The story was odd and therefore appealing. Faculty at the University of Georgia’s Grady School of Journalism were “feuding” with UGA’s public affairs department, according to a headline Tuesday in the Red and Black. At issue: Camera access to the Miller Student Learning Center, a busy building with a popular coffee shop. J-school students liked to use the coffee shop for video projects. The PR department was now insisting that students request permission before shooting video and still photos there.
At its core, the issue was pretty minor. Numerous public buildings — county and federal courthouses come to mind — require advance permission before shooting. Federal courthouses take the extra step of confiscating camera phones from every soul who traverses their metal detectors. US Marshalls like to arbitrarily and unreasonably shoosh camera crews away from public sidewalks surrounding the Richard B. Russell and Sam Nunn federal buildings in downtown Atlanta.
The news media mostly rolls over and plays dead in the face of such restrictions. The fact that the Grady School faculty were willing to ask the Attorney General to issue an opinion over camera access to the Miller center was refreshing.
When I pitched the story Tuesday, the newsroom brass at WXIA bought it. This provided an opportunity to provide on-air the kind of ponderous media analysis with which readers of this site have become familiar.
So much for opportunity.
The problem is this: The public supports the first amendment in the abstract. But they think the news media are obnoxious and self-serving. This story could have been a thoughtful look at ever-increasing media restrictions. It could have looked at the fact that almost every student in the MLC possesses a camera phone (the use of which technically requires advance permission, a laughable notion).
It could have also looked at a low-key effort to preserve the reasonable expectation of privacy that students (and workers at a coffee shop) might hope to have in a media-saturated world.
As UGA spokesman Pete Konenkamp said: Everybody who has requested permission to shoot video in the MLC has received permission.
So why make student journalists (and the rest of us) jump through that hoop?
Contrarily, what’s wrong with insisting on the courtesy of a heads-up?
That story would have taken four or five minutes to tell. When finished, it probably would have merely reinforced the audience’s notion that the news media is pushy and obnoxious.
So we took the shortcut.