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.

Newest Posts

We don’t care… November 30, 2015, 10:19 pm
Turkey arrests 2 journalists November 29, 2015, 1:54 pm
Protected: A timely mistake November 24, 2015, 2:08 am
Introducing/remembering Austin Kiplinger November 23, 2015, 12:32 am
Get the Story Even in ‘Media Free’ Zones November 20, 2015, 2:03 am
KaLeigh Underwood of EKU is SPJ’s Member of Month November 19, 2015, 3:46 pm
Membership planning proposal approved (I voted no) November 19, 2015, 2:29 pm

Copyright © 2007-2015 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