September 30th, 2011
SPJ Diversity Committee Caps Exciting Week
By Curtis Lawrence
This has been a great week for the Society of Professional Journalists’ Diversity Committee. We had a successful Diversity Leadership Program including six stellar women. We also were able to pass two resolutions — one including diversity hiring and one urging journalists to cease the use of “illegal alien” in news coverage. The resolution urging the end of the “I-Word” was the result of a courageous effort led by Diversity Committee member Leo Laurence over a two-year span. It also showed the willingness of the SPJ membership to “walk the walk” of the organization’s Code of Ethics. We are appreciative of all who helped in this battle and who voted in favor of the resolution.
Also this week, I was asked by our new president, John Ensslin, to chair the Diversity Committee for the coming year. I succeed George Daniels, who will devote his energy to the SPJ and SDX boards. I am honored to take on this responsibility and I look better to a year of educating others about the need for diversity from the classroom to the newsroom.
Below is a description of last week’s events by Diversity Committee Member Jeremy Steele. He mentions some of the key players and includes the resolution at the end.
Thanks to all who made this happen.
SPJ Diversity Committee Chair
The following is a memo from Jeremy Steele to the SPJ Diversity Committee:
Good morning, everyone,
Yesterday’s closing business session was certainly interesting and packed with thoughtful debate on a lot of big issues. I wanted to give members of the Diversity Committee an update.
The diversity hiring resolution that George put forward to our committee – and we then endorsed – was approved in a block of six resolutions that were not controversial – ie, no one felt the need to debate them individually. Other resolutions in the block included thanking staff for their work to arrange the convention, thanking President Hagit Limor for her service, etc. Then we began the work on four other resolutions, including the resolution put forward by the diversity committee on the use of “illegal alien” and “illegal immigrant,” support of a federal shield law (passed), two resolutions attempting to bring back the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award (both failed) and an effort by the Conn. Pro Chapter to overturn a $3 dues increase approved by the SPJ board on Sunday (failed)
Earlier in the day, I received word that the resolutions committee had voted 3-0 to NOT endorse our resolution. I had a conversation with Mac McKerral, the resolutions committee chair and a former SPJ president. He indicated that the committee was not opposed to the spirit of the resolution, but had some issues with its language. So I workshopped that language a bit during the diversity fellows lunch a few hours before the closing business session and went over some revisions with Curtis, Becky, Rebecca Aguilar (a diversity fellow, NAHJ board member, Fort Worth chapter member and Sonny Albarado, SPJ’s president-elect. The most significant changes involved adding a new first whereas clause citing the SPJ Code of Ethics and revising the therefore be it resolved clause (which had been edited by the resolutions committee). I also added a few words for context and impact.
As I was also a delegate, I was able to put forward our substitute language (which I will include below) and speak in support of the resolution.
For those of you who haven’t experienced the convention of delegates – it’s an unpredictable place and a great example of how policymaking is, indeed, akin to making sausage (the end result may be delightful, but the process is messy).
After addressing a couple of questions from the delegates, I yielded the floor and others took their turns to speak. I have to admit their stance made my heart skip a beat or two. While no one spoke against the spirit of the resolution to be fair and accurate when reporting on various groups of people, there were some statements from a few sticklers who still didn’t like the language as presented and encouraged others to vote no.
Then, Rebecca Aguilar spoke. If you haven’t met Rebecca yet – the best way I can describe her is with a single word: “Wow.” She’s spunky and smart and passionate. Rebecca is also the daughter of undocumented workers and a board member of NAHJ, in addition to her involvement on SPJ’s digital media committee, Fort Worth SPJ chapter and as a diversity fellow this year.
Her brief comments on her mothers support of journalism – and offense particularly at the phrase illegal alien - led to other comments in support from young professionals and established members. Men and women. White and black. It was quite inspiring to watch.
Long story short, the resolution passed on voice vote, with a solid majority in favor.
Congratulations to Leo for his year of hard work on this effort, and THANK YOU to Rebecca for sharing her story and making a positive impact on the delegates.
Jeremy W. Steele
My changes are in bold. A friendly amendment from another delegate is in bold italics. Other wording changes from what the diversity committee initially put forward reflect edits by the resolutions committee:
WHEREAS, the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics urges all journalists to be “honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information” and;
WHEREAS, mainstream news reports are increasingly using the politically charged phrase “illegal immigrant” and the more offensive and bureaucratic “illegal alien” to describe undocumented immigrants, particularly Latinos and;
WHEREAS, a fundamental principle embedded in our U.S. Constitution is that everyone (including non-citizens) is considered innocent of any crime until proven guilty in a court of law and;
WHEREAS, this constitutional doctrine, often described as “innocent-until-proven-guilty,” applies not just to U.S. Citizens but to everyone in the United States and;
WHEREAS, only the court system, not reporters and editors, can decide when a person has committed an illegal act and;
WHEREAS, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists is also concerned with the increasing use of pejorative and potentially inaccurate terms to describe the estimated 11 million undocumented people living in the United States;
THEREFORE, be it resolved that the Society of Professional Journalists convention of delegates: urges journalists and style guide editors to stop the use of illegal alien and encourage continuous discussion and re-evaluation of the use of illegal immigrant in news stories.