SPJ/LA and NABJLA cosponsor a panel discussion: “The New Old Beat: Reporting on Racism”

Newsrooms across the country have grappled with reporting on racist rhetoric from politicians and public figures for decades. The goal of journalists is to strive for accuracy and hold those with power accountable and this might mean that publications will need to repeat those problematic comments verbatim.

The advent of social media, the Donald Trump presidency and rise in reported hate crimes add to the conversation newsrooms need to have when discussing racism.

Editors and reporters need to have those discussions that sometimes have fallen short, with Iowa Congressman Steve King expressing support for white-nationalist, but only recently being reprimanded by congress.

In a Jan. 15, 2019 New York Times article detailing King’s affinity for white supremacist and neo-Nazis on Twitter the publication asked, “Why Not Trump?”

Whether it’s a picture of a group of high school students who arrange red plastic cups at a party into a swastika or anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim inspired violence newsrooms need to ask the difficult questions on how to report on racism.

The Associated Press recent update to race-related coverage provides some careful guidelines, but the section also stresses an important note that this panel will embody in some respect.

“Reporting and writing about issues involving race calls for thoughtful consideration, precise language, and an openness to discussions with others of diverse backgrounds about how to frame coverage or what language is most appropriate, accurate and fair. Avoid broad generalizations and labels; race and ethnicity are one part of a person’s identity. Identifying people by race and reporting on actions that have to do with race often go beyond simple style questions, challenging journalists to think broadly about racial issues before having to make decisions on specific situations and stories.”

The Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Los Angeles chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists invite you to attend a panel discussion focused on these issues and more on Saturday, May 18, 2019.

SPJ/LA and NABJLA cosponsor a panel discussion – The New Old Beat: Reporting on Racism

The panel will include:

  • Deepa Bharath, writes about religion, race and social justice issues for The Orange County Register and the Southern California Newspaper Group
  • Toni Guinyard, an Emmy award-winning broadcast journalist for NBC4
  • Jaweed Kaleem, the national race and justice correspondent at the Los Angeles Times
  • Leslie Berestein Rojas, KPCC’s immigration and emerging communities reporter SPJ/LA associate board member Nathan Solis and NABJLA’s vice president Jarrett Hill will moderate.

11:30 a.m. Saturday, May 18, 2019

5757 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles 90036

Free and open to the public.

Please RSVP at spjlosangeles@gmail.com

Parking is free with validation. The best entrance to the event space is on Masselin Avenue.

Nathan Solis, SPJ/LA

Navid Nonahal, SPJ/LA
(818) 317-2234

Legislator pulls anti-transparency bill after SPJ/LA, others protest

Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-Glendale) has pulled AB 700, her bill to exempt a vast swath of university research materials from the state’s public-record disclosure law. Her decision came after protests from SPJ/LA, the California Newspaper Publishers Association, the ACLU, and other journalism organizations and open-government advocates.

AB 700 was introduced on Feb. 19, 2019 and breezed through the Assembly Judiciary Committee on April 2 on a 9-3 vote, despite reservations voiced by Chairman Mark Stone (who ultimately supported it.) But it ran aground before it could be heard in the Assembly Appropriations Committee after fierce opposition from journalism organizations across the state, consumer advocates, animal-rights groups, and others concerned that it would throw a shroud of secrecy around research funded and/or conducted by public universities.

See SPJ/LA letter of protest here and a second letter from SPJ/LA President Stephanie Bluestein here.

In a May 2 Facebook post, Friedman cited a November 2018 article in New York Times about the “weaponizing” of public-record requests and its potentially chilling effect on research as her rationale for introducing the bill. Then she explained her reason for tabling it for the remainder of the 2019 legislative session:

“Our open records laws are critical to government transparency – they rightly protect the public’s right to know what’s happening with their tax dollars and keep decision makers at all levels accountable. However, like many of you I find the push by some industries, whether they are the NRA intent on discrediting research on lead poisoning in wildlife, tobacco companies seeking to stifle public health research, or chemical manufacturers racing to register patents based on public research, troubling….Over the past month, I’ve heard from a number of organizations and advocates about their concerns and outright opposition to the bill…AB 700 was never intended to obscure animal research, sexual harassment, or professional wrongdoing. That’s why I’m putting a hold on the bill for this year.”

SPJ/LA will continue to monitor the situation and will be prepared to speak out again should the bill return for further legislative consideration.

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SPJ/LA chapter president joins others in expressing concern about how departure of executive director was announced

Below is a statement initiated by the DC Pro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists after this week’s announcement of the resignation of the Society’s executive director. Several SPJ chapters and chapter presidents signed on to the statement because of our shared concerns about the timing of the announcement and its limited dissemination. The statement that follows gives more details about our concerns.

Dear national board of directors:

We wish to register our concern about the way that the departure of Society of Professional Journalists executive director Alison Bethel McKenzie was announced. As journalists ourselves and as active members of the premier U.S. nonprofit representing the values of transparency, public service, oversight and accuracy, we believe this could have been handled in a much more transparent way.

The sole description of this departure was that Bethel McKenzie “resigned.“ This statement was not attributed to anyone.


We fully appreciate that this is a personnel matter and that many details must be kept private. However, it is incumbent, we believe, among all organizations to be as transparent and detailed as possible under such circumstances. Indeed, the boilerplate information directly below the two sentences announcing her resignation and wishing her the best in future endeavors starts by saying: “SPJ promotes the free flow of information …”


We write to you in a cooperative spirit in hoping to positively contribute to the organization’s well-being. We hope you will include local chapters as much as possible in this process.

This brief news release was issued at around midnight on April 29, 2019. Unlike with most other press releases from this association, it was apparently not sent to members of the media. Nor was it sent to members themselves.

This announcement was not released on social media, either. Unlike most other announcements from our group. Best communications and public relations practices dictate releasing even negative information in the same or similar ways as positive information.

We request that going forward, the association and its board do a better job communicating to all stakeholders about such important issues. For starters, who is the point person or people to whom questions can be addressed, such as what will be the process for picking a successor to Bethel McKenzie. How can they be contacted?

Thank you for your attention to this matter.


The boards of the DC Pro, Chicago Headline Club, Florida Pro and San Diego Pro chapters of SPJ

And on their own behalf:

Anna Walsh, Maryland Pro Chapter president
Jordan Frias, New England Pro Chapter president
Stephanie Bluestein, Greater Los Angeles Pro Chapter president
Amanda Waldroupe, Oregon Territory Chapter president

SPJ/LA Joins Amicus Brief in Support of Palisades News in Defamation Lawsuit

The Greater Los Angeles Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has joined an amicus brief, along with a motion for judicial notice and exhibits, filed by the Reporters Committee For Freedom of the Press on behalf of the Palisades News and two of its editors, who have been sued by cannabis entrepreneur Stephanie Smith for alleged defamation.

In December 2017, San Bernardino police raided three Smith-owned facilities suspected of operating illegal marijuana-growing operations. They also served a search warrant on Smith’s oceanfront home in Pacific Palisades, where they recovered hundreds of oxycodone and Norco pills hidden in the garage, along with a reported $200,000 in cash.

While the initial raids received massive national and international news coverage, Smith took issue with a subsequent January 2018 Palisades News article that cited earlier news reports about the raid and the search from TV outlets KCBS, KTLA, and DailyMailTV, along with interviews with police officials, about Smith’s allegedly illegal activities in connection with large-scale cannabis production.

Smith disclaimed any involvement in the grow operations and insisted she was only a landlord renting to others. A statement from her attorney quoted her as saying, “I am a well-known and recognized leader in large-scale cannabis real estate development and I am proud of the State of California’s position on cannabis.”

In March 2018, Smith sued the Palisades News in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging defamation, false light, and intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED). In response, the News filed a motion to quash the complaint under California’s anti-SLAPP statute, which bars litigation intended to stifle public discussion of issues and policy. The judge largely agreed with the News, striking the false light and IIED claims but allowing the defamation claim to proceed.

After filing a notice of appeal in August 2018, the News filed its opening brief before California’s Second Appellate District in February 2019; Smith filed her brief in March 2019, and the News filed its response in April 2019. It is in support of the Palisades News’ appeal that this amicus brief has been filed, arguing that Smith is a public figure and that the First Amendment protects the News under the neutral reportage and wire-service doctrines, which shields news organizations who accurately report in good faith what other reputable news organizations have previously reported.

Meanwhile, the San Bernardino Sun reported on February 25, 2019 that Smith had sued the City of San Bernardino after the City Council denied Smith’s application for cannabis production. The Sun also reported that earlier in the month, after a 14-month investigation, San Bernardino police raided one of Smith’s properties and seized 2,600 lbs. of marijuana from an allegedly illegal growing operation, and subsequently arrested Smith at her Palisades home in connection with the drugs and cash that had been seized in 2017. On March 7, 2019, the Sun reported that Los Angeles County prosecutors have charged her with one felony count of possession for sale of a controlled substance; she is due in court on April 25 for a pretrial hearing.

In addition to SPJ/LA, other news organizations who have signed on to the amicus brief include the American Society of News Editors, California News Publishers Association, Californians Aware, First Amendment Coalition, SPJ/NorCal and SPJ national, the News Media Alliance, and media companies including the Los Angeles Times, Digital First Media, E.W. Scripps Company, Gannett Co. Inc., McClatchy Company, and Fox Television Stations, LLC, among others.

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SPJ/LA in coordination with ONA/LA hosts online harassment self-defense training for journalists, facilitated by PEN America

Building on PEN America’s Online Harassment Field Manual, this training equips writers and journalists, as well as their allies and employers, with practical tools and strategies to defend against online abuses, including: preparation, response, legal considerations, self-care and best practices for offering support. Join the Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Los Angeles chapter of the Online News Association for Online Harassment Self-Defense: Tools & Strategies for Journalists.

WHAT: Online Harassment Self-Defense: Tools & Strategies for Journalists

WHO: Led by PEN America

WHEN: Wednesday, April 17 (7-9pm)

WHERE: Santa Monica College Bundy Campus
3171 S Bundy Drive
Santa Monica
Room 121

PARKING: Parking is available in the front of the building. Be sure to park head first in a space NOT marked ‘staff’.

COST: The event itself is free and open to the public. SPJ/LA will provide light refreshments.

RSVP: ashanti.blaize@gmail.com

Ashanti Blaize-Hopkins