It’s National Grammar Day (insert exclamation point here)

This is it, the day all word mavens and grammarphiles relish with a fervency everyone else reserves for major national holidays, weekends, and end dates on the Mayan calendar.

It's Grammar Time!Yes, it’s National Grammar Day, and if you think itinerant commas or cliches stand a ghost of a chance on this auspicious occasion, think again. It is a day that all of us should spend paying greater attention to the craft of good communication and do, as Grammar Girl urges, “March forth … to speak well, write well, and help others do the same.”

That includes using “their” when “there” or “they’re” doesn’t work, correctly distinguishing “to” from “too” from “two,” slicing off dangling participles, and excising unctuous conjunctions, among many other attentions to linguistic and syntactical detail.

The day’s designation isn’t bound by law or scripture, but motivated by common courtesy. In our information-crazy world, precise use of language rises to the level of imperative. To serve society and convey respect for others, we are obligated to employ language precisely, appropriately. Poor grammar muddles our messages and implies ignorance or arrogance. It can cost reputations and dreams.

Journalists understand this perhaps better than most people, but as we enter the age of “citizen journalism,” when so many American citizens possess the tools and potential to stand in a position of authority on news, the grammar imperative becomes acute. The serious task of news gathering also demands serious presentation. Careful use of language conveys not only necessary detail, but also personal credibility. People who use language properly will be assigned more authority than people who do not.

If you don’t believe me, ask anyone who reads resumes for a living how many job candidates are passed over because of spelling errors and misplaced punctuation.

So, take care today to watch what you write and say. Recognize this sixth annual National Grammar Day by putting usage among your top priorities. If you’re smart, you’ll strive to turn that attention to detail from headache to habit.

David Sheets, SPJ's Region 7 directorDavid Sheets is a freelance editor, adjunct professor of journalism at Lindenwood UniversityRegion 7 director, and past-president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dksheets@gmail.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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  • David, I thought you would enjoy this from a survey on the Land O’Lakes site:
    “If you purchased our product, which retailer did you purchase it at?”

    I can see my grammar school nuns wincing as they read that.

  • Guy

    As a former national board member and regional director, it’s not clear to me what the rationale is for this change. Going from 23 members to 19 does not seem of much practical significance. I doubt it would make the board more or less manageable.

    Perhaps re-drawing the regional map makes sense because of regional changes in membership or numbers of active chapters, but this is not addressed.

    Since regional directors have a key role in linking local chapters to the national organization, and also frequently staff national committees and otherwise help maintain the national organization, I’m not sure reducing their number would be a positive step. Of course, I may be missing something as I’ve been retired for more than a decade.

    As a side note: I have been glad to see how well SPJ has continued to keep relevant to journalists as we and they make our way from mostly print and broadcast to our new digital and internet based world. I was worried for a while.

    — Guy Baehr, former Region 1 Director and Chair of the National Awards Committee

  • Bill McCloskey

    I am still undecided on the issue of board compression and would love to see more input from chapter representatives and RDs. It appears the chapter folks are mostly not interested. Paul’s blog, out there for almost a week now, has brought one comment. — a former RD who says “no.”

    As of now, I find this a “solution” in search of a problem. If the board is unwieldy it is because we get into too many weeds. Having fewer members won’t necessarily help that.

    I don’t see where a different split among folks working in newsrooms and those working in classrooms is important, we’re all journalists. (Yes, even the retired folks and the PR practitioners.)

    If budget money needs to be redistributed, we can do that. The only set of weeds the board doesn’t seem too interested in is the budget which if usually approved after a few perfunctory questions. We can move money even after the budget is approved – we just can’t spend any extra money.

    The issue I find most compelling that Michael raises as a part of his multi-faceted proposal is unleashing some money for chapter programing. His activities in that area seem to demonstrate that this is money well spent, although I have never seen any stats to tell us whether Free Food Festival participants, Scripps attendees, regional meeting attendees, contest entrants, EIJ participants or local board members (etc.) are more likely to renew. Clearly more dues income would allow more financial support for chapter programs, since we feel that strong chapter involvement does increase retention.

  • Like Bill, I’d like to hear more from chapters and RDs. Also like Bill, I wonder if it isn’t a solution in search of a problem. Is the size of the board a “real” problem or is it some other aspect of our organizational/governance structure that needs adjusting?

    I still think Michael’s proposal is exciting, long overdue and worth discussing, but is it the “right” proposal?

    I’m on another board (with 30 members!) that is considering “streamlining.” But a quick look at the board’s makeup reveals that many of those members represent specific constituencies, so reducing the size of the board won’t yield a much smaller outfit.

    And pardon my distrustfulness, but whenever I hear a politician talk about wanting to “streamline” something to “gain efficiencies,” I reflexively wonder what power play is under way and who stands to gain – financially and politically. Not that any of our esteemed board members should be equated with politicians.

    What I liked most in the email exchanges since this issue arose was Robert Leger’s suggestions, which I copied and pasted below (typos fixed).

    Robert:
    Start by agreeing why a smaller board is a good idea. Some of the reasons offered in this string miss the mark.

    Reducing the size of the board by three or four seats will not make it more nimble. The bylaws already create a mechanism for being nimble: the executive committee. For the past decade, a succession of boards has hamstrung exec and handcuffed the president. If you want to be nimble, free the executive committee to act as our founders intended. And let the president be the president.

    Nor does it make sense to argue for a reduction in the size of the board based on who has filed for what offices. Many years, we don’t have anyone running for sec-treasurer by the time of the spring meeting. Would you eliminate the office based on that? I hope not.

    There are good arguments for a smaller board. The financial one resonates.

    And here’s another question I hope you ask: Is Michael’s proposal radical enough?

    Does it make sense today to have a board based on geography? Follow Alex’s point — is this the map we would have if we were drawing it today? — to its logical next step: Is this the board makeup we would design today? If I were drawing the map for where the future is heading, I’d drastically reduce geographic representation and substantially increase knowledge representation, designating seats for communities, partner organizations (NAHJ, RTDNA, etc), or by expertise.

    Sonny again: This last suggestion of Robert’s resonates most with me. We ought to encourage our partner orgs to have representation on our board, along with representatives of communities. Geography’s still important, but I imagine less so than it once was.

    Regardless, I’m eager to see how the board digests all that’s been said and what it ends up doing.

    saa

  • Meredith Cummings

    I am late to the game on this, as I have been ill. As the Alabama Pro Chapter President, I have questions:

    I would love for someone to direct me to learn more about how these regional lines have historically been drawn? I don’t personally have a beef – but some of our members were just generally curious. I attended the New Orleans regional conference because it was close and I’m in Alabama. We are curious as to how the South was split in the way that it was.

    On another matter, “perceived over-representation of academic on the board” will need more explanation for me to be satisfied. I’m in academia, but consider myself a journalist first and foremost. The word “perceived” trips me up. I echo what Bill said about the split between newsrooms and classrooms. We are all journalists.

  • Patrick Boylan

    I am the Treasurer of the Chicago Headline Club (Chicago Pro chapter). However I am speaking today as a member. I am not authorized to speak on behalf of our board. Nevertheless I urge you to listen.

    I urge you to postpone the vote.

    Our chapter had one discussion about this proposal and board members expressed concerns about the realignment. A position was not taken by the board, however members of our board were tasked to reach out to neighboring chapters. Those reports have not yet been returned to our board. Due to a summer break, we will not be able to hear that report as a board till July.

    In addition to the proposed changes to our region, our board heard from a representative of the student chapter of DePaul University. The board members expressed concern about that part of the proposal which will reduce the number of student representatives too.

    In addition, a broader discussion is being invited on the SPJ FaceBook page of the St. Louis Pro chapter. There are probably other discussions which I’m not aware of too.

    I’m saying that this proposal deserves additional time to ferment and be understood. But that requires the national SPJ board delay this proposal.

  • Joel Campbell

    Can this be delayed until national conference in September? The first I heard about this was a Utah Headliners Board this week. Those of you who live in areas with more compact regions may have no idea what a proposal to combine farflung Arizona, California, Guam, Hawaii, Nevada, Mariana Islands and Utah into one region. Our regional conferences in the interior West have always been driven by student chapter attendance. We have had a good rotation between Salt Lake City, Denver and Albuquerque. We took 16 students to Albuquerque last month. Under this proposal, the only place I can justify continued attendance for our students is in Salt Lake City and Vegas. I can’t see us taking large numbers anymore to California because of the distance. Obviously, we won’t be attending things in the South Pacific. It would make a lot more sense to include the Four Corner states — Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado in one region. There is also much commonality in many of the issues and challenges we face in reporting and maintaining journalism in the Interior West. California is a whole different story — literally.

  • McKenzie Romero

    As the president of the Utah Headliners chapter, I can’t speak as to what this proposed regional realignment might or might not do for the board, but I can say I that it would damage my chapter. I believe the proposed configuration would break up a strong working relationship and similar identity between Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming. I also agree with Joel Campbell that the alignment would make it nigh impossible for our members, especially the students in our area, to attend regional conferences.

    While we could feasibly support some kind of regional change that wouldn’t damage these interests, we cannot support this one. I urge the board to oppose this proposal as it stands, or at a minimum, to delay this decision until the next national convention.

    Concerned,
    McKenzie Romero – Utah Headliners Chapter president
    Supporting board members: Joel Campbell, George Severson, Emma Penrod, Linda Peterson, Connie Coyne, Sheryl Worsley

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