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Slapping wrists of those who write the news: journalists discuss First Amendment violations in Atlanta
By Ellen Eldridge, President-Elect, SPJ Georgia
Atlanta, Georgia – John Ruch said he thought someone was being a jerk by waving a hand in front of his cell phone as he tried to take a picture of a protester’s arrest Nov. 26. The Creative Loafing freelance reporter said he had a great view through the crowd in Atlanta, and he was trying to take photographs for his assignment.
Moments later, Ruch realized the hand belonged to an Atlanta police officer. The officer grabbed Ruch’s arm from behind and another officer nodded an okay to arrest Ruch and a few others, who he said seemed randomly chosen from the crowd. A police officer also confiscated his cell phone.
The Nov. 26 Atlanta protest marches were fueled by the Missouri grand jury’s Nov. 24 decision not to indict the white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, on Aug. 9.
“’You’re under arrest. Get on the ground,’ were her first words to me,” Ruch said during a gathering of journalists at an Atlanta pub on Martin Luther King Day, Jan. 19. On this national holiday, the Society of Professional Journalists – Georgia organized a serious chat to discuss the recent First Amendment rights violations in Georgia.
WXIA/WATL News Director Jennifer Rigby attended the gathering as a representative for 11 Alive News because one of the station’s video photojournalists, Tyson Paul, was arrested at the same night as Ruch. Along with Ruch, Creative Loafing Editor-in-Chief Debbie Michaud and News Editor Thomas Wheatley attended. Creative Loafing is an Atlanta alternative online and print news weekly.
Board members from SPJ Georgia, Kennesaw State University SPJ Chapter President Alex Moore and guests joined the discussions with Georgia First Amendment Foundation Executive Director Hollie Manheimer and GFAF board member and Kennesaw University Journalism Professor Carolyn Carlson to address the rights of the press. Even though the amendment is highly regarded by those actively reporting under the freedom of the press, all American citizens have protection under the First Amendment.
Ruch described how his excitement turned to confusion and fear as he spotted his news editor through the masses of people and police.
“I kept asking why I was being arrested, and I see poor Thomas (Wheatley) wandering the sidewalk somehow free to commit journalism on his own,” Ruch said.
Journalists around the table laughed, but then the mood switched to stern opinions on why it should or shouldn’t matter if a journalist carries a formal press credential to identify them as a member of the press, and furthermore, asked why is it illegal to be arrested for taking a photo of an arrest from the sidewalk.
Ruch was asked for his press credentials by the Atlanta police officer who arrested him. Would presenting a press credential have stopped the police officer from arresting the journalist? Unknown. Ruch said journalists or citizens don’t need to carry press credentials under freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment. As a freelance reporter for Creative Loafing, Ruch was not issued a press credential from the publication. Since his arrest on Nov. 26, Creative Loafing does provide press credentials to their freelance contributors, said Michaud.
When Wheatley walked over to where Ruch’s arrest was occurring, he said he asked the officer, “Is this your first time arresting a journalist?” Next, looking down at his cell phone, Wheatley said he was frustrated because his cell phone had only one bar of battery power left, but as a news editor facing one of his reporters’ arrest, he went ahead and made the call to a public information officer for the Atlanta Police Department. He later was able to charge his phone at a friend’s home nearby and continued to communicate with Michaud throughout the evening and early morning hours of Thanksgiving Day.
Many protesters were arrested or detained by Georgia and Atlanta law enforcement, loaded into a corrections buses and taken to precincts throughout Atlanta and to Turner (baseball) Field.
Only hours before Ruch and Paul were to appear in front of a judge, they were bailed out. The two journalists appeared in court and stood before a judge in a packed courtroom to hear their charges. Both Wheatley and Rigby agreed the Atlanta city attorney, police chief and mayor apologized quickly. The city attorney was “fairly horrified” and charges had already been dropped, Rigby said.
“Cops need better training,” she added in regard to the newer and lower ranking officers’ lack of knowledge of the First Amendment and arresting journalists doing their jobs by covering breaking news.
The two arrested journalists were bailed out quickly “as is possible” with the booking process, Manheimer said, adding that in terms of advocacy, the burden is not on the journalist. “There isn’t a class of people who have more First Amendment rights than others,” she said.
George Chidi, a freelancer who fought a temporary restraining order filed against him by a political candidate, jumped in to the conversation.
“They do this crap all the time,” Chidi said. “How do we punish them for it?”
Rigby said 11 Alive wouldn’t be pursuing the case further now that the reporter is free and charges have been dropped. The photojournalist was actually filming live when a relatively young Atlanta officer made the arrest. Rigby says the photojournalist told the police officer he was on television and the officer said, “That’s awesome.” The entire arrest was filmed by one of the station’s choppers, Rigby said.
Though Ruch and Paul spent a handful of hours in jail Nov. 26 and Chidi in October was unable to blog for two or more weeks, these Georgia journalists might not see a lasting impact on their careers but did voice that the aggravation was unnecessary and illegal.
Chidi did note that the two weeks he was legally prevented from blogging were the last two weeks of the election he was covering. That makes the time significant, he said.
Rather than seeking revenge, SPJ Georgia and the journalists gathered advocate for more training of new police officers and to continue the conversation on the First Amendment with law enforcement and the general public.
Rigby suggested that the public’s opinion of media doesn’t always support the mission. “People think we’re part of the problem,” she said.
Ruch added that some people think reporters just bring grief. Others may think that if the media didn’t cover protesters, the protests would stop, he said. Even though these sentiments might be said by some individuals, the Supreme Court upholds the freedom of the press to act as a check on government and a way for the public to stay informed.
“Not many people cared about me getting arrested,” Ruch said, but he said he wanted to report the stories of those in the paddy wagon with him. He was less concerned with sharing his own story than reporting about those locked up with him.
“Their stories would be great. Why doesn’t anyone care?” he asked.
To answer those tough questions, the journalists who gathered on Jan. 19 focused on the re-dedication to the craft: stronger storytelling, more in-depth reporting and making First Amendment rights issues more readable.
As for a citizen’s right for freedom of speech or a journalist’s freedom of the press, many at the gathering said “we, like them, are just doing our jobs” under the First Amendment.
If proper nouns were allowed in Scrabble, Koretzky would be a high-value name. But we’re not playing Scrabble. We’re writers, and without Michael Koretzky, region 3 director for Society of Professional Journalists, we wouldn’t have programs like Will Write For Food. Also, I wouldn’t have made it home on Labor Day.
A whirlwind 36 hours of chaotic reporting, lede creating and nut graph recreating taught me and 21 other student journalists the value of getting out of the newsroom and out of our comfort zone. I expected nothing less from the adviser who hooked me on SPJ with his engaging programs.
In his closing email to the students, Koretzky wrote, “This weekend, some of you accused me of being negative and melodramatic. You’re probably right – I’m not objective enough to journalistically debate that. But if we agree on this point, it means when I say nice things, those definitely must be true.”
Then, he went on to compliment the group.
I’ve seen the debates, battles and wars waged with Koretzky at the wheel, and regardless of what professional journalists or otherwise think of him, he is nearly single-handedly inspiring students to get active in building their journalism careers.
Not only did Koretzky tell me the personal magazine I toiled over for seven years had no place as a line item on my resume, he said anyone thinking about applying for Will Write For Food was considering doing something “really stupid.”
I think that’s part of his charm.
Koretzky appears viciously blunt in print, and in person. He won’t sugarcoat shit, and if students develop a thick enough skin, they will realize how effective Koretzky’s criticism is.
Underneath all the ink covering his heart, Koretzky cares immensely for the students he advises. Several times over the weekend, he told us he wished he could help more financially. One student traveled from as far away as Alaska, but each student only received $100 toward travel. And we slept 3 to 4 to a room. Just kidding; we didn’t sleep.
Sadly, Society of Professional Journalists doesn’t chip in for the Will Write For Food program. It was funded by the South Florida Black Journalists Association, The National Association of Hispanic Journalists South Florida Chapter, The South Florida pro chapter of SPJ and Koretzky himself.
After overcoming the unsurprising yet still overwhelming smell of the shelter dining room, filled with people swollen with Florida summer sweat, I endured the fast-paced storytelling and cruised through a 3-hour nap before catching a ride to the airport.
This blog was originally going to be more like the one I wrote after Koretzky’s Interviewing the Undead program last year, where I castigated Greyhound, but I realized this blog needed to be about Koretzky himself.
While another student heading home to Atlanta and I hopped out of Koretzky’s jeep an hour before our flight, aggravations and airline-created delays caused us to get to the gate one minute after its closing. The plane sat behind one Spirit Airlines attendant and us, but she refused to let us on our flight.
We had to go back to the ticketing counter and Spirit Airlines told me I couldn’t get a guaranteed flight until more than 30 hours later. That’s enough time to put together an issue of The Homeless Voice. My friend couldn’t guarantee a flight until two days later. The stress of the whole weekend rained over me, but I did not cry. Even when Spirit Airlines told me I would have to pay more than I originally paid for a round trip ticket to Florida, to fly home.
As I contemplated renting a car to make the 11-hour drive back to Atlanta, Koretzky saved the day. He, through a series of texts, promised to reimburse us for any ticket to get us home. At any cost. To a homeless student journalist, this was winning the lottery.
Without excess hyperbole, Koretzky helped me craft my career. I haven’t even finished my degree, but I fine-tuned my resume using Koretzky’s tips and landed a part-time job as a staff writer on a newspaper. When I joined SPJ, I did so for the line item on my resume. When I found Koretzky’s programs, I got involved. I believe getting involved and networking is the key. That, and trials by fire.
Why I want to be SPJ’s student representative in 2014
I added my name to the longest list of names competing for one of two student representatives for Society of Professional Journalists because I want to help pioneer the field of journalism in the digital age.
Many journalists who have been at it for a while–and it often takes a while to make a name for oneself in the field–still don’t regularly use social media. I’d guess quite a few journalists worry about damaging their brands or inadvertently hurting the organizations they represent, but digital is fact.
I plan to blog more in the next few months about how I feel social media, content marketing and journalism converge.
My SPJ Candidate Profile:
Current SPJ Office: Kennesaw State University campus chapter president
Current Employment: Student intern at Cherokee Tribune; senior communication major at Kennesaw State University (3.8 GPA); freelance content marketer
Previous SPJ Experience: Held current office since 2013
Past Work Experience: Public Affairs Specialist in U.S. Army Reserves (46Q) 2000-2006, implemented newsletter as lesson coordinator at 6-store music retail chain in Georgia 2007-2011, founded marketing magazine for artistic entrepreneurs 2007-present; freelance music journalist for national print and online mediums (Performer Magazine and AtlantaMusicGuide.com) 2008-present.
Education: B.S. in psychology (2009); currently a senior working toward a B.S. in communication (2015 expected); HootSuite Social Media Certification (2013) and brand ambassador (2014)
Honors, Awards and Activities: Golden Key Honor Society, SPJ, Who’s Who in American College Students (2014), Adult Learner’s Award (2014), Student Media (staff writer for The Sentinel newspaper, editor-in-chief for Talon feature magazine, literary editor for Share literary magazine).
Why I’m seeking this SPJ office:
As a long-time student of journalism and lover or the written word, I want to pioneer innovation and help experienced and new journalists navigate the changing career field of communication. Freelancing and training are the parts of the SPJ mission closest to my heart. As a HootSuite brand ambassador I hope to encourage journalists of all skill levels integrate social media into reporting, which will also help the individual brands of media outlets struggling to find a foothold.
As a campus representative, I will work to spread the mission and goals of SPJ as well as work with journalism majors to learn social media and learn how original well-written content can help build a brand. Not public relations writing, but objective content. I also want to stay connected to the largest organization for journalists, and I want to encourage students to get involved not only with student media but also in contributing as members in the Society of Professional Journalists as I have with a blog for The Independent Journalist in the SPJ network.
Find me on Google Plus, LinkedIn and Twitter. If you’re truly into social media and want to find me across the Internet, I am also on Facebook and Pinterest. I look forward to the coming weeks and months leading up to Excellence in Journalism 2014 in Nashville this September.
This is day 28 of 30-day blog challenge. Read day 27: “3 songs to propose to this year”
I hate to admit that I’m not perfect, and I’ve written about the problem of perfectionism previously. If I know anything, finishing what you start is crucial. But, artists and writers shouldn’t strive for complete perfectionism. We can learn a great deal from mistakes.
As I wind down my 30-day blog challenge, I am convinced I will be able to maintain a blog calendar and a weekly schedule for blogging. I won’t wander into the abyss of abandoned blogs, but tonight I simply have too much to work on to write anything meaningful.
See you tomorrow! Use tonight to catch up on my blog challenge posts if you feel so inclined!
This is day 27 of 30-day blog challenge. Read day 26: “I used to rant like fruit gone rotten”
I live north of Atlanta, but a few artists I love are touring. I saw something on Facebook where a fan proposed to his girlfriend at a concert, and, as my own five-year anniversary is around the corner, I thought I post a quick video blog of three romantic songs to get engaged to. If you want to pop the question at a show this year, check these tours out:
1. Ratdog (playing Atlanta’s Tabernacle March 16)
The other night my soul hit the pavement
And I looked up, and I didn’t have eyes
Oh to see the beauty, joy and the tenderness
The reasons why a man’s alive
Sometimes a darkness falls upon the spirit
And it gets dark like there ain’t never been light
May be angels singing, but you don’t want to hear it
That inner flame ain’t burning so bright (note 1)
And you’ll find no saints here
When the going gets this rough
But you may find grace
If you’re lucky enough
Every love has a whole in the middle
Where the wickedness always survives
Eats at your soul, maybe just a little (note 2)
Then it gets as big as the night
Doesn’t matter how much you show her
Sure don’t matter what she’s trying to show you
When you can’t feel it, that love seems to scatter
And precious little gonna see you through
And we’re going on faith here
And all of that kind of stuff
And even grace
If we’re lucky enough
There’s a line you can hold
Through the separateness and sin
Open up your soul
And let the sky fall in
The deepest journeys pass through the wilderness
The desert where the burning question resides
To taste the magic you must first suck the emptiness
From a cup that is always dry
Inside the silence, and total aridity (note 3)
Where the horizon is a perfect line
Lies a drop that precedes the humidity (note 4)
Of simple grace, that pours like wine
And you’ll find no saints here
None of that kind of stuff
But you may find grace
If you’re lucky enough
Well you may find grace
If you’re lucky enough
If you’re lucky enough
If you’re lucky enough
Well you may find grace
If you’re lucky enough
If you’re lucky enough
Well you may find grace
1) in earlier versions, Weir sang “Your sole concern is making it through the night”
2) in earlier versions, Weir sang these two lines as
“Ain’t no big deal, well maybe just a little
“when that hurricane of misery arrives”
(3) I had an earlier version of this line that may have been in part a mis-hearing: “There is a place with falls of fluidity”
(4) the lyrics with the CD have “drought” but “drop” seems to be what Weir sings, and makes better sense
2. Brad Paisely (playing Atlanta at Aaron’s Amphitheatre at Lakewood June 22)
“I Can’t Change the World”
3. Tori Amos (playing Atlanta’s Cobb Energy Theatre August 19)
Hmm, okay on second thought, don’t propose to your lover during a Tori Amos song. Rather, propose along with tickets to the show. Tori may have found happiness and love in marriage, but the sentiment doesn’t gel in any song that I can think of. Her last album, Night of Hunters, was a concept album.
I’ll just leave you with one of my favorite songs, where Maynard J. Keenan accompanies her:
This is day 26 of 30-day blog challenge. Read day 26: “Where does creativity come from”
Many people don’t know I published a book of poetry. Fewer care, I’m sure. But, because I have way too much to do to write a blog tonight, I’ll share. The best reason to consider buying a copy of “Beyond the Eyes” is my sister’s work. Cyan Jenkins is a freelance illustrator, and this book was created as her senior project. She graduated from the Ringling College of Art in 2009. Then she and I both got married that same year. I married in March (while she was on spring break), and she married in June, shortly after she graduated. She and I each had our first baby in 2010, but she had her son before I had my daughter so she got me back for marrying first.
I’m proud of the work Cyan and I did together. I enjoyed watching her illustrate my poems. She breathed life into my imagination in a cool way. Some of the images I wouldn’t have thought up. She just took my words as inspiration to paint.
One of the poems in “Beyond the Eyes” speaks to a much darker time in my life. My husband and babies really took a chunk of my dark side away.
Reading this now makes me critical of my earlier work. Rambling madness and desperate cries for meaning and attention. But, I shouldn’t be so hard on myself I suppose. I like the like about chord tones because I know I got that from my husband trying to teach me about playing guitar. One day I will practice and become greater at guitar. Until then, I have Russell Eldridge.
I rarely write poetry anymore. I mean to get back to it, but for now I feel disconnected from the craft because I used it for so long to purge those feelings I couldn’t share with anyone else.
If you have any desire to read “Beyond the Eyes,” contact me and I can send you a copy. Cyan may still have some as well, but you certainly don’t need to pay Amazon prices.
This is day 25 of 30-day blog challenge. Read day 24: “Parenting through the smell of dead sewage”
Most of us have heard about people being “left-brained” or “right-brained,” but I don’t think there’s much to that. I know the right side of the body is controlled by the left brain hemisphere, but that doesn’t mean that when you are using your right hand to write (and we use both to type) you can’t be creative. I’ve heard that left-handed people are supposedly more creative because the “creative” side of the brain is the right side. To me, that just says the while drawing an image the “creative” brain is too tied up to think of an imaginative image.
An article by Christopher Wanjek, published in September, 2013, claims that left versus right brain is a myth. And I tend to agree. For one, the optical illusion of the “spinning dancer” will not yield consistent results. Some days, if you are more tired or more alert, she will start different ways. If you watch and she starts off spinning clockwise, she will turn and spin counter-clockwise after your brain gets tired and “switches.”
More in-depth responses about this optical illusion are available in videos as well as online, but to me it confirms the myth of right and left-brained people. Especially because creativity comes in many forms, which are controlled by different parts of the brain. The ability to connect dots and transform ideas across mediums makes individuals most creative in my mind.
I tested out my own right/left brain dominance in two separate online tests. They both gave me about an even balance of using both sides of my brain. I am curious as to what other people think about the results or if there really is such a thing as a link between creativity and being left-handed.
The second test, from http://testyourself.psychtests.com/testid/3178, involved different types of questions. Where the above text showed me my preference for visual designs and the power of reading the correct color as opposed to viewing it, the test below asked more about how I reason through situations.
My results were again pretty even:
|Studies on patients with brain damage have allowed scientists to determine how each side of the brain controls different functions. The left hemisphere, for example, specializes in language skills and logic. The right hemisphere allows us to recognize shapes and faces and express and read. Most people are not likely to be strictly left-brain or right-brained – we use each side of our brain depending on the task we’re dealing with. However, some theorists and researchers believe that there may be one side of the brain that we draw on more, which can in turn make the personality traits characteristic of that side of the brain to be more dominant than others.How to read your results: If you score closer to the right side of the graph, your personality is more characteristically right-brain. If you score closer to the left side of the graph, your personality is more characteristically left-brain. If you score somewhere in the middle, you share characteristics of both sides of the brain.|
|Both your right and left hemisphere seem to have reached a level of perfect harmony – rather than trying to dominant each other, they work together to create a unique and well-balanced “you”. Your spontaneous, impulsive, and free-flowing right brain creates an exciting and adventurous world, while you left brain helps you make sense of it and keep track of everything.When faced with a problem or a tough decision, you’re not only able to break things down and make an informed and sensible choice, but you’re also not afraid to go with your gut when necessary. You tend to express your individuality both in words and actions, and although you’re perfectly comfortable running on a schedule or planning things ahead of time, there are occasions when you love to throw in a little spontaneity.Your balanced outlook and approach to life creates a desire in you to not only understand the world, but to also take it in your hands and mold it as you see fit. With both your right and left hemispheres working together to guide you, you are able to understand yourself and life in general from so many wonderful perspectives.|
Maybe my brain is balanced because I’m a Libra (ha ha)!
I retook the first test test a full 24 hours (almost exactly) later (I just finished it when I went to get the link for this post). I got “right-brained” by 62 percent! I know I changed my first opinion of which image most pleased me and I automatically chose a different hand to raise first. Last night, I used my right side for all the hand raising, leg-crossing tests. So, maybe my sense of rationality or logic is currently working harder because I am actively writing this post!
So, what do you think? Can creativity shift depending on what tasks we are actively doing and thinking about? I think this is the key to how we perform on these tests. Take them and let me know how you did!
This is day 24 of 30-day blog challenge. Read day 23: “Learn these 3 things free online”
The smell started Thursday
If anything has made me want to throw my hands and just give up on this 30-day blog challenge, it’s been today. Well, really it’s been the last 48 hours or so. Late Thursday evening my husband smelled something like sewer gas or a dead cat (poor dumpster kitties) coming from the sinks or the shower line. It was hard to say exactly where it was coming from, but it was bad enough to my husband that he called the emergency maintenance line. No one came.
Friday we went about our regular day, divided between my morning out of the house and my husband’s afternoon and evening out of the house. By the time he returned home from work (and no one had come from maintenance despite repeated calls in the morning), he was livid. I had been home all afternoon and though I smelled “it” I had gotten used to it. When the foul stench slapped him in the face as he returned home, my husband acted personally offended. He called the emergency line again.
Friday night maintenance agreed our apartment stinks
Around 9 p.m. the maintenance guy came to the apartment and acknowledged the disgusting odor. Our mounting concerns about the safety of the water that we both showered in and drank (we filter the tap water through a Brita pitcher, but it’s still tap water) made us increasingly nervous. And light-headed. My stomach is turning as I write this blog.
Though he looked under the sinks and around the property where the stray cats hang out, the maintenance guy found nothing. He even admitted that he peeked into the neighbor’s cracked window to check for a dead body. The smell is that bad. His suggestion was that something must have died, but he couldn’t find it and he couldn’t get approval for a plumber to come out until Monday.
Saturday the smell surrounds
The first thing my husband did this morning (Saturday) was to stop at the rental office and insist something further be done to figure out what the smell is. We needed a plumber to be called. One of the benefits of renting a place is the assurance that when something breaks or the place is uninhabitable someone will come fix it. And we shouldn’t have to have extra money to pay for these services. Well, this incident has made me wish we could just call a plumber ourselves and pay out of pocket just to feel like we had some kind of power in a seemingly hopeless situation.
After twice walking over to the rental office after my husband stopped in at 10 a.m., nothing had been accomplished. The same maintenance man who came to the apartment last night swore he called his supervisor and was waiting on a return call with approval to call a plumber. I watched “House of Cards” while the kids napped because I felt too dizzy and sick to my stomach to do anything productive.
Once 4 p.m. rolled around and my husband returned from work, we printed a dated letter to the management company saying we wanted a plumber called immediately. I have no desire to hire a lawyer and file a suit or even try to get out of our lease early. I would love to, but I just don’t have the time and energy. I know, though, if it comes to that, we need to have written documentation.
When to call 9-1-1
So, I handed my letter signed by my husband and by me to the lady in the leasing office and I drove to the grocery store. By about 4:45 p.m. my husband called to tell me he had called 9-1-1. They were on their way to determine if our apartment was subject to harmful gases or anything that would hurt the kids. The four firefighters who came said that they thought something died somewhere in or around the apartment. No gas levels or carbon monoxide were detected.
The leasing office finally got word from the off-duty supervisor who agreed to call a plumber. That plumber should be here by 9 p.m. but as it’s currently 6:27 p.m. I just feel sick, dizzy and helpless. And I don’t feel like blogging.