Tony Hernandez: Words of Wisdom from SPJ Leader & 2012 Diversity Fellow

Service to others in journalism makes my career fun.

I’m thankful to friends, old and new, who’ve guided my leadership training in SPJ that began at the chapter level before jumping into the deep end as Region 12’s director in less than two years.

I’m about to share something I’ve never told anyone before writing this blog entry. It’s one of those pretty-cool-to-see split seconds and the first moment I realized I helped create something special for others in SPJ’s Region 12.

The scene: The stage at the University of Mississippi’s Overby Center minutes after the first session of the regional conference ( We all just listened to Myrlie Evers-Williams, a national civil rights leader, talk about the murder of her husband, Medgar Evers, in Oxford during the 1960s. Among those on stage was Jerry Mitchell, an investigative reporter for the The Clarion-Ledger who covered Evers’ murder and subsequent conviction of his killer. He was part of the session.

SPJ Region 12 Conference

Myrlie Evers-Williams, Jerry Mitchell and others begin speak during the first session of the Region 12 Conference at the University of Arkansas’ Overby Center.

Students from the McNeese Chapter in Louisiana were also on stage. Mitchell was talking to student journalist Katelynn McCartney about life in journalism.

Then it happened, the all too familiar business card exchange.

Mitchell gave McCartney his card. An award winning investigative journalist offered to further share his experience with the next generation’s talent.

Networking at conference

Investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell of The Clarion-Ledger hands his business card to Katelynn McCartney.


I don’t know if she stayed in touch with him, but I do know the opportunity was created. Thousands of us across the country have experienced something similar. There were many other fantastic moments that weekend, but I had kept that one private after catching it on my iPhone.

That small moment couldn’t have happened without the help from my mentor Deb Wenger who I met last year through SPJ’s diversity fellowship at the Excellence in Journalism Conference in Florida.

Wenger, a professor at Ole Miss, helped me plan the conference with two other Region 12 members from Tennessee and Louisiana. We all brought in some great speakers and great training for those that came to the conference, but I digress.

The opportunity can certainly be found if you want to serve the journalism community.

My path started with the Northwest Arkansas Pro chapter in Fayetteville.

I was introduced to the chapter when Katherine Shurlds, treasurer and professor at the University of Arkansas, invited me to be a journalism coach for the chapter’s Lemke Journalism Project ( The project brings in high schools students, mostly Hispanic, to learn about reporting, writing and broadcast for six, consecutive Saturdays.

I was hooked and have helped with the project since 2011. I became the chapter’s vice president that December.

Tony Hernandez

Tony Hernandez speaks to journalism high school students about diversity in the newsrooms during the Lemke Journalism Project at the University of Arkansas.


The chapter then sends me to the Tedd Scripps Leadership Institute in 2012 where I met national staff, including Chris Vachon, associate executive director, and also met Sonny Albarado, SPJ’s current president, and so many others.

I’ve applied the tools I learned from Scripps into my daily life, at my job and with the chapter.

Suddenly, I hear about a little annual conference known as Excellence In Journalism where more than 800 journalists converged to get some training, do some SPJ business and also do what journalists do: network, sometimes over drinks. Good times.

There, I met some great reporters through the diversity fellowship program and have seen other examples of service to journalism. Sandra Gonzalez stepped up to lead SPJ’s Diversity Committee. Another fellow, Nigel Duara helped me judge some contest entries when I suddenly had more than I expected. I saw in June on Facebook another fellow Sherri Williams who was interviewed on CNN about the Zimmerman case and social media’s role in portraying unfortunate stereotypes.


Through the fellowship, I heard from some great leaders in journalism. What stuck out the most was a simple statement from Anne Vasquez, associate editor at Sun Sentinel. She so eloquently said, don’t be afraid to do something that scares the (bleep) out of you.

Tony Hernandez/ SPJ Reg. 12 Director

Tony Hernandez speaks to journalism high school students about diversity.


It’s been great advice for my career and also the reason I stepped up to represent Region 12 when Sonny Albarado, a former Region 12 director, asked for volunteers. The thought scared me, but I raised my hand.

I have not regretted it. I’m hoping to continue as director for a complete term.

But most of all, I’m looking forward to EIJ in Anaheim where I’ll, without a doubt, meet more friends and get more business cards.


Tony Hernandez is a 2012 SPJ Diversity Fellow and Region 12 Director SPJ Director. He’s a reporter for the Northwest Arkansas Times.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

Defending the First Amendment and promoting open government are more crucial now than ever. Join SPJ's fight for the public’s right to know — either as an SPJ Supporter or a professional, student or retired journalist.

  • Jennifer Stewart

    The article in Rolling Stone struck me as a 2nd rate headline-grabber masquerading as important journalism. Penn’s disclaimer, that he just presented what he saw without judgment, leaving the reader to form his own conclusions, was fatuous. He didn’t do that at all.

    He did articulate everything that’s anti-social, criminal and repulsive about Guzman et al and followed that up with the same about the market for drugs. An unbiased assessment of everybody’s responsibility would have been excellent because it isn’t a simple issue but this wasn’t that. Penn pretty much shoved all responsibility onto the shoulders of the users and the destination countries’ inability/reluctance to deal head on with the problem.

    That’s tantamount to saying a rapist isn’t guilty because society doesn’t protect women effectively and because women let themselves be raped. The reality is that predators seek out the vulnerable and the unprotected.

    Which is what Guzman does with his global drug manufacture and sales industry. Penn should have made that point but he didn’t. Worse, his questions virtually solicited answers that could—and did—paint this sociopath as a simple, even kind-hearted family man who doesn’t mean any harm to anybody.

    A good journalist with real dedication to exposing truth would have asked far more penetrating questions. Why didn’t Penn do that? He’s very articulate and an outspoken activist who clearly does understand the role and accountability of the predator. He’s usually not scared of shoving truth in people’s faces. I’m not surprised that he didn’t blatantly tell the truth here. I am surprised that he [and Rolling Stone] settled for pretending to do so and expect us not to notice.

    The idea that the world’s most powerful drug lord is simple-minded is ludicrous and the notion that he wouldn’t control every word of an article about himself when he was on the run is equally so. If he didn’t edit his answers it was because he didn’t have to.

    I compare this variety of ‘exposing truth’ to that of the journalists fighting and exposing Michael Schroeder and Sheldon Adelson’s attempts (some successful; some fortunately not—see Steve Majerus-Collins’ Facebook page for that ongoing story) to pervert journalistic integrity. That’s real journalism. This is just a headline grabber with barely any substance to merit the huge attention it’s receiving.

  • rg

    Why haven’t we been hearing from you over the very same kind of collusion between all the establishment media whores and the establishment political whores who have been gutting the constitution all these recent years…where’s all your outrage for the truly bad actors in this world?

  • rg

    Mr. Seaman doth protest too much.

  • tomwest

    “if there were edit/review offered to the subject and undisclosed to the reader, it would be awful”.
    Really? So, you write a story about me. I see it before hand, and point out it contains some factual errors. You agree, fix the errors, and never mention this in the article. How does that impugn anything?

  • Jeff Bowles

    Checking veracity of quotes is sort of standard; allowing rewriting or copy-editing is something you’d disclose.

  • So how does this condemnation of Rolling Stone dovetail with SPJ previously arguing that PPR is okay?

    “It used to be that a reporter would absolutely NEVER let a source check out a story before it appeared. But there has been growing acceptance of the idea that it’s more important to be accurate than to be independent.”

    As a journalist, I don’t favor PPR. I am merely pointing out that SPJ seems to think PPR is okay for the Washington Post but not Rolling Stone. And the more important issue here is the threat of government or law enforcement agencies using the critique of Penn and RS to ‘investigate’ them for doing the interview. That’s what should be condemned.

  • tomwest

    “We must solumnly decalre that the subject of this piece pointed out his birthday was 1/2/1970, not 2/1/1970. This fulfils our ethical obligations”.
    … I think not, somehow.

    You seem to be conflating “reviewing” and “rewriting”. There is generally no harm in letting a subject review a piece about them, and have a chance to comment – even (especially!) if the article alleges something particularly bad. That doesn’t mean the writer/editor is obliged to rewrite anything.

  • alinla55

    A question for Andrew Seaman: How do we know RS gave pre-approval to the subject?

    (Hint: They had the integrity to disclose it. This enables the reader to make his or her OWN decision.)

  • alinla55

    I get the part about political whores…assuming you are talking about elected officials who have taken an oath to preserve protect and defend the constitution but….

    How exactly do “media whore” go about “gutting the constitution?’

    Outrage is useful, but don’t let it trump your common sense. (pun intended).

  • alinla55

    As for me, I saw the item, saw the disclaimer and went no further, because it was marketing and public relations.

    TRANSLATION: I am a highly bias, intellectual light weight who makes decisions based on perceptions. I have not need for facts or context.

  • rg

    How exactly? Why has there been no investigation into how the Twin Towers and building seven fell at freefall speed – or even fell at all? (the only skyscraper fires to ever result in collapse) Why have we not heard a cry of foul over all the information Snowden uncovered? Fourth Amendment? Why has there been no uproar over the ‘ethics’ of the collapse of Wall Street? Why has there been no cry of foul over all the Iraqi citizens who died as a result of a misguided ‘surge’? Why has there been no outrage over the Bush administrations mendacious selling of ‘wmd’? Where has the good ethics professor been through all this? Where has the media been? Business as usual. An actor is usurping journalist territory and the pack begins to howl. General McChrystal is laughing at the ghost of Michael Hastings, having a good hee-haw over Rolling Stone’s struggles while the good journalists swill Pappy Van Winkle and dream of bigger houses, fast cars, faster women and fat paychecks…exactly.

  • alinla55

    What you fail to understand (and certainly do not address) is that journalists are under no obligation to even acknowledge the existence of the U.S. Constitution.

    But cheer-up your outrage, as ridiculous and irrational as it is, is a manifestation of freedom.

  • rg

    Freedom? Basically, we’re free to not break any laws. Public demonstrations are shut down as soon as they appear. Are you free to be a communist? Are you free to smoke marijuana? Many years ago people were burned alive for disagreeing with church doctrine. Things are better now, burning at the stake has taken a backseat to mass incarceration. We are free to be jailed for non-violent drug use. Free to eat ourselves into disease overburdening the medical system. Free to surf all the porn on the internet but imprisoned if we look behind the NSA curtains. Free to watch all the sports we can stay awake for but don’t ask where all the money went for the military or the war. Free to go bankrupt for getting sick and going to the hospital. Free to have your job replaced by a robot or someone living in such squalor a dollar a day is like winning the lottery. Free to trust corrupt politicians and shiny, primping pundits. American exceptionalism right? Greatest country in the world…that ain’t saying much.

  • The Truth Hurts

    With the daily ethics violations committed by people who were actually trained to be journalists, it does seem strange that all of a sudden members of the media want to hash out what’s acceptable in reporting the news or conducting interviews.

  • AndrewMSeaman

    Hi Tom! Like I said on Twitter, allowing sources to review quotes or parts of a story is different than allowing the source to decide whether those quotes or the whole story will be printed.

    For example, a journalist who writes about health or science may want to bounce wording or a paraphrased description off a source for accuracy. Or, a journalist may say at the end of a conversation that he/she wants to confirm a few quotes. In both cases, the journalist retains editorial control, but is also doing his/her job to make sure in the information is accurate.

    Writing a story that will then be handed to the source to decide whether it will ultimately be printed is a different matter.

    While I’m not a fan of the Washington Post’s practice, I think it’s unfair to say its equivalent to Rolling Stone’s handling of the Guzman profile.

    Also, SPJ actively works on the implementation of a federal shield law, which could be used to protect Penn and Rolling Stone. However, I have not heard of any legal movement to question Penn or Rolling Stone.

  • Jeff Bowles

    Really, what I’m doing is reacting to the poo-bah from the Committee who is shaming Rolling Stone/Penn for not being ethical enough. I think they’re being foolish — that disclosure is enough for me to say that they’re overreacting.

  • rg

    Your jibes of “ridiculous and irrational” are typical of the whorish media, the insider pov, those infected with ambition who would sell themselves to anyone who promised more, better, bigger, stronger. You’re a climber rationalizing, justifying every step you take regardless of who or what you’re treading on, ignoring the costs of all your ambition, your desire. You don’t care about the innocent Iraqi’s maimed and killed…for what? You point to only a few thousand US soldiers killed during the Iraqi ‘war’ while ignoring the tens of thousands of soldiers suffering disabling trauma returning home broken to a country who care about little more than what sports game is on the telly. Isn’t it every persons natural inclination to be ambitious? Sure. Until we accrue a kind of human experience that values something more than consumerism. So you climb. At what cost? Hubris? Your levity, your wit, your vacuous lack of worldly experience only adds to the imbecilic direction our country is leading the world. We have been taught to believe that technology as a tool will improve humanity at large. So far, only the nth percent is reaping the benefits. The workingman is getting ass-fucked. Oh yeah, you should know that puns are the lowest form of humor.

  • rg

    Cheer up? Why don’t we just emblazon the headline “Might Is Right” across the front pages of all the papers in this country? Of the world? Shock and awe the world into submission and create a massive filter to scan the world for dissent? That would be untoward. Let’s just take the world as the world and go along to get along. The alternative is marginalization, being called ridiculous and irrational. This country was founded on slavery and genocide. Why should anyone expect a more rational approach.

  • Michael Moore

    ANYONE else would’ve done the exact same thing to get an exclusive from El Chapo. Anyone who says otherwise is a fucking liar. And considering all the off the record, side deals, efforts to control that are already considered acceptable practice in press today, there is literally NO ONE who can cast stones at Rolling Stone on this story. Much like how Milli Vanilli only got the main furor from a hypocritical music business (well into lip-syncing, double tracking, replacing vocals and so on) who protested too much, when the general public couldn’t care less who actually sang the damn songs.
    Also, the Washington Post and many various other media outlets regularly did deals like RS did with Jackie in the UVA case. Obviously, they didn’t make the jump to blind faith that RS, Sabrina Rubin Erdely and Will Dana did and let the subject completely control everything, but they made similar deals to not give full names and only give the allegd victim’s side of the story in the very first article, which would be the lead-in to follow up stories later, with more interviews down the pike. Sadly, RS didn’t plan like that, which was a huge mistake, and was indeed a massive failure in journalism. But it’s not just RS that needs to change. The Washington Post needs to change. The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, FOX “News”, MSNBC, CNN, CBS, ABC, NBC, and all of them need to change. And they can’t attack Rolling Stone for the very same sins they themselves commit.
    (P.S. I’m NOT the director)


Twitter Facebook Google Plus RSS Instagram Pinterest Pinterest LinkedIn

© Society of Professional Journalists. All rights reserved. Legal

Society of Professional Journalists
Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Center, 3909 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46208
317/927-8000 | Fax: 317/920-4789 | Contact SPJ Headquarters | Employment Opportunities | Advertise with SPJ