SPJ needs to improve diversity

Update–Sept. 11, 2014, 8:28 a.m. PT–Since posting this yesterday, I have received an amazing amount of support. Folks are having confabs, but more importantly, they are discussing this openly. People are sharing their stories and volunteering to help improve diversity in SPJ and journalism. I even had one journalist join as a direct result of SPJ having this conversation now. We have much work to do, but it is encouraging to see there are many hands to do it. If you want to join the effort, contact me directly or reach out to April Bethea, our diversity committee chair. You have my heartfelt thanks.

This morning SPJ regional director Michael Koretzky wrote a post about SPJ’s awards programs and diversity. The board has directed the executive committee to make recommendations regarding changes to the awards nomination and selection process, so I won’t address that here, but it prompted some good discussion about SPJ’s lack of diversity. SPJ needs to improve diversity throughout the organization.

This was something I mentioned in my speech at the president’s installation banquet on Saturday. We have a diverse membership across the country, serving as chapter leaders and serving on committees at the national level, but that’s not enough. We need diversity in all areas, including the SPJ board, committee chair positions and future leadership roles.

To look at me, you might not think I’m diverse and maybe I’m not, but I do care about diversity.  I am a 47-year-old, white female. I was born in Gary, Indiana and grew up in a community that’s a close cousin to Chicago. I live in Kent, Washington now, a community that is 53% nonwhite. There are dozens if not hundreds of cultures in Kent, and there are 118 languages spoken in Kent schools. I have family and friends who are gay and transgendered. I prefer to look past color, race, age, gender, sexual orientation and religious affiliation to look at an individual’s values instead.

Admittedly, SPJ has a long way to go, but the organization recognizes it needs to improve diversity across the board. Here are a few ways SPJ is addressing diversity:

– SPJ has an active Diversity Committee, Diversity Resources on SPJ.org including a resource guide, tool kit and blog, and a Diversity Fellows program to recruit future leaders to SPJ.

– Last Friday, SPJ helped organize a Leadership Summit at EIJ, which included 17 journalism organizations including ACES, ONA, UNITY, NABJ, NAHJ and others. The group discussed individual challenges as well as how they could work together.

– We plan to invite members of diverse journalism organizations to join our committees and serve as advisors to help us address diversity issues journalists face.

– I will direct the nominating chair or committee, not yet named, to actively recruit candidates from all backgrounds.

Is this enough? No, not even close. Is it a start? Absolutely.

It will take time and a village to make this happen though. We need your help! If you have an interest in diversity issues or have suggestions or ideas, please reach out to me or contact April Bethea, our diversity committee chair.

2014 SPJ Diversity Fellows

2014 SPJ Diversity Fellows

















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Cowboy Boots, Convos and the Code of Ethics

SPJ votes

SPJ delegates vote during the closing business session at EIJ14. Photo by Jeff Cutler.

I’m just returning home from a whirlwind trip to Nashville for the 2014 Excellence in Journalism conference, held in partnership with RTDNA. With more than 900 attendees in town to participate, there was a lot of fun to be had – but much serious business to be conducted as well.

From the CNN-sponsored kickoff at Wildhorse Saloon where we showed off our cowboy boots through the Sunday morning board meetings of SPJ and RTDNA, EIJ14 was action packed. In addition to programs, business meetings, super sessions and socials, SPJ highlights include:

–        The passage of a revised Code of Ethics, the first update since 1996, was one of the weekend’s biggest accomplishments. Passionately and sometimes heatedly discussed during an ethics town hall session and the closing business session, Ethics Committee members, interested SPJ members and chapter delegates worked together to hammer out details, making additional revisions, line edits and suggestions to ultimately come up with a document satisfactory to the majority of delegates. The new Code is a collaborative effort of those volunteers and the hundreds of folks who commented on the Code over the course of the last year.

The Code will never satisfy everyone, nor will it address every ethical issue we might be faced with. Rather it is a collective body of work that SPJ can be proud of. To keep the Code relevant and to provide guidance to those using or teaching the Code, the Ethics Committee will work on providing notes, position papers, links and other supplemental materials available online. Under the leadership of new committee chairman Andrew Seaman, the committee is already working on collecting and preparing those materials. This aggregation will be an ongoing process, and the committee will seek suggestions and input from SPJ’s 7,500+ members and anyone else who’d like to offer feedback. Click here to share your input with the committee.

–        Approval of an endowed “Forever Fund” to support SPJ’s advocacy efforts. Nicknamed by immediate past president Dave Cuillier the ‘Legal Offense Fund,’ this fund will initially be funded via the Legal Defense Fund. As our new FOI chair, Cuillier will lead the charge for SPJ advocacy and fundraising and creating an endowed fund. For more information on how this fund will work and how the money will be used, contact Dave Cuillier.

–        Hosting of a leadership summit with a dozen or so journalism groups including ACES, UNITY, NAHJ, NABJ, ONA, to name a few. Leaders of these organizations met at EIJ to discuss common challenges and synergies and how they can best utilize the strengths of individual member organizations as well as the group collectively. It was an inspiring meeting with a lot of positive discussion and suggestions for moving forward to better support journalists and journalism.

–        The proposal to change the name Society of Professional Journalists to Society for Professional Journalism was ultimately rejected by the delegates. Though the name change didn’t pass, it stimulated a good conversation about the future of SPJ and how we can remain relevant. A Futures Task Force was formed earlier this year by past president John Ensslin, and the task force submitted recommendations to the Executive Committee in June and to the full board last week. Some of the suggestions are already being implemented, and others are being fleshed out for viability, planning and implementation. Stay tuned for more on that!

–        Programs, super sessions and awards, oh my! You can’t talk about EIJ without talking about the great programming, including sessions featuring Michele Norris, SPJ’s newest fellow, Kara Swisher, lessons from Ferguson, narrative storytelling, freelance foul-ups, pushing for parity and more. In addition, EIJ14 held a number of awards ceremonies and honored individual journalists, media organizations, chapters and SPJ leaders. For highlights, visit the EIJ News site.

In the weeks and months ahead, I’ll write more about these topics. In the meantime, visit SPJ.org to stay up-to-day on Society news, watch your inbox for the weekly edition of Leads, and follow SPJ on social media (see SPJ.org’s home page for links). You can also contact me anytime with questions, concerns and ideas. My inbox is always open. Let me know how I can help.

~ Dana Neuts, SPJ President, 2014-2015


(Thanks to Jeff Cutler for letting me use this photo taken during the closing business session on Sept. 6, 2014.)


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SPJ Board endorses ethics code draft revision

Next week SPJ delegates will discuss whether to revise the Code of Ethics at EIJ14 in Nashville, and the Board endorses approval of a draft revision developed over the past year.

During a recorded Skype meeting Aug. 20, the Board discussed the draft code for an hour and a half  (see Skype meeting online, along with text discussion).

The Board voted to remove the line “Be cautious about reporting suicides that do not involve a public person or a public place.” Members also debated including an additional line encouraging caution in dealing with anonymous online comments, but it was not approved by the full board. There was quite a bit of conversation about a variety of topics, which can be viewed online.

The final tally of the Board vote was 11 in favor of the revised code (Brett Hall, Neuts, Hernandez, Gallagher-Newberry, Albarado, Hallenberg, Fox, Matt Hall, Tallent, Kopen Katcef, Fletcher), 4 against (Cook, Koretzky, Schotz, Corry), and 1 abstention (Sheets). Also, see analysis by Region 2 Director Andy Schotz, who proposed several amendments.

The Board’s recommendation is only advisory. Members also will get to vote online on whether they think delegates should approve the revision. Ultimately, it will be up to delegates in the closing business session 3-5 p.m. Sept. 6. They can approve the proposed draft (which delegates can change next week), turn it down, or continue discussions for the next year.

In addition to the ethics code discussion last week, the Board also approved, unanimously, the creation of a Digital Community. Stay tuned for more information about that from incoming President Dana Neuts!

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Board appoints two for interim positions

On Monday, the SPJ Board conducted a phone conference call meeting to appoint two people to national positions in the interim until national elections in September.

A student rep position will be filled by Brett Hall from the University of Maryland and the Region 11 Director position will be filled in the interim by Matt Hall of the San Diego pro chapter. The field was extremely competitive, which goes to show we have amazing people in SPJ willing and capable of taking leadership roles.

While the two will serve only five weeks, we felt it was important to get people in the spots because of two upcoming board meetings, one in August by phone and the first board meeting at EIJ14 in September. The positions will be filled permanently through the online election process at EIJ14, so members will elect a student rep and Region 11 members will choose their permanent director. Anyone can still run for both positions, if they wish (ask Tara Puckey for more details, at tpuckey@hq.spj.org).

In the board meeting Monday, a variety of issues were discussed, but the main focus was considering the individual nominees’ strengths. Ultimately, we were ecstatic by the strong slate of candidates and will be encouraging all of them to get involved in SPJ through other ways, including national committees. If you are interested in joining a cause, such as the Ethics Committee, Diversity Committee, or FOI Committee, among others, contact president-elect Dana Neuts at spj@virtuallyyourz.com.

Before the next virtual board meeting planned for August to discuss the ethics code revision, creating a digital journalism community, and a future plan for advocacy, we are hoping to find a platform that will enable the public to listen in. We have worked to improve transparency this year, including live streaming of in-person meetings, but we can do more.

In the spirit of transparency, we would normally post roll call votes in the minutes and leave it at that, but here were the votes from Monday’s phone meeting:

Roll call vote for Brett Hall (6 yes, 3 no, 3 abstain):
Fletcher: Yes
Neuts: Yes
Kopen Katcef: Yes
Albarado: Abstain
Corry: Yes
Fox: No
Tallent: No
Schotz: Yes
Koretzky: Abstain
Stevens: Yes
Sheets: Abstain
Hernandez: No

Roll call vote for Matt Hall (7 yes, 4 abstain, 1 no)
Fletcher: Yes
Neuts: Yes
Kopen Katcef: Abstain
Albarado: Abstain
Corry: Yes
Fox: Yes
Tallent: Yes
Schotz: Yes
Koretzky: No
Stevens: Abstain
Sheets: Yes
Hernandez: Abstain

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Third draft out on ethics code revision

Kudos to the Code of Ethics revision group that met in Columbus this weekend to hammer out the final draft of the code. Feel free to check out the meeting, which was streamed live.

In the next few days the code revision website will also include a Q&A on the revision by Kevin Smith, who is leading the process, as well as a strike-through version to see the specific changes. Members can review it, continue to provide feedback, and vote on it in the online election in September. Also, the SPJ Board will chime in with its thoughts and recommendations and ultimately delegates will discuss it at EIJ14 in Nashville Sept. 4-6.

Thanks to the group that has been working all year to provide delegates a revised code to consider. Also, thanks to the hundreds of members and non-members who have provided suggestions and feedback (see feedback form), which were all considered by the group. The latest version truly reflects today’s media much better than the existing code.

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John Seigenthaler: Friend to SPJ, journalism, civil rights

Today a great journalist and SPJ friend died.

1404931281000-seigenthaler-2John Seigenthaler, a longtime, editor of the Tennessean, died at age 86. You can read his obit, along with links to amazing examples of his legacy. He was the kind of person who has a name bridge after him, except unlike a lot of people who have structures named after them, he actually effected social change as an advocate for civil rights. He knew presidents. He knew a lot of people. He was an advocate for rural journalism. He made a difference.

SPJ has honored him in many ways, including a First Amendment Award and a Fellow of the Society. When we convene in Nashville for EIJ14 in September, let’s all raise a toast to him and other journalists who made the world a better place.


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A voice in the wilderness finally heard

Wow. I am floored by the solidarity of journalism groups in pushing back against excessive information control by the federal government.

Since Tuesday when we sent a letter to Obama urging him to stop the secrecy, along with 37 other groups signing on, we’ve received even more support from other groups and a flood of interview requests and mentions from media around the world, including interviews with Fox News, USA Today, HuffPostLive (six minutes in).

Never before have I seen as many journalism groups come together on an issue, particularly one that has been relatively marginalized for years. I credit the tenacity of SPJ member Kathryn Foxhall, who has led the charge on this issue for several years. This D.C.-based freelancer has pushed, pulled and yelled, often shunted aside. Journalists have said it’s inside baseball and that reporters just need to buck up and do their jobs.

Kathryn did not give up. She worked with the National Press Club, Society of Environmental Journalists and other groups to drum up attention. She put on a press conference earlier this year in D.C. She helped former SPJ president and current Kennesaw professor Carolyn Carlson and the SPJ FOI Committee with survey research about the issue. She kept pushing for this letter.

It is finally paying off. Journalists now see that they don’t have to stand by and remain silent to these tactics. Such as today as the feds give a tour in Oklahoma for journalists of the facility holding children who tried to cross the border from Latin America. The Media tour restrictions prohibit recording devices, prohibit reporters from talking to anyone, and even prohibit reporters from asking questions.

We do not have to go along. We can push back. At all levels of government. Write about these controls. Do not accept the restrictions. Get Congress to pass a shield law and give the Office of Government Information Services the authority to punish agencies that are secretive and break the law.

Thank you, Kathryn. Let’s not just hold the line. It’s time to regain lost ground.

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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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June 21 Executive Committee meeting recap

Here are some of the highlights of items discussed June 21 by the Executive Committee at its meeting in Washington, D.C. (see video of the meeting, which was streamed live, here):

  • The committee discussed the future of SPJ, including how to improve support for chapters, or even individual members who would like to create programs in their areas without jumping through the hoops that chapters are required to follow. The full board will discuss this more in-depth at EIJ14 in September.
  • SPJ continues to fight for a federal shield law. On June 20 SPJ attorney Laurie Babinski and I met with Sen. Mark Udall’s (D-Colo.) staff to build support, and secretary-treasurer Paul Fletcher met with the staff of Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). One thing I love about SPJ is it’s one of the few journalism organizations that is a 501c6 and legally entitled to lobby. We have the ability and responsibility to fight on behalf of journalists! I give the odds of the shield law passing about 50-50 at this point – which are pretty good odds. For more information, see the SPJ shield law website.
  • Former SPJ President John Ensslin presented the recommendations from the Futures Task Force (provided in the meeting packet). Ideas included extending post-graduate membership rates by a year, redesigning SPJ Leads, and offering more online training. The full board will review the recommendations at EIJ14, including whether to drop the SPJ Job Bank or put more resources into it.
  • I provided an update on the Code of Ethics revision process, which is outlined online. The group working on the revision is currently finishing its second draft, following feedback from members and non-members. That should be posted online in early July. Then the group will meet in Columbus in mid-July to hash out final edits and contentious sticking points, producing a third draft. Then the SPJ board, members and anyone else can review the draft and discuss. The SPJ Board will vote on it in August via conference call to give their thumbs up or down. Then the delegates can approve the approve the version as is, change it, or reject it at their meeting in September at EIJ14. Or, they could table it and direct further work on the revision.
  • The Freelance Community is nearly ready to launch, and should be live within a week or two. SPJ members will be able to sign up, hold offices, share tips, and network with each other. Thanks to Michael Fitzgerald and others for their work on this. Check out the beta website. More communities are likely to spring up in the next year.
  • Sonny Albarado, immediate past president, announced that there is a strong slate of nominees for SPJ office. Check out the current list of candidates. Remember, every member can vote online in September – you don’t have to attend EIJ14 to vote!
  • Executive Director Joe Skeel reported that he received about 50 applications for the new communications strategist position, many with an incredible amount of experience in journalism, PR and social media. We should have someone on board by the end of the summer. See job post.
  • Kathryn Foxhall, who has led the charge on pushing back against excessive Public Information Officer controls, spoke for a few minutes about the problems journalists are encountering, and encouraged SPJ to push harder. I totally agree! Check out some studies SPJ conducted on the topic, in 2012 and 2014.
  • Advocacy fund: I am working up more details on a proposed endowed advocacy fund that could create a war chest for promoting and defending journalism forever. Stay tuned!

Thanks to everyone – staff, officers, committee volunteers, members and others – for supporting the cause and making journalism better!

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Georgia AG needs civics lesson

Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens needs to go back to school, and I don’t mean law school. He needs a high school Civics 101 lesson. We can help teach him.

Olens last week asked a judge to force a college student to remove public records from his blog. University of Georgia student David Schick acquired public records legally that included names of candidates for university president. He posted the records online on his blog. Nothing wrong with that. I love the blog post about this by Region 3 Director Michael Koretzky.

But Olens says the names should not have been released, so the student must take them down. Sorry, Mr. AG, but you can’t do that. There’s something called case law (e.g., Pentagon Papers), and we in America don’t care much for prior restraint (or post restraint, for that matter).

Also, the idea that candidates for university president should be secret is silly, and unfortunately more states are incorporating this exemption into their public record laws. A shame when it involves something so important. We need to push back against efforts to make that process hidden from public view.

In any case, there is nothing legally wrong with a journalist, or any citizen, posting government records online that were legally obtained. What irritates me the most is how officials intimidate college students. How petty and small.

Here are the public records: makeolensmad. I encourage all 8,000 members of SPJ, as well as every other U.S. citizen, to post these records online, as well, and then email Olens about it.

If you have a problem with that, Mr. Olens, try to get a judge to force me to remove them. Good luck with that.

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SPJ prez convention wrap- up September 10, 2014, 10:35 pm


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SPJ News

Andy Schotz named SPJ Regional Director of the Year September 6, 2014, 11:00 pm
SPJ updates Code of Ethics September 5, 2014, 11:00 pm
Kevin Smith receives Wells Memorial Key, highest SPJ honor September 5, 2014, 11:00 pm

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