Special cocktail hour for journos, March 24 in SLC

Our Executive Branch has kept local and national media on our toes since Jan. 20, and it appears we’ll remain in that position for the next 3 years, 11 months and change. (Not that anyone is counting…)

Journalists need to know about their rights now more than ever.

The Utah Headliners SPJ chapter is hosting a conference March 24-25, including a Friday cocktail hour with legal experts on hand to field your questions.

The session is included with your $25-$35 registration fee, so this is an added-extra to a full day of useful sessions and panel discussions tailored for Western journalists.

Oh, and it includes refreshments. We’ll say it again for you starving college students out there: There will be free food.

Panelists include attorneys Jeff Hunt and David Reymann, from Parr Brown Gee & Loveless, and Ed Carter, director of BYU’s School of Communications. Hunt and Reymann have helped Utah media with a host of open records battles and they help host the state’s open records hotline. Carter specializes in issues of communications, copyright and media law.

The event is from about 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Peery Hotel at 110 Broadway in Salt Lake City.

Homeless shelter secrecy earns Salt Lake City leaders the Black Hole Award

On Dec. 13, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski and the seven council members stood before journalists and made an announcement impacting city residents and the entire state — the location of four new homeless shelters.

It was the culmination of… well, we aren’t sure what. Whatever process led to the announcement that day was closed to the public. It was only after the announcements that the city held public hearings on the chosen locations.

The entire matter was so opaque that the Utah Headliners Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has chosen to give a Black Hole Award to Biskupski and the City Council — James Rogers, Andrew Johnston, Stan Penfold, Derek Kitchen, Erin Mendenhall, Charlie Luke and Lisa Adams, in Districts 1 through 7, respectively.

The Black Hole is given to agencies or officials who show disregard for transparency in government. Utah law allows for the closing of government hearings and the sealing of government records when that government agency is seeking to purchase real estate. If Salt Lake City’s elected officials had confined their opacity to the parcels it was considering purchasing, The Headliners wouldn’t have considered them for the award.

But the city took a broad, secretive approach to deciding what to do for or about Salt Lake City’s homeless. Meetings discussing the shelters were closed to reporters. The city took public input on who should be on the committee selecting the sites and what criteria to consider, but nothing on where, in general terms, the shelters should be or what should go there with them.

There was no public discussion of the core of the city’s plan — closing the Road Home shelter and creating a net loss in beds for the homeless.

What’s more, the secrecy doesn’t seem to have benefited the taxpayers. The idea behind limiting information about government real estate shopping is to not create any additional demand for that property. Yet the city agreed to pay $7 million for parcels in Sugarhouse that the Salt Lake County Assessor’s Office says has a market value of $2.8 million. The city is to pay $3 million for a salvage yard near Smith’s Ballpark that has an assessed market value of $1 million.

Biskupski has received the brunt of criticism for those not happy with the shelter sites or the lack of a public process, but it needs to be noted that all the city council members went along with the secrecy.

Homelessness in Salt Lake City is not just an issue that affects Salt Lake City. The Utah Legislature last year allocated $9.2 million for the new shelters and services for the homeless, and is considering spending more this year. Three days after Salt Lake City’s announcement, the Standard-Examiner in Ogden published an editorial predicting that city’s homeless population would increase as a result of reducing beds in the state’s capital.

It’s not too late for Biskupski, Rogers, Johnston, Penfold, Kitchen, Mendenhall, Luke and Adams to do better. They should release minutes of all the closed meetings. As the city implements its new plan to help the homeless, it should research specific criteria for success, collect data measuring that criteria and regularly publish that data to city websites. Don’t make reporters file records requests for the data, please.

Above all, the mayor and city council — and politicians in other Utah cities pondering actions that impact their constituents — should pledge to never duplicate the opacity that shrouded the decisions about the Salt Lake City’s homeless shelters.

The Utah Headliners is the state’s largest chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Learn more about becoming a member.

NOTE: The Utah SPJ Headliners are hosting a regional journalism conference March 24-25. It’s only $25 for members and $35 for nonmembers. Get information and register now.

Register now for SPJ Region 9 conference, March 24-25 in Salt Lake City

 The Headliners are hosting the Region 9 SPJ conference March 24 and 25 in Salt Lake City. Students, freelancers and reporters from newsrooms across all platforms are invited. Training, panels and seminars will include topics relevant to journalists in Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico.
See the SCHEDULE
Join us for a FREE Legal Forum and Happy Hour
COST
– $25 for chapter members and students.
– $35 for non-members.
Want to become a member? It’s easy. And it’s important for your craft.
Questions? Email UtahSPJ@gmail.com.

UPDATE: Records for West Valley City juveniles released, after open records arguments

After two days of oral arguments and three hearings in December, a Utah judge reversed her decision to seal charges and evidence against three teens accused of causing the November death of West Valley City Police Officer Cody Brotherson. The teens allegedly triggered a police chase while driving a stolen car and hit the officer as he attempted to lay down spike strips. Brotherson died on impact.

Prosecutors initially successfully got charges against the teens sealed so the public had no way of knowing what the teens were accused of, nor the evidence against them. A media coalition came together and hired an attorney to fight that decision.

Charges and other court documents were released the day after the judge reversed her decision. The teens are facing a host of charges, among them, first-degree murder with gang enhancements, obstruction of justice and possession of a dangerous weapon by a minor.

Have questions about how the media coalition was formed and what SPJ might be able to do for you? Email McKenzie Romero at mromero@deseretnews.com.

The power of a united Utah press

As we head into 2017, the SPJ Headliners Board recently took a look back on a few of the open records cases recently supported by various media coalitions.

In all these examples, our SPJ group joined forces with other news outlets to fund legal actions to keep hearings public, or to fight for records releases that keep the public informed and hold the powerful to account. That is, after all, the mission of the SPJ.

WEST VALLEY CITY

UPDATE: The Media coalition won its motion, with the judge reversing her decision in late December. Find out more. 
Three teens are facing charges in connection to the death of West Valley City Police Officer Cody Brotherson. The teens allegedly triggered a police chase while driving a stolen car and hit the officer as he attempted to lay down spike strips. Brotherson died on impact.

Prosecutors successfully got charges against the teens sealed, so in addition to that being secret, the public has no way of knowing what the “teens are being accused of, what evidence exists against them and how the court system ultimately punishes, exonerates or tries to rehabilitate them,” as written by SPJ President McKenzie Romero in a Dec. 10 Deseret News story.

Three hearings on that case were scheduled for this week. Want to join the media coalition fighting to unseal these records? Email McKenzie Romero at mromero@deseretnews.com.

SIALE ANGILAU
Siale Angilau was shot and killed by a U.S. marshal at the Salt Lake City federal courthouse in 2014 after allegedly charging at a testifying witness with a sharp object.

Video footage of the incident exists but U.S. District Court for Utah and the U.S. Marshals Service have denied journalists’ requests to release the footage to the public. Angilau’s family filed a wrongful death suit and a media coalition recently filed a joint motion to intervene in the lawsuit in an effort to obtain the video.

Want to help? Email Salt Lake Tribune reporter Nate Carlisle at ncarlisle@sltrib.com. 

OSA MASINA

Osa Masina, a 19-year-old football player at University of Southern California, is facing multiple rape charges after a woman filed reports with police alleging he sexually assaulted her on two occasions.

Attorneys for the woman who filed the suit made motions to close the courtroom during her testimony. The judge ordered the hearing be kept open after media coalition and its attorney filed a motion to keep the hearing open to the public.

The media coalition argued that such testimony in a preliminary hearing is “critical” to the judicial process.

UNION MIDDLE SCHOOL

A 14-year-old boy is facing charges related to a schoolyard shooting after police say he and another boy met for a fight after school Oct. 25 on Union Middle School grounds.

The boy was charged in juvenile court. His attorneys made a motion to close all hearings related to the case to the public and media but withdrew that request after a media coalition challenged it.

According to the Deseret News: “Attorney Austin Riter, who represented the media, said following the hearing that state lawmakers have specified that the public has an interest and a right to know what happens in hearings related to serious juvenile crimes.”

These battles are important for all of us. Please support the fight for a more transparent government by becoming an SPJ Headliners member.

Do you have a case you want the SPJ Headliners to support?

Want to know if the board can help with your story, records battle or newsroom training?
Email utahspj@gmail.com.

A message from Headliners President McKenzie Romero

Dearest journalists,

As we near the end of 2016, it is clear this year has been one of milestones as well as stumbling blocks for journalists around the country and in our state. Now more than ever, I hope our commitment to sharing essential information and telling compelling stories will underscore all that we do. I am especially proud of the efforts this year by Utah journalists seeking the public’s records, opening closed doors and shining light on forgotten members of our community.

This year, the Headliners board has accomplished great things — including recognition from national SPJ leadership — for providing quality training to journalists at all levels on a number of important issues, including media law, reporting skills and sexual assault awareness. We will strive in 2017 to continue providing essential education for those in our field, often at no cost.

In the coming year, we invite you to attend our Region 9 conference in Salt Lake City (March 24-25), to be recognized in our annual contest and to stand with us as we support records and access battles around the state.

Happy holidays, Headliners, and good work!

Winners announced in 2016 Utah SPJ contest

SPJ AwardsThe Utah Headliners are pleased to announce the winners of this year’s local journalism contest. This year’s competition proved to be our strongest yet, with more than 860 entries coming in from media outlets on all platforms.

Winners and finalists, along with the 2016 Honorees, were recognized Thursday night in Salt Lake City at a banquet at The Falls event center.

Click HERE for a full list of winners.

Join us June 23 at The Falls for the Utah Headliners banquet

It’s time again for the Utah Headliners’ annual awards banquet, and this year we’ll be at one of the top new venues in Salt Lake City. Join us Thursday, June 23, at The Falls at Trolley Square!

The event kicks off at 6 p.m. with a social hour offering drinks and appetizers for all, followed by dinner and awards at 7 p.m. Judging is underway for this year’s Headliners contest, stay tuned in coming weeks for notifications to finalists and Utah SPJ Honorees. Reminder, nominations for this year’s honors will be accepted through May 16.

Banquet tickets include the refreshments at the cocktail hour and dinner. Tickets are $25 for SPJ members and $35 for non-members. Tables of eight are available for purchase at the members rate. Buy soon, seating is limited.

Mark your calendar, and we look forward to seeing you at The Falls, 580 S. 600 East, on June 23!