For more than a decade I served as lead mentor in Denver for a journalism exchange program run by the Alfred Friendly Press Fellowship.
It’s a great program that brings journalists from other countries to work side by side with their counterparts in U.S. newsrooms.
During that time I worked with journalists from Nigeria, Ecuador, Egypt, Bulgaria, Serbia, China, Cambodia, Russia and the Gaza Strip.
By and large, they were an amazing group of people, many of whom had to exercise a fair amount of courage just to do the type of daily reporting that we here in the U.S. often take for granted.
It was a great experience and one that I’m sure will color my view point as the SPJ board takes up an important policy discussion this weekend on the Society’s approach toward prospective members who live outside the U.S.
Should we actively recruit them? Should we encourage chapters to form in other countries? Should we hold them to the same requirements we ask of domestic members and chapters?
Shortly after becoming SPJ president in September, I asked our International Journalism Committee, through its chairman Ricardo Sandoval Palos, to study this issue and make some recommendations to the board.
The Committee produced a thoughtful document that became the basis for a good discussion that the Executive Committee had on this topic during our winter meeting in Charlotte.
Now that discussion moves to the full board. When we meet in Indianapolis this weekend, I’m planning to ask the board a series of questions on this topic. My hope is that we reach enough of a consensus to help craft a formal policy later this year.
It’s a complex issue. In some countries, concepts we take for granted in the U.S. such as objectivity or acting independently are not universally embraced. In some countries, journalists operate under government imposed restrictions that make those concepts unworkable.
And yet, we live in an increasingly global society where video shot in Syria one moment becomes news in the U.S. a short time later. There’s also a real hunger out there for the training, ethics and ideals that SPJ had stood for in this country.
So we’ll have our talk. In the meantime, it’s worth noting that SPJ already has about 130 members living in other countries.
More than half are part of a thriving student chapter that former Regional Director Richard Roth helped start in Qatar a few years ago under the aegis of Northwestern University.
But the other members come from nearly 30 other countries, including Uzbekistan, India, Mexico, Canada, Morocco, Spain, England, Sweden and Luxemborg.
I believe we need a coherent strategy when it comes to membership in the rest of the world. My hope is that we can take the first steps toward that goal when we meet in Indianapolis.