Yee-haw! Lots of news from Nashville

This past weekend the SPJ Executive Committee met in Nashville, the site of the fall national convention, to work through a variety of issues that could affect SPJ long-term. Feel free to check out the meeting, which was streamed live, at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=682_9a99f2Y, as well as supporting documents, including my president’s report, at http://www.spj.org/bm.asp. Here’s a recap:

  • Ethics Code. The update to the Code of Ethics is on schedule. We hope to have a proposal for members to discuss at their regional conferences in the spring, then for delegates to consider at the national convention in Nashville in September. Thanks to Kevin Smith and the Ethics Committee for their continued work on this.
  • Name Change. The Name Change Task Force provided its report and recommended no change. The executive committee is forwarding that information to the full board to discuss at its April meeting, as directed by the delegates. In the meantime, the task force has taken up a new mission – to examine how to better serve members under 30. Specific recommendations will be provided to the Executive Committee by its summer meeting in June.
  • Shield Law. I let the committee know that we are poised and ready to help promote the federal shield law this spring if it goes to a vote in the U.S. Senate. Stay tuned!
  • Freelance Community. The Freelance Committee is close to morphing into a new community within the next few months. Once its web materials are ready to go we’ll promote the awesome opportunities for networking by our freelance members.
  • Auto Dues. Director Joe Skeel said the auto payment system for annual dues should be easily available online by this spring. We need to upgrade the server to make that happen. In the meantime, members can call SPJ headquarters to sign up if they wish. I am paying my dues, as well as tax-deductible contributions to SDX, monthly out of my credit card and it’s great!
  • Website. Look for improvements to the Website during the next few months. Some changes will make it easier for members, and prospective members, to find information. Ultimately, a significant redesign should help. Thanks to president-elect Dana Neuts for taking the lead on this, with SPJ online guru Billy O’Keefe.
  • Grants. One SDX grant proposal came to the committee, regarding Zombie Stories, from Region 3 Director Michael Koretzky. The committee unanimously recommended the SDX Foundation approve the $3,000 request to spread this reporting education via zombies throughout the nation.
  • Stipends. The committee unanimously approved a recommendation to the full board to adjust travel stipends for officers and regional directors. The committee felt that stipends should help defray costs for required travel, and that the board should come up with a process so board members who exceed their stipends can apply for relief if there is unused stipend funds available at the end of the year.
  • Membership. We are working hard to improve membership. For example, the executive committee thought it might make sense for regional directors to focus more on serving individual members in their regions than on chapters, since SPJ has a full-time staff member dedicated to developing chapters. Given half of SPJ members aren’t affiliated with chapters, this could help membership without detracting from chapter services. We are committed to helping chapters succeed. Also, SPJ hired a college student to call people whose memberships lapsed. Early indication appears that the student could conservatively retain 100-200 members a year, which has the potential to stabilize membership numbers. Of course, we continue to work on quality training and other services so people feel their membership is valuable.
  • Openness. I asked the executive director to find out what our lawyers suggest for recording executive committee and board meetings. SPJ policy dating back to the 1990s says meetings shall not be recorded, but I disagree with that. Currently we stream them online and leave them posted on YouTube for some time, but eventually remove them. I feel we should stream them live and archive them forever so members can see them anytime. I think that is important for governance and historical records preservation. What do we have to hide?
  • Executive session. Speaking of hiding, there are appropriate times to have executive session meetings in secret, as we allow in open meeting laws (SPJ isn’t subject to open meeting laws but we try to follow the spirit of them, since we are always hounding public officials to operate openly). We went into executive session to discuss personnel (talk about nominees for officer positions) and to discuss strategic planning for the future of the organization. I will provide a summary in the next month or two for the full board so we can move the discussions forward. Here’s a preview:
    • Advocacy/communications. I believe SPJ should take a stronger role in advocating for journalism, including lobbying in Congress and legislatures. We are very strong financially, with a healthy rainy-day fund, and we might be able to hire a full-time communications director to improve communications to members, prospective members, the public, and policy makers. This is exciting. I’m hopeful we will be able to hire someone this spring. I also would like to create an endowed fund to ensure fighting for journalists’ rights forever. Read my next Quill column next month about this!
    • Organizational management. SPJ has fostered amazing partnerships with other journalism groups, including IRE, NAHJ and RTDNA. We have an incredible staff that can handle membership paperwork, conference planning, and other technical work that financially hobbles smaller organizations. Our ability to take on those kinds of jobs, at a reasonable rate, has helped other organizations thrive while bringing in tens of thousands of dollars to help our own members. We will be talking about how we can continue building each other up because when we do we help all journalists. This is a philosophical shift – rather than feeling like we have to compete against each other for members, let’s talk about how we can all work together to foster journalism and grow. We’ve seen some great win-win collaborations that have helped other organizations and SPJ at the same time. More to come!
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