Archive for the ‘diversity’ Category

Executive Committee Meeting Highlights

This week SPJ’s Executive Committee met in Washington, D.C. for its semiannual meeting on Sat., June 27. Here are highlights:

  • The Executive Committee approved minutes from its January 31 meeting in Orlando.
  • I gave updates to the president’s report. Board member Mike Reilley has agreed to lead a group of volunteers to provide staff with guidance for delegate training materials. I am working with the International Community to help with the leadership transition. Also, I met with Sonya Ross of the Associated Press on Friday. We discussed a number of possible partnerships on additional diversity initiatives.
  • SDX President Robert Leger provided us with an update on foundation business.
  • The Executive Committee approved the investment policy for the advocacy fund.
  • President-elect Paul Fletcher gave an update on the non-affiliated member representation task force. The group has had several calls. The next step is to send a survey to SPJ members who are not affiliated with a chapter.
  • Secretary-treasurer Lynn Walsh gave an update on a supporting membership program which would give non-members an opportunity to support SPJ’s mission. She has created a work group who has met by phone once already. She asked us to submit questions on what we’d want to know about such a program if we decide to create this support tier.
  • The Executive Committee approved a policy regarding the hiring and firing of the executive director. The policy will help protect SDX’s interests because the executive director will oversee more of the SDX operations with the shift in education and programming responsibilities from SPJ to SDX.
  • Membership strategist Tara Puckey provided a technology update. She and Billy O’Keefe went to Chicago last week for training. The behind-the-scenes work is still taking place, so changes won’t be outwardly noticeable for a while.
  • Executive Director Joe Skeel gave us an update on strategic partnership updates and how these partnerships impact staff. He gets regular inquiries and requests for proposals on SPJ’s administrative and “back office” support services. Joe also provided us with an update on EIJ18 and possible conference sites. One possible site in Baltimore is already booked for the time period we are considering, but it has offered us a proposal for EIJ19.
  • The Executive Committee entered executive session to select this year’s award winners in the following categories: D. L. Eshelman Outstanding Campus Adviser, Distinguished Teaching, Ethics, Historic Site, Howard S. Dubin Outstanding Pro Members, Julie Galvan Outstanding Graduate, Regional Director of the Year, Sunshine Awards, and the Wells Memorial Key.

If you have any questions about the meeting, please let me know. For copies of reports, meeting materials and a replay of the meeting’s live stream, click here.


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NLGJA: Reporting on Transgender Issues

Tomorrow night ABC’s Diane Sawyer will interview Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner. Many media outlets are speculating that Jenner will discuss being transgender. To help the media understand how to fairly and accurately report on transgender issues, the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) has issued a statement including guidelines and a link to their style guide and resources. I am sharing that information below, but before I do, I want to share my own thoughts on the subject.

An estimated 2 to 5 percent of Americans are transgender. I think it is because of this small number that so few people understand what it means to be transgender or what issues they face including discrimination, ridicule and bullying. In TV and movies, transgender men and women are often unfairly portrayed, drawing undue attention to their differences rather than treating them like human beings. Fortunately, these attitudes are starting to change, but not quickly enough.

I don’t know what news Jenner will share tomorrow evening, nor do I feel it is any of my business, but it is news and millions of Americans will be talking about it. I encourage everyone – especially those who report the story – to be compassionate and to remember that Jenner is a human being with feelings and a family. Jenner is dealing with something most of us can’t begin to imagine.

Thank you,

Dana Neuts
SPJ President





From the NLGJA:

The National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) is made up of working journalists and media professionals. We are not an advocacy group. Our mission is to ensure fair and accurate coverage of issues that affect the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities.

This week, ABC News will air an interview With Olympic gold medalist and reality TV star Bruce Jenner. It is widely believed that Jenner will talk about being transgender. For many transgender people this will be a historic moment. Many newsrooms have questions about how to cover people who are or may be transgender. NLGJA is here to help you ensure your coverage is not only fair, but accurate.

Here are a few tips, as well as some information from our stylebook on how to handle things such as pronouns and terminology. There’s even more on our website,

  1. Since Jenner has not publicly announced a gender identity, the best practice is to refer to Bruce Jenner by name rather than using pronouns.
    Example: “Olympic Champion Bruce Jenner is set to sit down with ABC’s Diane Sawyer amid reports that Jenner is transgender.”
  2. Transgender people should be referred to by the name and gender with which they identify. Some transgender people choose to take hormones or have medical procedures, but that’s not what determines the right name and pronoun to use. It is stating one’s gender identity that is what should guide word use. If and when Jenner expresses a different gender pronoun or name, that’s the one to use.
  3. One of the things that makes this story unique is the amount of attention and speculation prior to Jenner speaking publicly about gender. While it may be impossible to write about Jenner without addressing the current rumors, in general best practice is to allow individuals to address their gender or sexuality when they are ready.

Many news organizations are covering this story well. We’ve included an example of fair and accurate coverage below.

Words matter when telling a story. Research has shown that LGBT teens and young adults have one of the highest rates of all suicide attempts. Depression and drug use among LGBT people have both been shown to increase significantly after new laws that discriminate are passed. Bullying of LGBT youth has been shown to be a contributing factor in many suicides, even if not all of the attacks have been specifically aimed at someone based on sexual orientation or gender bias. Transgender people are twice as likely to be unemployed — and four times as likely if they’re a trans woman of color. Lesbians and gays outnumber trans people six to one, yet transgender people are 50 percent more likely to be murdered.

NLGJA is happy to be a professional resource for you. We offer a stylebook on common word choice and tipsheets on issues that affect our communities. You can find both at NLGJA also has professional development available through our Newsroom Outreach Program. The project was designed to help newsrooms better understand the complexities of covering our diverse communities, while remaining unbiased. Please feel free to contact us if we can be of assistance. We have members in local, national and international newsrooms who are experienced covering these types of issues.

Thank you for your time and attention.


The National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association


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SPJ Board Meeting Recap

The SPJ spring board meeting was this past Sat., April 18 in Indianapolis. Each meeting is streamed live, but in case you missed it or don’t want to sit through the 6+ hour recording, here are the highlights:

  • The board approved the Fiscal Year 2016 budget. To executive director Joe Skeel’s credit, SPJ has a sizable surplus. We are operating in the black and expect to continue to do so with sufficient reserves set aside for a rainy day and to spend on worthy projects.
  • The slate of candidates for the next SPJ board cycle was announced. New candidates have until about a week before EIJ15 to announce their candidacy. So far, there are only two contested elections (secretary-treasurer and at-large director). Interested candidates should contact Sonny Albarado, past president of SPJ and this year’s nominations chair, or click here for more info.
  • We are seeking nominations to replace regional director Tony Hernandez (Region 12). He moved out of the region, and we are looking for a replacement, effective June 1. We also thanked Tony for his service to SPJ.
  • SDX President Robert Leger gave an update on the SDX Foundation, including the transition of moving programming responsibilities and funding from SPJ back to SDX.
  • The Ethics Committee, led by Andrew Seaman, is beginning the posting of additional materials to supplement the revised SPJ Code of Ethics that was approved by the delegates at EIJ14. In addition, the Code has been translated into five languages (French, Spanish, German, Chinese and Arabic). Those versions are being proofread and, once approved, they’ll be posted to
  • The board discussed how to handle the proposed Marriage & Conscience Act now in committee in Louisiana. The board will send a letter to the Louisiana legislature citing its concern about the bill which addresses religious and moral beliefs, unlike other religious freedom legislation being considered in other states. Our hope is that the bill will be defeated. If not, SPJ will have to reconsider hosting its 2016 spring board meeting, and SPJ and its partner RTDNA will have to discuss the implications for EIJ16, both scheduled for New Orleans next year. President-elect Paul Fletcher and secretary-treasurer Lynn Walsh will work on the letter to the legislature and share it with the board for input by the end of this month. We will also share it with RTDNA, and they will vote on whether or not they wish to sign the letter as well.
  • The SPJ board gave staff the go-ahead to expand its criteria for the selection of convention cities.
  • I announced two new diversity initiatives: (1) Adding members of other journalism organizations (e.g., AAJA, NAJA, NLGJA, NABJ, NAHJ, etc.) to the Diversity Committee, led by April Bethea, as a pilot project. If this is successful, we hope to expand this to include members of these organizations on other committees to help expand the diversity within our organization. (2) Creating a partnership between the Diversity Committee and Membership Committee to develop diversity-related resources for our members. We’ll first create a list of programming ideas, gathering successful program information from SPJ chapters and regions. We’ll expand to include other resources such as how to identify local chapters of other organizations that we could partner with, and link to other diversity-related resources, such as the NLGJA style guide and the diversity style guide project that is supported by the SDX Foundation.
  • I announced the Membership Committee’s upcoming promotion, #spj4all, a one-day campaign to reiterate our organization’s acceptance of journalists from all backgrounds. The committee, led by Robyn Sekula, will share details soon.
  • Four new chapters were added to SPJ ranks.
  • Secretary-treasurer Lynn Walsh announced SPJ’s new career center, a dramatically improved version of our job bank which includes links to additional resources.
  • At the request of FOI chair and immediate past president Dave Cuillier, the SPJ board approved a $30,000 transfer from our fiscal year end reserves to the Advocacy Fund. The board discussed how money would be spent and what the approval process might be.
  • Regional director Tom Johnson received the board’s endorsement of his “It’s the People’s Data” project.
  • At-large director Bill McCloskey presented a new SPJ Convention Voting Transparency Policy, developed by the By-laws Committee. The policy was approved.
  • Jennifer Royer, communications strategist, and I discussed the proposed guidelines for handling the deaths of prominent journalists and international matters. Each will be handled on a case-by-case basis, and will rely on good judgment.
  • In Becky Tallent’s absence, an update about the release of the Journalism Education Committee’s new book, “Still Captive? History, Law and the Teaching of High School Journalism,” was shared in the board packet and via email.
  • President-elect Paul Fletcher informed the board that 41% of our membership is not affiliated with a chapter, meaning they are not represented by delegates at convention. At my request, Paul has formed a task force to explore the ramifications of this problem and to make recommendations for correcting it.
  • The SPJ board accepted the Executive Committee’s recommendations for 9 of the 10 overall SPJ awards, as outlined in the board packet. Changes will be effective in 2016.
  • The SPJ board discussed the selection of future Wells Key winners. The Executive Committee recommended that the selection group be expanded from the SPJ officers to the full Executive Committee. This recommendation was approved with two amendments – providing the full board with a list of nominees for the current year and the previous nine years (info. to be kept confidential and not shared outside the board), and after the Wells Key is awarded, the Executive Committee will explain to the board why that candidate was selected. These changes will also be effective 2016.
  • We took a photo of the full board for historical purposes and to kick off the #spj4all campaign. #spjlove

The board meeting was packed full of agenda items, and we had good, thoughtful, respectful discussion and debate about these topics and others. In addition, I thanked the board, volunteers and staff for their hard work and continued commitment to SPJ. We’ve accomplished a lot in the seven months I’ve been president, but there is much more to do.

If you have any questions about the meeting, or you’d like to volunteer, I welcome your comments and ideas. You can reach me via email at

Thank you,

Dana Neuts
SPJ President


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Highlights thru Dec. 4, 2014

Hello, all. It has only been a few weeks since I posted the last update, but we’ve accomplished so much that it is almost baffling. I am so proud of SPJ staff and volunteers for their hard work and dedication to the cause. Here are some of the projects we’ve been involved in over the last few weeks (you might want to pull up a chair – there is a lot of good stuff here!):

  • Community elections for SPJ Digital & Freelance were launched. Details here.
  • SPJ Georgia attended two separate hearings of Atlanta journalists who were arrested last week during the Ferguson protest. Charges have been dropped in both cases. Reps from SPJ Georgia plan to attend a roundtable discussion tomorrow with Atlanta PD. Thanks to SPJ Georgia for staying on top of this issue and keeping us informed!
  • We sent a letter to the EPA protesting the limitations put on scientists, preventing them from speaking directly with the media:
  • Alex Veeneman was named our first community coordinator to help me manage the workload. Thank you, Alex, for stepping up! Alex is the current leader of SPJ Digital, so he knows first hand the work involved in setting up a community and keeping it going.
  • The Ethics and International Committees are working together to get the Code of Ethics translated into other languages.
  • I had a call with national board members Patti Newberry, Sue Kopen Katcef, Brett Hall and Jordan Gass Poore last week to discuss student internships and the formation of a student-based community. Brett and Jordan agreed to lead the community and Patti & Sue agreed to serve as advisors. I need to get some input from our legal counsel since some of the internship issues we are discussing involve labor laws.
  • I have selected SPJ’s EIJ15 programming committee volunteer – Athima Chansanchai (“Tima”) from the W. Washington Pro chapter. Tima was a diversity fellow this year and has helped with programming for the AAJA national convention several years ago. She will oversee the programming subcommittee that includes Paul Fletcher, Lynn Walsh and Patti Newberry.
  • Amy Tardif of RTDNA scheduled a pre-planning EIJ15 programming conference call for early January to discuss EIJ14 successes, areas for improvement and goals for EIJ15. Scott Leadingham, director of education, is scheduling his first EIJ15 planning call before the holidays.
  • We updated our statement speaking against Ohio legislation HB663, the secret executions bill, which went before the Ohio Senate Tuesday and today. Past president Kevin Smith attended on SPJ’s behalf.
  • SPJ Freelance Chair Michael Fitzgerald and I spoke regarding the Freelance Community to discuss the election process.
  • SPJ hosted a Digital Tools webinar taught by Kim Bui.
  • SPJ has made an agreement to provide services to another journalism organization and has put a call out to hire a part-time communications person to help with that work.
  • SDX did a big fundraising push this week, including a mailing and an email campaign. SPJ members are encouraged to set up monthly donations or make a one-time donation to help fund SDX’s efforts. Donate here.
  • New member benefits are forthcoming. Linda Hall has been working hard to develop new relationships and acquire new benefits for our members. SPJ HQ will announce those new benefits soon, so stay tuned!
  • We are trying to finalize all of the spring conferences. Some dates and locations are still tentative. The info. that is known can be found here.
  • Joe hired a replacement for the part-time membership retention coordinator. We are eager to welcome him aboard!
  • Tara Puckey was promoted to membership strategist to help further SPJ’s long-term mission and to address our changing membership needs. Linda Hall will continue to provide our members with the great service she always has. Congrats to Tara for this well-deserved promotion!
  • FOIA chair Dave Cuillier issued a statement urging the U.S. Senate to pass the FOIA Improvement Act. SPJ tweeted this tonight. Senator Jay Rockefeller has put a hold on the bill.
  • Butler Cain, J Ed committee chair, held a meeting with his committee yesterday to discuss providing resources, guidance and a list of experts to help support high school journalists and educators.
  • Robyn Sekula, membership chair, is accepting nominations for the December Volunteer of the Month (deadline is tomorrow) and finalizing the committee’s strategic plan for the year.
  • Carlos Restrepo and the International Journalism Community are also finalizing their goals for the year and selecting their assignments and projects. We have an enthusiastic bunch here – I am excited to see them move forward!
  • Sarah Bauer, contest advisory group coordinator and co-chair of the Awards & Honors committee, is in the process of matching up SPJ contest swap partners across the country. This is a thankless task, but an important one. Thanks to Sarah for taking the lead!

Thanks to everyone within SPJ and SDX – staff, leaders and volunteers – who have contributed in some way to our success and mission. It truly takes a village, and we’ve got some big goals to tackle this year. I appreciate your enthusiasm and support.

As always, if I left something out, it was unintentional. My head is spinning with all of the activity, but if I omitted something, let me know, and I’ll update this post.

Til next time,

Dana Neuts
SPJ President



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Highlights thru Oct. 1

branding ironThe highlight of last week was, without a doubt, my trip to the Fort Worth to meet with members of the Fort Worth Pro SPJ chapter. They graciously hosted a “meet the president” event where they presented me with my very own branding iron and gave me the opportunity to update them on what’s new in SPJ along with my goals for the year. I also got the chance to visit with Carol Cole-Frowe, one of my favorite freelancers, and Eddye Gallagher, our region 8 director. Eddye and her husband Ed showed us around Fort Worth, including a number of historic sites.

But that was just a small portion of what SPJ accomplished last week. Here are a few other highlights:

Ethics: Posters and bookmarks of the new Ethics Code are ready to download. Hard copies will be back from the printer this week. In addition, members of the Ethics Committee have been doing media interviews, scheduling speaking engagements and preparing the supplemental documents that will sit “behind” the Code on to help explain and clarify some of the Code’s content.

Jennifer Royer, SPJ’s communications strategist, shared her communications plan with the national board to explain how SPJ will communicate the new Code to students, journalists, educators and the public. I did a media interview today with a student from American Journalism Review and will be speaking at Green River Community College on Oct. 4 to discuss the revised Code.

Communities: Carlos Restrepo of the International Journalism Community reached out to new members to ask for their ideas and goals. SPJ Digital held its first Google hangout with its leadership team to plan for the months ahead. SPJ Freelance continues to reach out to potential members. Gen J further explored the idea and benefits to becoming a community.

Journalism Advocacy: SPJ signed onto a letter to the U.S. Forest Service written by the NPPA to protest the need for permits in certain situations where newsgathering and photography may be done in the nation’s wilderness areas. Though the U.S. Forest Service has backed off on some of the original permitting provisions, the new language is vague, putting press freedom in danger. { will post a copy of the letter soon.}

Education: Members of SPJ staff and immediate past president Dave Cuillier attended ONA in Chicago last week to discuss partnerships and funding opportunities and to scout for programming ideas and speakers for future SPJ programming.

Member Engagement: Tuesday Taylor Carlier conducted a Twitter chat with the hashtag #youngjournojobs. She’s preparing a Storify of the event, so stay tuned for that on Also, Tara Puckey is working with a group of SPJ members in Nebraska who don’t have a chapter. The group will host the region’s spring conference.

Diversity: A member of NAHJ staff reached out to me to see how he could help SPJ expand its base of diverse journalists. I will follow-up to see what types of partnerships we can forge with groups like NAHJ, NAJA, NABJ, NLGJA and others.

I’m sure I’ve missed some highlights. If I did, please email me or post in the comments section. Thanks for your support of SPJ!

~ Dana Neuts, President

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Highlights thru Sept. 15

With EIJ two weeks behind us now, things are slowing down a little bit, but the momentum that started at the convention is still going strong. Committees, communities and volunteers are hard at work, locally and nationally. Here are this week’s highlights:

Launch of International Journalism Community: Under the leadership of Carlos Restrepo of the St. Louis Pro chapter, the International Journalism Community was launched. To date, more than 30 journalists have expressed an interest in joining the community. Want to get involved? Email Carlos directly.

Volunteer of the Month: Last week, the Membership Committee named its volunteer of the month – Victor Hernandez of CNN, for overseeing Excellence in Journalism news at EIJ14. Guiding a team of 14 student interns, Hernandez selflessly shared his expertise. Thank you, Victor!

Journalism Education Committee: Butler Cain, assistant professor of West Texas A&M, and the Journalism Education committee are getting the year off to a good start, wrapping up the editing of a book on the state of high school journalism. I anticipate lots of great work coming out of that committee this year, so stay tuned!

Diversity Committee: Lead by chair April Bethea, the Diversity Committee has gotten off to an enthusiastic start. Read April’s blog post about the committee’s goals for the year.

Ethics Committee:  Committee chair Andrew Seaman and SPJ communications strategist Jennifer  Royer are working on a plan to publish, publicize and share the revised Code of Ethics. Late last week the final version went to the printers. Posters and bookmarks will be available soon.

Journalism Advocacy: SPJ issued a statement applauding the city of Tupelo, Mississippi for complying with open records laws. Though the laws have been in place since 1983, Tupelo is the first municipality in Mississippi to comply. Thanks to SPJ member and reporter Robbie Ward, staff writer for The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, for prodding the city to archive text messages and make them available to the public.

Journalism Advocacy: SPJ signed onto a letter by the American Association of Law Libraries to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Court urging them to restore electronic access to court records that were recently removed from PACER and a letter from the Reporters Committee to the DOJ for a dialogue following the media’s treatment in Ferguson.

Volunteer Outreach: Since EIJ14, I’ve been making calls to volunteers including new board members, committee chairs and community leaders to learn about their goals for the year and to thank them for their service. In addition, I have asked for a volunteer to help me support SPJ’s communities, including freelance, digital and international journalism. If you have an interest in working with me, please email me.

Board Training: Chapter coordinator Tara Puckey held the first of two sessions of board training via Skype to tell us more about our roles and responsibilities.

I’m traveling this weekend to meet with the Fort Worth Pro SPJ chapter for its annual “welcome the president” event. I will update you on this week’s highlights when I get back. Until then, thanks for your support of SPJ and journalism, and let me know how I can help.

~ Dana Neuts, SPJ President

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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 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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On AP’s “illegal immigration” style change

I’m glad The Associated Press continues to examine the best way to describe being in this country in violation of U.S. law.

The AP is right to note that the English language evolves, and that our everyday usage contributes to that evolution. I hope journalists and others continue this conversation about immigration and people who come here legally or illegally until we arrive at terminology most of us can agree on.

Some might argue that the new style recommendation is less precise than ‘illegal alien’ or ‘illegal immigrant,’ but it’s important to note that a significant portion of the country’s population regards those terms as offensive. It wasn’t that long ago that keepers of journalism style fought dropping ‘Negro’ as a term for black or African-American people, yet news organizations adopted the newer style.

As journalists we have to take into account what people call themselves while also taking care to be precise and accurate. Sometimes those two things are in conflict and require an honest discussion to resolve that clash.

On Sept. 27, 2011, SPJ adopted a resolution at its annual convention in New Orleans urging “journalists and style guide editors to stop the use of illegal alien and encourage continuous discussion and re-evaluation of the use of illegal immigrant in news stories.”

Less than a year ago, The AP Stylebook — used by many news organizations as a guide to uniformity of language — adopted “illegal immigrant” as a term of choice over “illegal alien.” AP was careful to note that “illegal immigrant” wasn’t the only acceptable description, but the term is what observers latched onto.

Based on AP Senior VP and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll’s statement about this week’s decision, the wire service has taken the “continuous discussion and re-evaluation” suggestion to heart.

The discussions on this topic have been wide-ranging and include many people from many walks of life. (Earlier, they led us to reject descriptions such as “undocumented,” despite ardent support from some quarters, because it is not precise. A person may have plenty of documents, just not the ones required for legal residence.)

Those discussions continued even after AP affirmed “illegal immigrant” as the best use, for two reasons.

A number of people felt that “illegal immigrant” was the best choice at the time. They also believed the always-evolving English language might soon yield a different choice and we should stay in the conversation.

Also, we had in other areas been ridding the Stylebook of labels. The new section on mental health issues argues for using credibly sourced diagnoses instead of labels. Saying someone was “diagnosed with schizophrenia” instead of schizophrenic, for example.

And that discussion about labeling people, instead of behavior, led us back to “illegal immigrant” again.

We concluded that to be consistent, we needed to change our guidance.

Carroll goes on to note that “We believe more evolution is likely down the road.”

Yes, the conversations should continue, but I think the AP has arrived at a commendable middle ground.

Here is the new AP style entry in its entirety:

illegal immigration Entering or residing in a country in violation of civil or criminal law. Except in direct quotes essential to the story, use illegal only to refer to an action, not a person: illegal immigration, but not illegal immigrant. Acceptable variations include living in or entering a country illegally or without legal permission.

Except in direct quotations, do not use the terms illegal alien, an illegal, illegals or undocumented.

Do not describe people as violating immigration laws without attribution.

Specify wherever possible how someone entered the country illegally and from where. Crossed the border? Overstayed a visa? What nationality?

People who were brought into the country as children should not be described as having immigrated illegally. For people granted a temporary right to remain in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, use temporary resident status, with details on the program lower in the story.

As we all know, words can hurt as well as inspire or soothe.



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Graduating from stereotypes: A marriage proposal

Leave it to me to learn the hard way about the importance of shedding cultural stereotypes.

I nearly made an embarrassing mistake earlier this month while covering the graduation ceremony of Bergen Community College.

The commencement exercises took place inside a large area that once had been used for professional hockey and basketball.

With over 2,100 graduates to chose from, it was not hard to find one interesting student on whom to focus .

The valedictorian, an aspiring art therapist, had a great story to tell when she pointed out that her graduation came exactly 10 years to the day that her mom left Ecuador to find a life of better opportunity for her two young children in northern New Jersey.

The student gave a very heartfelt, emotional speech, and I hustled into the audience to interview her mom.

So I was feeling pretty good when I returned to the floor of the arena where a publicist for the college pointed out another story: One graduate had proposed marriage to another while picking up their diplomas.

A volunteer helped me locate the couple in a sea of blue caps and gowns, and I did a quick interview.

The student was named Jess, who wore a nice red tie, told me in a husky voice about getting down on one knee. That was the signal for a group of friends to unfurl a banner that read “Will you marry me?”

The other student, named Melissa, said yes.

That was pretty nervy in front of all these people, I suggested.

“You have no idea,” Jess replied.

So I wrote the story feeling pretty good about how it turned out. But then several hours later, my editor called.

The photographer — a much better observer then me — noticed that Jess, who I identified as a guy, was a woman. Jess was short for Jessica, not Jesse.

Fortunately we fixed it before publication. But afterward, it made me realize the extent to which my cultural blinders were in place.

Granted the interview was brief, and they were both wearing gowns. But in an era where marriage equality is a hot-button topic, I should know better than to assume that “couple”  and “marriage proposal” means a man and a woman.

It drove home the point to me how important it is to consider one’s own cultural assumptions and be more observant.

Next time I’ll know better. Plus, I owe the photographer a beer.

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SPJ committees at work: The year ahead

This post is an expanded version of my forthcoming first column for Quill (for the Nov/Dec issue). Think of this as a roadmap for the year ahead and a lineup of who is doing what.

It’s a bit long, but it will give you a good idea of the scope and breadth of the work SPJ has taken on this year.

The unsung heroes of our Society are the volunteers who log countless hours working on various national committees.

As your new president, I’ve been blessed to inherit a very strong set of committees. I’ve added some people and created some new committees, but for the most part there’s a fair number of folks who agreed to continue on this year.

In my view, committees are working laboratories where SPJ policies are drafted and vetted. I’ve tasked these folks with testing out several new initiatives. Here are brief descriptions of some of the assignments they are working on.

– The Programming Committee, chaired by Jeremy Steele, is a new panel aimed at helping professional and student chapters increase the level of SPJ activities. One project they are working on is to create a “speakers’ bureau” of various experts within SPJ who would be willing to travel at minimal cost to talk to chapters across the country.

As part of the programming committee, Holly Fisher will continue to produce chapter-hosted programs for Studio SPJ.

– The expanded Membership Committee, chaired by Holly Edgell, will be forming a team of volunteers to reach out to lapsed members to encourage them to re-up. The group is also working on coordinating a month-long national membership drive in March 2012. They are also studying the feasibility of creating an institutional membership for news organizations.

-This year Membership also has a new subcommittee chaired by Tara Puckey. This group will focus their efforts on building collegiate membership.

– The Ethics Committee, chaired by Kevin Smith, plans to begin the long and deliberate process of reviewing our Code of Ethics for possible revisions in the light of the challenges posed by a digital age. The committee also hopes to author some position papers on topics such as political coverage, checkbook journalism, plagiarism, etc.

-The Diversity Committee, chaired by Curtis Lawrence, is at work on reviving the Rainbow Source Book, working to strengthen ties with other journalism organizations and partnering with chapters and other journalism groups to monitor content and hiring in media.

– The Freedom of Information Committee, chaired by Linda Petersen, will be working on an encore production of the highly popular “Access Across America Tour” that Secretary-Treasurer Dave Cuillier created two years ago. This year, we’re hoping to have more than one trainer making regional tours to newsrooms and chapters across the nation.

The FOI Committee also is doing an update on prison media access, and for Sunshine Week they will be surveying Washington, D.C.-area reporters on their relationship with federal government PIOs to gain insight into source relationships and the role that public relations professionals play in the free flow of information between government and the media.

– The Government Relations Committee, chaired by Al Cross, will work with SPJ leaders and the FOI Committee to advocate for open government at all levels from localities to Washington, D.C. One special emphasis will be fighting efforts to repeal or curtail public notice advertising by state and local government.

Government Relations also will be working closely with the FOI Committee. Al and Linda will each serve as members of the other committee.

– The Communications Committee, chaired by Lauren Bartlett, is working on a strategic communications plan aimed at creating unified messaging and ideas for key initiatives on our core missions. The committee also is working on a plan to position SPJ national leaders as experts on various media topics.

-Lauren also is chairing a subcommittee whose purpose will be to produce a white paper on where our industry is headed and that will list some innovative best practices by media organizations.

– The International Journalism Committee, chaired by Ricardo Sandoval Palos,  is evaluating what our policy should be when individuals or groups of journalists apply to join SPJ or to start their own chapter, as a group of journalism students in Qatar did two years ago.

– The Awards Committee, chaired by Ginny Frizzi, is weighing whether it would make sense to honor some of our recently deceased SPJ leaders by naming some of our awards after them.

– The Freelance Committee’s special project this year will be to develop a freelancers’ resource guide. Dana Neuts chairs this group.

-The Legal Defense Fund, chaired by Hagit Limor, will continue assisting journalists by funding court battles for their First Amendment rights while working with staff to explore new options for fundraising.

– The Professional Development Committee, chaired by Deb Wenger, will continue producing online tutorials for our members and will try this year to offer some webinars.

-The Journalism Education Committee, chaired by Rebecca Talent,  is looking at ways to support high school journalism programs that are facing elimination because of budget cuts. The committee also is sharing syllabi and best practices with new faculty and encouraging more minority applicants for the Mark of Excellence awards.

– The Digital Media Committee, chaired by Jennifer Peebles, will be working on a special project aimed at creating an interactive digital timeline that will allow visitors to our website to explore SPJ’s rich, 103-year history.

-The GenJ Committee, chaired by Lynn Walsh, is continuing to blog on its excellent site on the SPJ blogs network. They are also trying to come up with a more contemporary and less retro name for the “Liner Notes” blog.

-I have also appointed a special committee, chaired by past president Irwin Gratz, to study whether it’s feasible and desirable to create virtual chapters or affinity groups that would consist of members who share a common professional interest, such as freelancing or a specialty beat like religion or court reporting.

– And last but not least, I’ve asked Mike Koretzky to lead a “Blue Sky” Committee. I’ve asked this group if we had $10,000 or $50,000 or $100,000, how could we best spend it? There’s no money in the budget for this, but let’s first see what this panel recommends.

Will all of these initiatives be adopted? Not necessarily. Where there are policy questions involved, the SPJ board of directors will ultimately decide.

But thanks to the efforts of all these volunteers, I feel like our SPJ year is off to a good start.

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