SPJ Highlights

What you missed at this weekend’s 2007 SPJ Convention & National Journalism Conference in D.C.:

  • Bernstein said despite threats from the government, the reporting team never doubted the work they were doing. But they also had no idea how big the story would get.

    “I think we both knew it was going to go somewhere…we talked to the wives of the burglars, and found a connection to the CIA. But I really had no idea,” Bernstein said.

    Woodward said the story that brought down Nixon was really a product of the Washington Post environment, and Bradlee’s management style.
    “The Washington Post at that time was a terrific place to work because there was this terrific sense that you could go look anywhere (for a story),” Woodward said. “Even the White House.”

  • Post reporters contribute video, breaking news stories and blogs to the online site and also appear on radio and television stations discussing their stories. With the changes, “Washington Post-style journalism can reach people in a new way,” Downie said.

    “The people in the newsroom are starting to adapt,” he said, noting that reporters tell him that people now recognize them on the street because of their TV and Web exposure.

    Downie advised student journalists at the convention and their teachers that students should be exposed to the new reporting tools and delivery methods as part of their schooling, but the focus of a journalist’s education should be writing and reporting.

    “It doesn’t matter how Webbie you are, if you can’t report, it doesn’t matter,” he said.

    Addressing the decline in circulation of many newspapers, including the Post, Downie said The Washington Post Company is somewhat cushioned financially because of its diversification, including ownership of an education company and cable systems.

    Downie said he doesn’t believe the doom and gloom predictions about the financial health of the news business, saying focusing on the decline in print “blinds us to change.”

    More after the jump…ly-object-to-naming-of-cia-wife-in-column-2007-10-06.html

  • A panel of White House reporters, while conceding that any professional can always do a better job, generally rejected the notion that journalists don’t dig deeply enough before reporting stories from the White House.

    During a panel discussion Friday before hundreds of journalists attending the 2007 SPJ Convention & National Journalism Conference , Richard Wolffe of Newsweek magazine pointed out a cover story in his magazine that examined the administration’s arguments and concluded “case not proven” in all but one category.

    “If people think we didn’t ask questions, they’re wrong,” Wolffe said. “The reporting was there if you were looking, it was there if you were reading.”

    Wendell Goler of the Fox News Channel argued, “Questions were asked, questions were not answered.”

    The panelists also shed light on the annual White House Correspondents Dinner, seen by some as the nationally televised epitome of a cozy relationship between reporters and the people they cover.

    “Only a handful of people who go to those dinners are White House regulars,” said Deb Reichmann of The Associated Press.

  • “That’s the press, baby. And there’s nothing you can do about it.”

    In the 1950s movie, “Deadline, U.S.A.,” Humphrey Bogart’s journalist character spoke these words when refusing to allow the mafia to intimidate him into backing away from the truth. Today’s journalists, says USA Today editor Ken Paulson, must be equally courageous and tenacious in their reporting.

    Paulson, and a bevy of high-profile media guests, spoke to a standing-room only crowd Friday during the 2007 SPJ Convention & National Journalism Conference .

    “We were portrayed as the good guys in the 1950s, 60s and 70s,” Paulson said, citing heroes such as Superman, Spider-Man and the Green Hornet.

    But today is a different story. Polls show that the public often sees journalists as a slimy lot with little ethics.

    Paulson says perception is not always reality, and it’s time for journalists to take a stand on behalf of their profession. Journalists must do a better job of teaching citizens how journalists go about their job, and the importance of the press.

    “When we do our job the right way…we fulfill our promise to the first generation of Americans that believed a key to democracy is a free and independent press,” Paulson said. “We have to do a better job of explaining to the American people what we do…that we are on their side.”

  • Since 1984, 17 U.S. journalists have been incarcerated for failing to hand over information to the courts. One of them was Jim Taricani, a reporter at WJAR who was held in contempt for refusing to name a confidential source.

    On Friday, Taricani, along with Randall Eliason, a professor from American University; Eve Burton, general counsel for Hearst Corp; and Bruce Sanford, an attorney for Baker Hostetler; debated the need for a federal law. The session, which was moderated by Mike Walter of WUSA, took place during the 2007 SPJ Convention & National Journalism Conference.

    “When you are an investigative reporter…you’re going to come across a story that needs confidential sources,” Taricani said. “And when you are facing jail time, it’s so daunting.

    “Journalists in American shouldn’t face jail time for simply doing their jobs. They simply shouldn’t,” he said.

  • The challenge of reporting on the war in Iraq was the central topic of an interview led Friday by White House press corps veteran Helen Thomas of Hearst Newspapers. Thomas spoke with Leila Fadel, the Baghdad bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers, during a morning session Friday at the 2007 Society of Professional Journalists Convention & National Journalism Conference.

    “She has shown you how you have to be really courageous to cover a war,” Thomas said, after Fadel received a standing ovation for her remarks. “You’ve seen a hero.”

    Fadel, first assigned to Iraq in June 2005, was hired to run the bureau after she had traveled to work there three times. Her job has become increasingly difficult as the war has gone on, she said during the hour-long discussion, because the Iraqi government is releasing less and less information.

    “It’s like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle every day. It’s impossible,” Fadel said. “It’s difficult and frustrating and sometimes you feel like, ‘Why am I here?'”

  • Hours after voting in favor of a federal shield law Thursday, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) shared his views on the proposed legislation with about 200 journalists attending the 2007 SPJ Convention & National Journalism Conference .

    Cornyn, a longtime supporter of open-records legislation, urged journalists to work to help lawmakers pass a strong, fair shield law. Namely, Cornyn asked for aid in the area of defining exactly who is a journalist – something many in the media aren’t comfortable doing.

    “What I hope to convince you of is why we need to continue to work together for a federal shield law,” Cornyn told the crowd during his 45-minute speech. “I would ask you to continue to work with us to find a solution to this problem.”

    The bill, called the Free Flow of Information Act of 2007, would protect the public’s right to speak out and promote the people’s right to know by making it easier for journalists to protect the identities of their confidential sources.

    In the past year, The Society of Professional Journalists, the nation’s most broad-based journalism-advocacy organization, has raised more than $30,000 to support a campaign for the passage of a federal shield law.

  • Journalists rely too much on confidential sources to uncover government corruption and they should be careful when offering sources confidentiality, said two political journalists involved in the 2003 CIA leak case and the ensuing Scooter Libby trial, which placed journalists front and center in an international political scandal.

    In a panel discussion Saturday during the 2007 SPJ Convention & National Journalism Conference in Washington, D.C., Robert Novak of the Chicago Sun Times and former Time, Inc., editor-in-chief Norman Pearlstine discussed the ethical questions of journalists, the resulting implications and the lessons learned from becoming central players in a criminal prosecution and scandal. The panel was moderated by Bob Franken, a former CNN political correspondent and columnist.

    The case started with Robert Novak’s column, “Mission to Niger,” that named Valerie Plame as an undercover CIA operative. Days later, Matthew Cooper of Time followed suit, naming his source of information. In the end, a grand jury subpoenaed five journalists, including Novak, Cooper, Judith Miller, Tim Russert and Bob Woodward. Through it all, those close to the story said there were many revelations.

    “Journalists must understand that there is a difference between confidentiality and anonymity,” Pearlstine said. “Anonymity requires a contract and there can be litigation that results from it. Deep background means that a journalist will not identify the source, but will use the information to find another means of reporting the story. Off the record means that information cannot be used at all.”

  • More here from The Hill.