Archive for the ‘International Journalism’ Category


Focus on membership: Highlights of April board of directors meeting

One of the pleasures of being SPJ president is the opportunity to preside over meetings with lots of intelligent discussion on large, meaningful issues.

That was the case Saturday in Indianapolis when the national SPJ board gathered for its spring meeting. We took on several big topics. Here’s a brief recap of what was discussed:

- Past president Hagit Limor briefed us on the email ballot system we will be using in September when all 8,000 SPJ members will have their first chance to directly elect officers under the one member, one vote rule we adopted last year.

We also approved a set of campaign guidelines for candidates that reaffirmed our long-standing tradition that board members should not engage in any electioneering for other candidates.

Our plan calls for a process that will enable candidates to send up to three email messages directly to members as well as a means to create candidate websites. You’ll hear more about this in the months ahead.

Much of our meeting was devoted to issues involving growing SPJ’s membership. No surprise there since that had been my emphasis this year.

-We discussed reviving our institutional membership for media organizations on a one-year trial basis. We currently have about 19 collegiate institutional members. We formerly had some newspapers join as institutions, but currently we do not have any.

The board instructed Executive Director Joe Skeel to craft a proposal later this year as well as to explore ways in which we can make SPJ’s presence felt in more newsrooms.

-We had a long discussion on the pros and cons of actively recruiting SPJ members from other countries. We also talked about whether our legal defense fund should be only for U.S. journalists or should it be a global fund.

The board didn’t take a vote on that,  although an informal show of hands indicated a majority of the board favored taking a global approach on both of these questions. This matter will come up for a vote later in the year.

-We also adopted a recommendation from Region 11 Director Teri Carnicelli, by streamlining the requirements for a new campus chapter to form. From now on, such chapters will be required to have one adviser who is an SPJ member rather than three faculty members.

-Sadly, we deactivated several pro and student chapters that we had been carrying on our membership rolls despite the lack of any recent activity. We did, however, welcome a new chapter, the Texas Panhandle Pro chapter.

-Last but not least, the board agreed to locate our 2014 Excellence in Journalism conference at the Grand Opry Hotel in Nashville, TN. I’m very excited by this selection. Nashville is a great city in which to hold a national conference.

Your national board members are a hard-working bunch. They started at 8 a.m., and except for a lunch break, kept going until 5:30 p.m. when we adjourned. I appreciate their effort and attention.

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Should SPJ broaden international memberships?

For more than a decade I served as lead mentor in Denver for a journalism exchange program run by the Alfred Friendly Press Fellowship.

It’s a great program that brings journalists from other countries to work side by side with their counterparts in U.S. newsrooms.

During that time I worked with journalists from Nigeria, Ecuador, Egypt, Bulgaria, Serbia, China, Cambodia, Russia and the Gaza Strip.

By and large, they were an amazing group of people, many of whom had to exercise a fair amount of courage just to do the type of daily reporting that we here in the U.S. often take for granted.

It was a great experience and one that I’m sure will color my view point as the SPJ board takes up an important policy discussion this weekend on the Society’s approach toward prospective members who live outside the U.S.

Should we actively recruit them? Should we encourage chapters to form in other countries? Should we hold them to the same requirements we ask of domestic members and chapters?

Shortly after becoming SPJ president in September, I asked our International Journalism Committee, through its chairman Ricardo Sandoval Palos, to study this issue and make some recommendations to the board.

The Committee produced a thoughtful document that became the basis for a good discussion that the Executive Committee had on this topic during our winter meeting in Charlotte.

Now that discussion moves to the full board. When we meet in Indianapolis this weekend, I’m planning to ask the board a series of questions on this topic. My hope is that we reach enough of a consensus to help craft a formal policy later this year.

It’s a complex issue. In some countries, concepts we take for granted in the U.S. such as objectivity or acting independently are not universally embraced. In some countries, journalists operate under government imposed restrictions that make those concepts unworkable.

And yet, we live in an increasingly global society where video shot in Syria one moment becomes news in the U.S. a short time later. There’s also a real hunger out there for the training, ethics and ideals that SPJ had stood for in this country.

So we’ll have our talk. In the meantime, it’s worth noting that SPJ already has about 130 members living in other countries.

More than half are part of a thriving student chapter that former Regional Director Richard Roth helped start in Qatar a few years ago under the aegis of Northwestern University.

But the other members come from nearly 30 other countries, including Uzbekistan, India, Mexico, Canada, Morocco, Spain, England, Sweden and Luxemborg.

I believe we need a coherent strategy when it comes to membership in the rest of the world. My hope is that we can take the first steps toward that goal when  we meet in Indianapolis.

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The cruelest month: Mourning journalists killed in Syria

Poet T.S. Elliot wrote that April is the cruelest month.

But so far this year with the numbers of journalists killed in the last few weeks, I would assign that dismal distinction to February.

Syria has been the source of the most heartbreaking news, where the indiscriminate shelling of the civilian population also claimed the lives of two journalists last week, veteran war correspondent Marie Colvin and French photojournalist Remi Ochlik.

Their deaths came one week after New York Times correspondent Anthony Shadid, who died of an asthma attack while covering the conflict in northern Syria.

(Though, to be sure, the fourth month is cruel in its own right, as April 2011 brought the deaths of Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington in Libya.)

The loss here is incalculable. All three of these journalists put their lives on the line — as they had so many times before — to describe in basic human terms the harrowing extent of the suffering by Syrians under daily bombardment.

It was particularly chilling to hear Colvin’s voice on CNN as she described watching a 2-year-old child die from a piece of shrapnel embedded in his chest.  Colvin was killed the next day.

It was also incredibly sad to read the final dispatch from Shadid, who by all accounts was one of the best and brightest foreign correspondents. Reading his work, you could always detect a well-spring of humanity and his respect for history.

I was especially moved to hear him in an interview describing how important it was for him to share his knowledge with younger journalists.

Their deaths come against a backdrop of a recent Committee to Protect Journalists report, which found that at least 46 journalists died in the line of duty in 2011, the highest level on record.

Colvin, Ochlik and Shadid all lost their lives while answering the highest calling of our profession, to tell difficult and important truths in the face of tremendous adversity.

On behalf of SPJ, I wish to extend to their families and colleagues our most heartfelt sympathies.

In other news: Be sure to tune in to the next episode of Studio SPJ on Wednesday, Feb. 29 at 1 p.m. ET when our guest will be Thomas Peele.

Peele is the author of a new book, “Killing the Messenger: A Story of Radical Faith, Racism’s Backlash and the Assassination of a Journalist.”

Peele was one of the lead reporters in a collaborative investigation into the August 2007 murder of Oakland Post Editor Chauncey Bailey.

The book tells the story of Bailey’s murder, the history of the Black Muslim movement and the cult to which his killers belonged.

The program is hosted by the Northern California chapter of SPJ. Former chapter president Linda Jue will serve as moderator.

To listen to the live broadcast or hear a podcast later, click here.

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Notes from the Executive Committee meeting in Charlotte

Live from Charlotte

Our recent winter meeting of the SPJ Executive Committee on Jan.  28 in Charlotte, N.C., marked an important first: a live webcast of most of our daylong meeting.

It was not without some technical snags. We couldn’t access a WiFi network and the cord to the desktop computer was a bit short.

And the configuration of the room made it difficult for the Web audience to hear everyone.

But we made adjustments, moved some furniture closer and spoke a more clearly to the webcam.

About 11 members tuned in, and by the afternoon, several of them were emailing us with questions and observations that were helpful.

It was a good first effort, one that I’m sure we can improve upon when the full board meets in Indianapolis in April.

A tip of the fedora here to board member Michael Koretzky who has been advocating for these webcasts for several years.

Strategic Plan Revisited

During our meeting, we began work on updating our long-range strategic plan, which the SPJ board first adopted about five years ago.

When it was originally drafted in November 2007, the Executive Committee wanted the plan revised periodically.

In Charlotte, we quickly reached a consensus that no major overhaul was needed. In fact, many of the goals set in the document describe the work we’ve done since then.

But we did agree to update that plan, and we’ll take up the section that deals with Society operations when the Executive Committee reconvenes in Washington D.C. in July.

Prepping for the DNC

We heard a presentation from leaders of the Greater Charlotte chapter on their plans for raising SPJ’s profile when the Democratic National Convention is held there in early September.

The chapter has some ambitious plans, including a training seminar for journalists who will cover the convention, and a style guide that would help visiting journalists get to know the city.

The committee endorsed the chapter’s application for a grant to help them carry out these plans, subject to the approval of the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation board.

We also agreed to send a letter questioning Charlotte officials about a recently adopted ordinance that could make it difficult for photojournalists covering the convention to do their jobs (as well as for residents who live in that area).


International SPJ members

We heard a report from the International Journalism Committee on ways in which SPJ might go about growing its membership in other countries.

The committee’s overall sentiment was to welcome such members and charter chapters oversees while taking care to build in safeguards that will promote journalism that is independent and professional.

After some discussion, the board agreed to focus first on individual members, noting that SPJ already has a small number of members overseas.

We also instructed the committee to come back with specific policy proposals that we can put before the full SPJ board in late April.

Virtual chapters/Affinity groups

We discussed a report from an ad hoc committee that examined the feasibility of organizing members into virtual chapters or affinity groups based upon mutual professional interest such as court reporting or online journalism.

The ad hoc committee recommended against creating virtual chapters with some members seeing it as having a potentially negative effect on geographic chapters. We agreed.

But we also decided to further explore setting up some affinity groups on a trial basis. Our first step in this direction will be to poll members and see what sort of groups they might be interested in joining.

In other matters

The committee also endorsed several proposals, including:

-A strategic communication plan to bring some uniformity when SPJ issues press releases as well as a means to measure the impact of those statements.

-A plan to create a public service announcement consisting of a series of eight one-minute videos that feature various journalists and how their stories helped members of the public. We suggested some ways in which production costs of the video can be minimized. The plan will be subject to a vote by the SDX Foundation board.

-A plan by the Diversity Committee to continue with the diversity fellows program at the Excellence in Journalism 2012 conference as well as finding ways to work with the fellows during the rest of the year.

We also heard report from a committee that is working on implementing the one-member, one-vote system approved by delegates in 2011. Watch for more details on this plan in the months ahead.

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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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Thanks to those who protect press freedoms – at home and around the world

All our committees do good work, but some get more “press” than others. Google search SPJ and you’ll get tons of hits for our Ethics Committee and the Freedom of Information Committee. At the same time, other volunteers toil quietly but to equally great effect.

This year, the International Committee has fielded a minefield of requests. The Arab Spring notwithstanding, it seems journalists from around the world have reached out to the Society for guidance, affirmation, even protection.

Maybe I have an affinity for this group because, well, my name isn’t Mary Smith. But as I’ve travelled throughout this term, I’ve found many of you equally interested in furthering a free press outside our borders even as we fight to hold on to those rights under attack from within.

So I have found myself fielding interviews for the Voice of Russia, answering questions from journalists in China, Wales, New Zealand and Spain, and issuing statements on behalf of journalists in the Middle East. This is a tiny microcosm of the work the committee handles weekly.

That work personified itself in May when a slender young man walked into my office at WCPO-TV to talk about journalism from a perspective foreign to most. Muhammad Imram watched the birth of a free press in Pakistan after years of government control. Now, he’s watching friends die on the job.

Imram is only 28 but serves as his station’s news anchor and assignment editor, which he says is the person who runs the entire newsroom. He supervises a crew entirely within a decade of his age, with no prior example of how to do journalism. Until 2006, Imram says there was no independent electronic media in Pakistan, only one state-owned television station and one state-owned radio station. A new regime opened the doors and now, almost 100 outlets operate in four languages.

Imram came here on a one-month U.S. government-funded program that immersed Pakistani journalists in newsrooms including ours so they could learn about the profession, from the guts of journalism to new media and the latest camera equipment. By the time you read this, he’ll be back home to pass along his knowledge.

While many of his questions spoke of challenges you’d hear from anyone growing up and learning the trade here, I found his biggest challenge to be both universal and unique. The issue seems commonplace: how to balance a story. It’s the reason he cites as the challenge that departs from the American experience. It’s not that Imram or his compatriots don’t know they need to offer multiple viewpoints. It’s that some sources aren’t just putting their jobs on the line if they speak; they’re putting their lives on the line. That’s a much harder sell.

Imram himself can’t go home to his native province. He works in a city hours away because he says extremists have threatened him and his family if he returns. The Committee to Protect Journalists says in 2010, eight Pakistani journalists died for work they published or aired, ranking Pakistan as the most dangerous country for journalists, just ahead of Iraq, Mexico and Honduras. Imram says one of these journalists was a friend assassinated in the middle of an assignment in Swat city.

In June, SPJ wrote a letter to the Pakistani ambassador in Washington D.C. expressing our dismay at the violence that has befallen reporters there, including Saleem Shahzad, a reporter who had written extensively on al Qaeda and the Talbian, who was killed just after he produced a story that raised questions about the relationship between Pakistani military officers and terrorist groups. Other reporters died after reporting on ties to the nation’s intelligence service, the ISI.

[UPDATE: The New York Times reports there is more evidence from U.S. intelligence linking Shahzad's slaying to the Pakistani ISI.]

In our letter to the Honorable Husain Haqqani, we asked the Pakistani government to launch an investigation into Mr. Shahzad’s murder and the violence against other journalists. Not surprisingly but sadly, we haven’t heard back.

It may seem like shouting empty words into a deserted theater, but SPJ’s calls for justice have led to results in the past, certainly within this country. In June, a jury in Oakland, California convicted two men in the 2007 murder of journalist Chauncey Bailey. He had been working on a story of a financially troubled community group when he was killed as he walked to work. The Sigma Delta Chi Foundation contributed $20,000 in a grant to help launch The Chauncey Bailey Project. Our Northern California chapter then joined other media organizations to continue and expand Bailey’s work, leading to dozens of stories that resulted from competing news organizations putting aside business interests to work toward this common cause, to express clearly and loudly that our work will not be silenced, that we will stand together to find the truth and report it.

Bailey’s cousin, Wendy Ashley-Johnson, posted her reaction to the conviction on the project website. She said, “Journalists have a job to do and they should not be squashed in what they do.” True here, true everywhere in the world. Just ask Muhammad Imram, back home on the job in Islamabad.

 

 

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