Monday, March 13, 2006

Great timing... Just when I have classes writing about "watchdog reporting," I've stumbled on a story about a do-it-yourself watchdog in Memphis. I don't know anything about Memphis politics and I haven't read much of Joe Saino's website,, but the message on his homepage is encouraging (just ignore the very-1996 graphics and hard-to-read upper-case type):
Here in Knoxville we have some watchdog-like activity from time to time in local blogs, including the group site KnoxViews, but I haven't seen a statement of purpose quite like Saino's. (Tuesday Update: Coincidentally, while I was typing this blog entry yesterday afternoon, the publisher of KnoxViews was writing up his first on-the-scene crime story, about Monday's bank robbery in Maryville, complete with photos of police on the job.)

The watchdog role of the press is also in the news as a celebration of Sunshine Week... an attempt by news organizations to draw attention to open meeting laws -- and Tennessee's a bill intended to give the state's version sharper teeth.

Michael Silence
at the News Sentinel calls this the quote of the day:
Tennessee has sunshine laws not just for state government, but also for local governments. However, those laws have no punishments associated with them. As a parent, I know better than to make rules without consequences. -- Bob Krumm on Sunshine Week

Wearing his other blog hat at Facing South (instead of KnoxViews), R.Neal says:

Somehow, $50 doesn't sound like much of a penalty for a secret meeting between, say, a wealthy developer and a zoning board to grease a multi-million dollar real-estate deal. It wouldn't even amount to much of a tip. But it's better than nothing, and should help raise awareness of the law.

Curiously, the law would not apply to the Tennessee General Assembly itself. According to a legal opinion by the state Attorney General's office, the state constitution prohibits the legislature from passing laws regulating itself.


Sunshine Week (national)
Tennessee Coalition for Open Government
Tennessee Press Association

More editorials and columns about the Tennessee records law:

Government meetings must be open to public
Robertson County Times, TN - Mar 12, 2006
Much has changed since 1974, particularly in the realm of communication, but something that hasn't changed significantly is Tennessee's sunshine law...

Lawmakers say meetings must be open
Clarksville Leaf Chronicle, TN - Mar 12, 2006
Local legislators are applauding a new bill that would bolster the state's open meetings law if passed by the House and Senate. ...

AP moved Trent Siebert's story to papers all over the state, where it ran under various headlines:

Bill would fine officials for meeting in secret
Fairview Observer

Sunshine Law changes proposed
Shelbyville Times-Gazette

Bill adds teeth to law

Keeping government fair, open
Knoxville News Sentinel

Other voices:

Tennessee Sunshine law overhaul is overdue
Jackson Sun
We support bipartisan efforts to strengthen Tennessee's Sunshine law...
Opposition to Sunshine overhaul is misguided
Jackson Sun
A state association representing county officials should rethink its opposition to the proposed overhaul of Tennessee's Sunshine Law. ...
Open-Government Proponents Intensify Efforts Statewide
Memphis Daily News

Sunshine Law needs to heat up
Daily News Journal

Sunshine Law changes proposed
Shelbyville Times-Gazette

Law changes would charge officials for secret meetings
Oak Ridger

Freedom of information could be snatched away
Baltimore Sun

Include state legislators under Sunshine Law
Jackson Sun

Let more Sunshine into state
Clarksville Leaf Chronicle

For even more, here's a simple search of Google News for Tennessee & Sunshine Week.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Online Writing -- My Journalism Class Lecture Notes

Is there such a thing as "news writing style for the Web"?
Over at my usual blog (which also has a copy of this item), I've been updating my notes about news writing on the Web, in preparation for two bigger-than-usual classes this week. I want to be prepared, just in case the students show up... and I hope the no-shows will still learn something if they just read my notes.

Here they are:

(Actually, the verbose notes are a trap. Students who attend will watch me follow some links and wander away from those notes. Something I say or do during that wandering will be on the exam. Guaranteed.)

Those notes mostly apply to newswriting, but one of my presentations will be for a more general intro-to-communication course. I'll feel free to digress even more there -- and I'll probably be more entertaining. (If all else fails, I'll let, and take over.)

The intro-newswriting course is Thursday. I teach three 18-student writing-lab sections of that course, but the Thursday session is for all sections -- well over 100 students on a good day. However, by the luck of the calendar I'm delivering the large group's last lecture before spring break -- and a Thursday evening lecture at that, probably the last class before vacation for everyone.

I've been warned that even on routine weeks, half the class may get up and leave as soon as they've finished their weekly current-events quiz... the part of the weekly lecture that "affects their grade." I think we're about 10 years past the time that the magic of the Web would compel full attendance. To make matters worse, I'm sending out a page of "lecture notes" that will take students many hours to read, if they follow all the links and get as distracted by them as I do.

I'll try to keep things interesting. Come to think of it, I've rarely lectured to this large a crowd before. As a former student, I don't remember walking out of any big lectures part-way through, maybe because my classes were rarely large-hall affairs, or maybe that shows I was as boring a student as I can ever be as a lecturer? I do remember falling asleep in class a few times, which was rude too, but I didn't do that on purpose. Should I bring my banjo to class to liven things up? We'll see.

One link I didn't put on my Web-writing-for-journalists page is a 12-year-old article by Jon Katz. It's not about writing style, but I still think it's instructive: Online or Not, Newspapers Suck, which asks, "How can any industry which regularly pulls Doonesbury strips for being too controversial possibly hope to survive online?"

That one is better for a discussion session, not a lecture. But I'll tell the class whether I agree with it... and maybe that will be on the exam, too.

Meanwhile, this being a weblog, if you have any suggestions for things to add to my lecture -- or take out -- feel free to use the green "comment" link on my other blog's copy of this note.

Note for students in JEM 488 Online Publishing: This page was posted to Blogger by e-mail. Here's how:
(I had to go back in and edit it to make the links work. If there's a way to do that by e-mail, I haven't searched the Blogger help pages for instructions. If you know how to e-mail blog items with links intact, add that to the comments on my other blog, or just mention it in class.)