June 24, 2021

Don’t you find the times when the Supreme Court delivers the majority of its rulings to be absolutely fascinating?

We are in such a time right now.

Earlier this week, the case that made a big bang was the court’s ruling against the NCAA. To put it in sports terms, the Supreme Court delivered a blowout and ran up the score, ruling 9-0 against the NCAA’s limits on education-related perks for college athletes. And while the ruling is narrow, it likely opened the door to athletes suing the NCAA to be paid for participating in sports that bring in billions of dollars to the NCAA, universities, coaches, TV networks and pretty much everyone involved in college sports except for the athletes themselves.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh practically kicked that door in, writing, “Nowhere else in America can businesses get away with agreeing not to pay their workers a fair market rate on the theory that their product is defined by not paying their workers a fair market rate. And under ordinary principles of antitrust law, it is not evident why college sports should be any different. The N.C.A.A. is not above the law.”

The headline on Sally Jenkins’ column for The Washington Post was, “Soon, the NCAA as we know it will no longer exist. Good riddance.”

That was the most interesting Supreme Court case of the week.

Until Wednesday.

That’s when the court ruled on Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L.

What an interesting case.

Back in 2017, Brandi Levy was a 14-year-old cheerleader on junior varsity when she tried out for the varsity squad at Mahanoy Area High School in Pennsylvania. When she didn’t make the team, she shared a photo to Snapchat of her and a friend raising their middle fingers and using the F-word to talk about school, softball, cheerleading and “everything.” Levy posted it from a convenience store off campus.

Even though snaps disappear after 24 hours, someone took a screengrab and alerted the cheerleading coaches. Not only was Levy suspended from cheerleading, but she was suspended from school.

So she sued the school.

And the case ended up before the highest court in the land.

Previously, an appeals court said schools don’t have authority over what a student says off campus. And while the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in Levy’s favor, it did not say all speech is protected.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote, “We do not now set forth a broad, highly general First Amendment rule stating just what counts as ‘off campus’ speech and whether or how ordinary First Amendment standards must give way off campus to a school’s special need to prevent … substantial disruption of learning-related activities or the protection of those who make up a school community.”

However, Breyer wrote, Levy’s comments were protected, stating, “The vulgarity in B.L.’s posts encompassed a message, an expression of B.L.’s irritation with, and criticism of, the school and cheerleading communities. … The school’s interest in teaching good manners is not sufficient, in this case, to overcome B.L.’s interest in free expression.”

So what does it all mean?

My Poynter colleague Jaden Edison wrote how free speech questions remain unanswered. Edison wrote that despite Wednesday’s ruling, “legal experts noted that there are still holes left to fill in free speech cases concerning students and school districts.”

Kermit Roosevelt III, a professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania, told Edison, “The message that you get basically, is they want to move cautiously — and they’re trying not to set down a bright-line rule that will decide a lot of cases because they understand a lot of different factors at work, and they want to leave lower courts some flexibility in deciding these kinds of cases in the future.”

There are lots more interesting thoughts in Edison’s piece, so be sure to check it out.

Troubling news

The last issue of Apple Daily arrives at a newspaper booth in Hong Kong early on Thursday. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

In a major blow to democracy and free speech, Apple Daily — the largest pro-Democracy newspaper in Hong Kong — is shutting down after 26 years. Today will be its last day. The closing comes just a week after national security police raided the paper’s offices and froze its finances.

In other words, Apple Daily was shut down by the government.

The Guardian’s Helen Davidson wrote, “The paper and its activist founder, Jimmy Lai, had become symbols of the pro-democracy movement and a thorn in the side of Hong Kong’s government and police, making it a prime target in the government’s efforts to stifle Hong Kong’s media.”

The New York Times’ Austin Ramzy and Tiffany May wrote, “The forced closure of Apple Daily struck a blow to the unique character of the city itself. The paper churned out stories on celebrity gossip and lurid scandals, as well as hard-hitting political news and analysis, always with a decidedly anti-government slant and an irreverence antithetical to what the Communist Party would allow in the mainland. Even in the face of advertising boycotts, assaults on its journalists and firebomb attacks, the paper persevered and thrived, remaining one of the most widely read newspapers in the city, living proof of the freedoms Hong Kong enjoyed despite its return to Chinese rule in 1997.”

In addition to freezing the company’s assets, the government arrested five Apple Daily executives. Among those were Ryan Law, the editor-in-chief, and Cheung Kim-hung, the chief executive of the paper’s parent company, Next Digital. Both were charged with conspiracy to commit collusion with foreign powers under the security law and were denied bail, according to the Times.

Emily Lau, a former pro-democracy lawmaker, told the Times, “It shows that when the Chinese government decides to act, it can be very swift and sometimes exceedingly brutal.”

Also, check out this piece from The New York Times’ Jennifer Jett: “How Press Freedom Is Being Eroded in Hong Kong.”


The 2022 duPont-Columbia Awards cycle is now open for submissions. The duPont Awards honor outstanding local and national audio and video journalism. Submit your best work done from July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021. Visit for more information and to submit.

CBS’s impactful journalism

Just wanted to take a moment to applaud some of the work being done by CBS News.

Let’s start with the Apple Daily story from the item above. CBS News correspondent Ramy Inocencio was the only U.S. network correspondent inside Apple Daily. His reporting aired on “CBS This Morning” and the “CBS Evening News.”

Here’s more:

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin just announced he backs changes to military sexual assault prosecutions. This comes after a blockbuster report by “CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell that uncovered the military’s failure to address sexual assault allegations.

Recently, I wrote about a CBS News investigation from Kris Van Cleave and Anna Werner detailing how more than 100 people, mostly children, were severely injured or killed because of car seatback failures over the past 30 years. This week, House Democrats introduced a bill that will require stronger seatbacks, which may collapse during rear-end collisions.

This is impactful journalism that is making a difference.

The latest from UNC and Nikole Hannah-Jones

Joe Killian from NC Policy Watch reports that Nikole Hannah-Jones will not join the faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill without tenure. Killian cites a letter from Hannah-Jones’ legal team to the university. Hannah-Jones, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist from The New York Times who was the driving force of the Times’ “1619 Project,” was scheduled to begin her position as Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism on July 1.

The letter states that Hannah-Jones believed the position would come with tenure, but the university’s offer is a five-year contract with the possibility that it would eventually become a tenured position. Killian reports that Hannah-Jones has not withdrawn her application for tenure.

As Lauren Lumpkin wrote for The Washington Post, “It remains unclear why the university’s board has not voted on the proposal, but some faculty and students have suggested there were objections to the 1619 Project, which has been attacked by some conservatives — including former president Donald Trump.”

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter Hussman Jr., whose name is on UNC’s journalism school because of his $25 million donation, is believed to be one of the main objectors to Hannah-Jones’ tenure because of the “1619 Project.”

Staff at Washingtonian unionize

For this item, I turn it over to my Poynter colleague Angela Fu.

Journalists at Washingtonian announced Wednesday they are unionizing with the Washington-Baltimore News Guild. Management at the magazine has already refused to voluntarily recognize the union.

“During a year of turmoil in our industry and around the world, we’ve come together with a renewed sense of solidarity and determination to ensure that every member of our team feels they have a voice,” the union wrote in a statement. “Forming a union allows us to advocate for fair compensation, a healthy office culture, and a diverse and inclusive newsroom that reflects the community we serve.”

Because the magazine’s management refused to recognize the union, the matter will go before the National Labor Relations Board. A majority of eligible members must vote to unionize before the unit is certified. In the meantime, the union is running a letter campaign to urge management to change its mind.

Last month, the editorial staff held a one-day work stoppage in protest of an op-ed Washingtonian CEO Cathy Merrill wrote for The Washington Post about remote work. The op-ed’s original headline read, “As a CEO, I want my employees to understand the risks of not returning to work in the office.” Employees said the piece was a “public threat” to their livelihoods.

The journalism industry is currently in the midst of a unionization movement, driven in part by the pandemic, which further destabilized an already struggling sector. At least three other newsrooms have unionized this month alone.

Shooter goes on trial

A man holds a copy of the Capital Gazette near the scene of a shooting at the newspaper’s office, Friday, June 29, 2018, in Annapolis, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The trial for Jarrod Ramos — the man who shot and killed five people at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland, in 2018 — got underway Wednesday with the start of jury selection.

Ramos has admitted to shooting and killing those inside the newspaper, but a jury will decide whether or not he was sane at the time of the shootings. It might take a few days to reach the final jury.

The Associated Press’ Brian Witte wrote, “Many of the potential jurors who were dismissed said they would have a difficult time being impartial. Some cited the trouble they would have viewing a video recording of the attack that is expected to be shown.”

Check it out

Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple has noticed something in his latest column — that New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet likes to use, basically, the same phrase when complimenting a journalist.

You must read what that phrase is, what Wemple wrote, and what Baquet had to say about it. It’s all exquisite.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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