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APA ad contest deadline quickly approaching

Guest Column:

Arkansas FOIA could use stiffer penalties for violations by Mike Masterson



Ark a nsa s

Publisher Weekly


Serving Press and State Since 1873

Vol. 14 | No. 2 | Thursday, January 10, 2019

Legislative session to begin next week

FOIA, journalism education expected to be hot topics When the 92nd General Assembly convenes on Monday, Jan. 14, government transparency and journalism education issues will be at the forefront for the Arkansas newspaper industry. Rep. Julie Mayberry (R-East End) has pre-filed proposed legislation to require Arkansas’s public high schools to offer journalism as an elective course, while several lawmakers have signaled their intent to sponsor bills that could erode the state’s long-standing Freedom of Information Act or shield government actions from public scrutiny. APA Executive Director Ashley Wimberley said the association has been preparing for the session the last few months, meeting with legislators and officials of other trade organizations. “As with every legislative session, our

association will make it a priority to fight for the issues most important to our membership,” Wimberley said. “Not coincidentally, the issues we stand for are the same ones that hold are public officials accountable and preserve our democracy.”

Wimberley expects there will be an effort to reduce the number of actions that require public notice. For years, the newspaper industry has staved off such

efforts. For one, removing public notices from newspapers makes it much more difficult for Arkansas residents to know about the actions of their government officials. Perhaps as important for the vast population of the state’s residents without reliable internet, the state is nextto-last in the country in broadband access. The government does a disservice to its citizens without printed public notices in an easily accessible format. “It seems every session there are bills that seek to remove publishing requirements for public notices, and we expect 2019 to be no different. Arkansas still lags in access to the internet, and public websites simply do not offer the evidentiary record needed when it comes to public notice,” said Robbie Wills, a former House speaker and principal at WSG Consulting – the APA’s government relations firm. Wills said the public notice battle, as with Continued on Page 2

FOIA Coalition to meet Jan. 29 at Darragh Center The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act Coalition will meet Tuesday, Jan. 29 at noon at the Darragh Center of the Central Arkansas Library System main library in downtown Little Rock. The coalition has invited representatives of the Arkansas Municipal League to attend. The Municipal League is considering support of several proposals in the 2019 Arkansas legislative session that could impact, or even weaken, the state’s open meetings and open records law. One

bill would exempt certain documents, or “working papers” of government attorneys from disclosure during active litigation. Another possible proposal calls for all existing exemptions to the FOIA to be specifically codified within the Act. Municipal League Executive Director Mark Hayes is scheduled to discuss the proposals with the coalition. The Arkansas FOIA Coalition is made up of journalists, publishers, attorneys,

educators and others. Its mission is to protect the state’s FOIA, one of the strongest in the United States. The Darragh Center is located within the library at 100 Rock St. in downtown Little Rock. A boxed lunch will be offered to attendees, and RSVP is required by Friday, Jan. 25 to Ashley Wimberley, Arkansas Press Association executive director. Email her at ashley@arkansaspress.org.

APA ad contest deadline quickly approaching The Arkansas Press Association’s annual Better Newspaper Advertising Contest is underway. Thursday, Jan. 31 is the deadline for entries. Publishers, ad managers and ad representatives at APA member newspapers are encouraged to submit their best ads of 2018 to the contest to earn recognition for their excellence, and even some bragging rights. To enter, and for more information on rules and instructions for entering, visit www.newspapercontest.com/ arkansas. As with other years, the 2019 contest features awards in several categories in separate categories for weekly and daily newspapers. Winning entries will be judged by members of the North Carolina Press Association. Categories range from best single ad to best online ad. There is a separate category for special sections and there’s even a category for best use of humor in an advertisement. Questions about the contest or the online submission process? Contact Terri Cobb at (501) 374-1500 or email terri@arkansaspress.org.

Industry Quote of the Week “I admit that I am hopelessly hooked on the printed newspaper. I love turning the pages and the serendipity of stumbling across a piece of irresistible information or a photograph that I wasn’t necessarily intending to read.” -Jill Abramson Arkansas Publisher Weekly

Legislative session slated to begin

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other potential bills, will require aid from local publishers and editors. Phone calls from publishers to their local legislators are particularly effective, he added.

Education’s guidelines over the summer. Some school administrators had told state officials there wasn’t enough student demand.

A handful of bills that would impact FOIA are floating around the Capitol, though none have been filed yet. Among those possible proposals are bills supported by the Arkansas Municipal League to exempt some government attorney records, or working papers, from public disclosure and to incorporate a listing of all FOIA exemptions into a single bill.

“I want to make sure that journalism is still being taught in our schools,” Rep. Mayberry said. “The whole process for removing it was oddly done, and I think we need to have more input. To make a broad policy change based on a few small things makes me question ‘why?’ Why are we picking on journalism?”

The Arkansas FOIA Coalition will meet with the Municipal League later this month to review those proposals, and Wills said he anticipates other attempts to weaken FOIA. He praised the FOIA Task Force, a governmental advisory body established in 2017 to make recommendations about potential legislation. “We expect another active session on the FOIA beat,” he said. “The FOI Task Force has done important work in the interim sifting through various proposals and educating legislators on the importance of the FOIA, but there are inevitably individuals and organizations who think their specific needs warrant a FOI exemption.” With FOIA and public notice bills on the horizon, Mayberry’s draft measure is likely to be among the first considered by the General Assembly. HB 1015 would reinstate a journalism teaching requirement unceremoniously dumped from the Arkansas Department of

Journalism as an elective has been required in schools since 1984, she said, so maintaining it as a course offering shouldn’t be seen as a mandate to school districts. She said she has been telling colleagues that the best way to ensure quality reporting is to make sure students have training in fundamentals. In addition, the reporting basics taught in high school journalism classes are a strong foundation for reporters and many who may never pursue that career path. Mayberry herself has a communications degree and is a former television news anchor/reporter. She and her husband, Andy, publish The East Ender newspaper. “I believe my journalism background helps me in my role at the state Capitol,” she said. “It teaches me to ask questions and think analytically, and how to gather and validate information. Those are critical things. That helps in so many other aspects of your life and other careers.”

2019 APA press decals distributed

The 2019 Arkansas Press Association “PRESS” auto window decals are been distributed to newspapers this month. The window stickers are often used by APA members on their vehicles to identify the vehicle as being owned and operated by someone in the working press. The decals themselves do not offer any specific privileges or protections, but they are a key way to signify to officials and others that an individual is a working member of the press.

for publishers, editors, reporters and photographers. To request additional stickers, email info@arkansaspress.org. Also, any APA member who wishes to renew his or her press ID cards issued by APA may email presscards@ arkansaspress.org.

Each APA newspaper will receive two 2019 decals. The decals are intended 2

January 10, 2019

New sports reporter joins Mena Star

Easton Leonard has joined the Mena Star as a sports reporter. Leonard, who attends the University of Arkansas at Rich Mountain, is an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan who starting writing about the Cardinals for online publications at the age of 15. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. He previously covered sports for the past two years for the Polk County Pulse. He serves on the Dallas Avenue Baptist Church worship team and is studying at UA Rich Mountain for an information technology degree. “I look forward to joining the Mena Star team and to continuing to produce great sports coverage that they have developed over the past year,” Leonard said.

Paris Express names editor

The Paris Express announced that Miranda Holman has been named editor, taking over for veteran journalist Pat McHughes, who retired after 21 years at the newspaper. Holman, 40, is a Clarksville native and graduate of Arkansas Tech University with degrees in English and creative writing. She has been a freelance writer and editor, managing websites and developing content for several entities. She recently completed a fellowship as editor of the Nebo Literary Journal. “I am excited for the opportunity to learn more about the Paris community and to take on new challenges as the editor of the Paris Express,” she said. “I am looking forward to meeting people in the community and settling in as a resident of Paris.”

Did you see that Superb Owl? Be careful with NFL ads Arkansas Press Association members, here’s your annual reminder about that big game, the football title match that could land publications in hot water with the National Football League if it’s called the Super Bowl in advertising. The NFL has trademarked “Super Bowl” and is pretty strict about use of the term (The NFL’s lawyers once wrote a cease-and-desist letter to an Indiana church advertising a “Super Bowl Bash.”). The Super Bowl term, the logo, the NFL shield and team names and designs are also trademarked and should not be used in ads, unless the advertiser is an official NFL partner. Local advertisers who want to capitalize on the Super Bowl’s popularity in ads should remember to call it “the big game” or “game day” something else other than the terms or designs trademarked

by the NFL. It is, however, okay to use “Super Bowl” or “Super Sunday” in news coverage. One New Jersey-based marketing firm has its own ideas for how to refer to the day: “The Six-Hour Build Up to a Coin Flip,” “The I-Waited-Two-Weeks-ForThis? Bowl,” “The Beer Commercial Bowl” and “Hey-Look-At-That-CommercialWhile-I-Steal-The-Last-Piece-of-Pizza

GAME day Bowl” were among its suggestions.

Woodruff County Monitor wins pizza party for Perfect Performance Congratulations to the Woodruff County Monitor for earning an employee pizza party from the Arkansas Press Association for perfect performance in its placement of APA-ordered ads in 2018. The newspaper was randomly chosen from the 40 newspapers left in good standing at the end of the year. The Perfect Performance Club was started

several years ago to encourage APA member newspapers to run ads ordered from APA correctly and on time. The staff enjoyed their reward on Tuesday, January 8. Congratulations again to Woodruff County Monitor publisher Paula Barnett and her team.

Holman and her husband, William, have three children. McHughes retired at the end of November. He noted that during his time as editor he never lost sight that “this newspaper is a real institution” in Logan County. Arkansas Publisher Weekly


January 10, 2019

Arkansas Press Women annual contest open for entries

Journalists have until Tuesday, Jan. 22 to enter the Arkansas Press Women (APW) annual Communications Contest. The contest is open to anyone regardless of age, gender or professional status. Firstplace winners in the state contest are considered in the National Federation of Press Women competition.

Jackson County newspaper makes name change to reflect larger coverage area The new year brings a new name for a venerable Jackson County newspaper. Gina Slagley, general manager of the Newport Independent, announced to readers last week the publication was dropping the word “Newport” from its title. The new name, The Independent, reflects

The work submitted must have been completed before Dec. 31, 2018, and entries are open in more than 60 categories. Entries can be related to writing and editing, photography, graphics and design, radio and television, web and social media, advertising, communications programs and campaigns, public relations materials, information for the media, speeches and collegiate/education.

“The Independent will continue to publish local content with local faces, places and local interests,” she said. “We hope this change will not only focus our efforts on expanding to all of Jackson County, but will let our readers understand we want to give them the opportunity to share their events and issues to the entire Jackson County community that we call home.” The name change was effective with the newspaper’s Jan. 3 edition.

To enter, and for more information, visit http://nfpw.org/professional-contest-2.

Arkansas Publisher Weekly

a renewed commitment to covering news and events throughout Jackson County, she said.


January 10, 2019

Guest Column:

Arkansas FOIA could use stiffer penalties for violations By Mike Masterson

(Editor’s note: Mike Masteron’s column is reprinted from the Dec. 11, 2018, edition of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette) I can imagine some readers rolling their eyes today as I write yet again about our state’s much abused Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). But this law truly is a crucial tool that gives the people power to hold accountable those we elect and appoint by disclosing what they are up to supposedly in our best interests. It’s not a law to be mocked or ignored, as is the case in many Arkansas communities today. There exists an assumption that FOIA mostly benefits newsgatherers when, in fact, this law serves any citizen needing information generated and held by governments. Although I might bore some when I write about it, try to imagine where we’d be without a law that forces governments to reveal their activities. While Arkansas has long been acknowledged as having one of the country’s stronger Freedom of Information Acts, I believe it’s long past time for the Legislature to put meaningful teeth into the farcical gumming of sorts it now administers on violators. From everything I can tell, violations are becoming commonplace across Arkansas, from town councils to school boards and most recently a county coroner who proudly defied and disrespected this law. Too many self-interested public servants have come to believe they can ignore the law without meaningful repercussion.

When the state’s Freedom of Information Act was passed in 1967, it was to ensure public records and meetings were readily open and available to the people: Elected officials could not gather in secret or withhold records of the deliberations and decisions made by governing officials. It was a badly needed, necessary and noble law acclaimed far and wide as an example of a state ensuring public transparency. But that was before the age of texts, emails and cell phones. Today, opportunity abounds for violating the spirit and provisions of the law. And based on lawsuits by a relatively few attorneys and local prosecutors intent on trying to thwart this lawbreaking by insisting on accountability, the scourge of disrespect certainly appears to be flourishing. I’m by no means alone in my feelings about the need for far stronger deterrents. Respected Little Rock attorney Sam Perroni, with considerable experience involving FOI matters over the years, as well as experience with open-records laws in California and Nevada, has successfully sued judges, sheriffs, the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission, Los Angeles County and coroners.

Fear of public humiliation or shame certainly hasn’t deterred the champions for secrecy, nor has the threat of a minimal fine or a “bad boy!” knuckle noogie from the local judge.

The same serious problem with secrecy in public business exists in every state, he told me, and there’s just no real teeth in the acts for arrogant officials or government employees who ignore their obligations under the law. Those seeking to protect the lawbreakers will tell you, he said: “Well, if you win, you can get attorney fees and costs. That’s half true. The payment of that money only hurts the taxpayers.” In other words, we pay for their misdeeds.

If our lawmakers would put on their bigboy custom-tailored silk suits and develop significant penalties, I will guarantee the unacceptable proliferation of public servant scofflaws would come to a brakesquealing halt.

“The only effective way to stop the abuse is by mandating individuals or public officials who abuse the spirit of FOIA be sanctioned personally if it’s found their denials or stalling tactics were in bad faith,” Perroni said. “It’s one thing for an

Arkansas Publisher Weekly


agency to rely on a sound exception in the act for denying access to public records, but quite another for them to deny access on meritless grounds.” The attorney says he’s tried drawing attention to the matter to no avail. “It will take a concerted effort by the press to get anything done. It’s a serious problem for ordinary citizens who do not have the resources to sue the government agencies every time an employee/officer decides to deny a simple, lawful request when they know the citizen can’t fight them.” Aren’t the wants and needs of ordinary citizens seeking facts on how their governments are operating the very reason we have this important law? Joey McCutchen, the Fort Smith lawyer I justifiably call a “bulldog” for his similar readiness to file successful FOIA lawsuits (without expecting to profit for himself) shares my beliefs and Perroni’s views. McCutchen believes all employees and officials in public offices should be required to attend meaningful FOIA training sessions led by qualified instructors. “I also believe we need stiffer fines in civil penalties,” said McCutchen, whose proven violators include town councils and school boards. This leaves me wondering which legislator or legislators has enough integrity to stand up, shout “Enough already!” and introduce legislation that deters today’s steady flow of violations by implanting some actual teeth into this important law that has been gumming its way along for decades. Who will serve the people rather than themselves? Mike Masterson, a veteran Arkansas journalist, may be emailed at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com

January 10, 2019

Profile for Arkansas Press Association

Arkansas Publisher Weekly, January 10, 2019  

The Arkansas Publisher Weekly is the only direct source for late breaking news regarding Arkansas' newspapers and related industries. Publis...

Arkansas Publisher Weekly, January 10, 2019  

The Arkansas Publisher Weekly is the only direct source for late breaking news regarding Arkansas' newspapers and related industries. Publis...