Archive for December, 2006 Where you can learn new skills on the cheap

More journalists seriously need to come to terms with the times, and SPJ’s dynamic Web site can help them do so.

Given the news industry’s rapidly changing economic dynamics, it is vitally important for all of us to learn new ways to gather and distribute information. Why anyone would wait around for his or her employer to provide or pay for such training confounds me. At the same time, I recognize that college courses may not be an option and that there may be few (if any) opportunities to put new skills into practice in many newsrooms (which I would consider a sign that it’s time to look for work elsewhere …).

That’s where comes in. Let this Web site be your training ground. (This is, by the way, a goal for SPJ I long have shared with Society stalwart and j-visionary Stephen Rynkiewicz, a producer for

While we newsies are always likely to have have our specialties — some of us will write better than we yammer on camera, others of us will have great voices for streaming audio but loathe the precision required of newswriting — we need to think of ourselves as gatherers and distributors of information across media. Not as “newspaper” and “radio” reporters, not as “TV” producers, not as “print” photographers or television “videographers.” Not as the “online staff.”

Like it or not, technology is shattering those distinctions. Smart news organizations recognize this (well, they’ve been darned slow to recognize this, but that’s another story …) and are reorganizing accordingly. Journalists either will embrace these changes and do everything in their power to uphold the integrity of good journalism as they do — or they will play the role of obstructionist and, eventually, find themselves out of a job.

During my SPJ travels, I have urged journalists repeatedly to learn how to present stories across media. I don’t care how small the market is. If you don’t already know how to use various tech tools to present your writing, gather audio and video and solicit feedback from readers/viewers/listenters, you better learn fast. I’m talking yesterday …

And if you’ve got a command of the tech, but have never needed to pay as much attention to your reporting and writing (AP Style and spelling matter!), go back and sharpen those skills immediately.

The news industry is changing fast largely because of consumers’ shifting habits. And savvy news consumers don’t care that some journalists love lights and cameras, while others pride themselves in being ink-stained wretches or tech geeks. They want information — trustworthy, reliable information gathered with integrity by experienced journalists — and they want it on their terms. They want the news in the formats and times of their choice.

So, if you’re looking for an opportunity to try your hand at some of these new skills, this is the place. That’s what is all about these days. Contribute to the Web site in countless ways. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Blog. We’re looking for contributors to the blogs we’ve already launched and are willing to entertain proposals for new ones.
  • Write a story, and support it with the audio, video or digital photos you’ve captured.
  • Craft some sort of useful instruction or essay. Our veteran-journalist members will edit with hopes that your reporting and writing improve.
  • Be animated. Develop some sort of presentation in Flash, and we’ll consider displaying it to the world.
  • Build a valuable tool. Want to learn how to construct a database or to manipulate digital spreadsheets? Boy, do we have a project ideas for you …

Contact Quill Editor Joe Skeel at to see how you might pitch in and learn in the process.

One more thing to note: Your contributions to this Web site will help not only you — but also thousands of other journalists.

About SPJ’s new Speakers Bureau and Journalism Education Series

I am very excited about SPJ’s new Speakers Bureau and Journalism Education Series. We have received highly supportive feedback about this new initiative. My thanks to many SPJ members who have volunteered their time to deliver instruction. I invite all members interested in supporting this project to contact me.

Pasted below is information about the Speakers Bureau’s structure and the presentation of the Society’s first Journalism Education Series, which will be delivered at MarketWire offices across the country next year. It is the hope of SPJ leaders that the Series also will be presented to various trade and civic groups.

Given some questions posed by SPJ members, I must note that a column by Chicago media critic Michael Miner appearing in the Chicago Reader provides an interesting look at these projects. There are, however, a couple of points/inaccuracies in that column I consider it very important to clarify/correct:

1. The proposal SPJ’s national board approved 15-4 is vastly different than the proposal reviewed by directors and National Ethics Committee members during the Society’s most recent national conference in Chicago (Otherwise, I can assure you the Journalism Education Series deal with this wire company would not have been approved). MarketWire Vice President Paolina Milana did not explain those differences to Mr. Miner, but SPJ’s National Ethics Committee Chairman Gary Hill and I did spend time trying to walk Mr. Miner through the profound differences between the differing versions of these proposals. If you’d like to know more about the differences, contact me. I’m happy to explain them.

2. The column’s hardcopy edition states Milana is a “longtime friend” of mine. The implication is that my relationship with her prompted this deal. While I like Ms. Milana very much, I want to make very clear that I have met with her in person fewer than five times that I can recall and have never met or corresponded with her outside the context of SPJ or the Chicago Headline Club, SPJ’s largest local chapter. After speaking with Mr. Miner about this inaccuracy, he promptly had the term removed from the online edition of the column, stating in an e-mail to me, “I’m not sure where that idea came from.”



The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) will develop a series of programs to educate public relations practitioners on the Society’s core missions, such as: Journalism ethics, the free flow of public information, the importance of diversity in the media.

Market Wire, the United States’ third largest wire distributor of press releases, will pay for the development of this curriculum, which SPJ will own and control fully. Because Market Wire is paying for the development of this curriculum, the curriculum will not be made available to Market Wire’s competitors (meaning other PR wire service providers) during the term of this agreement, which is one year.

During the term of this agreement and afterward, SPJ is free to modify this curriculum as the Society sees fit for the purposes of educating other entitites and organizations.


The first program will be held in 2007 at a location mutually agreed upon by SPJ and Market Wire. Subsequent locatins will coincide with cities where Market Wire has a presence.

SPJ will select program instructors and develop the program’s curriculum.

General Program Overview

SPJ will devleop up to six 90-minute programs, including resource materials that will be provided to each participant. These programs will be managed by SPJ and will be led by experienced journalists — and other experts in areas of journalism, such as media ethics and media law — identified by SPJ.

This series of programs developed by SPJ will include the following elements:

  1. An explanation of SPJ’s ethics code
  2. Information about the importance of presenting a diversity of sources in the news
  3. Information about the mechanics of the Freedom of Information Act. How to file FOI requests. Information about which documents are open for public inspection. Information about public documents that do not fall under the protection of various laws, such as HIPPA and the Buckley Amendment.
  4. Hands-on, practical exercises that engage participants and draw them into larger discussion.
  5. Resources (i.e. handouts and downloadable digital files) that relate to specific topics.

Each program will include up to two SPJ-appointed leaders and one SPJ staff member onsite at the event.

Programs will be open to anyone of Market Wire’s choosing and will include a nominal, per-person registration fee. SPJ will collect all proceeds from registration fees.

SPJ staff members will handle the coordination, event planning and on-site execution of the events.

The SPJ Speakers Bureau Committee (“the committee”) will determine the following: program curriculum, trainer selection, resources to be distributed to program participants (to be devleoped and/or approved by program leaders)

The committee will correespond regularly to finalize program plans.


SPJ will allow Market Wire to state on promotional materials for these specific events that the programs have been devised, and will be presented, by members of the Society of Professional Journalists. The committee must approve all promotional materials concerning the programs before distribution.

SPJ may announce its services as a “Journalism Education Series” provider in any way it chooses.


The Society of Professional Journalists Board of Directors establishes with this proposal a Speakers Bureau.

The Speakers Bureau will serve as a vehicle to spread SPJ’s message about its core mission to working journalists, academia, student journalists as well as organizations and industries outside of the media.

With this proposal, the SPJ Board of Directors recognizes the value of spreading SPJ’s message about the importance of ethical journalism, diversity in the media and freedom of information and press freedoms to both journalists and non-journalists.

The Speakers Bureau will also serve as a fund-raising operation for SPJ, with revenue derived from charging speaking fees for SPJ sponsored media experts, charging fees to audiences and pursuing grants.

Sales of the Speakers Bureau and its services will become the responsibility of the national officers and SPJ headquarters staff.


Day-to-day operations of the Speakers Bureau – logistics, fees and pursuit of business – will fall to the headquarters staff.

National officers will become involved with pursuing grant opportunities for the Speakers Bureau.

The President shall establish a five member Speakers Bureau Committee to find speakers, vet speaking requests and establish curriculum.


In general, the Speakers Bureau will focus its efforts on speaking engagements that allow speakers to speak to the core missions of SPJ:

  • SPJ’s ethics code.
  • The importance of diversity.
  • Freedom of Information issues at the federal and state level.

Practical applications for journalists and members of the media may also be included in appropriate settings as deemed fit by the Speakers Bureau Committee.

Revenue & Expenses

Revenue from the Speakers Bureau will become part of SPJ’s overall revenue stream and included as part of the annual SPJ operating budget.

Compensation for speakers will come on a case-by-case basis, with SPJ leaders encouraged to work on a volunteer basis on behalf of the Speakers Bureau as part of their overall efforts to support SPJ.

National staff should make sure speaking engagements whether based on a long-term contract or on an individual basis break even and preferably show positive revenue for SPJ in most instances.

National staff will have the discretion to negotiate contracts, set speaking fees, speaker honoraria and audience fees. Long-term contracts with speakers and long-term contracts with organizations seeking speakers will require the approval of the Board of Directors. The Board will take into consideration the opinion of the Speakers Bureau Committee, but that opinion is non-binding to the Board.

The U.S. Senate wants to do what?!

The Associated Press has reported that Democrats and Republicans are planning secret “bipartisan caucuses” aimed at breaking Senate gridlock and speeding business.

These caucuses would expand the scope of reasons lawmakers could give to call “executive sessions” (a fancy of way of saying “secret meetings”).

Whose horrible idea is this? According to the AP, incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., deserves the credit. Reid’s plans have been endorsed by his “Republican opposite,” Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

The AP went on to report that rules governing these meetings haven’t been finalized — but that a Reid spokesman confirmed many of the meetings would be closed to the public.

The Senate does hold closed sessions periodically to discuss sensitive business — such as impeachment deliberations (which don’t come around every day), matters of national security and sensitive communications from the president. But such sessions are relatively uncommon.

Wish I could say I am stunned by this goofy proposal — but NOTHING surprises where government secrecy is concerned. However, I suppose what does surprise me is the degree to which some people refuse to learn from history. Surely, I’m not the only one who remembers Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful attempts to reform national healthcare. She wanted to conduct much of that initiative in secret — and look at where it got her.

If the U.S. Senate really wants to eradicate gridlock, there are plenty of other ways to start than by closing meetings. Why block the public from seeing the business conducted in its name? Why kick out the media? If anything, lawmakers need to become more transparent. They need to own up to their behind-the-scenes shenanigans, blatant partisanship and ties to special interests. They need to stop the grandstanding and parliamentary manuvers that stall debate — and progress. A bi-partisan effort to help people to see more of what goes on, not less, might help weed out some of the Senate’s chief contributors to “gridlock.”

Secret meetings — no matter how well-intentioned — only will fuel suspicion that these lawmakers consider themselves above public accountability — and that special interests, not the will of the people, dictate law and public policy.

We must reject this terrible idea. The American people deserve much better.


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