This week, the first in my Social Role of the Media class at Kent State University's online Journalism and Mass Communications master's degree program, we were asked to reflect on the week's readings.
There were several, to be sure. My favorite -- and one that provoked much thought on my part -- was an editorial by the Frederick (Md.) News-Post, published Jan. 6, 2015, in which the newspaper's editorial board launched a counter-attack on a local politician.
In summary, a city councilman by the name of Kirby Delauter threatened the newspaper with a lawsuit because the newspaper prints his name without his permission.
The flap began when the councilman launched into a public Facebook post against a Frederick News-Post reporter about the "unauthorized" use of his name, by the newspaper. Forget that the councilman is a public official. The mere thought of asking permission to use someone's name for a legitimate news story is outrageous.To be sure, Mr. Delauter isn't the only person to have believed this, nor will he be the last.
original editorial had good things to say about it. There are others who thought the newspaper should have taken the high road, and still others who resorted to using the tired newspaper-bashing, referring to it as "second rate" and "rag."
The posting of this on social media made it public in every sense of the word. A good newspaper stands behind its reporters, especially if they are doing their job "by the book." It seems, in this case, Ms. Bethany Rodgers did so.
The writing of this editorial was appropriate, in my view, as it serves as a tool to "educate" people in the many ways that journalism works. If you are a public official, the expectation is your name will be used, so long as it is important to a story. Printing his name just because he is a public official shouldn't be standard practice. I've covered meetings in which I may use one or two councilperson's names -- as long as it was pertinent to the story. If they made a comment during the meeting that is important to the story, it was used.
This editorial went a bit further than I expected. It injected a bit of humor into a serious matter.
An editor once told me that arguing and bickering with readers is a losing battle, one that can never be won. In this case, I applaud the newspaper for defending itself. It's tough -- and pointless -- to defend yourself against each and every attack. FNP did what it needed to do to squelch the ignorance.
In my 28 years of journalism, I have never asked a public official for permission to use his or her name -- and never will. They expected it, so long as it properly pertained to a story.
This editorial goes even further. While questioning whether the newspaper should ever again use the councilman's name and, if so, in what matter to which he should be referred, I took note of the first letter of each paragraph of the editorial. In case you didn't see it -- and I am pretty sure most people didn't notice -- each paragraph starts with a letter of the councilman's first and last name. Take a look at it here.
Childish? Maybe, but no more childish and mind-numbing than threatening a lawsuit over the use of one's name. The newspaper performed the proverbial "pile on" technique, but it was factual and it served the purpose of informing readers how one small part of journalism actually works.
I loved it.