President Dave: Unethical, secretive and raiding the coffers?

In the past week Region 3 Director Michael Koretzky has posted two blog items that have accused SPJ and myself of being unethical, secretive, and “raiding SPJ coffers.” While I have admired Michael’s creativity and passion, and I certainly have no problem taking criticism, I feel I should set the record straight on his accusations because he impugns SPJ.

And he’s just plain wrong.

In Michael’s posts, he takes issue with how the SPJ Code of Ethics revision process has progressed, and is particularly opposed to an in-person meeting to be held in mid-July in Columbus by the group honing a third draft, based on feedback from members and non-members. I don’t have a problem disagreeing over process, and certainly we could always improve and have improved the process based on Michael’s feedback, but he plays loose with the facts, saying SPJ and senior leaders are unethical and secretive.

  1. Columbus Day: At issue is the plan to hold a meeting July 12 in Columbus, Ohio, for the 18-member group tasked with drafting an updated code of ethics, taking into account feedback from members and non-members. The final draft will be reviewed by the SPJ Board, voted on by the members, and eventually provided to the delegates at the EIJ14 convention in September for consideration. Of the 18 people working through the revisions, 12 have confirmed their attendance (Kevin Smith, Fred Brown, Hagit Limor, Irwin Gratz, Paul Fletcher, Mike Farrell, Lauren Bartlett, Elizabeth Donald, Carole Feldman, Chris Roberts, Andrew Seaman and Monica Guzman (and Joe Skeel)). They will stay at a campus hotel and four people will drive rather than fly. Based on these preliminaries, the estimate is about $9,000. They will start 9 a.m. Saturday at a free campus conference room and work through the day, probably done by 5-6 p.m. The meeting will be streamed live for anyone to watch. They will start at the top of the code and work their way through. Kevin anticipates a few areas of contention in Act Independently and Be Accountable, but he believes it’s doable in 8-9 hours. Executive Director Joe Skeel will post the revisions to the website on Monday for people to review and provide feedback.
  2. Out in the open: The meeting next month has not been a secret, and certainly not to Michael. He knew about this plan for months. The idea of an in-person meeting was outlined in an SDX Ethics Grant Request submitted March 25, which Michael had read. I’ve posted information online on this blog. At the April 26 SPJ Board meeting we talked about the process for 40 minutes (discussion begins at 2 hours, 39 minutes). Information is online at the ethics code revision website. To say that the process has been secretive is not true. As most people know, I’m not a fan of secrecy.
  3. Board support: The SPJ Board had the chance to question the process, and it did. Some very good points were raised and as a result we made changes and provided more details online. When the SDX Foundation Board decided to turn down the grant request on April 27, they told me that SPJ should pay for the expense of the in-person meeting since it’s an Ethics Committee function. Given the level of support I saw on the SPJ Board the day before, and that we did not have an SPJ Board meeting before July, I made the call to move ahead. I understand that Michael opposes the meeting, but I chose to act because of the importance of the code – an initiative I believe vital to our mission, our members, and journalism. I believe I did so with the support of the majority of the Board, and this week a majority of the Board confirmed their support for the process and in-person meeting next month.
  4. Fiscal responsibility: This expense is well within our means, and we wouldn’t move ahead if it wasn’t. The cost of the meeting next month is currently estimated at $9,000. That is still just 0.56 percent of SPJ’s $1.6 million budget, and even less when you consider the $400,000 SPJ has available in reserves. That is why the budget is flexible, and why we have a reserve fund – to cover things that come up unexpectedly, that we could not predict 18 months ago in January 2013 when the budget was first drafted.
  5. Essential expense: Michael thinks the meeting is a waste of time, and there are others in the minority who agree. I respect opposing opinions. When the code was last revised in 1994-96 the group held several in-person meetings, due to the technology at the time. Some say the code could be hashed out online via email or online conferencing. I disagree. Online conferencing would not allow for members to watch the meeting live streaming (most limit number of participants), and this year I have made it a priority to make sure our business is conducted openly. Also, when it comes to working through contentious issues, I believe face-to-face communication is best, particularly when non-verbal communication is involved. What’s the best interview method, email, phone or in-person? In-person. This code revision is important, and given it happens rarely, it is imperative we proceed as best we can.

I would be more than happy to answer questions or provide further clarification for any members (email: spjdave@yahoo.com). If anyone thinks I am unethical, secretive or raiding SPJ coffers, I would be happy to talk about it. While I respect Michael’s creativity and passion, I believe his latest behavior and accusations have done nothing to help the process or SPJ.

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  • Michael Koretzky

    Here are the facts, and I have the emails to back it up…

    • The board was never told in advance that the Code of Ethics would be revamped by a “working group” that included more folks than the Ethics Committee itself. The board never saw those names, much less have the chance to comment or approve them.

    • When blogger Steve Buttry (who was on something called a “digital subcommittee” the board didn’t know existed) complained publicly about the first draft of the new Code, I emailed Kevin Smith and copied senior SPJ officers: “How do you respond to Steve Buttry’s critique of both the proposed Code and the process?” Kevin replied tersely, “ I’m not going to share comments regarding Buttry’s blog except to say that he knows I’m in disagreement with many of his assertions.” I’m an SPJ board member inquiring about a major SPJ initiative, and I get a no comment.

    • I email the same folks and the entire board about mistakes on the release of the first draft (which no board member had a heads up about) and receive no reply for 15 days – until I threaten to publicly blog about those mistakes (which include spelling errors). I get one reply accusing me of “ransom.”

    • After I compared SPJ and ONA’s ethics revision process on my personal blog, I’m suddenly involved in a conference call with two members of the “working group” (Andrew Seaman and Lynn Walsh) tasked with creating more documentation online. They do an excellent job that requires several weeks.

    • I find out about the Ohio meeting not from the SPJ president but from an SDX board member who says a $6,000 request has been submitted for the next meeting. The board was never told about this.

    • I speak on the phone repeatedly the next couple days with the SPJ president and president-elect. Voices are raised. Eventually, the president agrees to present more details at our next board meeting.

    • At that board meeting, the president details the Ohio meeting and asks for a vote supporting the concept. I vote against, but it passes. Oh well, I think to myself, at least it’s not coming out of SPJ’s budget.

    • Weeks later, in a conversation with Joe Skeel about something unrelated, I learn that $11,000 has been set aside from the SPJ budget for this meeting. (I wanted to reallocate some existing board travel money, but Joe said he needed all of it for this meeting.)

    • I consult with a couple board members, just to see if they knew something I’d overlooked and blanked-out on. Nope. News to us.

    …and here we are.

    Given this history, I don’t believe I’m wrong to call this process “secretive” and that the Ohio meeting “unannounced.”

    Every move by the president and Ethic chair to create “openness” came only after I complained, often publicly. If you doubt that, hit me up and I’ll share my emails and blog posts. Compare the dates to those and when the “openness” suddenly happened.

    If you made it this far, and I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t, I’m going to run for SPJ president. Why? To create real, lasting “openness” If my evil plan works, I won’t get elected. Check out http://www.spjrefresh.com on Monday.


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