SPJ board reduction proposal rejected

The board of directors of the Society of Professional Journalists held an electronic meeting yesterday, May 23, to consider a proposal to reduce the size of the 23-member board by four members.

The proposal from Region 3 Regional Director Michael Koretzky would have reduced the existing 12 regions to nine; one of the campus adviser seats would have been eliminated.

The plan was announced two weeks ago and feedback was requested from the membership.

Thank you for the many thoughtful responses and the level of input provided to your RDs.

The rationale behind the reduction was to make the board more nimble in its decision-making and to conserve funds for RDs.

The feedback was mixed. Those who opposed the measure disliked the fact that travel could be farther for regional conferences; a number of members took issue with the state lines that had been drawn.

The board discussed the measure for 45 minutes on Monday. A vote was taken on the region-reduction proposal, with an amendment that would have restored Kentucky to the Midwest, kept Kansas and Missouri together and kept Utah and Colorado together.

The vote 3 in favor, 13 against, with one abstention.

While several board members advocated keeping the status quo, many expressed a desire to consider potential changes to the board’s organization.

In consultation with President-Elect Lynn Walsh, I have appointed a task force, to be chaired by Region 4 RD Patti Newberry, to explore improvements to board governance.

Anyone who is interested in the issue and potentially serving on this group, please contact me or Lynn. We will be putting together the group and determining its charge in the next few weeks.


SPJ considers reduction in size of board

The SPJ Board of Directors would have four fewer members, under a proposal pending before the board.

Three regional director seats would be eliminated, and one of the two campus chapter adviser seats would go away. A newly configured board would have 19 members instead of 23.

Under the proposal from Region 3 director Michael Koretzky, the new lineup would be:
• Region 1: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont
• Region 2: Delaware, District of Columbia, Kentucky, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia
• Region 3: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands
• Region 4: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio
• Region 5 (formerly 12): Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee
• Region 6: Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin
• Region 7 (formerly 8): Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas
• Region 8 (formerly 10): Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming
• Region 9 (formerly 11): Arizona, California, Guam, Hawaii, Nevada, Mariana Islands, Utah

Every one of the regions would get at least one additional state, except Region 1, which would get the western half of Pennsylvania (currently part of Region 4).

The changes are needed, according to Koretzky, for these reasons:
• If approved, this paring of SPJ’s board will make it more nimble without sacrificing representation. By comparison, other national journalism groups have smaller governing boards. For example, IRE and ONA have 13-member boards that function quite well.

• Current technology will allow regional directors to keep in touch with larger geographic areas. The current configuration and board size predate the use of virtual meetings, email and cell phones.

• The proposed elimination of one campus position is in response to perceived over-representation of academia on the board. Usually there are several RDs who are journalism professors.

The board met by telephone Zoom conference on Monday, May 9, to begin discussing and vetting the proposal. Changing the number of regions can be accomplished in a simple board vote. Elimination of a campus chapter adviser position would require a vote by convention delegates at EIJ16; a board vote would provide a recommendation to the delegates.

In the interest of transparency, the board is publicizing the proposal to permit feedback and member input.

Please contact your regional director or any SPJ officer to provide feedback; you can find email addresses for the board at spj.org/spjboard.asp.

The board will meet again by Zoom conference the week of May 23 to discuss and vote on the proposal.


Putting the press above it all

RICHMOND, VA–When and where did a pair of binoculars become standard equipment for a political journalist?

Last week, at the Virginia Capitol.

The Virginia General Assembly, the world’s oldest deliberative body, convened for its 2016 session on Jan. 13, and reporters who cover the statehouse got a surprise.

Jeff Schapiro of the Richmond Times-Dispatch covers the Virginia Senate (Photo by Peter Vieth)

Jeff Schapiro of the Richmond Times-Dispatch covers the Virginia Senate (Photo by Peter Vieth)

Without notice and without explanation, the Republican majority (a 21-19 advantage) adopted a new rule: Reporters would no longer work from tables on the Senate floor; they were banished to the gallery above the chamber.

The practice of allowing reporters on the floor of the Senate dates back for decades. The journalists can follow the action and they have ready access to senators for interviews. Toward the end of a session, when a glut of legislation faces a deadline, floor placement allows quick access to substitute versions of bills and amendments.

Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City County, put an end to that.

Norment has enjoyed prickly relations with reporters over the years. Exactly why he did this is not hard to figure: It’s a poke in the eye at the press that has reported on his cozy relations with business, apparent favors granted and his sometimes messy personal life.

Because of this strike at the press, he has guaranteed that any story reporting the new rule will need to explain the strained relationship and dredge up all that history.

Norment isn’t alone in trying this press-unfriendly tactic. Republicans who control the Missouri Senate have done the same thing, according to an article in Columbia Journalism Review. In the Show-Me State, reporters will move March 29 from a table on the Senate floor to the gallery above. Last year, they were booted from first floor offices to the fifth floor, where there is no elevator access.

Jeff Schapiro, who covers politics for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, brought a little theater to the new arrangement in Richmond. The day after the new rule was adopted he was in the cramped new press space with a pair of binoculars to cover the action 20 feet below.

My office is a couple of blocks from the Virginia Capitol, a grand building designed by Thomas Jefferson. One wonders what Mr. Jefferson would think of the new restrictions on press access.

I went to the Senate last Thursday to check out the new arrangement for the statehouse press first-hand. A few quick observations:

• To get to the balcony, one has to ride one of two elevators three flights or climb as many flights of steep stairs.
• Reporters are confined to the far corners of the balcony, with five seats each on either side.
• You can’t see half of the Senate when you’re there. On each side, there is one electrical plug with two outlets. For long sessions, reporters better have a spare battery, maybe two or three, for their laptops and cellphones.
• The television people, with their cameras, will take up more space than just a single person.
• When things really get rolling, 10 seats may not be enough. Any additional space will eat into the seating allotted for the public.
• To get copies of floor amendments or substitute measures, so one is going to need to run up and down the aforementioned stairs, unless the elevators get to be lightning-fast.
• To buttonhole senators after a session breaks up, one is also going to need to run down those same steps before they slip away.

Will Norment’s rule make it impossible to cover the Senate? No, but it will make it more difficult.

And it’s the attitude behind this stunt that is troublesome. This doesn’t just hurt the press and the journalists who cover the Senate. Reporters are the public’s eyes and ears when the Assembly is in session. Virginia has a part-time legislature, so that isn’t for a long period of time.

Twenty other senators went along with this. Schapiro reported in his Jan. 17 column in the T-D that no other Republican senator is publicly defending the new rule…they want to change the subject.

Democrats in the Senate oppose the rule, and it’s especially distressing to think that press access and press freedom has become a partisan issue.

I talked with Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath County, as we left the General Assembly Thursday.

He shook his head in disbelief when I asked about the new situation. “It isn’t healthy,” he said. “We have nothing to fear but ourselves.”

With his binoculars, Schapiro got the attention of the Senate leadership. Word was senators’ laptops may be outfitted with privacy screens to prevent any view from above.

Norment didn’t like the binoculars. “Why do you keep doing that crap?” he asked Schapiro.

That’s a question we’d all like to ask the Senate Majority Leader.

 


Progress on fixing FOIA

Three cheers for the U.S. House of Representatives, which has approved the FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act of 2015 (H.R. 653), which will improve the federal Freedom of Information Act.

This legislation helps journalists and other citizens better access their government, and today’s vote proves that Congress can work together to make government more transparent and accountable.

After the experience with the FOIA Improvement Act of 2014, which passed the House overwhelmingly, squeaked through the Senate, then foundered back in the House, the passage of H.R. 653 is significant.

Congress doesn’t approve FOIA fixes very often, so getting this legislation through the Senate and signed into law would be a big win for transparency and helping the American people obtain the information they are entitled to see.

A big hat tip to the Sunshine in Government Initiative, a media coalition of which SPJ is a member. SGI has worked to increase government transparency for more than 10 years. This year’s target is to pass legislation to “Fix FOIA by 50.” July 4, 2016, will mark the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s signing FOIA into law. SGI’s campaign has been using the hashtag #FixFOIAby50.

H.R. 653 is something you don’t see on Capitol Hill too often any more – bipartisan legislation. Two Republicans — Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, joined with Democratic Reps. Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Mike Quigley of Illinois to make the bill happen. A salute to all of them. Well done.

H.R. 653 has any number of improvements to the FOIA. Some big ones to note include:

* Codification of the existing “presumption of openness” policy. This has been established by executive order by different presidents. Now it would be in the law.

* A common portal. The Office of Management and Budget is charged with developing a government-wide portal system for submitting and tracking requests.

* Email requests. Agencies would be required to accept requests by email instead of time-consuming snail mail.

* Frequent requests. Agencies would be required to post online any document for which there has been at least three requests.

The House did its part. Here’s hoping the Senate will soon follow the House’s lead so we can celebrate a stronger, improved FOIA.


A membership strategy plan in the works

The Society of Professional Journalists will begin working on a membership strategy plan at the SPJ Executive Committee meeting next month in Arizona.

But you can play a part and help us now – look for a short survey in your email in the next day or so from SPJ, asking your thoughts and opinions about your membership. (Update: The survey was emailed to members on 12/18/15. Here is the link).

The survey comes from Tim Daniel, a facilitator we will be using in the strategy development process. The SPJ board approved retaining Tim and holding a session with SPJ leaders and members in Scottsdale in January.

Tim most recently worked with RTDNA on their strategic planning; NAB is a past client of his, as are a number of media-related businesses and groups.

The strategy session will involve the members of the Executive Committee (me, Lynn Walsh, Rebecca Baker, Dana Neuts, Sue Kopen-Katcef, Joe Radske and Bill McCloskey), along with Robyn Sekula, chair of the Membership Committee, and April Bethea, chair of the Diversity Committee. We also invited two people from next door in California, Monica Dattage, who is one of this year’s student reps on the board, and Sam Stewart, an SPJ Diversity Fellow.

Two other leaders who live in Arizona will be there – Robert Leger, president of the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation board, and SPJ Past-President Dave Cuillier. Several members of the SPJ professional staff from HQ also will attend (Joe Skeel, Chris Vachon, Jennifer Royer, Tara Puckey and Linda Hall).

This society has not looked at the question of membership systematically and strategically in at least 10 years, so this process is long overdue. We hope to develop a comprehensive approach to share with the full board at its meeting in April as we work toward an action plan. We’ll be reporting the results of the strategy session after its conclusion.

In the meantime, efforts have been under way to bring back former SPJ members. I asked Robyn and her committee to take a look at membership marketing as I took office. She and Tara have been busy – they developed a series of four different email messages/letters, segmented by demographics. Last week, they reached out to more than 8,000 past members, asking them to renew their ties to SPJ. Robyn reports that the initial response has been good – we’ll report more as we get more results.

So, again, please take the time to fill out the short survey and help us do all we can to work on this vital issue! Thank you.


Only response to free-speech bullies: some muscle

In the cold, clear light of a second-day story, the words are still chilling:

“Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here!”

As most journalists in America now know, the woman who made that statement was Melissa Click, a communications professor at the University of Missouri, caught on a video that went viral.

The video, photographed by student Mark Schierbecker, documented, among other things, efforts by student photojournalist Tim Tai to cover student protesters at Mizzou; the video was shot after news that university system president Tim Wolfe had resigned. The journalists presumably were seeking comment and reaction to the resignation.

But come back to Click. She sought to shut down the student press in a way that was threatening. Some muscle? Really? Should Schierbecker have feared for his personal safety?

To their great credit, Schierbecker and Tai showed respect, resolution, calmness, professionalism and yes, courage, considering they were faced with an unhappy crowd chanting, “Hey hey ho ho, reporters have got to go!”

Click since has issued an apology for her actions, which Schierbecker said in a tweet that he did not accept. No doubt she is hoping that everyone, including the school she works for, will move on.

But should the rest of us let Click off easy? I don’t think so. There is a word for someone who treated the journalists the way she did: Bully.

She bullied Schierbecker, and the call for help to remove him forcibly is inexcusable and indefensible.

Since she was trying to shut down press coverage, call her a free speech bully, attempting to squelch a reporter.

Here is another reason not to let her off the hook: She’s not alone in higher education.

Within the past year, SPJ has tracked no fewer than six examples of journalism advisers at colleges across America who have run afoul of their schools’ leaders for (gasp!) encouraging student journalists to do their jobs and cover the school.

In each case, the administration would prefer that the student press run happy news, or perhaps recipes, instead of stories seeking to hold (often) public employees accountable.

In one of the adviser altercations, the school paper’s editor-in-chief provided his notes of his run-in with a high-level administrator. “Free speech bully” again would be the operative phrase. The encounter was intimidating and oppressive: the administrator was unhappy the paper had run articles about mold in university buildings.

Frank LoMonte runs the Student Press Law Center, and his job is to watch all this and to offer help and, if necessary, legal support.

In a Facebook post last weekend, LoMonte noted he had just returned from a visit to a public university where the student reporters are required to submit their interview questions for the university president in writing to a media-relations functionary.

This minion rewrites any questions that are unacceptably “negative” and sends back a script, to which the journalists are told to adhere under threat of unspecified reprisal, he said.

I asked him: At what university did this occur?

LoMonte demurred, citing the need to minimize harm (See SPJ Code of Ethics, section II). The students were so frightened that he would need to get their OK to out the school. I am not a fan of citing incidents without names, but I trust the source here.

It’s important to note that the people involved here are college kids, between ages 18 and 21. No doubt the students LoMonte dealt with are frightened.

All these incidents, showing a careless disregard for free speech and the free press, sound like something out of a tinpot dictatorship or some leftover totalitarian regime. Tendering questions for sanitation by a minion sounds like great job training for a position at George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth after graduation.

But these stories are happening at colleges in this country, one with a history and laws that protect free speech and a free press. These schools, if they bother to teach the Constitution, must be saying that it has only nine amendments…that first one got deleted somewhere along the way.

No student should face intimidation, threats of personal violence or reprisal – simply for doing his or her job as a journalist.

The only response, I think, to free speech bullies is some muscle.

Not sending goons out to do physical harm to anyone, but push-back. Exposure. Forceful calling out. Telling the tales. Litigation when needed. Financial support for those lawsuits. And a clear message that that is what they can expect.

Because when confronted, bullies fold and run.

Updated 2/8/16, to correct the spelling of Mark Schierbecker’s name.


Jane Primerano elected RD for Region 1

The SPJ Board of Directors held a virtual meeting on Oct, 27 with three items of business.

REGION 1 RD ELECTION. Jane Primerano was elected Regional Director for Region 1; this position became open following the election of Rebecca Baker as Secretary-Treasurer. Jane is a freelance writer based in Hope, New Jersey. She is the past president of the NJ Pro chapter of SPJ and of NJ Press Women. Congratulation, Jane – we look forward to working with you on the board.

ACEJMC PROCEDURES. The board adopted a procedure for selecting and approving SPJ’s representative to the Accrediting Council for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. Sonny Albarado was ratified as the successor to Steve Geimann,who held the post for 19 years.

GAMING JOURNALISM AWARDS TRIAL PROGRAM. On a one-year experimental basis, the board approved creation of an awards program for excellence in gaming journalism. More details on the program will be coming.


SPJ Board to hold virtual meeting

The SPJ Board of Directors will meet virtually next Tuesday, Oct. 27, at 1 p.m. EST.

The board will discuss three items:

Appointment of a Region 1 Director. With the election of Rebecca Baker as secretary-treasurer, the director’s position is open. There are six candidates the board will consider: Jody Biehl, Richard Branciforte, Karen Feld, Elizabeth Johnson, Erin Mansfield and Jane Primerano.

ACEJMC rep procedures. SPJ has a representative on the Accrediting Council for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications. I appointed Sonny Albarado to succeed Steve Geimann as our rep, a post Steve held for 19 years. But the procedures for selecting a ACEJMC rep need clarification; a proposal to do just that is before the board. See Board memo – ACEJMC. 

Gaming journalism awards. Region 3 Director Michael Koretzky has proposed establishing, on a one-year trial basis, five awards for gaming journalism. Here is the text of his proposal: SPJKUNKELAWARDS

Look for an update in this space following the Tuesday meeting.


The final word from EIJ15

SPJ’s long weekend in tropical Orlando – EIJ15 – came to a close on Sept. 21 with the meeting of the new officers and board of directors.

Here are some of the highlights and action items from that meeting:

Committee Chairs. In keeping with the tradition started by Dana Neuts in 2014, I voluntarily submitted my slate of committee chairs for board approval and they were accepted unanimously:

Awards & Honors Committee

Chair: Andy Schotz

By-Laws Committee

Chair: Bob Becker

Diversity Committee

Chair: April Bethea

Ethics Committee

Chair: Andrew Seaman

Freedom of Information

Chair: Jonathan Anderson

Journalism Education

Chair: Butler Cain

Legal Defense Fund

Chair: Hagit Limor

Membership Committee

Chair: Robyn Sekula

Nominations

Chair: Dana Neuts

Resolutions

Chair: Sonny Albarado

Executive Committee. Bill McCloskey and Joe Radske were the directors elected to the executive committee.

SDX Board. Seven people were appointed and ratified as SPJ’s reps to the Sigma Delta Chi foundation board of directors: Paul Fletcher, Lynn Walsh, Rebecca Baker, Dana Neuts, Sue Kopen-Katcef, Bill McCloskey and Patti Newberry.

SDX Officers. The board ratified the election of new SDX foundation board officers to one-year terms: Irwin Gratz, vice president; Hagit Limor, secretary; and Howard Dubin, treasurer. SDX board president Robert Leger is in the middle of a two-year term.

Finance Committee. Bill McCloskey and Eddye Gallagher will continue to serve on the SPJ Finance Committee.

A New Community. The Community Journalists Community was approved and becomes SPJ’s sixth community. Al Cross will lead the new group.

Gaming Awards Proposal. Michael Koretzky proposed that SPJ provide, on a one-year, experimental basis, a series of gaming journalism awards. Michael will work with and through the Awards committee, chaired by Andy Schotz, in developing his proposal.

Wells Key Selection. The officers voluntarily adopted the Wells Key selection process that was to begin in 2016, with the full Executive Committee making the pick instead of only the officers. Sue Porter was this year’s honoree.

Convention Improvements. In a post mortem of EIJ15 and looking ahead to EIJ16 in New Orleans, the board touched on the following topics:

  • Governance meetings. A motion to provide notice of governance meetings, such as board meetings, both in print and convention signage passed unanimously.
  • A request to put resolutions likely to spark discussion and debate will be heard first next year, ahead of congratulatory resolutions and others likely to pass in a block.
  • President-elect Lynn Walsh will serve as SPJ’s point person in development of EIJ16 programming and will coordinate with Scott Leadingham and the team deciding programs for next year.

ACEJMC. Steve Geimann served for many years as SPJ’s rep on the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications. The 2015 convention passed a resolution directing the board to continue to support an SPJ rep on ACEJMC by paying his/her dues and expenses to attend two meetings. Sonny Albarado has agreed to serve as our rep.

Director Elections. With Rebecca Baker’s election to Secretary-Treasurer, the Region 1 director seat is now open. SPJ HQ will begin publicizing the opening and solicit candidates; we will hold a board call in October to name an RD for that region. We will be following the same procedure for Region 7 after the turn of the year; Rob McLean has moved to New York and will serve until February.


Memorial Funds for WDBJ’s Alison Parker and Adam Ward

As we work through the tragedy that faced Alison Parker and Adam Ward earlier this week, many have asked about making donations in their honor. Here is a list of some funds that have been set up. Though SPJ is not directly these involved with these, we want to share the information. If you have questions, please go directly to the fund organizers. They’ll be able to assist you.

Thank you,

Dana Neuts
SPJ President


RTDNA, NAB and NATAS — Alison and Adam Memorial Fund

The Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) has joined forces with two partner broadcast organizations to launch a memorial fund to support the families of the victims in Wednesday’s shooting of a Virginia news crew. RTDNA, along with the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS) will contribute to and accept donations from broadcasters for the fund on behalf of Alison Parker and Adam Ward. Donations will be accepted through Nov. 1, and $40,000 has already been pledged.

Parker and Ward were shot to death by a former co-worker Wednesday morning while they were doing a live remote broadcast on WDBJ-TV, Roanoke, a CBS affiliate owned by Schurz Communications. Contributions will be distributed to family members of Parker and Ward. An additional contribution will go to Vicki Gardner, Executive Director, Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, who was being interviewed during the shooting. Gardner suffered gunshot wounds and is currently hospitalized.

Any remaining funds will be directed to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based organization dedicated to press freedom and protecting the rights of reporters to work without fear of reprisal.

Donations may be sent to:

NAB Alison and Adam Memorial Fund
NAB
1771 N Street NW
Washington, DC 20036

NAB is also developing an easy online method of contributing to the fund. It will be available on NAB’s website in the very near future.


Patrick Henry Community College and the PHCC Foundation — Alison Bailey Parker Memorial Scholarship

Patrick Henry Community College and the PHCC Foundation have established a scholarship in memory of PHCC alumna and 2015 Distinguished Alumni award winner Alison Bailey Parker. She was a 2009 graduate of PHCC with an associate of arts and sciences degree through the Piedmont Governor’s School for Math, Science and Technology.

The Alison Bailey Parker Memorial Scholarship will be awarded on an annual basis to a PHCC student who enters the Media Design and Production program.

Donations for the Alison Bailey Parker Memorial Scholarship can be made online or by cash or check to:

Patrick Henry Community College Foundation
645 Patriot Ave.
Martinsville, VA 24112

For additional information, call (276) 656-0250.


James Madison University – Alison B. Parker Memorial Fund

James Madison University, where Parker graduated in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in media arts and design, has also set up a fund in her name.

The university established the Alison B. Parker Memorial Fund in the School of Media Arts & Design in her honor.


Salem Educational Foundation and Alumni Association Adam Ward Memorial Scholarship

The Salem Educational Foundation and Alumni Association announced that a scholarship has been established in memory of Adam Ward, a 2007 graduate of Salem High School who was loved and treasured by the Salem community, his peers at WDBJ, his family and friends.

This endowment, which was established at the request of Adam’s family, will honor his memory by benefiting a graduate of Salem High School, who is headed to Virginia Tech to pursue a career in journalism or photojournalism.

Adam began as a sports department intern at WDBJ and later served as a reporter, videographer and production assistant. Adam is the youngest child of Mary and Buddy Ward. His recently retired father was a lifelong educator at Glenvar and Salem where he served as a coach, teacher and guidance counselor for thousands of students.

The Salem Educational Foundation and Alumni Association was founded in 1983 by the late Dr. Richard Fisher. It has an endowment of $3.2 million and this June handed out 98 scholarships to Salem High School graduates valued at $132,000.


Virginia Tech – Adam Ward memorial contributions

Those who wish to make memorial contributions to Virginia Tech in Adam Ward’s memory may make checks out to the Virginia Tech Foundation, Inc., and be sure to write “In memory of Adam Ward” in the memo section. Checks should be mailed to:

Office of Gift Accounting (0336)
University Gateway Center
Virgina Tech
902 Prices Fork Road
Blacksburg, VA 24061

Those who wish to give online should be sure to use the “enter your own” designation option to write “In memory of Adam Ward.”

 

*Image from WDBJ



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