated debate -- we need to be precise in what we are talking about.


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Sunday, January 08, 2017

AT&T's massive outage shows how not to do customer service in social media age

AT&T's U-verse service (disclosure, I'm a customer) has had massive outages across the country -- apparently -- for a day or more. The company's response shows how not to do customer service in today's social media world (or one that, just in general, relies on that internet pipe).



I say "apparently" because AT&T has been less than forthcoming in what it's telling people.  You won't find anything on the company's much-touted @ATTCares account on Twitter.


Its @Uverse account is nothing but marketing




What few statements have come from AT&T PR folks have been opaque


The tech support site has a canned statement





And canned chat



The best info is coming from third-party sites like downdetector.com




This probably should be taught as a textbook case study in business and communications schools about how not to handle things in 2016. (I'm also fascinated that it seems few news organizations seem to have picked up on how widespread these problems seem to be.)

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Tuesday, November 01, 2016

When we call something "public," let's be precise

So this arrived in my inbox this morning
"Ga. journalists arrested for filming during open meeting; may face jail time"

Damn.

And it links to this, with the headline:

Georgia Citizen Journalist Facing Criminal Charges for Recording Public Meeting

And, yes, there should be lots of outrage over this. Watch the video (I've included it directly here as well).



And I very much hope Tisdale wins her lawsuit and bleeds them dry.

But we need to be accurate when we call something a "public" meeting. This was the note I wrote to the SPJ official, Sharon Dunten, who sent this out:

 Sharon:

With all due respect, and very much acknowledging that the officer's behavior here seems beyond the pale.

A political rally on private property is not a "public" meeting. Whether it was advertised as such and so she was there by invitation, and thus the trespass is bogus, is, unfortunately, a matter to be adjudicated (or, one might hope, dropped by a sane prosecutor, which does not seem to be the case). Whether it was advertised as "public" is a point of evidence and perhaps law in that adjudication -- once one invites the public, may one then decide to kick part of the public out? But inviting the public  does not mean that one relinquishes the right to control numerous aspects. (e.g.: "No shoes, no shirt, no service").

Yes, there should be outrage directed at the deputy. Yes, it's BS to invite the public to a rally like this and then expect a reporter with a camera not to be there (if she had just had a notebook, would she have just blended in and  been ignored? - serious duplicity for which the organizers should be called to heel).

But let's not weaken the case and diffuse what should be focused outrage by calling it a public meeting. Let's save that for when this kind of stuff happens at real public meetings where the law is crystal clear so that so we have an even clearer case. It is entirely appropriate for us to be outraged at this. It is not good for us to bandy about the term "public," thus weakening, not strengthening, its meaning. Bad cases make bad law -- and bad statement of the facts makes bad practice.

Doug Fisher

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Thursday, August 11, 2016

The nuance of headlines

The headline this morning on the story of our dean, Charles Bierbauer, who announced yesterday he's leaving that job at the end of the academic year in June, got me thinking about the nuance of headlines.

Headline writing is tough. Don't believe me? Just try summarizing that nuclear disarmament story in a nine-count, three-line, one-column hed in print. (That would be a total of roughly 27 characters for those of the Twitter age, and probably one or two fewer because with print fonts, capital letters are wider and count as 1 1/2 or two, m's and w's are wider, some lowercase letters only count as one-half, etc.)

It's not a lot better online. Sure, you don't have to worry about those pesky line breaks, but even online heds have their limits -- abut 65 characters if you want to make sure it displays properly in those search engine results or on a mobile screen. Again, still less than your normal tweet.

There are a lot of ways things can go wrong.

This discussion isn't about the laughingly off tone, like "DOJ launching Fannie probe" (referring to an investigation of the Federal National Mortgage Association, more commonly known as Fannie Mae).

Nor is it about "Their ship has come in" -- a glaringly tone-deaf headline atop a story about a memorial for the hundreds of sailors who died when the USS Indianapolis sank. (Their ship is never coming in.) Or the awful "xx Mississippians gone with the wind" (I forget the exact number) on a story about hurricane deaths.

This is about those tiny but important nuances that journalists must face every day. They are ever present in reporting and writing. They become more glaringly so when translated to a headline.

So today there is this headline on a story on The State newspaper's website:


OK. It's serviceable. Nothing really wrong. But as we've learned time and time again this political season, there is right -- and then there is more right. With headlines, it often comes down to verb tense and word connotation and order.

Tense
In headline writing, there are some rules, or at least guides, when it comes to verb tense. The present participle (stepping) indicates current ongoing action or sometimes action to be completed in the near future. The present tense is used as "historical present" to represent action recently completed. The future speaks for itself. The past tense is rarely used; it is supposed to signify new information about something in the past not previously known (say, for instance, you just got a 5-year-old report showing that the Justice Department investigated Fannie Mae but no one knew till now. Then you might write DOJ probed Fannie ... OK, maybe not. But you get the idea.)

So using "steps" in this headline really means the dean has done the deed already. Yes, he's announced it, so one could argue he sort of kind of stepped down. But he's not really leaving till June, and this is August, so the nuance is wrong. "To step" (or will) is the better choice. That is the tense used in the university news release (though it is interesting to see the URL uses "stepping").

Usage
All words have denotation and connotation. So the denotation of "step down" is fine -- it is what he is doing in the broad sense. But the connotation gets us to nuance again. When we hear an official has stepped down, the mind wonders a bit why? Did something wrong? Retiring? Health?

In other words, while the phrase is technically correct (denotation), it is broader than needed and leaves itself open to questions and multiple interpretations, not all of them flattering (connotation). In headline writing, whenever the count allows you to be more specific, it's almost always better because it gets connotation out of the equation. And our job, after all is to try to perfect communication -- make sure the message sent is most likely the message received.

So what is Bierbauer really doing? Well, after almost 15 years and at age 74, he's actually retiring. So that would be the better word.

Longtime USC communications dean to retire

Word order
Some have noted that Bierbauer said in his letter that "this is not retirement." Granted, but we are journalists, not stenographers, and so we have to apply some reasoning. But this also highlights the nuances.

Most journalists I know never really admit to retiring. They can always scribble, after all. And "emeritus" status at a university is like being a retired federal judge or commissioned military officer -- you can always be called out of retirement. (Style warning: Never call someone a "former" general, etc., unless he or she has renounced the commission or somehow been dishonorably discharged.)

This is what Bierbauer wrote: For now, this is not retirement, but transition. I plan to work on the Watson-Brown journalism history project, hope to do some writing on media and politics and determine ways I might continue to be useful to the college and university.

So he is retiring as dean. Which gets us to word order. Since we're dealing with an online hed, we can more easily switch things around:

Bierbauer to retire as longtime USC communications dean

That maintains the sense that he's retiring as dean. (If space is an issue, take out "longtime.")

While this may seem nit picking -- after all, the original hed was serviceable -- this gets to journalistic craft. There used to be time -- admittedly not much, but still a little -- to reflect on these things in the course of putting out the "daily miracle." We need to figure out how to preserve that in this hamster-wheel world journalists now exist in.

On an end note, it's been a pleasure working with Dean Bierbauer, who came on board at USC a year after I did. He's been a steady hand at the tiller and always a proponent of good journalism and good journalism teaching. He understood that delicate balance we walk between the academic and professional missions of the school. I wish him the best.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

SC Newspaper Circulation - the bleeding continues


I've written before about how South Carolina's capital city newspaper, The State, has been bleeding circulation. The new numbers in the S.C. Press Association handbook paint an even more troubling picture statewide.

Not that this isn't happening almost everywhere, of course, but it's useful to know the numbers, especially since most have dropped under 50,000, which used to be the cutoff for a metro daily.

Updated: I found 2008-09 SCPA figures, which paint an even starker picture.


201620102009
The State43,67596,759112,051
Greenville News45,60170,04687,609
(Spartanburg) Herald Journal28,38039,22746,738
(Charleston) Post and Courier62,08196,00599,829
(Myrtle Beach) Sun News35,76047,28251,731
(Florence) Morning News18,84228,63131,163

Another dramatic drop is the Times & Democrat in Orangeburg, which has slipped under 10,000 to 8,468 from 20,345 just seven years ago.

As with much of the industry, so far, from what I can tell, the online numbers aren't filling the gap.

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