August 2012

The biggest news story in Griffin, Georgia, in the last year was barely covered here. But it made the New York Times. And the fact that it wasn’t says a lot about how white collar matters are treated differently than the kinds of cases I typically handle. It also is indicative of how if you are going to be charged with violating the law, it’s best to be professional, prominent in the community and (dare I say) white. If you’re black, relatively poor, charged with a street crime, and you’re not a member of Rotary or Kiwanis, you’ll likely make the front page here. But the folks in New York won’t be interested.

In case you live in Georgia, and you don’t regularly look to the New York Times for local news coverage, let me bring you up to date. A local accountant, Thomas D. Melvin, Jr. was sued by the Securities and Exchange Commission for alleged Insider Trading. That’s right, two out of three named partners in a local accounting firm, along with 6 other citizens of Griffin, Georgia, were sued after Mr. Melvin purportedly learned from a client that Sanofi-Aventis was planning to buy Chattem, a publicly-traded pharmaceutical-products company. According to the far-from-local New York Times, Mr. Melvin learned of the impending merger from the director of Chattem, a client of his. The client went to him for confidential tax advice related to the deal.

He then, according to the not-so-local paper, tipped the news off to his buddies. Those buddies, I learned from a New York publication yesterday, were C .Roan Berry, Michael S. Cain (a stockbroker), Joel C. Jinks, and Mr. Melvin’s partner R. Jeffrey Rooks. Mr. Cain then told Peter C. Doffing.

All eight then allegedly purchased share and call options in the weeks leading up to Sanofi-Aventis’s tender offer for Chattem. And the Griffin 8 made a total of $550,000 on the trades, according to the SEC’s Complaint.

Half of the Griffin 8, Berry, Coots, Jackson, and Rooks agreed to settle the civil charges and return the profits. Litigation will continue against the other 4.

The New York Times covered it. The Chicago Tribune covered it. The Wall Street Journal covered it. You can read about it on Nasdaq’s website. Business Week covered it.

But if you look locally, you’ll find it barely above the fold in the print edition of the Griffin Daily News. Today’s lead story is about property assessment appeals. And the lead story on the paper’s website right now is a riveting account of a fight between a Mr. Leon Jenkins and a Zachary Mathis, over some beer. The headline in the lead story is “Two arrested after fight over beer.” The story that made the New York Times has been relegated pretty far down on the Griffin Daily News’s website.

And the full article on the insider trading story isn’t even fully available on the local paper’s website. But if you read the print edition of the story, compiled by “Staff Reports,” you’ll see a recast version of the NY Times story.

I see no signs of any attempts to actually do journalism from the local paper. Guys, the accounting firm is right down the street. You don’t even have to make a long distance call to attempt an interview. And if you do, you’ll either get a statement or a nice juicy, “couldn’t be reached,” or “declined to be interviewed.” When local papers cover my non-prominent clients, that’s what happens to them.

So, now let’s cast the net a little wider. What about the Pike County News Observer, a few miles up the road? Nada. Seriously, they didn’t cover it at all. However, that paper did cover one financial story. A local woman who prepares tax returns was jailed. And she’s from Spalding County, just like the Griffin 8. Poor Ms. Lisa Marie McKneely should have gone to work at Melvin, Rooks & Howell. Maybe then Walter Geiger of the Pike County Journal-Reporter wouldn’t have covered her charges or put a big picture of her mugshot in the paper. But, alas, she is an independent tax preparer, and she’s relatively poor, and the Zebulon paper is on it.

So, let’s check in with Atlanta. The AJC covered it. But maybe because the AJC is a big ole city slicker paper, and maybe because it’s geographically closer to New York than these friendly local papers are.

If you don’t like your cases getting featured prominently in the local paper, it’s good to represent one of the Griffin 8. If you’re the public defender around here, you better learn how to be high profile — particularly if your clients fight over beer.

 

I have no affiliation with the University of Georgia. But I have been glued to the controversy over its independent newspaper for the past week and a half. And if you are a lawyer who is interested in social media, you should learn this story and use it as a parable. It has much to teach about the importance of social media and its potential power as a tool of engagement. I don’t take sides here about who was right or wrong. But I want to look at how social media was a part of the story and how a group of college students used it to achieve their goals with the paper’s Board of Directors, most of whom appear to be seasoned journalists and successful businessmen.

Watching this story helped me to “get” social media a little bit better.

An Overview of the Controversy

The Red & Black is the college newspaper for the University of Georgia. It operates as a non-profit corporation in Athens and is governed by a Board of Directors. And the students have traditionally been in charge of the paper’s day-to-day operations. It has been in operation for over a century and is highly regarded. Many Georgia journalist worked on the paper when they were students. A week and a half ago, it editorial staff walked off the job in protest of what they claimed to be attempts from the “adult supervision,” professionals hired to guide the paper, to seize control of the paper’s editorial decisions. In particular, the controversy centered around a memo written by Board Member Ed Stamper (the exact meaning of this memo and its intended use remains still an issue).

From the student editor’s perspective, the memo was meant as a directive to guide prior review of stories. From Mr. Stamper’s perspective, the memo was a rough set of talking points to be used to “guide” the paper.

When this memo went public, the focus was on the memo’s emphasis on achieving “[a] balance of good and bad” stories. A “good” story was defined as “[c]ontent that is ABOUT our audience doing something unique, new, dramatic, ie scholarships for freshman” a “bad” story was defined as “[c]ontent that catches people or organizations doing bad things. ‘I guess this is journalism’ I think we are alighned on crime and ‘who started off the year with a police record.’ And that the freshman class lacks some minority demographics.”

The memo concluded with “If in question, have more GOOD than BAD.”

The students read the memo one way. Mr. Stamper believed he meant something else. Unfortunately for Mr. Stamper, his point of view did not come to light fully until Katheryn Hayes Tucker ran a story in today’s Fulton Daily Report..

By contrast, the students immediately started a WordPress blog, titled Red & Dead, a Facebook profile, and a presence on Twitter..

They interspersed journalism — you’ll find some stories there — with their message. They had a theme, and they stayed on it.

The story was eventually picked up nationally, including coverage by the New York Times..

Eventually, Mr. Stamper resigned along with another Board member, and the students got their jobs back.

How did these kids manage to run circles around the very professionals whom the board put in place and tasked with making the paper relevant and the content engaging? Could it be that the kids know more about that subject than the pros?

The Big Irony

There’s an irony in the middle of the whole thing. One of the memo’s aims was to engage the readers through social media. From the memo: “More of: Content that is FROM our audience, which automatically makes it of interest to our audience, ie comments, letters, comments, poll results, chatter from social media, reviews.”

According to Lindsey Cook, the students’s social media general, “[t]he reason I left Red & Black turned into The Red and Dead’s strength. It was cowboys versus indians; we had guns; they had bows and arrows. Within an hour, our brand was on Twitter, Facebook and WordPress. … We would win. I was sure.” And “By the time most of the world woke up, we had begun a rival news organization.”

Did you hear that? The students went back to their apartments and started an organization to rival an institution with a $4,000,000.00 endowment. And they did it with some iPads, phones, laptops and a wifi signal.

The Board relented, not because the students were more on message, not because they needed the students back. But had the students stuck it out, they’d have started a fiercely competitive rival newspaper.

I wonder if the students ever realized that the paper needs them more than they need the paper?

And for Ms. Cook, who had been waiting for permission from the grown ups to truly engage with the Red & Black’s readers, this was her opportunity to show the paper what it had been missing.

The irony is that the whole point of Mr. Stamper’s infamous memo was to achieve engagement with the reader. Turns out that the adults just didn’t understand the tools well enough use them. And, when the students were freed from the institution, they showed their true expertise.

They Still Don’t Get It

The Board had some good points and that Charles Russell, one of the members who resigned, stated some good reasons for his resignation. Indeed, the best pure journalism I’ve seen on this story is the Daily Report’s article.

Mr. Russell believed that the decision to walk out on the paper at deadline time was a firing offense. It’s a valid point. And it’s a point that was never made until now. After that, though, Mr. Russell doesn’t do so well.

From the Daily Report:

Russell said students “have no idea how deep” the threat to the newspaper industry goes, but he acknowledged the students’ skill in teaching their elders a lesson this week. Said Russell, “We don’t know how to manage getting lynched on social media.”

Lynched? Was this a high tech lynching of uppity Board members? The claim of victimhood pales more here than it did in the Thomas confirmation hearings.

Threat to the industry? In less than a week, the students started an organization from scratch and had more pageviews than the Red & Black. The Board might count itself lucky to have those students back and let them keep doing what they’re doing.

The same tools employed by the students were available to the Board members. In fact, they are free. And the fact that the students were better able to use them does not make them parties to a lynching. But it may help explain the dire financial straits in which the paper now finds itself. The Board appears hopelessly out of touch with the very social media engagement that the students used to beat them.

The Parable for Lawyers

I see this struggle as a fight between folks who get it and folks who don’t. The Board clearly didn’t. The students did. There is a similar divide among lawyers when it comes to social media.

There are a bunch of snake oil salemen out there who are trying to profit from lawyers who want to get into social media. But there is no shortcut to engagement. It’s as simple as diving in and learning from the people who are good at it. And to be humble enough that the people who are best at it may be way younger than you.

To quote Mr. Stamper’s memo, the students should “Beg them to engage with us.” How many telemarketing calls and emails have lawyer received promising that, if you hire the person on the other end, that you’ll be able to get more clients through social media. The strategy is essentially an invitation to “beg” engagement. You cant beg people to engage with you any more than you can beg someone to be your friend or beg a girlfriend to not break up with you.

The trick is simply to dive in and engage. Engage your audience. Engage your current clients. Engage them when they call and write. The trick is not pandering but true engagement.

When the students came back on the job, they said that they were now empowered to engage. So, I tested them out. I tweeted this questions to them “What lesson do you think other traditional media outlets can learn from your story from last week.”

Within hours came this answer, “The power of social media mainly; what works and what doesn’t. Too often news orgs forget social media is social, a conversation.”

Substitute the word lawyer of law firm for “news orgs.” and you will have your social media marketing stategy for the next five years.

I have no affiliation with the University of Georgia. But I have been glued to the controversy over its independent newspaper for the past week and a half. And if you are a lawyer who is interested in social media, you should learn this story and use it as a parable. It has much to teach about the importance of social media and its potential power as a tool of engagement. I don’t take sides here about who was right or wrong. But I want to look at how social media was a part of the story and how a group of college students used it to achieve their goals with the paper’s Board of Directors, most of whom appear to be seasoned journalists and successful businessmen.

Watching this story helped me to “get” social media a little bit better.

An Overview of the Controversy

The Red & Black is the college newspaper for the University of Georgia. It operates as a non-profit corporation in Athens and is governed by a Board of Directors. And the students have traditionally been in charge of the paper’s day-to-day operations. It has been in operation for over a century and is highly regarded. Many Georgia journalist worked on the paper when they were students. A week and a half ago, it editorial staff walked off the job in protest of what they claimed to be attempts from the “adult supervision,” professionals hired to guide the paper, to seize control of the paper’s editorial decisions. In particular, the controversy centered around a memo written by Board Member Ed Stamper (the exact meaning of this memo and its intended use remains still an issue).

From the student editor’s perspective, the memo was meant as a directive to guide prior review of stories. From Mr. Stamper’s perspective, the memo was a rough set of talking points to be used to “guide” the paper.

When this memo went public, the focus was on the memo’s emphasis on achieving “[a] balance of good and bad” stories. A “good” story was defined as “[c]ontent that is ABOUT our audience doing something unique, new, dramatic, ie scholarships for freshman” a “bad” story was defined as “[c]ontent that catches people or organizations doing bad things. ‘I guess this is journalism’ I think we are alighned on crime and ‘who started off the year with a police record.’ And that the freshman class lacks some minority demographics.”

The memo concluded with “If in question, have more GOOD than BAD.”

The students read the memo one way. Mr. Stamper believed he meant something else. Unfortunately for Mr. Stamper, his point of view did not come to light fully until Katheryn Hayes Tucker ran a story in today’s Fulton Daily Report..

By contrast, the students immediately started a WordPress blog, titled Red & Dead, a Facebook profile, and a presence on Twitter..

They interspersed journalism — you’ll find some stories there — with their message. They had a theme, and they stayed on it.

The story was eventually picked up nationally, including coverage by the New York Times..

Eventually, Mr. Stamper resigned along with another Board member, and the students got their jobs back.

How did these kids manage to run circles around the very professionals whom the board put in place and tasked with making the paper relevant and the content engaging? Could it be that the kids know more about that subject than the pros?

The Big Irony

There’s an irony in the middle of the whole thing. One of the memo’s aims was to engage the readers through social media. From the memo: “More of: Content that is FROM our audience, which automatically makes it of interest to our audience, ie comments, letters, comments, poll results, chatter from social media, reviews.”

According to Lindsey Cook, the students’s social media general, “[t]he reason I left Red & Black turned into The Red and Dead’s strength. It was cowboys versus indians; we had guns; they had bows and arrows. Within an hour, our brand was on Twitter, Facebook and WordPress. … We would win. I was sure.” And “By the time most of the world woke up, we had begun a rival news organization.”

Did you hear that? The students went back to their apartments and started an organization to rival an institution with a $4,000,000.00 endowment. And they did it with some iPads, phones, laptops and a wifi signal.

The Board relented, not because the students were more on message, not because they needed the students back. But had the students stuck it out, they’d have started a fiercely competitive rival newspaper.

I wonder if the students ever realized that the paper needs them more than they need the paper?

And for Ms. Cook, who had been waiting for permission from the grown ups to truly engage with the Red & Black’s readers, this was her opportunity to show the paper what it had been missing.

The irony is that the whole point of Mr. Stamper’s infamous memo was to achieve engagement with the reader. Turns out that the adults just didn’t understand the tools well enough use them. And, when the students were freed from the institution, they showed their true expertise.

They Still Don’t Get It

The Board had some good points and that Charles Russell, one of the members who resigned, stated some good reasons for his resignation. Indeed, the best pure journalism I’ve seen on this story is the Daily Report’s article.

Mr. Russell believed that the decision to walk out on the paper at deadline time was a firing offense. It’s a valid point. And it’s a point that was never made until now. After that, though, Mr. Russell doesn’t do so well.

From the Daily Report:

Russell said students “have no idea how deep” the threat to the newspaper industry goes, but he acknowledged the students’ skill in teaching their elders a lesson this week. Said Russell, “We don’t know how to manage getting lynched on social media.”

Lynched? Was this a high tech lynching of uppity Board members? The claim of victimhood pales more here than it did in the Thomas confirmation hearings.

Threat to the industry? In less than a week, the students started an organization from scratch and had more pageviews than the Red & Black. The Board might count itself lucky to have those students back and let them keep doing what they’re doing.

The same tools employed by the students were available to the Board members. In fact, they are free. And the fact that the students were better able to use them does not make them parties to a lynching. But it may help explain the dire financial straits in which the paper now finds itself. The Board appears hopelessly out of touch with the very social media engagement that the students used to beat them.

The Parable for Lawyers

I see this struggle as a fight between folks who get it and folks who don’t. The Board clearly didn’t. The students did. There is a similar divide among lawyers when it comes to social media.

There are a bunch of snake oil salemen out there who are trying to profit from lawyers who want to get into social media. But there is no shortcut to engagement. It’s as simple as diving in and learning from the people who are good at it. And to be humble enough that the people who are best at it may be way younger than you.

To quote Mr. Stamper’s memo, the students should “Beg them to engage with us.” How many telemarketing calls and emails have lawyer received promising that, if you hire the person on the other end, that you’ll be able to get more clients through social media. The strategy is essentially an invitation to “beg” engagement. You cant beg people to engage with you any more than you can beg someone to be your friend or beg a girlfriend to not break up with you.

The trick is simply to dive in and engage. Engage your audience. Engage your current clients. Engage them when they call and write. The trick is not pandering but true engagement.

When the students came back on the job, they said that they were now empowered to engage. So, I tested them out. I tweeted this questions to them “What lesson do you think other traditional media outlets can learn from your story from last week.”

Within hours came this answer, “The power of social media mainly; what works and what doesn’t. Too often news orgs forget social media is social, a conversation.”

Substitute the word lawyer of law firm for “news orgs.” and you will have your social media marketing stategy for the next five years.

Robin McDonald of the Fulton Daily Report notes in a story today that Murray County Magistrate Judge Bryant Cochran resigned his post as Chief Magistrate Judge. His resignation letter departs from they typical fare of this genre — quivery sharky handwritten script, tendered to Richard Hyde. He doubled the average sentence length to two whole sentences. And the content is different, too.

Judge Cochran made clear that his resignation was not related to allegations that he used the power and prestige of the office of Magistrate Judge to pick up girls (Indeed, one would think that being a county magistrate judge would be an impediment to wooing. You’d want to say vaguely that you are a “judge” or more vaguely “I work at the courthouse.”).

He also noted that the resignation was related solely to the fact that he handed out signed blank warrants to law enforcement. In a written statement that his lawyer forwarded to the Daily Report, Cochran said, “I accept full responsibility for the warrants that were pre-signed.”

It appears that Judge Cochran’s practice was only a slight departure from the way things typically work in the warrant-granting process statewide. You’re suppose to rubber stamp the warrant after the cop fills it out, not before. Judge Cochran’s departure saddens me more than any of the 8,000 other judicial resingations in the last 3 years because his practice was a rare honest statement about how the role of magistrate works. This is the very practice of judicial efficiency and economy that we heard so much about in law school.

Indeed, I was hopeful that the original story was true that his staff actually controlled the issuance of the blank warrants. I would think that a law enforcement agent would actually have work to get a warrant from a clerk.

It’s rare that the media (particularly the broadcast media) remain interested in a case after it gets into the appellate stage. I’m involved in one of those cases right now. Chris Shaw with Fox 5 News in Atlanta did a thorough job speaking with us about the implications of a recent indictment in a case related to a case we are appealing right now out of DeKalb County.

At the risk of doing two posts in a row that might be interpreted as self-promotional, I encourage you to check out the story. It’s a good chance to meet some of the other folks in my new office, at the very least.

 

First, it’s been about three weeks since my last post. Between getting moved into the new office in Decatur and a family vacation, I have been on a bit of a blogging hiatus. I’ve spent time getting accustomed to a new commute and schedule. After so many years in truly solo practice, it is great to have colleagues down the hall. And what great colleagues these guys are!

So, the blogging frequency is now returning to 2 or so posts per week.

And, I want to let you know about two upcoming talks I will be giving. On September 7, Doug Peters and I will be speaking at a Seminar titled Crack the Code. The seminar will help lawyers prepare for the new evidence code, which will go into effect in just four months. Our talk will focus on how the new evidence code affects expert witness testimony. But other speakers include Don Samuel, Mike Hawkins, and Jack Martin. The seminar will be at the Bar headquarters in Atlanta.

And on September 21, I will give the criminal caselaw update at the late summer seminar of the Henry County Bar Association, at the Ritz Carlton at Reynolds Plantation. It’s been an eventful year in the U.S. Supreme Court and in the Georgia appellate courts in the area of criminal law. I’m excited about the opportunity to hit the highlights in an hour of conversation.

I’m looking forward to many great conversations going forward, and I hope to see some of you at these upcoming seminars.