May 13, 2021

Poynter Report author Tom Jones is on vacation this week and will return next Monday. Today’s Poynter Report was compiled by Kristen Hare, Angela Fu, Barbara Allen, Amaris Castillo and Rick Edmonds. 

A university president was fired Friday for muzzling the speech rights of students and faculty — including a student journalist.

Native News Online reported that Ronald Graham “was fired by the Haskell National Board of Regents last Friday after an internal investigation was revealed he was stifling the free speech rights of students and faculty.”

Back in October, we wrote about Graham, president of Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas. Graham had issued a “directive” to the editor of the student paper at the historically Indigenous-serving institution instructing him not to, among many other things, “contact the police department (or any other governmental agency)” — essentially, barring him from doing journalism.

The president’s scathing order led to the case being taken up by the Student Press Law Center, the Native American Journalists Association and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

The Lawrence Journal-World reported that about a week after issuing what amounted to a gag order on the student editor, Jared Nally, “Graham sent a directive to his staff restricting how they could communicate.”

The two orders were rescinded in April, but they led Haskell’s faculty senate to a damning 25-0 no-confidence vote in Graham’s leadership. That April vote led to an investigation and Graham’s eventual firing last week.

The Appeal pauses layoffs

One day after announcing a restructuring that would cut certain audience, editor and fact-checking positions, The Appeal decided to pause layoffs while it holds discussions with its newly formed union.

The Appeal first announced a round of layoffs Monday, five minutes after its staff went public with their union drive. The layoffs were part of a larger effort to make the nonprofit newsroom financially independent from its sponsors, Tides Advocacy and Tides Center. As part of the restructuring, the entire audience team would be cut, and certain editors, fact-checkers and executives would lose their jobs.

The Appeal Union called the layoffs retaliatory. Leadership denied the allegation, saying that they had been discussing the restructuring for months.

Media unions denounced The Appeal’s actions, and The Appeal Union organized a letter-writing campaign that led to more than 400 letters being sent to newsroom leaders.

On Tuesday, The Appeal informed the union it would voluntarily recognize them and pause layoffs. One fact-checker who was laid off Monday morning was given his job back.

“This is a positive step. It gives our union time to negotiate with management about the future of The Appeal and our staff,” the union tweeted Tuesday. “But there is still work to do. We hope management will cancel the layoffs altogether, and are still seeking clarity on the status of certain staffers.”

2021 National Headliner Award winners announced

The National Headliner Awards, one of the oldest annual contests recognizing journalism, announced its winners Tuesday. The categories span journalism across newspapers, magazines, photography, online, radio and television. The awards program detailed the winners, including some comments from judges, in two separate documents on its website.

The Best in Show Newspapers award this year went to two journalists, Kathleen McGrory and Neil Bedi of the Poynter-owned Tampa Bay Times, for their 2020 investigation titled “Targeted.” “With a stunning hit-parade of police body cam footage and starkly written narrative, the Tampa Bay Times uncovers a shocking police practice that amounts to harassing potential wrongdoers from the unwelcoming precincts of Pasco County, Florida,” the judges said.

Here are a few more notable winners:

  • The Los Angeles Times won 15 awards, including six first places. The Times’ Marcus Yam and Alan Hagman won the Best in Show Photography award for Yam’s portfolio titled “The Long Road: An Exodus from Venezuela.” Hagman, a veteran photographer, died in 2019 at age 55.
  • The Star Tribune in Minneapolis won nine awards, including six first places.
  • National Public Radio won eight awards, including three first places.
  • CBS News won 16 awards, including five first places.

For the entire list of winners, and judges’ comments, check out this list, and this one.

The journalists behind the news

In March, after eight people were killed in Atlanta, journalists and newsrooms struggled to get the story of anti-Asian hate right. Poynter’s Kristen Hare reported on how the Asian American Journalists Association worked that day and in the days that followed to offer support to members, call out racist coverage and provide nuanced guidance for newsrooms and journalists. TEGNA newsrooms are among those that were grateful for the chance to pause in a busy news cycle and work to get the story right.

“When we’re in that situation, to have an organization like AAJA put out a guide that forces us to pause … it lets us do a check of our work and helps us move forward more responsibly,” said Joanie Vasiliadis, TEGNA’s vice president of digital content. “In a perfect world, our brains are hardwired to do those things in conjunction, to act quickly with these inclusive practices in mind, but I think everyone in news knows that we have a ways to get there.”

Time to release Winner?

The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan writes Wednesday about Reality Winner, a former contractor with the National Security Agency, who shared a copy of a classified document with The Intercept about Russia’s attempts at hacking into election websites.

Sullivan writes “A heartbreaking — and infuriating — new documentary about how the Trump Justice Department went after her reinforced my long-held belief that, although her prison term is due to end in November, it’s high time for our government to set Winner free.”

A novel initiative to report on poverty honored

The Economic Hardship Reporting Project supports articles, essays, documentaries and other coverage of poverty and economic injustice. It was honored this week as the best nontraditional news organization in a new online awards contest sponsored by New York University’s journalism school.

The project’s eclectic portfolio includes supporting articles that led to a domestic worker’s book, “Maid,” and an upcoming Netflix drama series; a Washington Post op-ed by television journalist Ray Suarez about the consequences of incurring huge bills after having lost his dental insurance; and a personal essay on the poorest Americans and their pets for a dog magazine, The Bark.

With a three-person staff, the project seeks, it said in a release, “to support independent journalists so they can create gripping stories that counter common poor-shaming narratives and then inject these stories into the mainstream media, mobilizing readers to change systems that perpetuate economic hardship.”

The group was founded by author Barbara Ehrenreich, whose 2001 book “Nickel and Dimed” is considered a classic expose of the miserable working conditions of fast-food workers, house cleaners and others in the low-wage economy.

Elizabeth Bruenig joins The Atlantic

New York Times opinion writer Elizabeth Bruenig will join The Atlantic as a staff writer later this month, the magazine announced Wednesday. She will cover the intersection of politics, religion and culture as part of the Ideas team.

Bruenig was the last person at The New York Times to hold the title of opinion writer, Politico reported. She is the fifth journalist to leave the Times for The Atlantic this year.

Goodbye, Ellen

Ellen DeGeneres (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)

Ellen DeGeneres announced Wednesday that “The Ellen Show” would come to an end in 2022, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

DeGeneres told the publication, “When you’re a creative person, you constantly need to be challenged — and as great as this show is, and as fun as it is, it’s just not a challenge anymore.”

Maybe it depends on the kinds of challenges we’re talking about. DeGeneres’ show, which will begin its 19th season, made headlines earlier this year after BuzzFeed News published accusations of a toxic workplace on set.

“The host, who’s built her brand on the motto ‘Be Kind,’ opened season 18 in September with a lengthy apology, telling viewers, ‘I learned that things happen here that never should have happened. I take that very seriously. And I want to say I am so sorry to the people who were affected.’ While the mea culpa was widely viewed — ‘Ellen’s’ highest-rated premiere in years, per The New York Times — viewership quickly tumbled, even as Hollywood’s A-list remained loyal guests.”

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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