FSNE Board Meeting, Jan. 21, 2009

Tallahassee Democrat, Tallahassee, Fla.

Present: Mark Tomasik, Larry Sullivan, John Bartosek, Jim Baltzelle, Jeanne Grinstead, Terry Eberle, Rick Hirsch, Michael Connelly, Bill McKeen, Bob Gabordi, Cory Lancaster, Barbara Petersen.

Also attending: Gil Thelen, Dean Ridings, Sam Morley

Not present: Anthony Fins, Rafael Palacio, Keith Woods

President Tomasik called the meeting to order at 1:10 p.m. He introduced new board member Larry Sullivan, executive editor of the Palatka Daily News. He also pointed out the new roles held by Rick Hirsch and Jim Baltzelle, due to the departure from of the board of Rosemary Goudreau. Hirsch is now vice president. Baltzelle is now secretary/treasurer.

Minutes: Board reviewed the minutes from October’s meeting and approved them with one revision in the treasurer’s report. The word “up” was missing from the third bullet – “Our receivables are up by more than $3,000.”

Treasurer report/budget

  • Final balance sheets from 2008, as well as November balance sheets, were presented. The financial picture remains sound and close to last year, despite extra contest expenses.
  • One question concerned whether $9,000 in Knight Foundation funds should still be listed under Equity and “restricted contributions.” There were related questions, left unresolved, about whether any student had applied for the funds in 2008.  Rick Hirsch was going to follow up with a UF student who might have qualified.
  • Assets were down about $3,500 from November to December due to Money Market and CD adjustments.
  • Michael Connelly said he expects the First Amendment Foundation’s dues will be down by half and that FSNE should brace for a similar downturn.

Membership committee

  • Jim Baltzelle has secured lists of members in arrears on dues, as well as those who paid in 2008 and have already paid in 2009. The lists will be used as part of a letter and phone call campaign in the next few weeks.
  • Larry Sullivan and Mark Tomasik said they would help with calls. Sullivan will become part of the membership committee, which also includes Antonio Fins.
  • Baltzelle had presented a draft letter to mail to the executive committee, which is being sent to potential members. A revised version will be sent to current members. Emphasis in the letter will be on membership benefits through regional training, networking and the annual contest and convention. The specific date for the next training event, March 21, and location, Tampa, will be added to the letter before it is mailed under Tomasik’s signature.
  • Baltzelle will ask Thelma Givens for a “pay by credit card” form to include in the mailings, as appropriate. He also will ask Tomasik for FSNE letterhead.
  • Baltzelle was asked to make sure his letters and other communications remind editors that organizations must be members to enter the annual contest. Bartosek would send Baltzelle a renewal letter, centered on the contest, which was sent in December.
  • Though there will be a push to secure new members, efforts also will be placed on attracting new sub editors. These efforts will involve targeted phone calls.
  • Ridings said he knew of at least one FPA member who would like to be part of FSNE.
  • Discussion touched on the need to open the door to “online only” publications, which is already allowed in the bylaws due to a phrase change two years ago to allow for daily “news” organizations, instead of only daily “newspapers.”
  • There was an initial discussion about changing the name of FSNE, though this was concluded in latter portions of the meeting.
  • Baltzelle said he would get FSNE on the Florida AP broadcasters’ agenda April 3 in Orlando. Tomasik and Thelen said they would come to discuss possible partnership on training initiatives. Baltzelle is the treasurer of that organization.

Contest committee

  • Contest rules and categories were mailed in December by FPA. The number of categories dropped from 30 to 22. And entry charges dropped from $30 to $25.
  • Most of the category reductions came out of the print areas. There are still Spanish-language and online categories.
  • The contest rules and categories have been posted online.
  • There had been hope to handle graphics and photo entries online, since discs were problematic last year. That issue remains.
  • One idea concerned creating unique logins for contestants to upload entries to an FTP site. However, security issues have to be navigated. Hirsch intended to explore with Bartosek how to develop ways for users to post without having administrative authority, or the ability to view competing entries.
  • The discussion was to continue offline, perhaps centered on Google’s project management tool set.
  • Discussion concerned the number of print judges and how expensive it was to have five last year. The consensus was four was a good number, with the reduced categories.
  • Consensus was that the Poynter Institute, if available, would be a good location in late March for judging, most likely the week of the multimedia workshop, which is Saturday, March 21. A final online judging call would occur at that time, too. Grinstead was going to check with Poynter.
  • Having the judging at Poynter at that time would allow for Hirsch, Baltzelle, Thelen, Bartosek, Eberle, Grinstead, Sullivan, among others, to help in appropriate categories.
  • Baltzelle is handling online judges again. He has secured three: one from academia; one from NationalOnline.com; one from AP multimedia.
  • Palacio is handling Spanish-language judges again. Need an update from him on that front.
  • Names were offered for text judging from last year, which Bartosek will finalize.
  • Deadline for entries is Feb. 27.
  • Tentative dates for judging were set for March 19-20, with judges coming in on March 18 and spending two days and three nights.
  • Bartosek was applauded for his continued efforts in making the contest a success.

Report from FPA

  • FPA has retained Curt Kiser, a former state House and Senate lawmaker, again to lobby on behalf of newspaper issues. Kiser has left Holland & Knight and is with Brewton Plante law firm. Steve Ufelder also has been hired on an hourly basis, not on retainer. Sam Morley and Kiser handle the brunt of the work.
  • Morley gave an update on possible legislation in the works concerning public notices, with the idea that online posting could replace the newspaper of record requirement. One push comes from the wrecker industry, which says it is required to place newspaper ads that cost more than the cars being advertised. Another push, Senate Bill 480, concerns limiting the number of times the delinquent tax lists are required to be printed, currently three times, to one occurrence. This notion has traction due to a 2005 pilot program in four small counties where tax certificate sales did not decrease despite having only one notice printed.
  • FPA has argued that part of due process is due notice and that the government alone would not provide an adequate means of informing the public of foreclosures, delinquent notices, etc.
  • FPA also has argued that a growing number of the population does not have access to computers, which would make online-only distribution discriminatory.
  • Ridings said he would provide talking points for editors on the value of having public notices in print. He also said FPA already aggregates newspapers’ public notices in a central database, hosted on its Web site.HeHe
  • Morley discussed a notion from FDLE that there ought to be some standards for press credentialing. FSNE board members expressed strong opposition to defining what a journalist is or in providing any sort of measurement or standard. Board members asked that such opposition be communicated as needed. Any attempt to define the press will cut people out of the process. It was pointed out that such an effort had occurred previously and that FDLE was met with resistance, largely led by David Bralow. Morley was going to contact Bralow for details.

Relationship with Florida Press

  • Ridings said the solid relationship with FSNE would continue but financial reality and FPA/FPS staff reductions will require administrative assistance for FSNE to occur within regular working hours and remain in Tallahassee. For instance, FPA would be unable to send anyone to assist with the multimedia workshop in Tampa, and so on.
  • Ridings is exploring electronic registration for conferences and electronic payment methods, both of which might be beneficial to FSNE.
  • FPA’s weekly legislative report will be issued by e-mail, no longer on paper.

Legislative update

  • Barbara Petersen provided an overview of bills filed so far that FAF will be tracking. Her overview was thorough and will be available, moving forward, in electronic form. She is becoming paperless.
  • Petersen said she is willing and able to talk to specific reporters about tough issues.
  • Petersen said FAF has received a grant to teach itself how to do e-commerce.
  • Connelly pointed out that editors need to make a special appeal to others to support FAF, since contributions are vital to the agency’s mission.
  • Petersen said, whereas before she might have conducted eight training sessions a year on Sunshine issues, now she conducts 40 to 50. In just two months, she trained more than 1,200 state employees.

Report on 2008-2009 Sunshine Week activities

  • Special thanks were extended to Cory Lancaster, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Martin Frobisher and Brendan Farrington for the various efforts that went into making the fall surprise audit a success.
  • The March 15 presentation will not be as labor intensive. Lancaster will send out e-mails to editors soliciting contributions to be shared on the FSNE’s Web site and through the AP wire or in AP Exchange’s Marketplace.
  • Petersen intends to write a column for statewide use.
  • This year Florida is celebrating 100 years of public records law.
  • There will be a panel at the July convention on public records.
  • One idea was for there to be key interviews with people who have made a difference, lawmakers, activists, governor’s from years past, and post those interviews for general Sunshine Sunday use on FSNE’s Web site. AP also would make the stories and art available on its state lines.

Open Government Commission update

  • A final draft report was to be approved in a Jan. 26 conference call open to the public. This report is a first in the history of Florida.
  • AP agreed to write an item about how to access the call and post it on the wire.
  • There are several recommendations of keen interest, particularly surrounding excessive fees, Social Security numbers, electronic access, use of personal computers and handheld devices, and so on.
  • It remains unclear how many of the recommendations will see action in the upcoming legislative session.
  • Some recommendations will require time to study and are more realistic for action in 2010.
  • A total rewrite of the open records law is something Gov. Crist is likely to support, Petersen said.
  • The report is available online and is something FSNE should link to on the Office of Open Government Web site.

Convention planning

  • Concerns were expressed about crafting parts of the July convention program that would be of great utility and interest to journalists.
  • The economic hurricane requires a lot of practical information sharing, ways to make attending the convention worth the money spent.
  • There is some concern that there might not be an FAF fund-raising lunch because there is not yet a high profile speaker.
  • There will be a multimedia training event at the Palm Beach Post.
  • One idea is a panel discussion that is an early look at U.S. Senate candidates. AP could help in setting that up.
  • Another idea involved finding a way to highlight the great journalism from 2008.
  • A lot of discussion centered on “how to build new stuff quickly,” meaning packaging news content in ways that are attractive, yet practical given economic and staff limits. It is possible such a session could apply to handheld technologies.
  • There was interest in having something on the program that relates to blogging and community journalism.
  • A panel might focus on how to sell content on Facebook. How to develop business plans that work online.
  • A session might focus on the e-paper trend and how it is getting closer. How do we do in-depth stories online? How do we draw traffic to them? Little bites get traffic; so how do we do real tough journalism and make it appealing online?

Multimedia training update

  • The December multimedia skills workshop drew almost 100 participants at the University of Miami.
  • The all-day format was a big draw and should become the new standard.
  • Participants were interested in more sophisticated discussions and the format worked for that.
  • We probably filled 50 seats in the all day video training and could have filled more.
  • There were sessions geared toward middle management, but those players did not show. The hope is to get more of the assignment editors out for the March 21 event in Tampa.
  • There was an ethics session, very good, but only 12 people attended. The Twitter discussion wasn’t really designed for the people who attended, that sort of thing.
  • The next workshop will be March 21 at USF in Tampa.
  • There will be a need to have staffers from the St. Petersburg Times and The Tampa Tribune to teach some of the classes.
  • It is possible that we will charge more for the the all-day video training.
  • One suggestion was to add a class in attractive ways to present databases.
  • Excel could be an all-day course.

Strategic committee

  • All agreed that the future of FSNE involved various electronic steps: 1) Build a Web site that is a one-stop draw for membership, commerce, entering contests, and so on.
  • The site also could aggregate Florida’s best journalism that week. Such content would draw traffic.
  • McKeen suggested that UF might take on the Web site as a project via a capstone course. He believes the idea will be positively received and could start in the summer. Students would have the ability to help drive traffic, create revenue, aggregate content, and so on. The students would be some of the very best and they likely would come up with something quite good. The course would help maintain the site.
  • There was discussion about pushing into new areas of membership, such as online and broadcast.
  • Thelen and Tomasik will join Baltzelle April 3 at the Florida AP broadcasters’ convention in Orlando to discuss possible intersections, such as training events, college scholarships, grants.
  • FSNE will be proactive in recruiting online members. The State News Service in Tallahassee has been approached by Baltzelle. Discussion also included whether we should approach bloggers and the decision was yes. Other potential members included Romenesko and other similar news bloggers. The standard $100 online membership fee would apply.
  • Gabordi said a good place to look for online publications and leaders would be on the membership roster of ONA. Baltzelle will get that list.
  • Hirsch will look into a list of e-newsletters and blogs that might be potential members.
  • The board has the ability to decide if bloggers or online-only sites are news providers and qualify for admission to FSNE, as the bylaws allow.
  • A motion was passed to consider in 30 days, via e-mail vote, changing the name of FSNE from the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors to the Florida Society of News Editors, in order to reflect the emergence of the Web as a news source. ASNE is making a similar change nationally.
  • A goal is to recruit three online news organizations and to get one of them to join the board.
  • There might be a need to pay for a new banner to reflect the name change, assuming it passes.
  • FSNE should have a FaceBook presence.
  • On pursuing grants, so far there has not been much luck. Various checks in Palm Beach, Naples and Sarasota have not worked. There is a sense that grant money will be hard to come by.
  • A request was made for the original documents that helped form FSNE’s board. Ridings said he had some paperwork and would provide. In a later conversation, Don Lindley told Baltzelle and Lancaster that he had a historic file. The idea is to find some of the original board members and ask for their support.

The next board meeting will be April 20 at FIU in Miami from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. AP is offering to provide transportation from the Fort Lauderdale airport to the campus, for those interested.

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