Archive for the ‘journalism education’ Category

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 Shierbecker, 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 Shierbecker have feared for his personal safety?

To their great credit, Shierbecker 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 Shierbecker 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 Shierbecker, 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.

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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.

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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. 22

It’s been three weeks since my last post, and a lot has happened in SPJ and the journalism world in that short time. Here are a few highlights:

Earlier this week, we lost journalism legend Ben Bradlee of The Washington Post. He inspired an entire generation of journalists and took editing to a new level. He will be missed. Here is a nice piece in The Washington Post remembering his contributions.

SPJ Georgia and regional director Michael Koretzky fought for and supported George Chidi, a freelance journalist in Georgia, after Thomas Owens, a candidate for DeKalb County commissioner, sought a temporary protective order and filed an application for a warrant on stalking charges against the journalist. The protective order and application were both dismissed, upholding the First Amendment and helping to protect Chidi’s right to do his job. Thanks to SPJ Georgia and Koretzky for fighting on Chidi’s behalf.

SPJ, the Student Press Law Center and 18 other organizations sent a letter to education leaders to renounce the actions of the Neshaminy School District in Bucks County, Pennsylvania for punishing student journalists and their adviser for refusing to use the term “redskins” in the Playwickian, a school publication. Principal Rob McGee suspended the journalism adviser for two days without pay, removed the Playwickian editor from her position for a month, and the newspaper was fined $1,200, the cost of the June edition which omitted the Native American mascot name.

In other SPJ news:

The membership committee, led by Robyn Sekula, is working on a master plan to outline its goals and strategies for the coming year. The committee also named its October Volunteer of the Month – Lee Anne Peck of the University of Northern Colorado. Congratulations, Lee Anne!

The SPJ international journalism community, led by Carlos Restrepo, is also working on a master plan, breaking its work into three primary goals and subcommittees. More on that once the community has had time to review and comment on it.

The journalism education committee is publishing a book in January titled “Still Captive? History, Law and the Teaching of High School Journalism.” The project is the result of three years of research and a survey of nearly 250 Journalism Education Association members in 47 states.

The ethics committee continues to be busy, educating others on the revised Code of Ethics, preparing supplemental materials for and speaking on ethical issues. Check out this post from ethics chair Andrew Seaman on the ethical reporting of Ebola.

The awards and honors committee, led by Andy Schotz, has been working with Abbi Martzall, SPJ’s awards coordinator, to review our awards criteria and make recommendations for changes. Sarah Bauer, the committee’s co-chair, is coordinating the swaps for local and regional SPJ chapter contests. If she hasn’t already, she’ll be contacting awards coordinators in the near future to plan for swaps for next year’s contest season.

The Generation J committee, led by Claudia Amezcua, has been working with her committee on its plan for the year and will be working with secretary-treasurer Lynn Walsh and past president John Ensslin on the recommendations made by the futures task force in June. Two goals for Gen J this year are to broaden the committee’s mission to include journalists at all career levels and to partner with other committees to offer training opportunities via joint Google hangouts.

Led by SPJ past president David Cuillier, the FOI committee has been hard at work, developing a blogging and tweeting strategy for the committee to handling breaking FOI news and to be proactive on FOI issues. For FOI resources, check out the FOI page on

At SPJ headquarters, staff has been busy on many fronts, including planning for EIJ15 (yes, already!), sending out new ethics posters and bookmarks, working on affinity partnerships to offer additional benefits to our members, and developing communications strategies for how and when to communicate with the public and other media organizations.

Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to Phoenix on behalf of SPJ where I talked to ASU journalism students about how to get started freelancing and get those first critical clips. I also met with SDX president Robert Leger and had a fun evening with SPJ members of the Valley of the Sun Pro chapter where we celebrated some local journalism and PR successes and talked about what’s next for SPJ in the year ahead. I’ve also been working with communications staff at HQ to create an outreach plan to help promote our communities. Up next: a visit to Peninsula College in Port Angeles, Washington, finding a volunteer to help support our communities, and planning our January executive committee meeting.

I am sure I have omitted a letter SPJ signed onto or committee projects and, if so, I apologize. The omission is unintentional, but email me so I can include it next time. As always, thanks for your support of SPJ. If you have questions, concerns or ideas, you can email me at SPJDANA @ GMAIL.COM.

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After seeing ‘Will Write For Food’ program, hope for the future of journalism

The newsroom was a pair of converted motel rooms stitched together into a space about the size of a double wide trailer.

The reporters were 23 college journalists who came from universities in Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Tennessee, New York, Oklahoma, Connecticut and Florida.

Unlike many of their peers who spent Labor Day at a beach or a barbecue, these young journalists spent an intense and often chaotic 36 hours reporting, writing and editing an edition of The Homeless Voice, a monthly newspaper published by the COSAC Shelter in Hollywood, Fla.

They were all there as part of the 4th Annual “Will Write For Food” program, which is co-sponsored by the South Florida chapter of SPJ, a very creative effort that is the brainchild of Region 3 Director Michael Koretzky.

I joined the effort this year as an adviser and to learn about the program. What I witnessed was downright inspirational.

If any of you harbor doubts about the future of journalism, you ought to pay attention to these young journalists and what they were able to accomplish in one crazy, frenetic and sometimes improvisational weekend.

The spirit of the venture can be summed up by an off-handed remark I overheard one student telling another.

“I really like putting myself in awkward situations,” she said.

To me, that quip sums up the place where journalism lives. We do some of our best working through awkward situations.

The participants did so with a great amount of enthusiasm and bravado.

Take Chris Whitten, for example. Whitten is a University of Memphis senior and student editor who at one brief point in his life was homeless.

Most people would want to run as far away as they could from that experience. Whitten decided to go in the opposite direction.

He was determined to spend a night as a homeless person on the streets of Fort Lauderdale. So wearing a set of baggy clothes provided by the shelter, Whitten spent the night reporting the story from first-hand experience.

We all held our breath hoping he wouldn’t get arrested by police enforcing the city’s loitering ordinance. But instead he came back with this remarkable story about a spontaneous act of generosity by a homeless man.

The sheer range of stories these students came up with on the fly was breathtaking.

-One did a story about how violence against the homeless often is a way of life for shelter residents.

-Another wrote an interesting story about how time seems to pass more slowly for shelter residents.

-A photojournalism student gave five disposable cameras to shelter residents to photograph their world and help her write the captions.

-One student asked for a black light so he could see what the shelter floor’s looked like. This led to a somewhat gruesome but interesting story on what it takes to keep a shelter clean.

-And another did a hilarious story mimicking the unusual work-out routine and smoking habits of the shelter director.

Click here to find these stories, photographs and videos on a website that the students created.

Koretzky presides over this gathering with his signature snarky sense of humor and attention to detail.

For example, when one student said she wanted to create a new website for the “Voice” in just 36 hours, Koretzky challenged her by saying it couldn’t be done. She had it up and running within an hour.

Once it was up, Koretzky noticed one of the designers had created a masthead that read, “The Homless Voice.”

“Are you kidding me?” he asked. “You’re killing me!” he said.

“Looks good though,” he added.

Under the watchful gaze of two police officers, shelter staff and several advisors, a few of the students tagged along as shelter employees went out at night on their outreach tour, trying to coax people living on the street into coming into the shelter.

We travelled in a van, two unmarked police cars, an old ambulance and an old black and white police car that the shelter now owns.

For the students, it was an eye-opening experience talking one-to-one with people living under a highway bridge or in a tent in the woods.

There were several discussions on ethics, source credibility, anonymity, reporting technique and story writing. It was akin to a graduate seminar on real-world reporting done in real time.

By 3 a.m. Labor Day morning, I decided to call it a night, but not before telling the students (some of whom were still editing stories and working on the website) how proud I was of them and their efforts.

They give me great hope about the future of our profession.

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Do yourself a favor: come to Fort Lauderdale

I’ve been a journalist for 34 years, and the learning curve in the past five years has been just as steep as it was for the first five.

I’ve learned to tweet, blog and use social media to advance my writing and reporting.

I’ve learned how to shoot and edit video. I even spent some time in film school learning about visual grammar and how to tell a story in a minute or two.

I’ve produced my own Internet radio news program. I’ve covered raging floods with my trusty iPad. And I still take notes the old-fashioned way, with pen and notepad.

None of this is remotely a complaint. Learning how to tell old familiar stories in completely new ways has been one of the pure joys of being a reporter in recent years.

I look at the world differently now. While on assignment, I think to myself: I can live-blog this, shoot some raw video, write my story on a park bench and tweet breaking news. It’s terrific fun, and somehow I still get paid for it.

One very tangible reason I still have this job (aside from my sheer incompetence at almost everything else) is the fact that I’ve managed to stay somewhat current with all these changes thanks in no small part to SPJ.

Most newsrooms have had to cut back if not eliminate their budgets for training and continuing education. If you want to take a couple of days off now to attend a seminar or a conference, chances are they will be on your own dime and time.

That’s why I think SPJ is such a solid investment in myself. For $75 a year, I’ve been able to access a ton of training and tools that have enabled me to be a better reporter.

I think back to all those spring conferences I’ve attended in Salt Lake City, Denver, Fort Collins, Colo., Long Island, N.Y., and Tacoma, Wash. There wasn’t one where I didn’t come back to the newsroom the following Monday and start applying something I had learned.

The pace of learning accelerates even more when I think of what I learned at our national conventions in Chicago, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Las Vegas and New Orleans.

That’s one reason I’m so looking forward to this year’s convention, Sept 20 to 22 at the Harbor Beach Resort in Fort Lauderdale. It’ll be our second year teaming with the Radio Television Digital News Association to present the conference we call Excellence in Journalism. (Information and registration are

First, there’s the hotel itself. It is so unlike any of the earlier convention venues we’ve been to in recent years. You walk out the back door and you’re a short walk from the ocean.

The white-sand beach has sections roped off for a tortoise nesting area. I’m told on a moon-lit night you can go down to the water’s edge and see these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.

If I were not slated to be at a national board meeting, I would definitely take the hovercraft tour of the Everglades. And I plan a return visit to an outrageously retro Polynesian tiki bar that dates back to the 1950s. (Think “Mad Men” with flame dancers and umbrella drinks.)

But I digress. There’s also some excellent learning opportunities and great speakers.

One of our keynote speakers is Sree Sreenivasan, a Columbia University journalism professor who I heard talk earlier this year at an SPJ event in New York City. He is an expert on using social media to enhance your journalism skills. An hour with him will definitely raise your reporting game.

And not everything is high tech. Another speaker is Rick Bragg, a Pulitzer-winning New York Times reporter and best-selling author. In my book, Rick is one of the best storytellers of our generation. And trust me, even in a digital age, stories still matter. I think they matter more.

Our partnership with RTDNA has made our conventions even more useful. As all forms of media have converged in recent years, people on all sides of our profession have skills that are useful to share.

For example, one breakout session I’m hoping to catch is “Unleash Your Inner Broadcaster,” presented by the Public Radio News Directors. This is a program we would never have been able to assemble without our friends from RTDNA.

Oh, and one of my personal journalism heroes, longtime public radio host Bob Edwards, will be speaking. He’ll also receive our Fellows of the Society award, one of our highest honors. I can’t wait.

This convention also will mark the end of my year as president. This job has been a joy, and I intend to work it hard right up to the last day.

But one thing I’ll enjoy when I turn the presidency over to the very able Sonny Albarado is this: When the 2013 convention in Anaheim rolls around, I expect there will be a lot more time to soak up the learning there.

But you won’t have to wait that long. Stop reading and register today while you can still get the early bird rate (ends Aug. 28). After all, aren’t you and your career worth the investment?

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Toughing it out: Great journalism in hard times

Note: A version of this post is in the May/June issue of Quill magazine as John Ensslin’s “From the President” column.

We live in difficult times. Not a month goes by without fresh news of colleagues who have either lost their jobs or are left to deal with the harsh reality of a smaller newsroom operating on diminished resources.

It’s distressing to read about copy editors being laid off. As someone who has been saved from many an embarrassing gaffe, I’ve come to appreciate the value of a robust copy desk.

Shedding copy editors is like burning the furniture to stay warm. It’s a desperate option, and in the end, the news outlet gets burnt.

But hard times require hard people, and journalists — especially SPJ members — are a tough, creative and resourceful bunch.

For vivid proof, look no further than the May/June Quill, where we honor the work of this year’s Sigma Delta Chi Award winners from newsrooms large and small.

There are some amazing stories here. Take, for example, Corrine Reilly’s riveting description of an operating room in a NATO hospital in Afghanistan for The Virginian-Pilot.

Or the tough, ground-breaking stories that Sara Ganim and her colleagues at the Patriot-News did on the sex assault allegations against former Penn State football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky — which also won a Pulitzer this year.

Or Matt Lakin’s exposé of an epidemic of pain-killer addiction in East Tennessee for the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

All of this work was done against the backdrop of news organizations that are stretched to meet their bottom line. But the work still gets done because reporters, editors, photographers and news directors believed in these stories. They did what had to be done.

We salute them, and I look forward to meeting these fellow journalists when we hold our annual SDX Awards banquet at the National Press Club on Friday, July 20.

If you are near the D.C. area, consider joining us. I know from attending last year’s banquet that it is an inspirational evening and well worth your time and the price of admission. See here for ticket information.

If you can’t be there, stay tuned for a series of “Studio SPJ” programs that will feature interviews with some of the winners on how they got their story. More on these and past programs is here.

Exceptional work like this gives me optimism for the future of journalism. I also found grounds for optimism recently while on a sentimental journey into journalism’s past.

In May, I visited Silverton, an old frontier mining town in southwest Colorado and home to the Silverton Standard & The Miner.

The purpose of my trip was to help dedicate a plaque commemorating the site of the newspaper’s office as one of SPJ’s Historic Sites in Journalism.

The Standard & The Miner became the 94th entry on our list and the second in Colorado, joining the Denver Press Club, which was added in 2008.

This weekly newspaper has been a fixture in Silverton since 1875, when it began telling the stories of this town through good times and bad.

You want to talk about tough times? How about this: The original publisher had to haul the printing press and then rolls of newsprint over a 10,910-foot mountain pass.

The paper has endured through boom and bust cycles as well as an outbreak of Spanish influenza that wiped out 10 percent of the town’s population.

What’s particularly remarkable about the paper’s recent history is what happened in 2009 when the previous owner was set to close the paper. The San Juan Historical Society stepped forward, bought the paper and continues to run it on a non-profit basis.

Silverton Mayor Chris Tookey summed up the town’s feelings at a May 5 dedication ceremony:

“We’re so excited that everybody got together and kept our newspaper alive,” she told the crowd that had gathered for the event.

I told the crowd that the plaque was not just to commemorate a site where journalism has been practiced. Rather, the honor was for the unbreakable bond that exists between this paper and its community.

The challenges we face today in serving our communities are no less daunting than they were for the owners of the Silverton paper when they had to haul newsprint over a steep mountain pass in the dead of a Colorado winter.

But as they showed then, and as our SDX Award winners show now, it can be done, and it will be done.

We are a tough, resourceful bunch. We will find our way.

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Tech tools can help knit SPJ closer

One of my goals this year as SPJ president has been to use technology where possible to improve communications within our organization.

That’s why I’ve put an emphasis on encouraging chapters to use tools like Blog Talk Radio and Google+ hangouts as a way to program SPJ activities while overcoming the usual obstacles of distance, scheduling and logistics.

And that’s why we’ve been making extensive use of our gotomeeting platform for various committee meetings.

The platform has enabled us to host our first virtual executive committee meeting last month and our first virtual board meeting on June 16.

And this month, we’re launching two new initiatives that show promise.

On Wednesday, June 13, SPJ will offer members our first webinar. Board member Michael Koretzky will present his popular talk “Weird Careers in the Media,” which offers tips on non-traditional jobs where journalism skills can be useful.

Over 175 of you have already signed up for this program, which is very encouraging.

Our Professional Development Committee is working to bring you more webinars with useful instruction later this year.

The second initiative is something that will begin later this week when we launch a series of virtual town hall meetings, one in each of our 12 regions.

These sessions will be a chance for us to talk face to face about some of the issues confronting SPJ. It will be an opportunity for those of us on the national board to talk with members about our efforts. And it will provide a forum for candidates running for office later this year to talk directly and answer questions from the membership.

Taking part will be relatively easy. You can simply dial in by telephone or use your computer to listen to the meeting and offer your own comments and questions. Those of you who have webcams will also be able to communicate face-to-face.

These virtual meetings can accommodate up to 25 people. We will fill those spots on a first-come, first-serve basis. If you would like me to send you a link to the program, please email me at

Here’s a list of the town hall meetings we’ve scheduled so far. All times are Eastern:

Region 1 – Saturday, June 30 at 11 a.m.
Region 2 – Saturday, August 25 at 11 a.m.
Region 3 – Saturday, July 7 at noon
Region 4 – Saturday, June 16 at 3 p.m.
Region 5 – Saturday, June 9 at noon
Region 6 – Saturday, August 11 at 1 p.m.
Region 7 – Saturday, June 30 at 1 p.m.
Region 8 – to be determined.
Region 9 – Saturday, June 23 at 2 p.m.
Region 10 – Saturday, June 23 at 3 p.m.
Region 11 – Saturday, July 14 at 3 p.m.
Region 12 – Saturday, July 14 at 2 p.m.

Hope to see you at your regional meeting.

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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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Thoughts on arrests of journalists simply doing their jobs

We’ve had a flurry of incidents lately where SPJ has objected to the unwarranted arrests of journalists at street protests or crime scenes.

-In September, a television photojournalist in Milwaukee was arrested while filming a crime scene from behind a police tape.

-In October, a reporter from an alternative weekly in Nashville was swept up in a wave of several arrests made at an Occupy Nashville demonstration on a public plaza.

-Also in  October, Milwaukee Police arrested a Journal-Sentinel photographer as she took pictures of an officer arresting students who had marched into the streets off the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus.

-On Nov. 1, a photographer for a Richmond, Va. magazine was arrested at an Occupy demonstration.

-On Nov. 6, police in Atlanta arrested two student journalists who were covering an Occupy Atlanta protest.

-And this week, six journalists were detained at Occupy Wall Street in New York City and two at an Occupy demonstration in Chapel Hill, N.C.

The facts and circumstances of these cases vary, but there is one significant common denominator: All the journalists whom police arrested were trying to do their jobs.

I have some empathy for police who are coping with street demonstrations or public protests. My late brother was was a police sergeant in New Jersey. We talked about his job and mine when I was covering the police beat for The Rocky Mountain News in Denver for 12 years.

Both his experience and mine taught me a respect for police officers and the difficult work they do often under chaotic circumstances.

But reporters also often have to work in chaotic situations, which seemed to be the case in three of the four cases cited here. It’s hard enough covering a street demonstration without the added complication of being subject to arrest.

I’ve covered a few riots, and believe me, they are no fun. I’ve been tear gassed, hit in the shoulder by a fist-sized chunk of ice, and dodged a rock. In one instance, a Denver homicide detective came to my rescue when an angry crowd had formed outside a crime scene.

So while I object to seeing journalists handcuffed and arrested, I understand that in a volatile street protest, police are human and mistakes are made.

And as journalists covering these situations, I think it’s important that we adhere to some common sense guidelines.

First off, stay behind the police tape. Police have a right to create a zone in which they can control access to a crime scene. Respect that space.

What’s so aggravating about the first instance is that the cameraman was filming from the public side of the police tape when he was arrested.

Second, wear your credentials. Make it obvious to anyone who sees you that you are part of the working press.

What’s outrageous about the second Milwaukee arrest is that the photographer very clearly was wearing credentials as well as the kind of camera equipment typically used by a photo-journalist.

A police spokeswoman’s subsequent claim that officers did not realize the photographer was a journalist was incredulous at best.

Likewise, a videotape taken by the Nashville reporter clearly captured him telling officers that he was a journalist. They arrested him anyway.

And finally, don’t blur the distinctions between observer and the observed. I know sometimes we like to take the “fly on the wall” approach and not call attention to ourselves. But a street protest is not that kind of situation.

Would any of these steps have prevented any of these arrests? No, because in all these instances the journalists did what they were supposed to do and got arrested anyway.

But taking these steps helps us bolster our case when we protest the arrest of journalists who are simply doing their jobs.



What do you think about these arrests?
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