Archive for the 'Minnesota (not)' Category

Iowa leaves Minnesota in the dust with protections afforded to student newspapers

November 10, 2011

Neighboring Iowa and its appellate courts have led the way on issuing courageous, well-reasoned decisions that protect important rights.  First came gay marriage.  Now it’s students’ free expression.

On Wednesday, the Iowa Court of Appeals issued a decision that unambiguously protects the rights of high school students to learn journalism by doing, and also affirms the right of faculty advisers to let that learning happen.

At issue was the Iowa Student Free Expression Law, which the Iowa Legislature passed in 1989 in response to the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Hazelwood v. KuhlmeierHazelwood generally gave school administrators broad discretion to censor student newspapers, despite the Frist Amendment.  In response, Iowa and eight other states (not Minnesota) passed laws protecting students’ rights “to exercise freedom of speech, including the right of expression in official school publications.”  Exceptions arise when expression is obscene, libelous, encourages law- or rule-breaking, or encourages “substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the school.”

The law also expressly forbids “prior restraint of material prepared for official school publications,” specificies that student editors have the final say, and limits advisers’ roles to supervising “production” and maintaining “professional standards of English and journalism.”

The case that led to Wednesday’s decision arose in Waukon, Iowa, where the newspaper’s faculty adviser was reprimanded for an April Fools’ parody editon of the paper as well as a non-parody story about students who chew tobacco, which the school’s adminsitration contended had caused “material disruption” of the school.  The 25-page court decision recites some of the complained-of conduct, including the students’ “derogatory twist” of a rival school’s mascot name “Kee Hawks” into “Keysucks.” 

The appeals court explained that there was no evidence that the newspaper content had encouraged breaking the law or rules.  For example, with respect to the Keysucks name, the school district’s attorney “was unable to explain” how the twist had caused any disruption.  Rather, the school administration’s concerns were entirely speculative.  The court also held the content was not libelous and did not violate the “professional standards of journalism.”  The judges also took the remarkable step of ordering the school district to remove the advier’s reprimands from his employment file, explaining:

The purpose of section 280.22 is to allow students broader free expression. If a school district is entitled to sanction a journalism advisor for student publications that comply with section 280.22, the statutory protections will be eroded and student speech will be chilled. Removing the reprimands from Lange‟s personnel file is necessary to protect the free speech rights of Iowa students as contemplated by Iowa Code section 280.22.

On a day when when Facebook is alive with chatter about how poorly Penn State students have behaved after a football coach’s firing, it is somewhat incongruous to trumpet a win for the rights of students.  But in the end, students need to be trusted to do the right thing, and to learn by doing, and to recognize parody on the Daily Show, in The Onion, or in their school newspaper.


Revolutionary War printing plate ends up in Minnesota

November 7, 2011

For now at least, Minnesota courts are providing a forum for determining who owns some of the oldest media imaginable in these parts:  a Revolutionary War currency-printing plate dating to 1775.

According to a Minnesota Court of Appeals decision released this morning, a Minnesota man bought the plate at a 2009 estate sale in Minnesota and a year later contracted to sell it at a Massachusetts auction.  The morning of the auction, the state of New Hampshire claimed it owned the plate and successfully halted the sale.  After the Minnesota man started a Minnesota lawsuit in Fillmore County, New Hampshire asked the court to dismiss the case on the theory that a Minnesota court did not have “jurisdiction” over the State of New Hampshire.

The trial court denied New Hampshire’s motion to dismiss — a decision the court of appeals said this morning was an error but was subject to further “due process” review.

The law is dry, but the factual circumstances of the printing plate are fascinating.

According to a story New Hampshire television station WMUR aired in May, the printing plate is “about the size of a sheet of paper and was used during the war to print what amounted to war bonds,” and was commissioned by the New Hampshire Legislature in 1775.  A state archivist told the station that it’s unclear how the plate ended up in Minnesota, but that there’s evidence it was loaned to Baltimore doctor in the mid-1850s.

Mid-1850s?  Wow.  Minnesota wasn’t a state till 1858.

Iowa Democrats liable for defamation

November 4, 2011

The Omaha World-Herald reports that an Iowa jury has found the state’s Democratic Party liable for defamation for sending a pamphlet containing an erroneous report that a Republican challenger had bailed out a convicted sex offender.  The jury awarded $50,000 in damages.

The defamation plaintiff’s lawyer said his client had been charged but never convicted of a sexual-related offense.

The state’s Democratic Party told the newspaper:  “The Iowa Democratic Party relied on research, which was obtained and vetted by an independent firm. Unfortunately, the firm provided inaccurate information concerning the type of criminal conviction. We are currently seeking compensation from this research firm to cover the costs of this case.”

Grassley Mowed Down

March 17, 2009

All right, so Charles Grassley is not from Minnesota, but he is from our neighbor to our south, and he’s a lawmaker who’s in the media spotlight today.  So I’m bending the Media Law Minnesota rules just a touch to blog on this week’s uproar over the Iowan’s comment that AIG executives might want to consider suicide.

If you haven’t heard, this is what the senator said on the air at WMT Radio in Cedar Rapids, Iowa:

The first thing that would make me feel a little bit better towards them if they’d follow the Japanese model and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say I’m sorry, and then either do one of two things — resign, or go commit suicide.

(Real audio here.)

Look, Chuck Grassley is not a dumb guy, but that was really, really dumb.

As a cub newspaper reporter in Iowa, I covered the good senator many times and was among the Iowa reporters who used to occassionally tape radio interviews with him.  Usually the interviews took place by phone.  I’d be in Iowa, and Grassley in Washington.  He was smart enough to ask whether any news had happened during the time he was in a committee meeting or on the Senate floor, just to make sure we reporters with access to the newswires would not ambush him with a question and make him sound dumb on the air.

This week, of course, Grassley sounded dumb all by himself, and it was his own fault.  But he’s loved in Iowa, and he’ll survive.  And, to be honest, he probably should.

But will we survive?  Will we news consumers survive the furor and the flaps over these quick-hit, gotcha sound bytes that permeate today’s news?  I have my fears.

In the grand scheme of things, Grassley’s comment was a non-event.  These are serious times, and we as news consumers are getting seriously distracted by stuff like this that succeeds only in diverting our collective attention away from the complicated issues that cannot and should not be captured in sound bytes.

Meanwhile, yet another newspaper bit the dust today — this one in Seattle.  Some folks say it’s about time.  But many of us are hungering for places where we can get our daily fix of stuff that matters.  With stories like the Grassley flap filling the blogs and airwaves, it’s getting harder and harder.