Archive for the ‘SPJ’ Category


One step forward: Shield Law

So this happened on the first day of August in the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee: Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) submitted an amendment to the shield law bill he and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced back in May that actually strengthens the protections contained in the Free Flow of Information Act.

And the committee adopted the amendment.

Great news, but this is no time to get complacent.

Yes, S. 987 has bipartisan support (19 sponsors and counting), but key members of the judiciary committee remain uncommitted or intend to vote against it.

Most troubling is that Sen. Dianne Feinsten (D-Calif.) and co-sponsor Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) want to amend the bill to define who can be a journalist. Feinstein did the same thing the last time a shield bill was before the committee.

The latest Feinstein-Durbin amendment substitutes the word “journalists” wherever the Schumer-Graham bill contains “covered persons.”

You see, the Schumer legislation seeks to protect people engaged in the act of journalism. Feinstein wants to limit the protection to, as she said in committee, “real reporters.”

Specifically, the Schumer bill protects those who gather news and other information of public interest with the primary intent to disseminate the information to the public.

To receive the qualified protection of S. 987, an individual must be found by a court to meet each of these requirements:

  1. The person regularly gathers, prepares, collects, photographs, records, writes, edits or reports about matters of public interest by (a) conducting interviews; (b) directly observing events; or (c) collecting, reviewing, or analyzing original writings, statements, communications, reports, memoranda, records, transcripts, documents, photographs, recordings, tapes, materials, data, or other information.
  2. The person intended to disseminate news to the public at the beginning of the newsgathering process.
  3. The person obtains the news or information [being] sought in order to disseminate the news or information by means of print, broadcasting, mechanical, photographic, electronic, or other means.

Feinstein’s amendment, in addition to replacing “covered person” with “journalist,” defines “journalist” as a person who is paid – either salaried, independent contractor or agent – by an entity that disseminates news or information.

Her amendment also includes language about having the intent to disseminate news or information, but it’s pretty clear that under her definition, a lot of people covered by the Schumer bill would be left without the fig leaf that a limited shield law provides.

But this is no time to get despondent.

Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) ended the committee meeting before Feinstein’s or anyone else’s amendment (there are close to 40) could be brought to a vote. The committee will take the bill up again after the August recess.

In the meantime, contact the members of the Judiciary Committee, ask them to vote for the bill as presented by Schumer and to vote against any amendments that weaken it, such as Feinstein’s.

Heck, contact the good senator from California and explain why it’s better to define journalism rather than journalist.

 

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

On “fundamental” rights

During a local SPJ discussion about legislation affecting Arkansas’ Freedom of Information Act in March, state Sen. Eddie Joe Williams (R-Cabot) told the gathered journalists that FOI is not a right but a privilege.

Members of the audience objected to Williams’ characterization of FOI laws as a privilege. One young journalist said it disturbed her to hear freedom of information described as a privilege, “when it’s a tool that protects a variety of rights.”

But it seems Williams may have just been presaging the retrograde thinking evident in Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in McBurney v. Young, a case that challenged a provision of Virginia’s open-records law that limits access to citizens of that state.

Justice Samuel Alito, writing for a unanimous court, declared Virginia’s citizens-only restriction constitutional. Much of the opinion unfortunately focused on the commercial uses of public data, but it’s the section on the history of public records that offends open-government sensibilities.

Justice Alito and the court show skilled reasoning in noting that, although Virginia’s public-records law denies access to nonresidents, it does allow nonresidents access to its courts and other data in a way that provided most of the documents that had been sought by the two non-Virginian petitioners, Mark McBurney and Roger Hurlbert.

But when Justice Alito’s opinion veers into a peevish recounting of the blighted history of public-records jurisprudence, he and the court show how out of touch with Americans they are.

Does it really matter that “[m]ost founding-era English cases provided that only those persons who had a personal interest in non-judicial records were permitted to access them,” as Justice Alito wrote? Or that 19th century American cases tracked a similar philosophy?

He could just as easily have noted that American law once considered only white male property owners eligible to vote, and been just as relevant.

It’s alarming that Justice Alito asserts repeatedly that access to public records is not a “fundamental” right and that the country was just fine without FOI laws before the 1960s and will be fine without them in the future

Yes, Justice Alito and friends, the federal FOI law is only 47 years old and similar state laws about as recent. Open-government advocates fought hard-won battles to make local, state and federal governments more transparent to the citizens they serve.

Maybe “the Constitution itself is [not] a Freedom of Information Act,” as you wrote, but your opinion in McBurney gives regressive legislators safe cover to start closing access doors that are now open.

Only a half dozen states, including Arkansas, have public records laws that allow agencies to deny out-of-staters access to state and local documents. Let’s hope the number of states limiting access to residents remains at six after this ruling because the ability of Americans to figure out what is going on in their country – not just their state – will be severely diminished..

Without access to public records from many states, the Columbus Dispatch in 2009 could not have demonstrated that excessive secrecy exists at public universities nationwide because of abuse of the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act.

Without access to multiple jurisdictions, the Kansas City Star in 1997 might not have revealed lax safety measures nationwide that allowed college athletes to die.

Without access to a broad range of data, ProPublica’s Robin Fields in 2010 would have been hampered in showing wide disparities nationally in dialysis care.

That is scary, particularly at a time when the world is becoming more open. Americans don’t need more bunkering and secrecy. We are one nation, extremely mobile, and information is more portable and important than ever.

If we want to remain a beacon of freedom and justice, of progressive modernism, of advanced thinking, then we need to stand up against thinking that it’s OK to restrict or inhibit access to our governments, no matter where we live.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

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.

 

 

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

WHAT WE DID IN ANAHEIM

(Editor’s Note: This report is the president’s synopsis of the Executive Committee’s Jan. 19, 2013, meeting and does not represent the official minutes.)

At its winter meeting in Anaheim, Calif., the SPJ Executive Committee adopted new financial-reporting requirements for chapters, recommended that the full SPJ Board adopt proposed openness and accountability guidelines and asked me to present proposed social media guidelines to the full board at its April meeting.

CHAPTER FINANCES

 The seven-member Executive Committee unanimously adopted an immediate change in the financial-reporting requirements that professional chapters must meet when they file their annual reports with SPJ headquarters. The change requires chapters, beginning with the annual report to be filed in June, to include copies of the chapter’s bank statements for the preceding 12 months.

 The committee took this extraordinary step because of the recent discovery of financial impropriety in the Greater Los Angeles Pro Chapter. This marked the second time in less than a year that a pro chapter learned that a trusted member had made unauthorized withdrawals from its bank account.

 The L.A. chapter discovered its financial losses after adopting the fiscal best practices that the SPJ Board approved last September in Ft. Lauderdale. One of the recommended practices advises chapters to create an ad hoc budget committee to craft a chapter budget. The Los Angeles chapter did that and wound up removing its treasurer from office. The chapter board hired an attorney and took steps to get a professional accounting of its assets.

National Executive Committee members were gravely concerned at this latest news of mishandled chapter finances. We asked ourselves how many more chapters might be oblivious to such impropriety because they fail to take sensible steps to treat their financial activities in a business-like manner.

Consequently, the committee acted to ensure that someone at the national level keeps an eye on all chapters to make sure they are relying on evidence rather than trust when it comes to their finances.

As it happened, President-elect Dave Cuillier’s report on openness and accountability (see next section) contained a recommendation that every chapter and regional director be required to submit copies of their bank statements as part of their annual reports to SPJ headquarters. (Regional directors aren’t required to submit annual reports, but that may be something worth considering.)

The Executive Committee also voted to recommend that the full board offer the Los Angeles chapter a line of credit up to $5,000 to help it with its legal expenses. The committee’s vote was split – 4 to 2. (I did not vote.)

L.A. chapter representative Lauren Bartlett asked SPJ’s national leaders for a grant, but the committee opposed an outright grant. While the chapter still has several thousand dollars in its bank account, its board is concerned that its legal fees may exceed its remaining treasury, Bartlett told us.

Since the Executive Committee meeting, L.A. chapter President Alice Walton has told me that the chapter may not need the line of credit.

The Oklahoma chapter’s treasury was wiped out by its former treasurer, but the chapter has so far not asked for assistance, relying instead on donations and fund-raising.

 OPENNESS & ACCOUNTABILITY

In the wake of debate over openness and accountability at last September’s convention in Ft. Lauderdale, I asked Dave Cuillier to develop, with others, recommended best practices for chapters to make sure their actions are as transparent as possible. The proposal that Dave presented to the Executive Committee is equally applicable to the national organization.

Here is the preamble of the proposed Openness and Accountability Best Practices:

The Society of Professional Journalists and its professional and student chapters are not government entities, but members believe in the strongest principles of transparency — the business of the people should be done before the people, inviting the people to participate. The following guidelines provide tips and recommendations for fostering openness and accountability at the local, regional and national levels of the society.

The guidelines address methods for making meetings accessible and being open in our communications and with our records.

The committee voted unanimously to send the proposal to the full board for adoption in April. The full text of the proposal can be found here. OPENNESS DRAFT

Dave’s report addressed the background under which the best-practices proposal was developed. The report cited the Press Club of Long Island’s openness policy, which the chapter adopted in December. And it noted that chapter leaders who responded to a quick survey are generally supportive of more openness.

Along with the openness guidelines approved by the Executive Committee, Dave’s report also included proposed action steps, some of which headquarters staff are already implementing. Such as: providing chapters with a basic level of web support to help them create and maintain websites, blogs and/or Facebook pages for posting meeting notices, agendas, minutes and other records.

During discussion of this report, the committee urged staff to make sure that important national SPJ documents can be easily found on the website. SPJ’s bylaws, IRS Form 990s and other financial reports, the conflict of interest policy, whistleblower policy and other items already are posted to the site but are difficult to find.

DIGITAL COMMUNICATIONS

After EIJ12, I asked Brandon Ballenger, treasurer of the South Florida Pro Chapter, and staff chapter coordinator Tara Puckey to head up a small task force to develop recommended social media guidelines and to answer questions about the use of SPJ’s many blogs.

The task force ultimately included SPJ Gen J co-chair Victoria Reitano, Director-at-Large Carl Corry and former SPJ board member James Pilcher.

The group’s report stressed common sense in all digital communications involving SPJ. A copy of the full report can be found here. Digital Media Committee 1.7.2013

The group made two proposals:

  • A set of guidelines to follow when SPJ’s president asks another officer, board member or chapter leader to conduct a fact-finding mission in anticipation of an official SPJ statement or comment on an event of interest to journalists and journalism.

  • Proposed social media practices that focus on disclosure, content and live events.

I recommended to the Executive Committee that it forward to the full board the proposed social media guidelines with the understanding that a new draft with some slight changes will be prepared. The committee supported that recommendation.

WORKING PRESS

The Executive Committee gave Joe Skeel the authority to alter the Working Press program and partner with RTDNA’s student project. As a result SPJ will no longer produce a printed newspaper at the annual conference. Some members may disapprove of this move, but the committee felt the timing was right.

The time, energy and costs associated with printing a daily journal for just three days have expanded to the point that we had to take a serious look at the cost-benefit ratio. Another factor we considered is that a fourth of the students who participate in the Working Press are dedicated to production activities rather than going out and about to gain reporting experience. While there remains a need for designers and other “production” workers, we felt the more valuable experience would for students would be in honing their online and video production skills along with their reporting and writing skills.

We intend to keep the project a competitive internship for about 12 students. They will cover the convention as they always have (while making contacts within the news industry.) Working professionals will continue to serve as advisers. The only major difference will be in how the news about the convention is delivered – online via social media and other platforms.

Breaking from tradition is always difficult, but when faced with the challenges and limitations of a printed product and the need for SPJ to be perceived as relevant among the next generation of journalists, the change was relatively easy to decide.

OTHER BUSINESS

Secretary-Treasurer Dana Neuts reported on three initiatives she’s spearheaded:

  • Providing freelancers and other SPJ members with SPJ Solutions, a source of insurance and financial services products through Westpoint Financial Group in Indianapolis.

  • Creating a Contest Advisory Group to connect chapters and regions that sponsor journalism contests and facilitate contest-judging swaps among them.

  • Securing a copyright for the Freelance Guide that the Freelance Committee developed while Dana was committee chair.

One of the traditions of the winter Executive Committee meeting is deciding which officers attend which regional spring conference. Here’s the list:

  • March 15-17

Region 3, Atlanta – Cuillier and Albarado

  • April 5-7

Region 4, Dayton, OH – Ralston

Region 12, Oxford, MS – Albarado

  • April 12-14

Region 1, New Brunswick, NJ – Albarado

Region 6, Bloomington, MN – Ralston

Region 9, Santa Fe, NM – Eckert

Region 10, Spokane – Neuts

Region 11, Las Vegas – Cuillier

  • April 19-21

Region 2, Norfolk, VA – None. This is the same weekend as the SPJ Board spring meeting in Indy

  • April 26-28

Regions 5 & 7, St. Louis – Ralston

  • May 3-5

Region 8, San Antonio – Albarado

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

ATLANTA TO DROP CHARGES

Word from Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed that charges will be dropped against two student journalists and an intern for Creative Loafing who were all arrested last November while photographing and recording Occupy Atlanta protests. I hope SPJ’s letter, along with letters from other journalism organizations, may have played a small part in this outcome.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

Ethics questions are a way of life

Note: A version of this column also appears in the March/April issue of Quill magazine.

A journalist friend who also is commissioner in a fantasy baseball league to which I belong recently sent an email to all the team owners who also are journalists.

Does playing in a league that features modest fees and prize money constitute a form of sports betting? he inquired. And if so, does that constitute an ethical violation?

After all, he noted, there have been cases where sports columnists have been disciplined and even fired following disclosures that they had placed some rather large bets with gambling bookies.

Ultimately, we decided to go ahead with our league this spring because none of us are sports reporters, the money is nominal and winning requires a lot more strategy and skill than a simple bet.

But I bring up this matter not just because it raised an interesting question but I loved the mere fact that we were having that conversation.

It also illustrates a belief that I’ve long held when it came to journalism ethics.

I’ve never thought of ethics as a high-brow concept or something that we ponder during the occasional panel or classroom discussion. It’s not a code of conduct written in stone or parsed in a textbook.

To me, it’s more like a daily meditation and a way of looking at the world. It’s part of the fabric of everyday life as a reporter, not just on big stories where there are tough decisions and close judgement calls.

I think of it more as a practice that requires some thoughtful behavior on matters as large as a front page story or as small a cup of coffee that we insist on paying for or whether we can place can place a small bet on a sporting event.

Ethical decision making is also something that grows more difficult the harder we work at our craft.

When I’ve talked to student journalists on this topic, I explain that one way they can avoid an ethical dilemma is to not work very hard and not dig very deep.

But then I quickly add that they’ll be lousy journalists if they don’t dig deeper into news stories and willingly put themselves into situations where ethical questions grow more frequent and complex.

That’s also one reason why I like the SPJ Code of Ethics, particularly in the way we apply it not as an immutable set of rules but rather a tool to help working journalists work though those problems.

The latest  issue of Quill is the one we devote each year to stories on journalism ethics. It comes out at a time of year when many of our chapters will be holding ethics events ranging from panel discussions to the popular ethics poker games.

But our preoccupation with this topic is year round and day-by-day.

Small wonder then that journalism ethics is the one area where SPJ is viewed as the industry leader and where our code is seen as the gold standard.

We do a lot of great and important work each year in other areas such as freedom of information, diversity, professional training and defending the public’s right to know.

But our ethics code — as one longtime SPJ member once told me — is our franchise. It’s the area where people both inside and outside our profession turn to us first.

Just within this past year we’ve had a would-be presidential candidate and a school board in New Jersey try to use our code to their own purpose.

In both instances, we’ve had to remind people that one of the strengths of our code and the reason for its durability  is because it is a voluntary set of guidelines that call for balancing competing interests in order to do what is right.

But the fact that they held up our code as something of value is a testament to its strength and utility.

I also love the fact that we’re never done with this work. Last year, SPJ and SDX published the fourth edition of our book “Journalism Ethics – a Casebook of Professional Conduct for News Media.”

And this year, our Ethics Committee has undertaken an ambitious project of issuing a series of white papers that elaborate on such topics as political activity and checkbook journalism.

I’d urge you go out and buy the book and read those white papers on our website and thumb through the stories in Quill.

I think you’ll find as I do that not a working day goes by when these guideposts are not useful tools in negotiating and resolving ethical questions, be they large or small.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

Nobody asked me, but… Updates from the president

I’m very excited that SPJ recently opened an account that will enable us to host online meetings and webinars.

We’ve subscribed to GoToMeeting and GoToWebinar. While there is a bit of a learning curve to understanding how to operate them, I see great promise here.

For example, let’s say a chapter in New Jersey would like to host a webinar featuring an expert in Denver talking about search engine optimization. We can do that now.

Let’s say the Diversity Committee would like to host a meeting where the members can talk and conduct a video conference. We can do that too.

And let’s say the Executive Committee wants to hold a virtual meeting that other members want to watch live. We can and will do that. Stay tuned for details.

Death of a journalist

Speaking of virtual programs … I thought Linda Jue of our Northern California chapter conducted a really interesting interview last week with journalist Thomas Peele.

Peele talked about his new book, “Killing the Messenger,” which details the background of the 2007 murder of Oakland journalist Chauncey Bailey.  It’s not really what you would call a true crime book, but rather a history of the Black Muslim movement and the cult to which Bailey’s killers belonged.

I was particularly fascinated to learn that while Bailey was killed because of a story he was working on, he was not what you would describe as a classic investigative journalist, Peele said.

“Chauncey was a community journalist, editor of a community newspaper,” Peele said. “He wanted to make the community paper, The Oakland Post, stronger.”

“His background was in daily journalism. He had been a reporter at The Detroit News. He was one of those workhorse journalists that we all know who could turn out 2-3 stories a day and fill up the newspaper.”

“…He was a good daily reporter, but he simply didn’t work on long investigative projects. It wasn’t the nature of the journalism that he did.”

Peele described how Bailey was killed over a 15 inch story that had not yet been published when he was gunned down while walking to work on Aug. 2, 2007.

Hear the podcast of this 30-minute program

 

Mobbed up in Boston

And speaking of crime and journalism, I could not pass up an opportunity to host a segment of Studio SPJ on Saturday, March 10 at noon ET with Boston Globe journalist Emily Sweeney.

Emily is president of our New England chapter and a member of our Digital Media Committee. I’ve been a fan of her work for some time. As a former crime reporter myself, I loved her Globe story, “Greatest Hits – A Mob Tour of Boston.”

We’ll talk about her new book, “Boston Organized Crime.” So be sure to tune in. You can hear the live broadcast or listen later to the podcast here.

 

Textbook Authors in the Big Easy

Here’s another program that might interest you.

Mary Kay Switzer, a longtime member of SPJ’s Cal Poly Pomona chapter, is national president of the Text and Academic Authors Association, which will host its 25th annual confab in New Orleans June 8-9.

A bit of info on the gathering:

The conference will feature two workshops, more than a dozen sessions and several small-group discussions; the opportunity to meet one-on-one with a veteran author or attorney specializing in educational publishing; and several networking opportunities, including a welcome breakfast and an evening networking reception.

Joy Hakim, author of the ten-volume K-12 textbook series, “A History of US,” and three-volume textbook series, “The Story of Science,” will give a keynote presentation on Friday morning titled, “Textbooks Should Be Great Books!”

And thanks to TAA for sharing information with their members on our SPJ spring conferences.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

A Valentine for journalism – ‘This I Know’

Our SPJ colleagues in Colorado have produced a video that I’d like to bring to your attention.

It’s a 60-second valentine to the power of journalism called “This I Know.”

The video was born out of the frustration many of us felt after coming so tantalizing close to passage of a national Shield Law for journalists in late 2010.

But then came Wikileaks and the bipartisan support we had won came unglued. At the end of that debate you might have thought that the whole point of the Shield law was to deal with Julian Assange.

Lost in that debate was the simple fact of the people whom a Shield Law was meant to protect, hard-working journalists whose work shines a light on those dark or unnoticed corners of society. It’s work that vital to the health of a democracy.

So last spring, a group of volunteers set out to remind people of the real beneficiaries of a Shield Law – not just the journalists who produce this valuable work – but the readers, viewers and listeners who depend upon it.

To drive home this point, we assembled a cast of mostly non-journalists. They included a lawyer, a hospice director, a public relations professional, a bartender, a gadfly and a law student.

The only journalist in the bunch was a 16-year-old crusading editor of a high school newspaper.

The one common denominator of the group was their appreciation of the work that journalists do.

Under the direction of my SPJ colleague Cynthia Hessin and the camera work of my friend Jerome Ryden, we gathered one Saturday morning in the Denver studio of Rocky Mountain PBS.

They took turns reading lines that began with the refrain, “Because of a journalist…”

“Because of a journalist…I know who used steroids in baseball.”

“Because of a journalist…I know who covered up the Watergate break-in.”

“Because of a journalist…I know about the torture at Abu Ghraib.”

I’ll be the first to admit that this is not a slick video. The people speaking these lines are clearly not polished actors or spokespeople.

They are just regular folks who happen to believe that the work we do matters.

That’s why I screened this video on the night I took my oath as SPJ president in New Orleans.

That’s also why I’m asking chapter leaders if they would consider screening this video at the start of their next SPJ event or posting it to their chapter website.

Will any of this move us one bit closer to a national Shield Law? Not likely.

But in these tough times, I think it’s important to remind people of the value journalism has to the people who rely upon us for the work we do.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

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.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

The state of SPJ – remarks to the Greater Charlotte chapter

While the SPJ Executive Committee visited with members of our Greater Charlotte chapter in North Carolina on Jan. 27, I gave a talk on the State of the Society.

Below is a copy of my remarks (although not an exact transcript.) Or watch the video, uploaded by the Charlotte chapter:

I’d like to take a moment here to share a few thoughts on the state of SPJ — on where we are and where we’re going.

First off, tonight we’ve reached another milestone in SPJ’s long and storied history. We’re celebrating the 100th anniversary of Quill, our signature magazine.

What started as a fraternity newsletter in January 1912 has evolved into an outstanding magazine that helps our members stay current with what going on in journalism and within the Society.

And think about it. How many magazines in America have survived a century or more? Well, there’s Scientific American at 167 years old and Harper’s at 162. But there aren’t a lot more, and as I like to tell our editor, Scott, we’re older than Time.

The pages of Quill tell the history of journalism in America, and later this year, we’re going tap into some of the magazine’s images to tell our history as well. SPJ member Jennifer Peebles is building an interactive timeline of significant events in SPJ history. So, watch for that.

Looking ahead in that history, I’m hoping we can increase our online version of Quill so it’s something members can turn to every day instead of six times a year.

SPJ has a long history of advocating for journalists and the public’s right to know, and this year that has certainly been true. We protested the arrests of several journalists who were wrongfully detained or arrested while covering various “Occupy” demonstrations across the county.

We’ve committed $1,000 from our Legal Defense Fund for a freelance photojournalist who was arrested while covering an Occupy Wall Street demonstration.

We’ll continue to fight these good fights and to stand with journalists who are in that often lonely place of taking fire for simply doing their jobs.

Another thing SPJ is known for is its ethics code, which some folks have called the gold standard for our industry.

Last year, we reached an important goal with the publication of the 4th edition of a textbook of ethics case studies. This year, we’re taking that a step further by writing a series of white papers on various ethics topics.

I’d urge you to take a look at these essays. They are posted on our website, spj.org. They show that for us, journalism ethics is not just a textbook on a shelf, but an on-going set of values that are useful when doing our jobs every day.

SPJ is also about to do something we’ve never done before: be a landlord.

Thanks to some hard work by our Executive Director, Joe Skeel, we are on the verge of signing a lease with a global recruitment firm that wants to rent the underutilized second floor of our headquarters in Indianapolis.

This will require us to invest some funds into renovating that part of the building, but in the long run, it will create a new stream of revenue.

Now you would be right to ask: What does this have to do with journalism? Nothing really. But at time when other journalism organizations are struggling just to stay afloat, we’re doing something that will help stabilize SPJ’s finances and ensure our future.

And finally, I have some good news about SPJ’s membership.

For the first time since 2008, we are starting the year with more members than we had the year before. Not a lot — just about 200 to 300 more — but it has been that way consistently for more than two months.

Part of that increase may be due to an increase in the number of entries were seeing for our annual Mark of Excellence college journalism awards.  But I think some of the credit also goes to our membership committee, which has been reaching out to lapsed members and talking them into sticking with SPJ.

I hope you’ll help us continue to build on this small trend. I’m asking that every chapter, student and pro, do one membership-building event in the month of March.

We’re calling it our own March Membership Month. You’ll be hearing more about it in the next few weeks, and when you do, please do what you can to ensure that our Society continues to grow in the year ahead.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit


Newest Posts

Region 7 Career Connection, 09.29.14 September 30, 2014, 2:03 am
New campus chapters, social media accounts September 30, 2014, 1:55 am
Words in news, not in life September 26, 2014, 8:07 pm
Cincy restaging ‘Cabaret’ September 26, 2014, 8:02 pm
Region 7 Career Connection, 09.23.14 September 23, 2014, 7:42 pm
Highlights, week of Sept. 15 September 22, 2014, 11:48 pm
Soviet-style information control September 21, 2014, 5:31 am

Copyright © 2007-2014 Society of Professional Journalists. All Rights Reserved. Legal

Society of Professional Journalists
Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Center, 3909 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46208
317/927-8000 | Fax: 317/920-4789 | Contact SPJ Headquarters | Employment Opportunities | Advertise with SPJ