Category Archives: Regional news

Posts under this category are for the regional news blurbs. All posts under this category will show up on the “posts” page titled Regional News.

2015 Spring Conference Recap

Our Region 12 Spring Conference took place Saturday, April 11 at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana. The day-long conference was an excellence professional development opportunity for students and professional journalists in our region.

Breakout sessions included International Journalism, Follow the Money, Inside the Campaign and Working with the Police.

Jim Beam, an award-winning political journalist with the American Press, shared his experiences in the field during our Mark of Excellence Awards luncheon.

Thank you to everyone who attended! If you are interested in hosting a  Region 12 Spring Conference, please email Amanda Womac.

Journalism at Delta State University on Possible Chopping Block

Journalism majors at Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi, are protesting the decision last fall by President William LaForge to eliminate funding for the print edition of the student newspaper and the elimination of the journalism major and minor from the curriculum.

The two reasons cited were the need to help close a $1 million budget deficit and the need to effect a “digital transition” for the newspaper, The Statement.

Patricia Roberts, the tenured journalism professor, would see her $65,000 salary line erased within two years. There are approximately 20 journalism majors currently enrolled. The freshmen and sophomores have been directed to select a new major. The juniors and seniors will be allowed to complete their degrees.

Roberts explained that the printing budget is only about $10,000 per year, much of which is offset by advertising. Some of the advertising revenue flows directly into the university general fund, she said.

The Southeast Journalism Conference, composed of about 40 schools in seven states, sent LaForge a letter urging him to reverse his decision, citing the importance of a student newspaper to university life. The letter also argues that there will be no one to train the students how to effect a “digital transition” if the journalism major and minor are eliminated and the sole journalism professor is removed from the faculty.

LaForge, himself a DSU alumnus, is an attorney, not an academic.

Click here to read the enter PDF letter.

Region 12 meetups at EIJ 2014

EIJ 2014 agenda provides plenty of opportunity for chapter leaders, delegates and members to discuss SPJ business, feedback on local issues

There’s a ton of sessions to see and things to see, and I don’t hope to take away too much time for Region 12 business. If you’re a chapter delegate, leader and/or members, please don’t forget to review the SPJ business sessions at EIJ14, some specifically aimed to help you get ideas for your local chapter.

Attendance  is not mandatory, but if you’re coming to the conference on your chapter’s dime, I would hope you attend the most applicable sessions.

Our region will officially meet from 1 to 1:45 p.m. Thursday at Suite C6012 (Cascades) for a meet, greet, reconnect, add folks on Facebook/Twitter, etc. Nothing too formal.

Ideally, this will be a space for us to share successful programming from the past year. I would love to hear some great stories. I’d also like to get in a 20 minute conversation about board membership and recruitment. If you can’t make it, come join me Friday for lunch.  More details to come on that lunch.

Below are suggested sessions for chapter members and delegates. Both should attend:

  • SPJ Opening and Closing Business Session — Hear from the board candidates and information about the election, resolutions and other SPJ business.
  • Delegates:
    Please don’t miss “The Anatomy of an Ethics Code Revision” at 9:30 a.m. Friday at Ryman Studios, A. This is one of the few times you’ll have to ask questions directly to the authors and SPJ leadership about the newly proposed code and discuss as a group. It’s an item that could likely dominate the discussion at the final business session in what’s scheduled for a two-hour closing business session.
  • Chapter members:
    Whether you’re a chapter president or rank-and-file member, I suggest you go to the applicable: 11 a.m. to noon Friday for the Pro Chapter Leaders Session at Suite C6012 (Cascades) or from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday for the Campus Chapter Leaders Session at Suite C6012 (Cascades).

Region 12 supports Jonesboro mayor’s decision to suspend police chief

UPDATE: Michael Yates submitted his resignation as chief of police to Jonesboro Mayor Harold Perrin. I got a one line emailed response from Perrin today (Aug. 25): “Chief Yates resigned today.”


Region 12 and the Arkansas Pro Chapter responded to a recent issue coming out of Jonesboro with the following letter to its City Hall. Click the link for a copy.

Police Chief Mike Yates, Jonesboro, Ark.
Police Chief Mike Yates, Jonesboro, Ark.

Police Chief Michael Yates bullied Jonesboro Sun reporter Sunshine Crump on Facebook. Repeated online comments were the final straw for Crump.

She recently resigned after she and the newspaper put up with questionable policy changes for receiving open records from the police department. She said policy changes made it difficult to do her job.

Her resignation — and subsequent response from the Sun and and other media watchdogs including Jim Romenesko’s  blog — raised enough awareness that led to Mayor Harold Perrin’s decision to suspend Yates 30 days without pay. Perrin has also asked the police chief to issue an apology to the newspaper and Crump. Here’s Jim Romenesko’s story.

I spoke with Sun editor Chris Wessel for a bit last week before writing our response with Eric Francis and Sonny Albarado. The Arkansas Democrat Gazette also covered the story. Below is the column that ran in the Sun and written by Wessel detailing the newspaper’s version of the dispute:

Police chief’s conduct

merits prompt dismissal

Chris Wessel

Out the Editor’s Window

I got the disheartening news about 8 p.m. Monday. Sunshine Crump, our police and courts reporter at The Sun, couldn’t take it any more and quit.

What she couldn’t take is the kind of intimidation, bullying and personal attacks that no one — including a good reporter — should have to take — especially from Jonesboro’s top law enforcement officer, Mike Yates.

We’ve had an ongoing struggle recently with the police chief about releasing public information. Public Information Officer Sgt. Doug Formon has been deleting and redacting or completely masking narratives on police reports based on “ongoing investigations” and “investigative narrative masked.” He’s held reports until late in the afternoon to make our job more difficult.

Yates has also tried to keep probable cause affadivits from reporters at district court. Last week, two agents of the 2nd Judicial District Drug Task Force — both members of the Jonesboro Police Department — refused to allow our reporter access to four probable cause affidavits — court records that become public after the judge signs them. Normally copied for the newspaper    and turned over to county jail personnel, the affidavits were no where to be found — absconded by the DTF agents at the direction of Yates.

PC affidavits are important public information because they detail why a person has been arrested and are basically on what the judge bases his decision to decide whether police have collected enough reliable evidence to pursue criminal charges. The record basically is the reason why the person is being jailed and a bond set.

So how do we know the DTF agents were directed to keep the probable cause affadavits from us? Because law enforcement sources inside the court told us so.

It all boils down to Yates’ vindictiveness against Sunshine and, by extension, this newspaper.

Yates doesn’t like it when stories about his police department and officers shed a negative light on their activities. Sunshine had written a couple stories that Yates didn’t like and said were damaging to his department.

That’s not the reporter’s fault. She was simply doing her job. Don’t shoot the messenger.

Since two stories were published in July, Yates has made it a personal vendetta to discredit and malign our reporter and with a stated mission on social media to undermine The Sun and “help that ship sink…..torpedoes away!!!!” The highly offensive comments our police chief has made on Facebook — open to the world to see — have besmirched our reporter and this newspaper and show he does not have the capacity to serve as police chief of our fine community. In addition to being unprofessional, this behavior causes us to believe he does not have the stability necessary to lead our police department.

We stand behind our reporter 100 percent, knowing what was published was accurate. The police chief hasn’t been able to show what was inaccurate about the stories or where he was misquoted or taken out of context. His complaints mostly have come weeks and months after two other stories were published, and he’s never sought a timely correction, clarification or meeting with Sun editors or the publisher in the past.

Here are some of the public comments our police chief has made on Facebook about our former reporter, Sunshine Crump:

  • “Pro-dope smoking, law license revoked, left wing liberal, smelly, arrested by the police, unscrupulous reporter’s opinions and their idiotic handlers opinions don’t count … Just sayin.”
  • “… Wonder if ole Sunshine (reporter) could pass a drug test? Why yes, she has been arrested before…..”
  • “… Ask ole Sunshine (reporter) why her law license got suspended next time you see her.”
  • “Reminds me of a song ….’ain’t no Sunshine when she’s GONE” etc…”
  • “Dealing with ole Sunshine is like trying to pick up a dog turd by the ‘clean end.’”

This is our police chief talking about a member of the press on social media for the world to see. Other police officers are chiming in. Is this the type of individual we want leading armed men and women charged with protecting and serving the residents of Jonesboro?

Schools across the nation spend exorbitant amounts of time and money teaching fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders not to bully other students on social media. The Jonesboro Police Department has officers in our schools who preach about anti-bullying measures. Apparently, our police chief didn’t receive the proper training as a child and is still bullying people to this day.

We’re standing up to the bully.

Yates’ crass and pathetic public ridiculing of a fine reporter is a Windex-clear window into the type of person our police chief truly is. It shows unvarnished his character and the lack of leadership qualities he possesses. It appears he’s even done a background check on a private citizen he doesn’t like in an effort to hurt her. Who will be his next target? Me? You?

Yates had tried to get Sunshine reassigned at the newspaper by telling us he wouldn’t give us access to information that we’ve always been given in the past. He’s done a good job of that. Yates was also trying to get Sunshine fired from The Sun. When that didn’t work, he decided to go after The Sun itself.

Now, he’s accomplished one of his goals. Sunshine couldn’t take his abuse and intimidation any longer and resigned.

“I am unable to do the job,” Sunshine wrote in her resignation letter. “I do not feel safe here, and I will not continue to be put in a position of self-defense. I am an innocent person …”

As for Yates’ denigrating comments, Sunshine was arrested once as a college student during a protest. The charge was later dropped. We’ll give her a badge of honor for that one. Her law license was never “revoked” or “suspended” as Yates said and would have his minions believe. It lapsed because she stopped practicing, so she stopped paying the annual license fees.

Yates must be held accountable for his hatchet job of Sunshine Crump, for his efforts to damage The Sun and for his actions that have put the Jonesboro Police Department in such a bad light.

Mayor Perrin? We’ve met and discussed this issue with you three times at length. Yates has laid this mess at your doorstep. It’s your  responsibility to clean it up.

What I can guarantee our readers is that we will not be intimidated by a bully simply because he wears a police chief badge and carries a gun. We admire the many fine men and women in law enforcement here, but we won’t put up with a bully.

We will continue to aggressively pursue the public’s right to public information through all means necessary. We will do it professionally and with courtesy — something Mike Yates has proven he knows nothing about.

Yates was right about one thing: There is no Sunshine when she’s gone.

Chris Wessel, editor of The Sun, can be reached at 935-5525, Ext. 250., or by email at

2014 Spring Conference Recap

The University of Arkansas and Arkansas Pro Chapter hosted our 2014 Region 12 conference at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. We had more than 80 attendees and speakers with social fun Friday night including AP style trivia.

Below is a quick recap of some featured sessions.

Monthly Media Goes Digital

newspaper-letters-scatteredIn today’s media environment, digital news content is an important piece of the publishing puzzle.

How do journalists navigate digital news production? What are the challenges and opportunities of moving a traditional-bound print publication into the daily digital space?

For insight into these questions, Dan Gilgoff, National Geographic Digital News Director, discussed what he learned during his first year leading daily content for

Data Tools for Journalists

data-journalism-usbFrom parking tickets to police reports, nearly all information governments and businesses collect gets plugged into spreadsheets or databases.

The trick for reporters is sorting through the data and making sense of it for readers and viewers.

Chad Day, a reporter on the investigative projects desk at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, provided tips for getting started with computer-assisted reporting — whether you’re about to embark on a months-long investigation or just want to add an additional layer to your daily stories. Click here for handouts from this session.

Talking About Science and the Environment

climate-change-300x150The “environmental beat” is a thing of the past at most daily newspapers across the county. However, when the environment is THE story, who covers it?

During this session, panelists discussed the good, the bad and the ugly of environmental and science reporting. Seasoned science writers shared tips on how to interview scientists, what to look for in reports and press releases, as well as other tools of the trade journalists need their toolbox when covering the environment.

Panelists: Dr. Steve Boss, Dr. Peggy Brenner, Bret Schulte, Amanda Womac
Moderator: Brandon Hollingsworth

Click here to download Tips for Science Reporting

Broadcast Journalism

broacasting-on-air-imageAre you interested in broadcast journalism, but not sure what all it entails? Paul Folger, KOCO news anchor, shared “lessons learned” in his nearly two decades of covering local daily news.

During this session, Folger talked about how broadcast reporters handle long packages, anchor introductions and live shots in order to give students the tools they need to tell a story quickly and precisely.

Folger also shared his experiences covering severe weather. He focused on the May 2013 tornado that devastated an Oklahoma City suburb when more than 1,000 homes were destroyed with 45 minutes.

Freedom of Information

FOIAHandbookBrenda Blagg sharedt her experience as a reporter with the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.

A longtime advocate for open government, Blagg was a founding member of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Coalition. She was assistant coordinator for the FOI Arkansas Project, which surveyed compliance with the state’s open records law in each of Arkansas’ 75 counties.