March 2011 Archives

More and more news organizations seem to be offering news games. While the applications of such games still are becoming clear, it's not stopping non-news organizations from jumping on the bandwagon, according to a Poynter Institute column.

The Poynter Institute's Adam Hochberg talked with the School of Journalism and Mass Communication's Nora Paul and Professor Kathleen Hansen about news gaming.

Paul and Hansen have studied news gaming for a number of years. In 2007, they received a $250,000 grant from the Knight Foundation 21st Century News Challenge program to test interactive methods against traditional storytelling for complicated news issues.

While the attributes of a "good investigative report" are clear, "we don't know enough yet about the attributes and applications of these kinds of things."

Some games, such as MinnPost's, put players through budget simulators, allowing them to make decisions about what to cut or which taxes to increase as they try to balance state budgets and explain consequences of the decisions a player made.

Hochberg wrote advocacy groups have put together their own versions of games, which do not always offer balanced approaches. One conservative think tank's game contained 42 ways to cut state spending but only one tax increase. Another created by a union-backed group included 17 ways to raise taxes, "mainly on corporations and the wealthy."

Hochberg quoted Hansen as saying it's incumbent on users to check out who created the games. While such games can be useful tools to help citizens understand complex policy issues, they're often oversimplified.

Read the complete story at

Via University of Minnesota News Service

Bloggers protected by First Amendment, U of M expert says

Defamation lawsuits against bloggers, often called citizen journalists, appear to be on the rise. Here in Minneapolis, a local blogger is being sued by a public figure for defamation.

A University of Minnesota media law expert who can provide insight is:

Amy Kristin Sanders, assistant professor, U of M School of Journalism and Mass Communication

Several issues are likely to feature prominently in the case, including the plaintiff's status as a public figure, Sanders says.

"Because the judge ruled the plaintiff was a public figure, the law requires him to prove a higher level of fault known as actual malice to win a defamation case. The First Amendment requires this standard to ensure speech on matters of public concern will be protected," Sanders says.

Thus, the plaintiff would be required to prove actual malice on the part of the blogger in order to win his lawsuit.

"Actual malice represents an extremely high bar for plaintiffs to overcome. In essence, they must prove the defendant knew or should have known that the published statement was false. For a plaintiff required to prove actual malice, the chances of success are extremely slim," Sanders says.

The plaintiff has raised the issue that the defendant in the case is not a traditional journalist, and that for some reason that should take him outside the protection of the First Amendment.

"Further, the courts have been extremely protective of free speech on the Internet. I find it difficult to believe the blogger won't prevail in this case. Cases such as this one cost time and money on the part of both parties to litigate."

"The increase in technology and new forms of mass communication all but ensure these types of cases will continue to crop up. As more individuals have the opportunity to have their voices heard, it's not hard to believe more people will take offense to certain types of speech."

To schedule an interview with Sanders, contact Jeff Falk, or (612) 626-1720. Contact Sanders directly at (612) 624-2438 or at

Expert Alert is a service provided by the University News Service. Delivered regularly, Expert Alert is designed to connect university experts to today's breaking news and current events. For an archive and other useful media services, visit Views expressed by experts do not represent the views of the University of Minnesota.

Public figures face higher standards for proving defamation claims, even when those claims are brought against bloggers, says a School of Journalism and Mass Communication professor.

Minnesota Public Radio recently quoted Professor Jane E. Kirtley in a piece about the civil trial against John Hoff, a blogger better known as Johnny Northside. While many defamation cases are filed against bloggers, few proceed to trial, the Silha Professor for Media Ethics and Law at the University of Minnesota told MPR.

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Winners of 34th Premack Awards announced

MINNEAPOLIS (March 5, 2011) -- The winners of the 2010 Frank Premack Public Affairs Journalism Awards include the Star Tribune, Twin Cities Daily Planet, St. Cloud Times and Bemidji Pioneer. Winners will be honored at the Frank Premack Public Affairs Journalism Awards Program at 5 p.m. April 18 in the A.I. Johnson Room at McNamara Alumni Center, located on the East Bank of the University of Minnesota--Twin Cities campus.

The 34th annual awards program will celebrate the winning works and best practices of public affairs journalism, and also will feature the presentation of the Graven Award to Gary Eichten of Minnesota Public Radio and the Farr Award to Laura Waterman Wittstock of Wittstock and Associates, a media and education consulting firm. The winning journalists and award winners will have the opportunity to speak about their work.

The Premack award winners to be honored for work produced in 2010 are:

* Excellence in coverage of breaking news about public affairs (larger organization): The Star Tribune and staff reporters are winners of the award for excellence in coverage of breaking news for their coverage of an apartment fire that killed six, published in April and May 2010.

Premack judges in this category said: "The reporting prompted changes in the city's safety inspection system and raised issues about training and turf battles between police and fire departments. The excellent photojournalism added to the story and helped readers understand the impact this fire had on the entire neighborhood."

* George S. Hage Award for Excellence in coverage of breaking news about public affairs (smaller organization): The Twin Cities Daily Planet reporter Molly Priesmeyer and editor Mary Turck are the winners of the Hage Award for Excellence in coverage of breaking news about public affairs for their story, "Who Pulled the Plug on University of Minnesota's 'Troubled Waters.'"

Premack judges in this category said: "The Twin Cities Daily Planet reporter broke a story that became a major controversy in the community. The piece pulled back the curtain on how the levels of power function and demonstrated how a single person's decision can affect an organization as large as the university."

* Excellence in investigative or analytical reporting about public affairs (larger organization): Star Tribune reporters Jim Spencer and Tom Meersman for their story, "Losing Our Lakes."

Premack judges in this category said: "We faced a difficult choice in this category because of excellent work by KSTP-TV with their "Welfare Fraud" series and the Star Tribune's "Hounded" series. We decided the award would go to "Losing Our Lakes" because the piece dealt with a complex topic from a statewide perspective. Lakes are a critical part of Minnesota's identity and brand and the degradation of our lakes is a very important public policy issue."

* Excellence in investigative or analytical reporting about public affairs (Smaller organization): St. Cloud Times reporters Britt Johnsen and Kirsti Marohn for "Gambling on Growth."

Judges in this category said: "Told from the stand point of two regional reporters from a relatively small publication, one realizes through this story about community development policy that even hyper local matters can be applied to any population. This is a complex topic made understandable and compelling by clear, thorough reporting and analysis."

* Excellence in opinion journalism (larger organization): St. Cloud Times opinion page editor Randy Krebs for his editorial, "Words Matter Over Opinion."

Premack judges in this category said: "This well-written and persuasive piece about St. John's University's Eugene J. McCarthy Center for Public Policy & Civic Engagement decision to cut their ties with Star Tribune columnist Nick Coleman raises First Amendment issues and exposes what many would say was a hypocritical decision by one of the area's more powerful institutions."

* Excellence in opinion journalism (smaller organization): Bemidji Pioneer opinion page editor, Brad Swenson, for his piece "Election Issues - Rural Health Care."

Premack judges in this category said: "The editorial takes on the complex topic of medical care for the indigent and meticulously but succinctly explains its impact on Bemidji. The piece builds powerfully to its unerring conclusion."

* Graven Award: Gary Eichten, producer and Midday host at Minnesota Public Radio, is the recipient of the prestigious 2011 Graven Award. His commitment to public affairs journalism, excellent interviewing skills and deep knowledge of Minnesota politics has distinguished him among his peers.

"As a Minnesota transplant, I gained a real understanding of what was going on in this state and why these issues mattered from listening to Gary's show every day. Gary provides a voice that is a valuable resource for everyone," said board chairman Art Coulson.

The Premack Public Affairs Journalism Awards Board gives the Graven award each year to members of the journalistic community whose contribution to excellence in the journalism profession has deserved special recognition. It is named after David L. Graven, a close friend of Frank Premack, who served on the Premack Board until his death in 1991.

* Farr Award: Laura Waterman Wittstock, of Wittstock and Associates is the recipient of the Farr Award. She is also the former president of Migizi Communications, a non-profit organization that delivers quality programming to the Indian community. Wittstock is the author of several publications and served as the fourth Louis W. Hill Jr. Fellow in Philanthropy at the University of Minnesota's Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, which now is known as the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

"Laura was the quiet force behind the scenes cultivating the next group of young journalists through her programming at Migizi Communications. She provided young people with an opportunity to learn about the communications industry and gave them the tools to tell their own stories," said board chairman Art Coulson.

The Premack Public Affairs Journalism Awards Board confers the Farr Award on occasions when a member of the community has made an exceptional contribution to public affairs journalism. It is named after George A. Farr, a close friend of Frank Premack, who served as chairman of the Premack Board for the first 29 years of the program.

* * *

The Frank Premack Public Affairs Journalism Awards competition is one of Minnesota's most coveted and celebrated journalism honors. Started after the death in 1975 of Frank Premack, a reporter, city editor and assistant managing editor at the Minneapolis Tribune, the competition has recognized Minnesota media doing public affairs journalism in their community or region for more than 30 years. The journalists submitting the winning entries receive a $250 check, while each of the winning media outlets receives a special citation. The entries are judged by a panel of citizens representing the Minnesota community and public life in the arts, journalism, law and politics.

The Minnesota Journalism Center is the outreach and professional development arm of the University of Minnesota's School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The center operates on a nonprofit basis serving mass communication professionals, students and educators in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest.

Targeting journalists' sources through issuing third-party subpoenas for journalists' bank records, phone use, travel activities and even credit reports to discover their sources could have a chilling effect on the free press, says a School of Journalism and Mass Communication professor.

In his article, Glenn Greenwald quotes Jane Kirtley, the SJMC's Silha Professor of Media Ethics and Law, as saying, "to me, in many ways, it's worse than a direct subpoena."

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