At Georgetown, authors and officers

A Nov. 11 SPJ event at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., served two purposes.

First, the audience of about 40 people got to hear from and talk to Pulitzer Prize winners Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman about their new book, “Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD’s Secret Spying Unit and Bin Laden’s Final Plot Against America.” It is based on their reporting for The Associated Press.

An audience members asked the authors about their approach to talking to sources. Apuzzo’s advice: “Talk casually.” Get to know a source, as if you’re dating. You can’t ask for the “big scoop” when you barely know each other.

Apuzzo, a member of the faculty at Georgetown, said government officials consider it “messy and inconvenient” when information gets out – but that’s not a reporter’s concern. “Governing is easier with secrecy,” he said.

Goldman listed some prominent recent leaks of so-called sensitive information, through WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden, and noted: “The sky hasn’t fallen yet.”

Trying to navigate through national security documents can be “like wandering in a dark room with a flashlight,” Apuzzo said. Some days, the flashlight doesn’t work.

Getting that story exactly right on the first try is unlikely because not all of the details and context will be clear, Goldman said.

Apuzzo and Goldman were part of an AP team that won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. The team also included Chris Hawley and Eileen Sullivan.

Asked about working closely with a colleague, Goldman explained why he meshed with Apuzzo: “I like him. He’s not a jerk. I could depend on him.”

The book discussion event also gave the new officers of the Georgetown University SPJ chapter a chance to get to know each other, a few days after they had been elected.

Vice President Mikayla Bouchard and Secretary/Treasurer Nayana Davis are new to the Master of Professional Studies in Journalism program at Georgetown. President Capricia Alston was active in SPJ last year.

Welcome, all, to SPJ leadership.

From left: chapter Secretary/Treasurer Nayana Davis; chapter President Capricia Alston; Adam Goldman; Matt Apuzzo; and chapter Vice President Mikayla Bouchard.

From left: chapter Secretary/Treasurer Nayana Davis; chapter President Capricia Alston; Adam Goldman; Matt Apuzzo; and chapter Vice President Mikayla Bouchard.


SPJ immersion

That’s the best way I can think of to describe the Ted Scripps Leadership Institute – SPJ immersion.

You learn a lot about a lot, from what SPJ is and does to the psychology of leadership.

I’ll leave it at that, so as not to give away the curriculum from this coming weekend’s leadership session in Richmond, Va. I will be there as Region 2 director, sharing my SPJ experiences and wisdom.

Under the new “traveling” format for the Scripps Institute (coming to a region near you), the Richmond session will be heavy on Region 2 participants:

Christina Jackson from the Western Carolina University chapter

Keith Cannon from Greater Charlotte Pro

Jonathan Michels from North Carolina Pro

Melissa Burke from Delaware Pro

Amy Cherry from Delaware Pro

David Cabrera from the Salisbury University chapter

Minal Bopaiah from Washington, D.C., Pro

April Bethea from Greater Charlotte Pro

David Burns from Maryland Pro

Brett Hall from the University of Maryland chapter

Emily Schweich from the University of Maryland chapter


I am excited to spend some time with this Region 2 crew, several of whom I have met in person and electronically.

See you in Virginia.


Celebrating ‘Tinker v. Des Moines School District’

If you’re a First Amendment fan (a given) and you’re in the Washington, D.C., area, you’ll want to be at the U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 6 at 6 p.m.

That’s when the Tinker Tour rolls through the District.

Mary Beth Tinker was 13 years old in 1965 when she and some other young students in Des Moines, Iowa, wore armbands to school as a silent statement about the Vietnam War. Administrators tried to force the students to remove the armbands, which led to a challenge in the court system. Ultimately, in 1969, the Supreme Court ruled that the armbands were free speech; the students won.

This fall, Tinker and attorney Mike Hiestand – who won SPJ’s First Amendment Award in 2012 – have been criss-crossing the country to talk about free speech and a free press.

The tour is supported by the Student Press Law Center.

The Nov. 6 event will be part of the United States Supreme Court Historical Society’s Leon Silverman Lecture Series.


A fever over the Code

Here is SPJ review topic number 2 this year: the venerable code of ethics. (The first topic, in the previous post, was whether SPJ should update its name).

There have been several versions of the code. The first one dates to 1926, when Sigma Delta Chi (as SPJ was known at the time) “borrowed” a code from the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

Sigma Delta Chi wrote its own code in 1973. It was updated in 1984, 1987 and 1996.

About four years ago, then-SPJ President Kevin Smith asked the Ethics Commitee, which I chaired, to review the Code of Ethics and consider whether it should be updated again.

That effort was put on hold, though. SPJ was in the midst of publishing a new edition of a book of journalism ethics case studies. Since the book contained the SPJ Code of Ethics, the sentiment among committee members was that this was not the right time to change the code.

Now, in 2013, there is renewed interest in reviewing and possibly updating the code.

Some say parts of the code are dated and, in particular, it doesn’t address new technology, such as social media.

I, however, see the code as a set of structural principles that don’t change because of new methods of collecting and distributing information. The underpinnings of ethical journalism remain the same.

Nonetheless, SPJ is soliciting opinions about the current code and whether and how it should be changed, a little or a lot.

Please share your thoughts by taking this survey.

Then, look at this page on Google Docs to see what others have said.

As of this writing, 92 people had answered.

On the question of whether the code should be updated, 35 said “yes” (38 percent) and 24 said “no” (26 percent). The remaining 33 people (36 percent)  said “not sure – but it’s good to review.”

SPJ will continue the discussion at the chapter and regional level this year and next year. If the consensus is that changes are needed, there will be a draft for delegates to consider at next year’s convention in September in Nashville.


A new Society

SPJ is in the midst of two lengthy public reviews.

One is: What should we be called? (More on the second review in the next blog post.)

Sigma Delta Chi was the original name of the organization. It was founded as a fraternity in 1909 at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind.

In 1960, the fraternity became a professional organization.

The next change came in 1973 — to Society of Professional Journalists, Sigma Delta Chi.

“Sigma Delta Chi” was dropped from the name in 1988.

Now, we are thinking about another alteration of the name – to the Society of Professional Journalism (or maybe something else).

For a fuller explanation of the reasoning behind the proposal, read what Region 3 Director Michael Koretzky wrote on his SPJ blog.

At this year’s national convention, Michael submitted a resolution suggesting a new name of “Society for Professional Journalism,” focusing on the act of journalism rather than the people who practice it.

Scroll down through the comments on Michael’s blog to read my reaction to his proposal.

Whether you agree with either – or neither – of us, please share your opinion of the name-change proposal. The SPJ board would like to know what all members think.

SPJ President David Cuillier has formed a task force to investigate a name change, including the associated expenses and how it would be perceived. (I recently was added to the task force.)

Is this a worthwhile change? Does it makes sense?

Do you have an alternate idea for a new name?


Contest coordinator opening

Each year, SPJ picks one person from Region 2 to run the Mark of Excellence contest for student journalists in our area.

I have done it the last two years. If anyone is interested in the position for the coming year, please let me know as soon as you read this.

There is a stipend for doing the work (unless you are the regional director).

Ask me questions at

I’ll explain what the job entails. You’ll need good organizational skills and the willingness to (gently) prod the judges, as needed.


Get with the program

The first SPJ $500 grant deadline of 2013-14 is upon us (today, Oct. 1). That gives you two months to apply in the next cycle (deadline Dec. 1).

If you’re in charge of programming and activities for your chapter, but not sure what to plan, feel free to borrow.

Here are samples of programs for which 10 chapters were honored last year.

In the First Amendment/FOI category, the winner for small chapters was our own Virginia Pro:

Small: The Virginia Pro chapter took to the halls of the Virginia legislature, distributed guest opinion columns to newspapers in support of a campus newspaper repressed by college officials and held programming to help educate members on freedom of information issues.

Virginia Pro also was honored in the Campus Relations/Scholarship category:

Small: The Virginia Pro chapter awarded two cash scholarships for the 51st year and gave grants to members of campus chapters in Virginia to cover the cost of registration to EIJ.

Programming is at the heart of SPJ chapters’ work. We can and should learn from each other.

I’ll keep my eye open for programs that are informative, fun, easy, and/or eye-catching and occasionally post them on this blog. Please share ideas with me and the region when you think they’re cool.


Pushing back against intellectual vises

Twenty years ago, I was a reporter for a small weekly newspaper in upstate New York. One fascinating story we covered that year was a high school student challenging his teacher’s use of “The Great Santini” by Pat Conroy, claiming it had inappropriate themes. The student lost.

Ever since, I’ve paid closer attention to how often books are challenged in schools and public libraries.

Sometimes, you can understand parents’ discomfort with books and topics – racy language, sexuality, violence – their children face. (The problem is when a few parents try to decide what’s right for an entire school or community and take away everyone else’s access to the material.)

Other times, the challenges are outlandish. “Where’s Waldo?” had a topless woman on the beach, lying face down. The dictionary contains bad words. The availability of both has been challenged.

Anna Quindlen spoofed the mind-purity movement nicely in a column: “The Cat in the Hat is nude except for the gloves, the tie and, yep, the hat. Winnie the Pooh does not wear pants. Just a warning.”

Shortly after my newspaper in New York covered that book challenge, I found out about Banned Books Week, an American Library Association project that numerous organizations now support.

I went to the New York State Museum for a public reading of banned books. People signed up to read aloud from their favorites on the list of banned or challenged books.

This year’s Banned Books Week starts on Sept. 22. Check the website for events near you. There also is a chance to do a “Virtual Read-Out.” Send tweets using the hashtag #bannedbooksweek.

The American Library Association says there were 464 challenges reported to its Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2012 and the group thinks many other challenges were not reported. Here are lists of recently challenged books.

This is a natural cause for journalists to support: the freedom to read.




The Scripps experience

If you’re new to SPJ, or not so new but thinking you’d like to get more involved…

Try Scripps.

It’s formally known as the Ted Scripps Leadership Institute. It’s a place you go to learn more about SPJ and how to lead a chapter. You also schmooze, network and make new friends.

I’ve been through the program and can attest that it’s worth your time. If nothing else, it energizes you with an ample dose of SPJ pep.

And, SPJ pays for your lodging and meal costs, thanks to the Scripps Howard Foundation.

For years, the Scripps Leadership Institute was held in Indianapolis, which is where I experienced it. Now, it’s a traveling road show that comes to you..

The fourth and final stop of 2012-13 is in – pay attention, Region 2ers – Richmond, Va., Nov. 8 through 10.

You have to apply before Sept. 23.

Every chapter should send one or two people from its board, or people who might like to serve on a chapter board at some point.

Give it a try. I’m reasonably sure you’ll enjoy it and learn plenty.



Hello, Region 2

Greetings, Region 2.

This is a quick hello, as SPJ’s new Region 2 director and representative on the national board. I plan on staying in touch with the pro and college chapters in our area in various ways, including through this new blog.

Watch for future posts about Region 2 news and national SPJ issues.

If you have any questions, please email me at

Thanks, and I look forward to working with you.


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