Committing acts of journalism

I had a teacher in college once say, “We have a constitutional responsibility to commit acts of journalism.”

I agree. It’s too easy to spout off one’s own opinion by claiming you have some sort of “right” to it, without having done the proper due diligence to support your claims. It takes time and effort to stand behind what you know to be right. It’s a sacrifice because your knowledge of being right accomplishes nothing beyond having that knowledge. And actions are rarely words, but I respect journalism for its ability to accomplish the ideal of inspiring action through words.

I had the overwhelming urge to pursue an act of journalism because people were being bullied. I don’t like it when people get bullied. Especially less so when people are being bullied by government-run, tax-payer funded entities.

Such is the case with the Atlanta Beltline (Do I have permission to use Beltline here?), who have been going after business for using their trademarked term “Beltline.” I understand why businesses want to trademark names and logos. But, for me, this is not a discussion about intellectual property law—that misses the point. This is a government-run entity owning a monopoly on its name.

Screenshot of the ABI’s legal bill for trademark fees

It’s not okay to tell a bike shop they can’t call themselves “Beltline Bikes” when their shop is physically located on the beltline. It’s not okay to tell a journalist they can’t use the domain name “beltlinenews.com” to cover news around the beltline. It’s not okay that this publicly-owned glorified sidewalk has a trademarked name, let alone the fact that it is using its trademark to go after honest members of the community. It’s greed over community need.

That’s my stance.

When I saw how aggressive Atlanta Beltline folks were being with cease-and-desist letters, I thought to myself: “I wonder how much in legal fees they’re paying to police this trademark?”

I hadn’t submitted an open records request for a while, but this flagrant disregard for the community sparked my desire to get some documents.

I submitted my request to Atlanta Beltline officials, who attempted to use subtle delay tactics to stretch out the fulfillment of my request—How much have you spent on legal fees defending your trademark? Government agencies are legally obligated to respond to your request within three days. ABI did not. I called them out on it.

I don’t play around with open records laws in Georgia. I made case law suing the University System of Georgia. And given the back and forth between myself and Ericka Davis, head of ABI’s communications and media relations department, I think they know that fact as well.

Email from Davis:

You’re correct. and because this was my oversight and I hold myself personally accountable I have personally contacted the Attorney General’s office to make them aware of my error in regard to your request as well.

This was a first: I’ve never had a government agency report themselves to the state Attorney General’s office for an open records request violation.

Newspapers don’t have the will or the funds to fight the open records fight as much as they did in the past. It’s just a sad reality. Little by little, one non-compliance at a time, many governments at all levels skirt their duties—purposely or negligently—to transparency, and few are keeping them in check.

But I’m here. I’m not going to stop challenging them. And I encourage all of you to fulfill your constitutional responsibility by committing acts of journalism whenever you see a shady place that needs some light.

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