Shortly after the plane touched down on the field in Doha, Qatar I stepped out of the luxurious business class cabin into the desert night … and gasped for breath. The oppressive heat of this region, even at 7 p.m., was suffocating.
It was an omen because by the time I ended my four-day stay in this wealthy Arab county, I can say was it was a breath-taking experience, from beginning to end.
With all due respect to my beloved SPJ families in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Ft. Worth, Denver, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Washington, DC and St. Petersburg, this was the highlight trip of my presidency.
When I arrive in Las Vegas nine days from now for our convention, it will be my 33rd trip as SPJ president and it’s been an amazing journey in every aspect. I haven’t had a bad trip, not a single bad experience in my travels. (Okay, I’ve been to Washington, DC six times this past year trying to get a shield law passed and that’s been less than stellar.)
This trip to Qatar, if you haven’t heard, was to welcome into SPJ more than 50 bright-eyed and eager Middle Eastern J students and celebrate our first official international chapter.
Former SPJ Region 5 Director Richard Roth is the associate dean at the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism – Qatar and it was he who wanted to enroll his journalism students in SPJ. I gladly accepted his offer and told him to start the work on his end and I’d pave the way stateside by placing it on the agenda for the exec and full board meetings in 2010. This has been about 10 months in the making.
The board vote unanimously to allow NU-Qatar to come into the fold. To show his appreciation and to have a proper ceremony, Richard and Medill officials invited incoming president Hagit Limor, a Medill graduate, and I to be their official guests. No way, I could turn down that offer.
The induction was orchestrated and came off without a hitch. Dinner beforehand was top quality as you might expect. Everyone was happy to be there and quiz the two top executive officers with some very important questions.
There are plenty more stories to be told over drinks at the hotel bar in Vegas and I’ll toss them out like peanuts and pretzels from the bowl, but what SPJ members need to know is that despite living halfway around the world and embracing different cultures and social norms, we have 55 more ambitious, dedicated and excited journalism students in our ranks who want to carry on the values and missions of our Society.
Richard and his staff at Medill are teaching journalism the right way. It’s tough, it’s gritty and it’s effective truth-seeking and fairness-driven journalism, the kind we created right here in the good, old U.S.A.
When I talk to these students I envy what they have waiting for them. They know what they want in a career, but they have yet to realize what it takes to make a good student into a good professional journalist. They’ll learn over time and we hope the values and principles that are established by SPJ will stay with them and serve as a guiding force for them.
Thanks to Richard, Medill, the faculty and Trish Roth for their fantastic hospitality and for making this not only an extraordinary memory for me, but for exposing these students to the best of journalism. SPJ is happy to be a part of it.