Board votes 13-3 against new boundaries, contraction

On Monday, the SPJ national board met electronically to discuss a proposal to change the board structure.

Region 3 Director Michael’s Koretzky’s proposal had four parts, including cutting the number of SPJ regions from 12 to 9. Also, one of the two campus adviser at-large positions would be cut. That would decrease the size of the national board from 23 to 19.

Some of the savings by having less stipend money could be distributed to chapters for programming.

The board had a conference call about the idea on May 9, but held off taking any action, to gather reaction from SPJ chapters and members.

On Monday, during our second meeting about the proposal, the board voted 13-3 to reject it. There was one abstention.

The only three votes in favor were by Koretzky, President-Elect Lynn Walsh and Region 6 Director Joe Radske.

I voted no. I’m not against contracting the board, and I appreciate the window of opportunity we have with no declared candidates yet for the three regional director positions that would be cut. But I’d like to see a more comprehensive review of the board makeup and structure than this one change.

Cutting three positions without people in them might seem like a simple change, but the board heard feedback from people across the country who didn’t like the new groupings of states and chapters. Some cited cohesion between certain chapters. Others questioned the much longer distances they would have to travel for regional conferences.

Koretzy’s response to the travel question was that people can attend whichever regional conference they want. That’s true, but it doesn’t answer the legitimate concern about Mark of Excellence Awards that are given out at regional conferences. A student wouldn’t enter in one region, then attend an MOE award luncheon in another.

We could try to fix that, too, by letting students enter the MOE awards in whatever region they want. But that could get sticky. Could a student in Los Angeles enter in the Northeast? Maybe we could require students to enter their own region or one that is contiguous.

Perhaps these details could be worked out, but we didn’t work them out in advance and didn’t provide answers. Thus, the objections.

Over the weekend, I posted my thoughts about the proposal, as well other possible changes we could make to the national board.

The most significant part of my idea is to remove regional directors from the board. We could have a set number of at-large board members instead. The regional director positions could remain and the boundaries wouldn’t be affected.

I will be part of a task force President Paul Fletcher has created to study the function and structure of the national board. I will pitch my idea as part of our review.

Some points raised during Monday’s electronic board meeting:

• Region 11 Director Matt Hall: If we change the structure of regional conferences first, it might be easier to change the regions afterward.

• Region 12 Director Amanda Womac: Grassroots representation, through regional directors, is important.

• Region 9 Director Tom Johnson: The chapters in his region are strongly opposed to the new boundaries.

• Radske: The changes make sense for his region, but cutting a campus adviser position on the board is a mistake.

• At-large Director Bill McCloskey: This is a solution looking for a problem. If money for chapters is the point, let’s figure out how to free up money in the budget.

• Walsh: It’s not a perfect plan, but it’s a change worth doing now. We can work on finer details later.

• Region 5 Director Deborah Givens: The size of the board is not a problem. We have other topics to address.

There were amendments to Koretzky’s plan (such as eliminating Kentucky’s switch to Region 2) before the board voted.

The board received a fair amount of comments on this, although not as many as if we had tried to publicize the proposal earlier, such as before the first meeting.

I heard two comments from Region 2 — both from North Carolina folks who want to see their state remain in this region.


Thoughts on revamping the SPJ board

The SPJ board of directors is considering a plan to change the board’s makeup.

The plan has four parts.
One is to reduce the number of SPJ regions from 12 to 9. As proposed, this would be the new map: https://spjrefresh.com/motions
North Carolina would be removed from Region 2.
West Virginia and Kentucky would be added to Region 2.

The proposal was pitched by Region 3 Director Michael Koretzky. He explained it at https://spjrefresh.com/regions.

*****

The national board held an electronic meeting about the proposal on May 9.
Some considerations:
• geography: How does this affect the ability of a regional director (RD) to represent chapters and work with them? How does this affect regional conferences and travel plans, particularly for students?
• board structure: Should board members represent regions or be elected at large? Currently, there are 12 directors by region. Two pros, two campus chapter advisers and two student members are elected at large. The full board is listed at http://www.spj.org/spjboard.asp.
• benefits: Will this change be useful?

The board decided not to take any action during that meeting and instead solicit more public feedback.

SPJ President Paul Fletcher posted a summary of the proposal a few weeks ago and got several responses. His post is at: http://blogs.spjnetwork.org/president/2016/05/11/spj-considers-reduction-in-size-of-board.

This proposal would not require a bylaws change and can be approved by the board.
Koretzky sees a window of opportunity, since there are no declared candidates yet for the three RD positions that would be contracted.

The board will meet again electronically on Monday, May 23, at 1 p.m.
I will post a summary of the meeting.

*****

I see merit in the concept of contraction. Twenty-three people is a large number for a board in which all members are active.
I’m less enthused about the proposed boundaries. Kentucky and Washington, D.C., for example, are pretty far apart to be grouped together. But, regions in the west already are quite large.

No grouping that we choose will be perfect. Also, RDs don’t need to worry much anymore about traveling throughout the region (except for the regional conference). Electronic communication and participation should be sufficient.

*****

On the “useful” question, Koretzky cited four benefits:
1) A smaller board would be more “nimble.”
2) We have trouble finding candidates for regional director.
3) Fewer regions could lead to more contested races.
4) Cost savings.

My thoughts:

1) Skeptics on the board have focused on this point the most. How is it more “nimble” to have 19 people gather for a meeting (in person or electronically) than 23?
Fewer people can have more efficient discussions and debates (but that’s no guarantee). In a smaller group, it’s more likely that everyone’s voice is heard. A big factor is who is running the meeting and allowing or cutting off debate.
For electronic meetings — which are becoming more frequent for the board — the number of people participating matters even more. We are using a video conferencing system called Zoom that includes a chat function, which helps. Still, there are some people (like me) who participate by phone because these electronic meetings always are in the middle of the work day. Twenty-three board members, plus headquarters staff, on a conference call is clunky. It’s hard to get around that, though, unless we drop down to single digits.

There other considerations, too, for how large a board should be. More on that below.

2) This is mostly true. RD races are usually uncontested. Often, an RD who is completing a term recruits a replacement to take over.
There are exceptions, though, especially when RD seats become vacant. During my time on the board, the last five times an RD seat was vacated in the middle of a term, there were multiple people interested and the board had to choose.
I don’t know why there is more interest in those cases. Maybe we get the word out better for vacancies than scheduled elections. Maybe people are more willing to fill out a term than make a two-year commitment.

3) This might be true. If we have six states from which to draw candidates in a region instead of five, common sense says a larger candidate pool is more likely — but we can’t be sure.
On the other hand, if the new RD territory seems unmanageable under the proposed changes, we could get fewer candidates.

4) The cost savings is legitimate. RDs are entitled to a $1,500 stipend to cover travel costs. Nine stipends instead of 12 would be less money.
Some of that savings would boost stipends for RDs. That’s appealing for RDs who rely on the stipend and could lead to more RD candidates, as described above. The rest of the savings would help chapters with programming. That’s useful, too.

*****

Last week, I was curious about what guidance was out there on the topic of nonprofit board size.
I looked at three websites with pieces on this topic.
All agreed that 23 is a large number for a nonprofit board, unless spots are designated for people with fundraising connections. (That’s not a factor for the SPJ national board.)
These pieces suggested the mid-teens as a maximum, depending on the size of the organization and the work of the board.

Here are links and excerpts from what I read:

1. Nonprofit Law Blog

http://www.nonprofitlawblog.com/number-of-directors-whats-the-best-practice

“Maximum number of directors.  Setting a maximum number of directors is a trickier issue and one not appropriate for legislation.  If all of your directors are each meeting their fiduciary duties and providing value to the organization, there may be no need to reduce their number based on some arbitrary best practice maximum.  On the other hand, from a practical perspective, if an organization has so many directors that individual directors reasonably believe that they do not have the opportunity to meaningfully participate in discussions, deliberations, and decision-making, the organization has too many directors.

“The Panel on the Nonprofit Sector notes that ‘[a]lthough a larger board may ensure a wide range of perspectives and expertise, a very large board may become unwieldy and end up delegating too much responsibility to an executive committee or permitting a small group of board members to exercise substantial control.’ Inactive directors, more interested in affiliation than governance, may get a free ride from the active participation of a core group, but this is not an ideal situation. Note that very large boards played a major part in the recent high profile governance problems of organizations like the American Red Cross, United Way, and Nature Conservancy.”

A report from the Council on Foundations, At Issue: What is the Best Size for Your Board? (January 2006), details some of the advantages and disadvantages of large boards.
Advantages:
•    Large numbers allow for more opportunities for diversity and inclusiveness.
•    More seats allow for for inclusion of legal and financial advisors, community leaders and funding area experts.
•    Work can be shared among the group; more people are available to serve on committees.
•    Fundraising may be easier because there are more people on the board with more connections.
•    More board members helps maintain institutional memory in times of leadership change.
Disadvantages:
•    Members may feel less individual responsibility and less ownership of the work.
•    Large groups may hinder communication and interactive discussion.
•    Cliques or core groups may form, deteriorating board cohesion.
•    Some voices may not be heard.
•    Bigger boards may not be able to engage all members, which can lead to apathy and loss of interest.
•    Meetings are more difficult to schedule; more staff time is needed to coordinate board functions.

2. This is from The Nonprofit Consultant Blog:

http://nonprofitconsultant.blogspot.com/2010/06/how-many-board-members.html

“The generally accepted number for most small- to mid-sized nonprofits is 9-14 members. Any fewer and you will burn out your members quickly with multiple duties, have difficulty making a quorum when even a couple of people are ill or out-of-town, and you will fail to build in new leadership development into your regular board activities. Many more than that and meetings can get bogged down in side conversations, factionalization, and members will begin to feel that they’re no longer contributing or making a difference.”

3. This was the third piece I read:

http://www.bridgespan.org/Publications-and-Tools/Nonprofit-Boards/Nonprofit-Boards-101/Size-of-Board.aspx#.VzVEPxUrKi5

The Bridgespan Group
Average board sizes
Remember that every board is different. Average figures only reflect what exists, not a recommended norm. Newly-formed boards often start cautiously with a small number of members, and expand as the organization gets more established and the programs and services diversify. It is common to encounter large boards in older, more institutionalized organizations where a principal role of the board members tends to be fundraising. Small community-based nonprofits are often governed by a few devoted volunteers. A recent BoardSource survey found that, among those nonprofits who responded, the average size of the board is 16, the median 15.
Regulation of size in the bylaws
Normally the size of the board is determined in the bylaws of the organization. It is wise to set a guideline within a certain range, not an exact number, so that an unforeseen situation does not force the board to contradict its bylaws. Term limits and constant recruitment secure a continuous balance. Some boards find it important to have an uneven number of members to avoid a tie vote. This, however, can be managed by the chair who can either abstain from voting or cast a determining vote to break a tie.
Resizing
Structural factors, including size, can have consequences on the board’s efficiency. Down-sizing or increasing the size may eliminate some road blocks, but the board’s core problem may lie elsewhere. Before restructuring the board, it may be wise to search elsewhere for reasons of malfunction. Is there a lack of commitment or lack of leadership? Involving outsiders in committees, task forces or advisory groups is another way to benefit from skills and perspectives without actually changing the board’s size. Executive committees may also facilitate the functioning of a larger board.

*****

I’d also like SPJ to think more broadly, beyond optimal numbers and geographical boundaries.
I see an opportunity in this analysis for what could be two meaningful changes.

First, SPJ should consider a representational model that the Radio Television Digital News Association uses. RTDNA’s board includes ex officio members from other journalism organizations:
• National Association of Black Journalists
• National Association of Hispanic Journalists
• Native American Journalists Association
• National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association
• Asian American Journalists Association
• UNITY: Journalists for Diversity
• Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication

Which, of course, means more board slots. I count 33 members for RTDNA.

I thought NABJ, NAHJ, NAJA, NLGJA and AAJA would be good candidates for representation on the SPJ board.
I contacted those organizations to ask for their thoughts, and only heard from two (NAHJ and AAJA). Neither was excited about the idea.

To have this type of cross-organization representation would require a more radical change to the current SPJ board structure.

How about:
• 4 officers (president, president-elect, secretary-treasurer, vice president for campus chapter affairs)
• 2 students
• 1 campus adviser at large
• 5 ex officio members from the journalism organizations above
• 5 pro members elected at large

That’s a total of 17.

That leads to the second meaningful change: Removing regional directors from the board.
Currently, RDs have a dual role — overseeing a region and serving on the board.
As an RD, I can attest that both roles require time and attention. I’d rather see one person in one role and a second person in the other role.
I can’t recall any topic in which “the Northeast” might feel one way and “the Midwest” another, so there is no need for regional representation in this way on national issues.
Board members should be elected for their abilities to manage an organization, think creatively, look to the future, etc. The RD role is beside the point for all of that.

This would create the most upheaval and the most questions.
Would the current RDs try to remain on the board or stick to overseeing their local chapters?
Would there be a need for more stipend money for more people (at-large directors, plus RDs)?
Would someone be interested in just the RD part of the job and give up the board representation part?

All of the above needs more discussion. That’s OK, though. A fuller analysis of board structure and function is fine, since we’re going down that path.

Feedback on any of the above is welcome, by email or through a post on this page.

-Andy Schotz, Region 2 director, LawnGyland@aol.com


From the spring SPJ board meeting

Better late than never…

Here are highlights of the actions and discussions from last month’s SPJ national board meeting in New Orleans:

Membership

• The big topic of the day was membership. I’m not sure how long ago it was that SPJ had at least 10,000 members, but the number has been dwindling and is now less than 7,000.

One of SPJ President Paul Fletcher”s top priorities has been to address this decline, which is why a group of SPJers convened in Scottsdale, Arizona, in January and brainstormed some ideas and strategies.

The plan last month in New Orleans was for the national board to go into executive session to hear about the ideas and discuss them. But several board members (including me) preferred to have the discussion in public, which we did.

We then did some brainstorming of our own, looking at the Arizona group’s outline — appealing in one sense to “fighters” (in the advocacy sense) and in another sense to those seeking a “lifetime connection” (helping journos young and old).

Many good ideas came out of this session — too many to list here. (Plus, our session was free form, writing suggestions on sticky notes on walls, and I wasn’t taking notes.) I’ll share more specifics as our discussion advances.

The rest of the agenda

• The board talked about a rough proposal by the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation board for a new SPJ position — someone who could be a central resource for journos in need. The person might travel to hotspots for national coverage (i.e., Ferguson, Mo., or Baltimore), particularly when issues of press freedom or access arrive. This is still just an idea that’s being molded.

It’s not up to the SPJ board to approve the position, but board members had ideas about the pros and cons. Region 3 Director Michael Koretzky suggested starting it with a one-year fellowship to see how well it works, rather than having a multi-year commitment, which is what the SDX board prefers to attract a top-notch person.

The SPJ board voted in favor of a motion to support the concept of the position. There were two votes against – from Koretzky and At-Large Director Bill McCloskey.

• The board went into executive session to discuss recommendations for this year’s Fellows of the Society.

• In his president’s report, Fletcher talked about efforts to improve the federal Freedom of Information Act, a new SPJ “choose your own adventure” SPJ program, and a meeting at the White House with Press Secretary Josh Earnest on concerns about limitations on gathering information from government officials.

Fletcher said the resolutions process will be different this year. Resolutions Committee Chairman Sonny Albarado will put out a call on May 1 for resolutions to be submitted before the national convention, so there’s more time to draft them and SPJ members to review them.

• Fletcher talked about the newest — and possibly youngest — SPJ member: 9-year-old Hilde Kate Lysiak of Pennsylvania. Hilde got national publicity for her dogged reporting for the newspaper she publishes, including a scoop she got about a homicide. The SPJ board chipped in to give Hilde a four-year SPJ membership.

• The board approved a $1,202,230 budget for fiscal year 2017 expenses, up about 1.2 percent from $1,187,905 in the current fiscal year. In a memo, Executive Director Joe Skeel called it “the most aggressive” SPJ budget he has prepared. “In the past, I only included revenue I was confident we would get,” he wrote. “This year, we are going to have to work hard to hit those projections.”

The budget includes $20,000 in new revenue for association management, which is the work SPJ does to help other journalism organizations operate. Usually, the budget includes merit-based raises of up to 4 percent, but this year, that was cut to 3 percent. Skeel noted that SPJ has about $600,000 in unrestricted cash reserves.

For a look at the full budget and the rest of the board meeting packet, go to https://www.spj.org/board-meeting.asp.

• The board approved three new SPJ student chapters — Samford University in Alabama, the University of Chicago, and Utah Valley University.

• We had a lengthy debate about a proposal for a new level of SPJ membership. It was proposed as “associate,” but it might be called “supporter” or something else (since there already is an “associate” membership category). These would be people who support journalism, but aren’t doing journalism. They would pay $20 a year to show their support, without getting the benefits of membership.

I cast one of the two votes against the proposal. I agree with the concept, but I had concerns about the possible confusion of creating a category that seems to duplicate something that already exists. Still, I look forward to seeing how this is carried out and how much outside financial support we get.

• There was another long debate about a recent membership drive by the SPJ Florida chapter. Chapter leaders used an “opt out” drive to sign up new members, particularly those who belong to Florida’s two other pro chapters, which are mostly inactive. This practice diverged from the philosophy at the national level, which was to stop assigning members to chapters based on geography, not on whether they asked to belong. For the Florida membership drive, if the person opened the email and didn’t write back with a refusal, he or she was signed up for the chapter.

I had another objection, too. I am strongly against anything “opt out,” in which someone has to expressly say no to avoid being enrolled in a group or added to a list. I don’t understand how “opt in,” in which a person is only enrolled or added by making a request, is insufficient. SPJ Florida is an excellent chapter and doesn’t charge dues. My objection was philosophical, and had nothing to do with the efforts or work of the chapter.

I made a motion that SPJ, at the national or local level, never use “opt out” marketing. Secretary-Treasurer Rebecca Baker seconded my motion, then withdrew her second, so the motion died.

• The board approved a recommendation by a task force that studied how to fix a gap in representation. About 41 percent of SPJ members do not belong to a chapter, so they don’t have delegates representing them on business matters at national conventions. The task force considered a few options, and settled on one — having an at-large delegate system. Unaffiliated members would choose delegates to represent them.

This is more complicated than the “one member, one vote” system that allows every member to vote electronically in national SPJ elections, but I don’t see another way. It’s impractical to have remote electronic voting on matters (such as a new SPJ Code of Ethics) that can and will be amended on the floor. We haven’t come up with a practical way to have national votes after a proposal has changed.

Three national board members voted against the at-large delegate proposal: President-Elect Lynn Walsh, Region 9 Director Tom Johnson, and Koretzky.

• In a related discussion, the board approved a protocol for making sure that convention delegates know they can call for a referendum. This topic was part of the review done by the 41 percent task force (on which I served). There was some concern that even though a referendum is allowed under SPJ’s bylaws, delegates have been told in the past that they could not call for a referendum. The 41 percent task force asked for a specific reference to a referendum in SPJ’s bylaws. The national board, however, rejected that idea and instead called for a specific reference in the instructions read aloud to delegates at the business session. I was the only board member to vote no on this idea, preferring to have the bylaws change.

Sigma Delta Chi Foundation board

• One noteworthy item on the agenda when the SDX board met the next day was whether to accept a $26,273 donation from Stephen Glass, a serial fabricator while working at the New Republic and other publications. Glass, who is trying to receive a law license in California, sent money back to publications he harmed. One of those publications folded, so Glass sent money to the SDX Foundation instead.

After an excellent, stimulating debate (one of the best I’ve heard in my SPJ time), the board decided to reject the money and return it to Glass, as it explained in this letter.


Prison journalists

This is a long way away from Region 2, but it’s worth sharing.

Did you know there is a group of SPJ members inside a prison? San Quentin State Prison in Northern California.

I heard about this a few weeks ago, and read more details over the weekend at http://www.lifeofthelaw.org/2015/12/san-quentin-journalists:

In July 2015, two dozen inmates behind the walls of San Quentin State Prison
became the first journalists serving sentences inside a U.S. prison
to become members of the Society of Professional Journalists.
 
They’re members of the first professional association inside a
prison. The reporters with the San Quentin News and the
San Quentin Prison Report hold monthly meetings to discuss the ethics
and the craft of journalism with guests who are both news-makers and journalists.
San-Quentin-Chapter-of-the-Society-of-Professional-Journalists-1140x760

Check out the copy of the (new) SPJ Code of Ethics in the group photo and read the inmates’ accounts of what journalism and SPJ mean to them.

There’s a lot to think about here.

(Cheers to Peter Sussman for sharing this link with me and for his advocacy on this topic)

 


Hey ’19

The SPJ national board voted electronically on Dec. 22 to hold SPJ’s 2019 national convention in San Antonio.

There are a variety of reasons why this is a good thing, including a favorable bid on hotel rooms and convention space and a sensible rotation among regions of the country. The SPJ headquarters staff is very good at scouting convention sites and at running the conventions.

The Excellence in Journalism convention schedule for the next four years will be New Orleans in 2016, Anaheim in 2017, Baltimore in 2018 and now San Antonio in 2019.

The 2019 conference dates will be Sept. 5 to 7.

This brings up the annual dilemma about the best time of year to hold the national conference. Early September isn’t a great time for college students to break away from school, but there are many other factors (including cost) that sometimes necessitate picking that week.

As a side note, SPJ still needs to do better about sharing the news about votes taken by the board as they happen and letting members know in advance that the board is considering taking an action such as this. I generally try to post news about electronic meetings such as this one in advance, but didn’t this time.

I believe the board and HQ staff should publicize every meeting, even if there’s no practical way for the public to sit in on the meeting.

The following section is part of the Openness and Accountability Best Practices that SPJ encourages chapters to follow. The national board should try to follow them, too, and generally does — but not always.

  • Meetings

    SPJ meetings at the local and national level should follow the spirit of state sunshine laws (for a good description of open meeting law elements, see www.rcfp.org/ogg). Leaders should:

    — Post meeting time, date, and place information in advance for members, prospective members, and the public, on a website, Facebook page, email or other accessible venue.

    — Include action/discussion items in meeting agendas to increase meeting attendance and attract potential new members. Members should contact the president at least two days in advance of the meeting if they would like to request a topic for the agenda.

    — Allow anyone from the membership or public to observe meetings. Provide an open comment period to let people chime in.

    — Post a summary of the meeting at a chapter website promptly, preferably within five business days of the meeting, so members can keep abreast of chapter activities. Include any decisions or votes.

    — Make meetings accessible, both physically and electronically. Meetings should be held where people are welcome to attend and can easily access. Consider GoToMeeting or other electronic means of broadcasting meetings and allowing participation for those cannot get to the meeting, but are interested in what happens.

    — Account for circumstances where private discussion among leaders is necessary, similar to state open meeting laws. For example, typical exemptions that might allow meeting in “executive session” include considering/debating the qualifications of new leader appointees, rent negotiations for space, pending/potential litigation, etc. If board members do discuss matters in executive session, they should come out and make any decisions and votes publicly.


Guest post: Be Vigilant and Courageous, SPJ

Regional director’s note: The following piece is by Gideon Grudo, a board member of the Washington, D.C., Pro chapter of SPJ. I offered this space as a platform for his opinion.

Gideon is reacting to this:

On Friday, SPJ posted this statement from Ethics Committee Chairman Andrew Seaman about journalists entering the home of suspected San Bernardino killers Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik:
“Journalists should feel free to investigate stories when and where possible. They need to minimize harm in their reporting, however. Walking into a building and live broadcasting the pictures, addresses and other identifying information of children or other people who may have no involvement in the story does not represent best and ethical practices.”

Gideon’s response (from himself, and not representing the D.C. Pro board):

BE VIGILANT AND COURAGEOUS, SPJ

When I read SPJ’s reaction to the now infamous live-broadcast shooters’ apartment ransack, it pissed me off.

Why? Because when SPJ fails to stomp its foot and slam its fist at unethical journalism, it violates its own code of ethics and it loses more relevance.

Here’s a clause from the very first plank of that code: Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable. Give voice to the voiceless.

Absent are these traits in the statement SPJ’s ethics chair, Andrew Seaman, delivered about CNN’s and MSNBC’s unethical blunder. It is not vigilant and it is not courageous. It is weak and it is cowardly. It is indirect and it is fragile. It’s not a statement. It’s a friendly reminder that SPJ’s code exists, directed at no one and avoiding eye contact.

So let’s get courageous…

Seaman writes: Journalists should feel free to investigate stories when and where possible. They need to minimize harm in their reporting, however.

Don’t be afraid to call spades and write something like this: CNN and MSNBC journalists violated journalistic ethics in their apartment crawl coverage. If you get access to a suspected shooter’s apartment, be responsible.

And vigilant…

Seaman writes: Walking into a building and live broadcasting the pictures, addresses and other identifying information of children or other people who may have no involvement in the story does not represent best and ethical practices.”

What the hell does “does not represent best and ethical practices” mean? Say what you mean, like this: Don’t walk into a building and live broadcast identifying information of people who might have nothing to do with killing people. You could be endangering lives with this unethical drivel. It’s irresponsible and has no place on your platform.

Get angry. Get loud. Stand up. Get red in the face. Stop being so damn polished. When you’re this clean, no one can hear you. When no one can hear you, SPJ’s membership keeps falling. It’s all connected.

If SPJ wants folks to respect its code, it should show the code some respect, too (and itself some respect while we’re at it).

To its credit, SPJ now links to material that expounds on its ethics clauses (an effort Seaman adamantly and successfully championed). Here’s backup for the clause I quoted from the likes of Poynter and Harvard. CNN and MSNBC don’t make policy like those at whom the clause is historically targeted, but they do very much set an example of what to do or not do to media across the world. They are largely influential, or as I see it, “with power.”

We know SPJ’s Code of Ethics and we belabor its importance in an effort to elevate our stature. But when shit hits the fan and smears the lot of us, we subtly forget about Strunk & White. We force our words through turnstiles of passivity and placidity. The result? No one notices. No one cares. If change is realized, it won’t be by our hand.

In an age saturated with aggregate filler, direct and deliberate speech is the currency of relevance.

Here’s my likely quixotic advice to this society I hold very dear: Be who you are or don’t be at all.

To respond, either post a comment here or contact Gideon at ggrudo@gmail.com.


Introducing/remembering Austin Kiplinger

Several years ago, I used to edit the Washington, D.C., Pro chapter’s newsletter, called Dateline. I started a feature called “Introducing…,” a monthly Q&A with a chapter member.

One of my favorites was with Austin H. Kiplinger, editor emeritus of Kiplinger Washington Editors, an SPJ luminary who died Friday at age 97.

This was in 2007, as he and the chapter each (coincidentally) celebrated their 75th anniversary with SPJ. (It’s not clear if he had the most years of SPJ/SDX membership ever, but it’s possible.)

[Here, here and here are some clips in which Kiplinger’s wisdom, eloquence and humor come across.]

Kiplinger, a member of the D.C. Pro Hall of Fame and 2014 lifetime achievement award winner with the chapter, typed his answers on two yellow pages and mailed them back — after editing my questions a little, for the better. The heading on his answers is “AHK Intvu for Jan. 2007 Dateline (SDX).” He used a black pen to carefully edit himself.

kiplinger

Here is what he wrote:

INTRODUCING… Austin H. Kiplinger

Where are you from? I was born in Washington of parents who had recently moved here from Columbus, Ohio. My father started on the Ohio State Journal and then transferred to the Associated Press in Columbus. During World War I, he came to Washington to cover the Treasury for the Associated Press.

Have you always been a journalist? Yes. Even before I was getting paid for it; I edited a paper for my high school Latin Class “Ad Ovum Usque Mala.” Then I edited the Western Breeze at the Western High School in Washington, and the Areopagus magazine of commentary at Cornell. But I did get paid for doing string reporting for the Ithaca Journal while I was an undergraduate at Cornell.

When did you join Sigma Delta Chi? I joined in 1936 at Cornell while I was working for the Ithaca Journal (I got $4 a week for my work.)

How long have you been a member of the Washington Chapter? I’m not sure. I may have joined in 1939 when I was working as a junior reporter on the Kiplinger Washington Letter.

What kind of publications have you worked for? I have worked in every known form of journalism (except blogging). I’ve reported and written for dailies (the San Francisco Chronicle and the Chicago Journal of Commerce), weeklies (The Kiplinger Letters), monthlies (Changing Times, The Kiplinger Magazine), broadcasting ABC and NBC in Chicago during the political convention years of the 1950s, and now electronic media (Kiplinger.com).

What was your best journalism moment? There have been so many vivid experiences, it is hard to pick the best one. One of the most dramatic (and exhausting) was the day of the Kennedy assassination and its aftermath. I got word of the shooting in Dallas at about 1 o’clock on that Friday afternoon. I was at our circulation offices in suburban Maryland and I dashed to the office. We already had a draft of the week’s letter ready for the press. It dealt with the political problems President Kennedy was experiencing, and it would have sounded almost ghoulish if it had been read on Monday morning. That was scrapped, and for the next 12 hours we scoured the city, covering our sources on the Hill and throughout government and elsewhere for every scrap of judgment we could get on Lyndon Johnson, the new President. In retrospect, that Letter was a good solid job which has held up remarkably well over the years.

What was the oddest thing you ever experienced on the job? I don’t quite know. I do remember keeping a telephone line open for nearly two hours at the hotel room of Vice President Alben Barkley on the day he announced he was not going to run for President. When the telephone operator asked me who to charge the call to, I said “charge it to the Vice President,” which now, these many years later (54 years), does seem a little cheeky. But then reporters are supposed to use their ingenuity and I used mine.

Why do you belong to SDX, SPJ? Because it is an effective vehicle for interesting bright young prospects in our great profession, and one of the best guardians of ethics and honesty in the preparation of the news.

 


Membership planning proposal approved (I voted no)

I wrote on Monday — before an electronic meeting of the SPJ national board — about a proposal we were considering for creating a strategy on reversing SPJ’s trend of declining membership. I promised an update after the board voted.

SPJ National President Paul Fletcher proposed spending $8,600 on a brainstorming session in Scottsdale, Ariz., in January at the same time the SPJ Executive Committee meets.

The money would cover travel, lodging and meals for Robyn Davis Sekula, the chairwoman of SPJ’s Membership Committee; April Bethea, the chairwoman of SPJ’s Diversity Committee; and an SPJ member to be determined who does not belong to a chapter.

It also would pay for SPJ Communications Strategist Jennifer Royer and Membership Director Linda Hall to join the session. Other SPJ staffers who typically attend the Executive Committee meeting would already be there.

I was receptive to part of this idea. I can see the value of getting people together to dive into an important topic. SPJ has lost thousands of members in the last several years.

What I did not support, though, was the majority of the $8,600 proposal — $4,450 for fees and expenses for facilitator Tim Daniel.

The board previously was told that Daniel has experience leading other journalism organizations through strategy sessions, but does not have experience in association membership.

I don’t see the logic in hiring someone to run a meeting on a topic everyone else in the room already understands.

I also didn’t understand why we didn’t instead pursue a consultant who specializes in association membership, or even ask for a few quotes. (I’m not sure I would have supported that plan either, but it at least made more sense to me.)

Before and during the meeting, I was told:

• A consultant could come up with a membership plan, which we might adapt. But a strategic plan that we created on our own would go deeper and be more meaningful.

• Participants in a strategy session might come in with preconceived opinions. It’s better to have a neutral outsider in charge.

• A trained facilitator makes sure everyone is heard, not just those who speak the most often or loudest.

I don’t agree with these explanations, so I voted no.

I’m not sure of the final vote, but I think 12 of the 23 board members were in on the call. And I know two people voted no (me and Region 5 Director Deborah Givens). That probably makes the final vote 10-2.

I’m typically tuned in to the final results of any meeting I’m in, but the board’s electronic meetings sometimes make that difficult.

It’s easier to follow along through a computer, with a chat function. When we have these meetings during the workday, I have to participate by phone and that’s less orderly.

When I see a final tally (which is required for the board’s roll-call votes), I’ll post it here.


Spending money to brainstorm membership ideas

This afternoon, the SPJ national board is scheduled to hold another virtual meeting (electronic/phone). The topic is membership.

SPJ National President Paul Fletcher has said it’s one of his top priorities to address SPJ’s declining membership. In that vein, he is proposing a retreat for a strategy session.

The retreat would be held in Scottsdale, Ariz., in January at the same time the SPJ Executive Committee meets.

The session would include Robyn Davis Sekula, the chairwoman of SPJ’s Membership Committee, and April Bethea, the chairwoman of SPJ’s Diversity Committee. A, SPJ member to be determined who does not belong to a chapter would also be included.

Two SPJ staff members — Communications Strategist Jennifer Royer and Membership Director Linda Hall — would join the session. SPJ staffers who typically attend the Executive Committee meeting would already be there.

The proposal also includes hiring a facilitator to run the meeting.

The total cost of the proposed strategy session is $8,600. That includes $4,450 for fees and expenses for the facilitator and $4,150 for travel, lodging and meals for the other five people mentioned above.

The board was told that the facilitator has experience leading other journalism organizations through similar strategy sessions, but does not have experience in association membership.

I agree with the idea of holding a session specifically to address membership. But I do not support spending money to have someone lead a meeting for us.

If you have any thoughts on this idea, post them here. I’ll write an update after the board makes a decision.


Parsing ‘Truth’

I recently attended an advance screening of ‘Truth,” a new movie looking back at “60 Minutes II” controversial reporting on the Air National Guard service of former President George W. Bush.

A segment on the CBS news magazine relied on purported copies of 1970s documents to conclude that Bush received special treatment, helping him avoid being sent to Vietnam during the war.

But “60 Minutes II” brushed aside doubts about the veracity of the documents as it rushed a story to the air shortly before the 2004 election. When the story blew up, four people lost their jobs and anchor Dan Rather left the network a short time later.

Rather still maintains that the information in the report was solid, even if “60 Minutes II” made mistakes in gathering and sharing the information. That’s illustrated in this follow-up report with a secretary who says she didn’t type the documents in questions, but the information in them was correct. (That exchange didn’t get into the movie.)

After the screening, Rather and director James Vanderbilt talked about the movie, which is largely sympathetic to Rather, but doesn’t gloss over the missteps. They answered questions from moderator Brian Stelter of CNN.

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Rather is convinced that CBS only apologized for the the report — again, not its substance – because of business interests. He said “a very big corporate power got in bed with a very big political power.”

Rather acknowledges that there were flaws. “We didn’t do this perfectly,” he said. “We made mistakes and I made mistakes.”

Here’s Rather commenting on facts and mistakes:

But he wouldn’t speculate on what should have been done differently, asserting that news organizations don’t have the luxury of redoing their decisions. He used a colorful analogy to describe it as a pointless exercise: If a camel didn’t have a hump, would it run faster?

I had trouble accepting Rather’s idea that the means can be overlooked if the final conclusion is solid. I wondered how he would have felt about a journalism professor failing a student who misspells a name in a story.

Accuracy matters not just in the final product, but in the steps along the way. It doesn’t take much for the public to stop trusting what you do.

 


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