A (mostly) good plan for changing SPJ

The SPJ national board held an electronic meeting on June 14 to discuss a proposal to change SPJ’s governance structure.

The board unanimously approved suggested changes to SPJ’s bylaws to carry out this change. Below is a summary of the major ones, with my thoughts on them. I agree with almost everything proposed, but strongly disagree with one idea.

Highlights of the plan include:

  • Cutting the board from 23 members to 9 members
  • Removing regional directors from the board
  • Establishing a nominations committee to recruit candidates and make sure they are eligible to serve
  • Have both elected and appointed at-large members, who do not have to be SPJ members

If you want to explore the plan further, go to https://www.spj.org/governance.asp.

Under the new plan, the makeup of the new national board would be: president, president-elect, secretary/treasurer, four elected at-large members, two appointed at-large members. (A majority of the current board, but not everyone, supports having appointed members. The board was almost evenly split during our June 14 conference call on whether to allow non-members to be appointed to the board. Seven said yes; six said no. I was one of the “no” voters.)

The current 23-member board is made up of: president, president-elect, secretary/treasurer, immediate past president, vice president of campus chapter affairs, two at-large directors, two campus advisers at-large, two campus chapter representatives, and 12 regional directors. All are elected. (The president-elect later becomes president, then immediate past president, without being elected again.)

Regional directors would still exist in the new structure, renamed “regional coordinators.” They still would be elected within their respective regions.

In May 2016, I spoke out in favor of the idea of shrinking the national board. I suggested 17 members. I recommended removing regional directors from the board and eliminating representation by region and by type of constituency (campus chapters, students, pros).

I pitched the idea of adding board slots for liaisons from other journalism organizations representing specific groups, but I don’t think there’s much support for that.

My thoughts:

  • I’m very much in favor of contraction. Nine is a reasonable number. If we were starting a board from scratch, we wouldn’t have 23 seats.
  • I fully support the change in duties of regional directors/coordinators. Currently, they serve two roles (1. counsel for chapters, 2. board members) at the same time. It’s tough do both well.
  • There is no need for regional representation on the SPJ board. No issue ever has required, for example, an East Coast or West Coast perspective. Different people holding the same regional director position might have totally different ideas.
  • Some might wonder about cutting the campus chapter representative positions. To be clear: The board still wants campus representation. Under the proposed plan, if no students or faculty members are elected, at least one will be appointed to the board.
  • An earlier draft of the proposed bylaws included term limits, but the board voted 15-7 against it. I voted no with the rest of the majority.

“Recommended/approved” candidates

The controversial idea that I strongly oppose is in the nominations process. It is not part of the bylaws, but is in a supporting memo recommending a process.

The nominations committee would have seven SPJ members: immediate past president, an elected board member, a regional coordinator, a student, and three others who are part of SPJ committees, communities or chapters.

The committee would check that candidates are eligible for the positions they seek to hold, such as whether they are members in good standing and can attend meetings. An SPJ president must have a) served on the SPJ or SDX board, b) chaired a national committee, or c) been a pro chapter president who is or was on a national committee.

Here’s where the recommendation goes awry: The nominations committee also would “recommend board candidates who best match the Board of Directors Position Profile document.”

The Position Profile document lays out ideals for board members — “inspired,” “future-oriented,” “possessing the ability to see big picture,” “talent, skill, vitality,” “sound judgment and integrity,” “a zest for serving.”

The nominating committee would interview candidates and, based on these subjective traits, recommend candidates — giving what I call a “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.” Those recommended candidates would be denoted by a symbol on the ballot.

I am against this approach, which I think injects an unfair weighting to an open election.

The argument in favor of having recommendations is that the nominations committee is entrusted with putting forward the best people to be board members.

I see nothing wrong with trusting the electorate to determine that. Candidates’ credentials should speak for themselves. I balk at an extra thumb on the scale to tilt an election toward any particular people. In my mind, it turns an election into a ratification and discourages voters from thinking for themselves.

I will speak against this part of the proposal at EIJ17.

Who represents you

This is a much less important point, but I also oppose the thinking expressed in an organization chart recommended for the new board. It shows each of the four new at-large elected directors overseeing one constituency — students/educators for one, communities for another, members at large for a third, regional coordinators for a fourth.

A notation says: “Any individual or constituent group may contact staff instead of their assigned liaison.”

To me, that directs SPJ members to only contact an assigned liaison on the board or a staff member.

I think everyone elected to the board represents every SPJ member. We should make it clear that any SPJer may contact anyone on the board, for any reason.

Candidate forum

This is only tangentially related to the governance proposal, but I want SPJ to do more to let members learn about candidates.

Candidates introduce themselves in Quill and their bios are posted at SPJ’s election page. They may speak for a few minutes at a business meeting at EIJ.

This doesn’t do enough to tease out issues, platforms, and positions, like we expect in the elections we cover in our day jobs.

Why not also have a candidate forum? It could be during the convention or as an electronic session beforehand, streamed live and archived. A moderator would ask questions of candidates, maybe even in a debate style. There could be Twitter chats. As we choose our leaders, the more info, the better.

*****

To see the proposed bylaws and supporting memos (organization chart, board position description, board appointments, nominations process, reimbursement guidelines), go to https://www.spj.org/governance.asp.

If you will be a delegate at this year’s national convention, you’re better off looking through the various documents beforehand. There’s a lot to this plan, and it will come before the delegates for one or more votes.

Tags: , , ,


Defending the First Amendment and promoting open government are more crucial now than ever. Join SPJ's fight for the public’s right to know — either as an SPJ Supporter or a professional, student or retired journalist.


Connect

Twitter Facebook Google Plus RSS Instagram Pinterest Pinterest LinkedIn


© 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