St. Louis SPJ condemns political operative’s choice to pose as journalist

The St. Louis Society of Professional Journalists denounces the actions of a political operative in Illinois who apparently posed as a student journalist in order to lob attacks at a Congressional candidate.

On July 17, Nick Klitzing posed as “Jim Sherman,” self-identified as a student reporter for The Alestle at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, in order to gain access to a press conference call, according to multiple news reports. There is no Jim Sherman working at The Alestle now or in the past 11 years, nor is any such person enrolled at SIUE, according to university officials.

The conference call that Klitzing gate-crashed was with Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, the Democratic candidate running opposite U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Taylorville). According to WCIA, Klitzing freely admitted he lied about his identity and representation to get on the call, where he apparently lobbed a series of accusations against Londrigan regarding political action committee funding.

Klitzing is not a new or low-level political operative. He is the former executive director of the Illinois Republican Party and former deputy campaign manager for former Gov. Bruce Rauner. As of this writing, the Davis campaign has not publicly stated whether Klitzing was acting with the congressman’s knowledge, according to multiple news reports.

This is not an issue for partisan politics. It is not about Democrats vs. Republicans. When political operatives of any party misrepresent themselves as journalists, they make our complex job of maintaining public trust in news coverage much more difficult. Journalists already have enough problems gaining access to public officials, and student journalists have a much harder time gaining access than those working for traditional news organizations.

This is an issue that has actually been adjudicated. The Reporters’ Committee for Freedom of the Press has sued the FBI over agents pretending to be journalists in their investigations, and in court, the U.S. Department of Justice has confirmed that such actions have a chilling effect that makes it more difficult for real journalists to gain the trust of their sources.

These kinds of tactics will inevitably lead to fewer journalists being granted access to candidates and officials with more roadblocks placed in their way, and the value and depth of election news coverage will undoubtedly suffer. We are all heading into what will undoubtedly become a political circus of an election season, and we call upon all the campaigns to instruct their operatives not to conduct themselves in this manner.

The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics advises us to avoid surreptitious or deceptive practices in newsgathering, and indeed, Klitzing’s behavior would probably have gotten him fired from most reputable news organizations. We should expect no less of a standard from our elected officials.

 

Disclosure: St. Louis SPJ chapter president Elizabeth Donald and vice president Tammy Merrett both are affiliated with The Alestle at SIUE, in addition to their volunteer work with SPJ. This statement has been approved by a majority of the St. Louis SPJ board. Quotes may be attributed to Elizabeth Donald, who can be reached at elizabethdonald@aol.com.

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MOE finalists at Lindenwood

Lindenwood University students were named as finalists for two national Mark of Excellence awards this year.

The editorial board of Lindenlink, the university’s student news website, was named as a finalist for best online opinion and commentary. The board’s submission was about the school’s termination of a student news magazine, Legacy, which spurred a statement from St. Louis SPJ.

Also, Lindenlink Design Chief Kat Owens was a national finalist in the small school division of the photo illustration category. Her illustration accompanied a story in Legacy magazine that focused on religious trends among Millennials.

The two national finalists were among the five Lindenwood entries that were named as winners of the Region 7 Mark of Excellence contest. The other regional winners from Lindenwood were the staff of Legacy magazine for best student magazine, Kat Owens for editorial cartooning, and Madeline Raineri for online news reporting. Lindenwood students were named regional finalists in seven other categories.

The regional awards were presented at the Region 7 Conference on April 6 at the University of Central Missouri. The winners and finalists of the national Mark of Excellence awards will be recognized at the Excellence in Journalism Conference scheduled for Sept. 5-7 in San Antonio, Texas.

Also honored at Region 7’s MOE Awards were:

  • The staff of the Webster Journal at Webster University for “Made in translation,” in-depth reporting at a small school, first place; for best affiliated website for the St. Louis Gun Project, finalist; and for best all-around non-daily student newspaper, first place;
  • Christine Tannous of Webster University for “Reporter Todd Smith’s scars will never heal after Kirkwood shooting,” feature writing at a small school, first place; and for feature photography of the Kirkwood City Hall shooting memorial, first place, and for general news photography of a Black Lives Matter Protest, finalist. It should be noted that Smith is a former board member of St. Louis SPJ;
  • Andrew McMunn of Webster University for “Former Webster University student detained by ICE,” in-depth reporting at a small school, finalist;
  • Hanna Holthaus of Webster University for general column writing at a small school, finalist.

Congratulations to the finalists and winners! Also offered with apologies, because this was supposed to go out a good long time ago, but we hope our students know how proud we are of the amazing work they are doing. Good luck at Excellence in Journalism!

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And now, a word from our sponsor….

There’s a wry variation on Martin Niemoller’s famous poem circulating: “First they came for the journalists, and I did not speak up, because I was not a journalist. We don’t know what happened after that.”

It’s not a fair analogy, of course. But it underscores the point: the only reason anyone knows what really happened today is because someone covered it. Without acts of journalism, you have only to rely on government press releases to know what’s happening and why. That goes for big things like “going to war,” and little things like, “my water rates are going up.”

If you’re reading this, I hope I don’t have to convince you of the importance of journalism. If, however, you still have doubts, I hope you will look just at the list of Pulitzer finalists released earlier this week, and click the links through to see some of the amazing and powerful work being done by journalists today.

So today is the SPJ Day of Giving, and I have personally donated. Usually I direct my donation to the Terry Harper Scholarship Fund, which funded my attendance at the 2010 Excellence in Journalism Conference. By the end of that conference, I had been nominated to the national Ethics Committee, and I continue to serve today. It is one of the greatest privileges of my career to serve the committee and SPJ, and it would not have been possible without the Harper Fellowship.

Today, however, I directed my donation to be used for whatever the Society’s most crucial need might be. The folks working at national are coping with staggering issues in our profession, from vast changes in infrastructure and methods that continually create new challenges for working journalists, to mass layoffs that erode confidence among the survivors and a shrinking membership, to an increasingly hostile public that seems to believe we are its enemy. I can’t imagine which of its many missions is most in need of support right now, so I hope they use my meager donation for the best cause.

Things that make me #SPJProud:

  • The sheer number of scholarships, fellowships, internships and other financial support offered to students and members.
  • The Legal Defense Fund provides direct assistance to small news organizations, freelancers and others in their efforts to fight government encroachment on the First Amendment and for open records and transparency.
  • The training and webinars provide much-needed skills development and reinforcement for members who are increasingly being left without training by their newsrooms.
  • The support, practical and otherwise, for journalists who have been laid off and must now find work and/or retraining.
  • The advocacy in Washington and elsewhere to defend the profession against increasingly virulent threats, whether that is in discourse, in the courtroom, or in danger of physical harm.
  • The accountability for our own profession, for advocating diversity in the newsroom and combating sexual harassment and unethical behavior, even when pointing out those transgressions could damage the rest of us.

And so, so much more. SPJ has given me so many opportunities for my career, far beyond that which I could have achieved alone. I have met some of the finest journalists in the country through SPJ, and I am proud to call them colleagues. I am proud to serve as president of St. Louis Pro, and to help my local colleagues through all the crises they face covering our fine city and region. I am proud to be a journalist, and to stand up for what it represents: voice to the voiceless, a challenge to the powerful.

I hope that if you are a journalist, you will consider joining SPJ, if you have not already done so. Give us a year to figure out if our resources are of use to you, and tell us what we aren’t offering so we can address it.

And I hope that if you support the First Amendment and want to see independent news informing you of what’s happening in your community and the nation and the world, you will consider donating to SPJ, either for the defense fund or the SDX advocacy funds such as Legal Defense.

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You weren’t using those First Amendment rights, were you?

St. Louis SPJ was happy to co-sponsor the First Amendment Free* Food Festival at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Monday, in which students sign away their First Amendment rights for free pizza.

It’s usually not a hard sell.

Participants sign away their rights and receive a passport into the Kingdom of the Socialist States of the People’s Republic of Mass Communica, which is a cordoned patio where pizza and soda are served.

The grand high ruler of Mass Communica is portrayed by our own Tammy Merrett, vice president of St. Louis SPJ and advisor to the SIUE Alestle.

However, while they are eating, they are instructed what they can talk about, read and so on. It serves as a demonstration of life without the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, and usually opens some eyes.

Don’t like where have to sit? What you’re allowed to read? Or wear? Or who you are instructed to associate with? TOUGH.

 

This year, Mass Communica had religious missionaries from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (otherwise known as Pastafarians) attempting to recruit from outside its borders, as well as subversive journalists attempting to sneak newspapers into Mass Communica.

Yes, that’s a pasta strainer on her head.

The FAFF is one of several special events taking place this week at SIUE for Mass Comm Week. All events are open to the public. Among them:

  • “Reporting in the Digital Age,” Dana Rieck of Missouri Lawyers Media, 9:30 a.m. Tuesday
  • “Practical Ethics,” St. Louis SPJ President Elizabeth Donald, 3:30 p.m. Tuesday
  • “If I Worried About Social Media, I’d Never Make a Movie,” filmmaker Trisha Ziff, noon Wednesday
  • “Who Wants to Know? Investigative Reporting in Small Markets,” Beth Hundsdorfer of St. Louis Public Radio, 1:30 p.m. Wednesday
  • “Writing and Reporting Broadcast News,” Holly Edgell of St. Louis Public Radio, 3:30 Thursday
  • And many more! Click here for more information.

Approximately 94 students, faculty, staff and visitors signed away their rights at this year’s FAFF, and another 31 approached Mass Communica but decided not to give up the First Amendment for pizza.

Despite the best efforts of the Goon Squad, a few subversives snuck in.

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