BEST OF THE SOUTH

CT10

Meet the best college journalists in the South.


They’re the 2013 winners of the College Top 10, a unique journalism contest run by SPJ’s Green Eyeshade Awards – itself a unique contest.

For more than 60 years, the Green Eyeshades has recognized the best pro media work in the southern United States. It’s one of the oldest regional journalism contests in the nation. But until now, it never honored the best college journalists below the Mason-Dixon Line.

Instead of simply rewarding one good story on one particular topic, the Green Eyeshades sought the best students who were consistently good at one thing. They had to submit multiple pieces on a single subject.

Alas, the judges couldn’t find 10 – the categories for music and movie coverage have no winners this year. Those entries simply didn’t tingle the judges’ toes. But they were downright enthusiastic about the other eight.

Here they are…


Roberto Roldan

Best feature writer: Roberto Roldan


Judging comment: Every college journalist who complains, “There aren’t any interesting students on this campus” should be beaten with a baseball bat by Roberto Roldan, who finds a migrant worker going to business school, another student mentoring an orphan, and an alumnus creating installation art in impoverished areas. Better yet, Roldan’s whiny, lazy peers should just pay him for story ideas.


Roldan’s comment: The most difficult, but also most rewarding, part of feature writing is always the interview. With human interest pieces, you get the opportunity to connect with sources in a way that’s really different from more combative interviews journalists do on a daily basis.

When your source is telling you very private stories and you’re holding back tears of anguish or joy, trying to remain composed and professional, you know the story you have is going to be good. Building good enough rapport with your source that they’ll share things with a complete stranger that they’ve never shared with their closest friends – that’s the hard part.


Gregory Rawls

Best sports reporter: Gregory Rawls


Judging comment: He can write a gamer, but then again, so can a lot of college sportswriters. Rawls, however, shows an interest in more than the score. Whether he’s succinctly explaining a disastrous season record for the football team or profiling a Nigerian  basketball player, Rawls strives for reasons and not stats.


Rawls’ comment: Nowadays, when people can find the scores for games via an app on their phones, game coverage can pose some difficulty. For a school newspaper that only runs twice per week, the major difficulty of covering sports is finding new ways to make an already known story interesting.

Additionally, it’s sometimes hard for me, personally, to remove my excitement when covering a game objectively – not impossible per se. But these minor issues are nothing compared to the delight of being able to write about something I am passionate about.

Sports are an amazing way to bring people together and distract us from the worries and troubles of everyday, monotonous life. To help get a sports conversation started with a good feature or a play-by-play story is a rewarding experience for a sports writer.



Best designer: Kristmar Muldrow


Judging comment: Too many young designers are afraid of their freedom. Big photos make them nervous and negative space is scary. Muldrow embraces both and throws in large typography for good measure. Her designs are simple and clean and without high-tech tricks. Those are traits of a designer who can work quickly and efficiently while still impressing readers and luring them to the text.


Muldrow’s comment: I have always loved to tinker with things, whether it’s a drawing, an instrument, or a design. One of the challenges of newspaper design is tinkering at high speed, ironing out details on tight deadlines.


Claire DodsonBest science writer: Claire Dodson


Judging comment: Nothing flashy here – no whimsical infographics or swirly multimedia animations to explain complex topics. Dodson just writes straightforwardly about the research and science being conducted and presented on her campus. But not even halfway through each of her ledes, you feel her passion for her topics, and by the end, you’ve learned something without ever feeling like you were being taught. And that’s high praise for any journalist.


Dodson’s comment: When I cover science and research, I see myself as both interpreter and storyteller. You have to pull out the interesting and relatable parts of someone else’s work and then piece the facts together to create a picture of that person or that discovery.

I love going to a lecture or profiling a researcher and figuring out why their work is so important to them – their passion is just as important as the work they do. So much character and personality sneaks beneath a university research press release.


RJ Vogt

Best columnist: RJ Vogt


Judging comment: Vogt is willing to suffer for his craft, training for a fraternity boxing tournament. And he’s willing to go national (a compelling take on the Trayvon Martin killing) and personal (contemplating his sister’s wedding). Too many college columnists are guarded in their opinions and narrow in their focus. Vogt doesn’t seem afraid of anything or any topic.


Vogt’s comment: There’s something intoxicating about the opportunity to write down your experiences and personal opinions, some wild freedom in the manifestation of free thought. But I’ve always maintained that a good opinion is based in fact.

In every column I write, I strive to base my writing off the truth around me. A column is not a license to scribble across a page – it’s a privilege to interpret reality. Interpret with style and flair and passion, but never deviate from the truth. It’s the University of Tennessee’s motto: “The truth shall set you free.”


Ryan Murphy
Best photographer: Ryan Murphy


Judging comment: The only entry to feature three photos of no one smiling or even enjoying themselves. Whether it’s a diligrny track athlete training, a crushed football coach hiding in his hands, or a child protester peering over a handmade sign, Murphy captures intense moments.


Murphy’s comment: The most rewarding part of photography for me is the wide variety of work you can do. From portraits to landscapes, news to sports. I don’t like to specialize in any one category, preferring to take on any assignment I can. Learning (and in some cases making it up) as I go. Sometimes this unknown can be difficult, but that’s part of the fun.

Photography is never boring. No matter what the assignment, there’s always something new to try – a different angle or a different technique.


Daniel Jansouzian
Best Student Government reporter: Daniel Jansouzian


Judging comment: Covering SG is the most important and least sexy beat in college media. Fact is, if college media doesn’t report on the millions (and yes, it’s millions) of dollars that SGs spend, no one else will. Jansouzian does the important and unsexy work with clarity and simplicity, explaining complex concepts to readers in plain English.


Daniel’s comment: One of the greatest joys of covering SGA was the connections I made with people, not only in coverage of student government, but in other areas of campus. The SGA members were involved in student organizations, Greek life, campus jobs, and sports. So knowing them as a reporter turned out to be a huge advantage for me.

A difficult aspect of covering SGA came at the end of summer 2013, when the executive vice president-elect was arrested for the possession and manufacturing of marijuana. I knew SGA members would not want to go on record about it. Still, I had to put aside my personal feelings and do the best reporting I could.


Thad Moore

Best administration reporter: Thad Moore


Judging comment: From questionable calls by the administration after a rape report to old facilities affecting pharmacy students to an analysis of the school’s past five years, Moore eschews flash for substance. Administrators often try to defuse the news by confusing young reporters. Moore cuts through.


Moore’s comment: Covering a university’s administration can be dry — lots of audits, budget documents, and all-day board meetings — especially when football games and Greek Life stories attract readers. But it’s rewarding to dig up stories that matter to students and tell them in a way that captures their attention, and I think that’s the value of the beat.


Think you can do better? Enter the College Top 10 next year and prove it. Questions? Email me.

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HIRE THESE PEOPLE…

Meet the best college journalists in the Southeast. That’s Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.

How do I know they’re the best? Because they’re the Region 3 winners in SPJ’s college annual journalism contest, called the Mark of Excellence. They’ll compete nationally against their peers in 11 other regions, with SPJ announcing those results in May.

So hiring editors, take note of these names…


Breaking News Photography (Large)

Ryan Murphy
Florida Atlantic University


Breaking News Photography (Small)

Brittany DeLong
Troy University


Online News Reporting

Jacob Sadowsky
University of Central Florida


Best Use of Multimedia

Daniel Roth
University of Alabama


General News Photography (Small)

Sarah Williamson
Flagler College


General News Photography (Large)

Karli Evans and Kelly Smith
University of Miami


General News Reporting (Large)

David Schick
University of Georgia


General News Reporting (Small)

Brittany DeLong
Troy University


Online In-Depth Reporting

Jacob Sadowsky and Jake Rakoci
University of Central Florida


In-Depth Reporting (Large)

The Crimson White staff
University of Alabama


In-Depth Reporting (Small)

Kelsey McMullan, Allison McLellan, Hershlay Raymond
Florida Institute of Technology


Photo Illustration

Taylor Craig Sutton
University of Georgia


Non-Fiction Magazine Article

Katherine Owen
University of Alabama


Editorial Cartooning

Michael Beckom
Savannah College of Art and Design


Editorial Writing

The Crimson White Editorial Board
University of Alabama


Online Opinion & Commentary

Hannah Bleau
Flagler College


General Column Writing (Large)

Becky Sheehan
Auburn University


General Column Writing (Small)

Hannah Webster
University of Tampa


muse

Feature Photography (Large)

Kelly Smith
University of Miami


Feature Photography (Small)
Ryan Patrick
SCAD Atlanta


Feature Writing (Large)

Chris Alcantara
University of Florida


Feature Writing (Small)

Alexa Epitropolous
Flagler College


Online Feature Reporting

Nicole Vila
University of Miami


Sports Photography (Small)

Eric Patrick
Barry University


Sports Photography (Large)

Zach Beeker
University of Miami


Online Sports Reporting

Jake Rakoci and Justin Levy
University of Central Florida


Sports Column Writing

Alec Shirkey
University of Georgia


Sports Writing (Large)

Isabelle Khurshudyan
University of South Carolina


Sports Writing (Small)

Matt Pagels
Flagler College


Television General News Reporting

Ashleigh Holland
University of South Carolina


Television Feature Reporting

Bradley Whittington
University of Alabama


Television Breaking News Reporting

Tommy Townsend
University of Alabama


Television In-Depth Reporting

Kathryn Sotolongo and Nick Swyter
University of Miami


Television News and Feature Photography

Bradley Whittington
University of Alabama


Television Sports Photography

Tori Petry
University of Florida


Television Sports Reporting

Nathan Canniff-Kuhn
University of South Carolina


Radio Feature

David Caddell
Troy University


Radio In-Depth Reporting

Elly Ayres
University of Florida


Radio News Reporting

Hailey Swartwout
University of Alabama


Best Television Newscast

WUFT-TV
University of Florida


Best Affiliated Web Site

The Miami Hurricane
University of Miami


Best Daily Student Newspaper

The Crimson White
The University of Alabama


Best Non-Daily Student Newspaper

The Auburn Plainsman
Auburn University


Best Independent Online Student Publication

Flagler College Gargoyle
Flagler College


Best Student Magazine

Distraction
University of Miami

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LICENSE TO CHILL

 

A barber needs a license to cut your hair. A plumber needs a license to clean your pipes.


Why doesn’t a journalist need a license to cover your news?

Two weeks ago, 50 college journalists pondered that question. And nearly all agreed…

1. The government shouldn’t license journalists.
2. Journalists should license journalists.

These students from two similar-sounding schools – Florida Atlantic University (FAU) and Florida International University (FIU) – insisted journalists need to be certified and regulated. They just weren’t sure how.

They were attending a one-day conference called “Listen Learn Connect,” hosted by FIU’s SPJ chapter. I was invited to speak on a panel about journalism ethics. But we spent the entire hour on licensing.

All but one student wanted the SPJ Code of Ethics to be the law of the land.


Most were surprised that SPJ’s code is an unenforceable suggestion instead of a punishable regulation. But their astonishment makes sense: They’re the first generation to grow up entirely with standardized testing.

Their schooling so far has consisted of being spoon-fed the “right answers,” usually multiple choice.

So their answers were predictably short when one of my fellow panelists, FIU journalism professor Fred Blevens, asked, “Besides obeying the Code, what else would you require of someone to be certified as a journalist?”

“Graduating from journalism school,” one student replied confidently.

“Using [Microsoft] Word,” another joked.

The answers were longer and less clear when another panelist, FIU professor Juliet Pinto, asked, “How would you enforce this certification?”

“Well, we could start, like, a group to do that,” one student said. “Like a guild of journalists to decide.”

And if the guild found a fellow journalist to be unethical and unworthy?

That was easy, replied a student named Dennis: ”The punishment for violating the Code in those cases? You lose your job and you have to find a job somewhere else.”

Some students nodded in agreement. (Or maybe they were just nodding. I hate panel discussions.)

Only one student disputed her peers. Lulu Ramadan is editor of the FAU student newspaper.

“I don’t think it would work,” she said. “Certification doesn’t make you a journalist, experience makes you a journalist.”

Crickets and tumbleweeds.

So I made these students an offer they can’t excuse.


“If you want to license journalists, let’s do that,” I said. “Let’s start right here at FIU, with your own student media. You create a guild to decide who’s in and who’s out – and I’ll pay you.”

I offered $500 from my meager SPJ account to fund their efforts. “I’ll pay for your food and drink and whatever else you need to get your guild going.”

But it’s been 10 days  since my offer, and I haven’t heard a peep from them. So I’m extending the offer nationwide…

If any school anywhere in the country wants to experiment with licensing journalists on their own campus – as a little-pink-spoon-at-Baskin-Robbins taste of what it might be like in the real world – I’ll write you a check for $500.

All you gotta do is let me Skype into your meetings and document your debates and decisions. And you must share the results and repercussions.

But it won’t happen. As I told FIU’s TV station, which covered the conference and interviewed me afterward…

I’m offering hundreds of dollars if you guys will start a guild – or whatever the hell that thing was earlier – where you’re actually going to decide what a journalist is on this campus.

I will buy your food and your frosty adult beverages. I will rent a room for you. I will put couches in it and a disco ball. Whatever you want – and it’ll never happen.

No one will do it. If students did everything I offered to pay for, I’d be broke. If I was back in college, this would be really cool – let’s start a panel to decide who’s a journalist on this campus. And if it fails, it’ll fail big and fun.

…but the student TV reporter holding the microphone to my mouth looked slightly confused, the way a dog looks at a YouTube video of another dog. So I imagine the quote above won’t make it to YouTube when she files her report.

If you want to fail big and fun and get paid for it, email me at journoterrorist@gmail.com.

But you won’t.

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In defense of old farts

I hate my own kind.


In SPJ, I get along best with the youngest members – and the oldest. But I can’t stand many who are my age. And I’m pretty sure they can’t stand me.

I turned 49 last month. and many SPJ leaders are within a decade of me. Problem is, many people my age have embraced the worst traits of those slightly younger and older than us.

Like the most self-satisfied thirtysomethings, we think we have it all figured out. Like the most reactionary retirees, we believe the best way to save the future is to double down on the past.

A middling middle age

I serve on SPJ’s board of directors, and here’s the weird thing…

Each individual is fairly cool. But put us all together, and we’re less than the sum of our parts. We don’t accomplish very much.

My working hypothesis is that we’re all roughly the same age, except for the student members (who, with a few notable exceptions, do nothing but eat their stipends).

I think most of us feel the vague pressure of middle age not to screw anything up, and we’re way past the risk-taking days of our youth. So we spackle SPJ’s corners while the foundation crumbles.

The oldest and the best

A couple board meetings ago, a former SPJ president named Dave Carlson asked for permission to speak, and he delivered an impassioned plea for us to do something big and bold to reverse our membership slide. (We’re losing about 200 members a year.)

We listened, but we didn’t do anything. No discussion, no motions, no votes.

Carlson sits on the Sigma Delta Chi board, which is the autonomous fundraising and grant-giving wing of SPJ. Many SDX board members are former presidents and board members. They remind me of former college newspaper editors.

If you ever served as editor of your college newspaper, and if you ever visited the newsroom a few years later, you probably watched the staff with a wry smile. All those editors, designers, photographers, and reporters scurrying about. Wasting calories on tiny details. Not contemplating the big decisions because they think they’ll always be there to make them later.

You might have even told them something. Like, “Hey, don’t worry about that crap. Think big. Years from now, you won’t give a damn how the folios looked, or whether that eight-inch story on page 12 clearly explained the Student Senate’s vote on Homecoming funding.”

Sometimes, it seems SDX board members feel the same way when they visit SPJ board meetings. A few always stroll in late, quietly pour a cup of coffee, grab a a danish (yes, board members receive free unhealthy noshes), and sit in the back. Every so often, as we get mired in some procedural discussion about annual report requirements or chapter ranking systems, I see them they lean towards each other and whisper.

Then I watch as they sit back with wry smiles.

Looking backward to move forward

Journalism has survived a mediapocalypse over the past decade, yet SPJ itself has changed oh-so-little. How can we represent an industry that’s rapidly evolving when we refuse to?

Here’s a prediction I’m gonna hate being right about…

SPJ keeps doing nothing until my generation of board members fades away, replaced by a younger and angrier one. These desperate newcomers ignore all advice from SPJ’s past leaders – because, honestly, where did that get us? – and lurch from one rookie mistake to another. They screw up SPJ in the opposite way, by attempting everything at once instead of nothing at all.

Some SPJ leaders probably believe I’d love to see such anarchy. They’re wrong. Before I make any proposal, I talk to SPJ old farts I respect – Steve Geimman, Bill McCloskey, Mac McKerral, and the aforementioned Dave Carlson, just to name a few of my favorites.

I have no interest in repeating old mistakes, and these guys (and sadly, they’re all white guys) know SPJ’s history because they lived it. For every crazy idea I’ve put forth, I’ve scotched twice as many because of their sage advice.

They’re like those old college editors. And I’m glad they stick around for warm coffee and cold danish.

SPJ’s future rests in their wrinkled hands – if we don’t screw up the present.

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Fly in the newsprint

Journalists should never shoot the messenger. Especially since the messenger is often one of them.


But when I proposed changing SPJ’s name to the Society for Professional Journalism, some SPJers took to heart the expression, “Consider the source.” Here’s my favorite example.

Phil Rudell, the treasurer of the Central Ohio chapter, described my effort to his constituents like this

A poorly worded proposal to change the name of the organization to the Society for Professional Journalism. This came from Region 3 Director (and all-around gadfly) Michael Koretzky, which undoubtedly contributed to its defeat.

…which raises three questions:

  1. How was it poorly worded? I thought I was pretty damned articulate.
  2. Am I really such an asshole that any idea of mine instantly sucks?
  3. Isn’t being a gadfly a good thing? The dictionary definition is, “a person who stimulates or annoys especially by persistent criticism.” Which sounds a lot like a journalist.

SPJ name change

Luckily, changing SPJ’s name – and mission – has avid support from less gadfly-ish SPJers than me.


Younger, too.

I’m 48 years old and served on SPJ’s Name Change Task Force. Last month, we turned in our report, which recommended (over my objection) SPJ keep its name the same.

But this paragraph was key…

The majority of those surveyed indicated an opposition to the name change, but we note that the vast majority of those who participated in our focus groups represented members 30 and older. Thus the very group that we are aiming to reach was the least represented.

…and in fact, no one on the task force was under 30. Phil Rudell, the gadfly-hating guy I mentioned above? He’s retired.

Old-time SPJers across the country told the task force the name change was “unnecessary” (Georgia), “goofy” (Washington State), and will “accomplish nothing” (Massachusetts). My favorite comment came from a retired professor who joined SPJ in 1954…

I can’t see any compelling reason to take any more time than necessary to dispose of this suggestion and get on about our business. Continued dedication to the goals of the society in turbulent media times is what’s needed.

Right. Stay the course. Because that always works.

Thankfully, many SPJers both younger and wiser than me favor a name change and all that comes with it.

SPJ rename

Here’s a half-dozen of them in their own words – a youth movement vs. no movement…


Monica Guzman

Monica GuzmanShe’s the lifestyle tech columnist for The Seattle Times and sits on the advisory board for the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. In SPJ, she’s vice president of the Western Washington chapter and was one of Quill magazine’s “20 Journalists to Follow on Twitter”…

Anyone can commit acts of journalism. Anyone. The witness with an iPhone, the stakeholder with a passion, the person who tells her side of a critical story and the guy who broadcasts a rumor without taking steps to see if it’s true. Our democracy turns on the information that’s out there, and the information that’s out there is not shared exclusively – sometimes not even primarily – by people who would call themselves professional journalists.

If we believe that journalism is essential for democracy, why would we serve and inspire only some of the people who practice it? There should be a Society for Professional Journalism. It’s what this world demands.


SPJ Florida

SPJ name changeTwo weeks ago, the chapter’s board voted unanimously to support changing SPJ’s name and expanding its mission. All of the chapter’s officers graduated from college within the past seven years. (And lest you think they’re too young to excel, they won Large Chapter of the Year when they were even younger – in 2010.)

Says chapter president Jason Parsley (class of 2007)…

SPJ Florida understands the need to evolve. There are far more people in this country that support journalism versus journalists. Those people are potential members. Those people are our future.

The definition of journalist has devolved into an almost meaningless term. With the rise of blogs and social media, anybody can practice journalism. That’s why it’s so important to expand our mission and broaden our base. It’s time for our organization to grow – not shrink.


Gideon Grudo

SPJ renameHe’s special projects manager for Air Force Magazine and was previously managing editor of Florida’s largest gay publication. He’s a former SPJ national student board member, former vice president of SPJ Florida, and a current D.C. Pro member…

This organization by any other name would remain just as diverse. Thing is: SPJ already IS the Society for Professional Journalism. It’s just in denial about it – probably the same it was when it opened its doors to women five years after the Civil Rights Act.

Let’s be loving parents who are empathetic and attempt to teach, instead of being embittered aunts who are self-pitying and self-destructive. We have a great opportunity to be a beacon of education and light for a confused media and its more confused laborers.


Lindsey Cook

She’s the only computer science and journalism double major at the University of Georgia, interned at The Washington Post, and won a coveted AP-Google scholarship. She’s a student member of SPJ’s national board and Region 3′s assistant director.

In my short life as a coder – journalist? journo-supporter? – I’ve already had people claim I wasn’t a journalist. I’ve operated teleprompters and screened calls for Voice of America, and I’ve designed maps for The Washington Post. In which functions would I be able to call myself a journalist?

I’ve watched my coder/storyteller friends land jobs at the Texas Tribune and Google. These are people trained in storytelling who have chosen different tools with which to tell stories. They believe in the power of journaliSM. They support journaliSM.

Most likely, these coder journalists’ careers – just like most others entering the workforce – will look more like a jungle gym than a ladder. We’ll jump from a newspaper to a PR firm to a tech start-up and back again. We still love journalism. We’re still telling stories. Others may not consider us journalists.

In an organization struggling to maintain relevancy with a younger population with a more diverse skill set, do we really want to say to these people, “Come back when you work for a traditional newspaper”? No matter what you’re writing or where, if you support journalism, I’d like you to join the Society for Professional Journalism. Because practicing and supporting journalism is about more than what’s on your business card.


Lynn Walsh

walshA few months ago, she helped launch a new National Digital Content Desk for Scripps in Cincinnati, creating content for more than 30 newspapers and TV stations. In SPJ, she served as chairman of the Gen J committee and is now a member of the FOI Committee.

Deciding whether someone is a “journalist” is becoming more and more difficult – and that’s exciting. Why? For one, a group of white men huddled at a table in a small room with typewriters are not the only people determining what is “news.”

If something isn’t covered on the local news, it doesn’t mean a community isn’t talking about it. That’s exciting. It also can be frustrating for those trying to define what is journalism and who is journalism. For me, the questions should focus on how we can make obtaining information and telling important stories easier for everyone who wants to do so.

I also think that, while SPJ does participate in possible solutions to these questions, it can do more. To do that, SPJ needs to shift it’s priorities and reach out to people and organizations they traditionally haven’t. I think this can be done without changing a name, but if changing the name of SPJ means that it will do more for journalism and the people who care about it and the people fighting for it, then I’m all for it.


April Dudash

She covers Duke University for The Durham Herald-Sun. Before that, she was a military reporter. And before that, she interned in SPJ’s national headquarters, researching and reporting on freedom of information. She’s president of the North Carolina chapter.

I’m imagining myself at an awkward 16 years old, having just joined the high school newspaper – and wondering if I would have felt comfortable joining an organization titled, “Society of Professional Journalists.”

At that age, I had found a strong force in my life, one that would guide my passions and my early career. But as that fledgling journalist who barely knew what AP Style was, I wouldn’t have felt like I fit in with an organization dedicated specifically to “professional journalists.” I still needed to hatch, and SPJ could have been the incubator I desperately needed.

When I hear arguments about maintaining SPJ’s current name, a lot of times it’s about maintaining exclusiveness. It’s about being part of the it-crowd, maintaining the “club” atmosphere.

And yet we argue this as we keep accepting associate membership dues, for those who simply “support SPJ’s mission.”

Yes, the role of journalism is changing, as we experiment with online platforms and as more people pick up home video cameras and film a neighborhood segment that ends up on the 6 o’ clock news. Then there are the community activists who submit FOIA requests and crack down on city government, even though they haven’t received formal journalism training.

With waning public trust in the media nowadays, we need more people on our side, to defend us and who want to align themselves with our mission, for the benefit of their neighborhoods, their schools, their local government – to seek the truth and report it, sometimes no matter what the cost.

spj rename

Someday, SPJ will change its name and widen its reach.


These young SPJers will get elected to the national board, and more than one will become president. So the question isn’t, “When’s this gonna happen?”

It’s, “What’ll be left of SPJ when it does?”

And, “Will it be too late by then?”

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What “for” looks like

SPJ name changeIf SPJ becomes the Society for Professional Journalism, what else changes, besides a letter and a preposition?


Let us count the ways.

First, though, let’s be clear about what doesn’t change.

With a new name, SPJ morphs into an advocacy group for good journalism. But it won’t shed its current mission of representing and training those who already do (or want to learn) good journalism.

Then again, if you keep adding items to the menu without dropping some, you end up big, bloated, and boring – just like Denny’s. And no one goes to Denny’s on purpose.

So here are three short, sharp examples of what change might look like…

What to cut…


SPJ’s Ethics Committee does a lot of hard work no one cares about. Position papers, for instance. The committee has posted eight online, from accountability (24 page views per month in 2013) to plagiarism (the most popular at 166 views per month last year).

And in this post-print era, the Ethics Committee published a book in 2011 called Journalism Ethics. So far, few have been sold. How few? SPJ doesn’t even track the number (which is a separate problem), but Ethics Committee Chairman Kevin Smith said in a meeting last year that “several schools” use it as a textbook – which he thought was admirable because, “There are quite a few other good books out there.”

But if that’s so, why are we wasting precious time competing with something that’s already done well? And it did take time. I sat through Ethics Committee and SDX meetings where this consumed hours and calories better spent elsewhere, much less the time and brainpower to write it. And now there’s talk of an update.


What to do instead…


The most popular page on SPJ’s website, besides the homepage, is its Code of Ethics. It got 4,725 views in one week in mid-December.

It’s common knowledge among SPJ leaders that the Code is also the most popular web page for non-journalists – it’s the No. 1 reason anyone outside of SPJ knows about us.

Yet when you visit that page, there’s precious little else besides the Code – just a small blue box with a link to an expanded explanation that’s long, gray, and dull. I’d rather our Ethics Committee write eight perky intro sentences about SPJ and the Code than eight ponderous position papers.

And instead of an ethics textbook for a handful of journalism students, I’d rather SPJ publish a public appeal for updating the Code. At its last annual convention in Anaheim, SPJ launched a conversation to edit the Code for the first time since 1996 – which was way before Facebook, Twitter, and smartphones.

But all the talk is amongst our members, mostly on a blog called Code Words that gets less than 20 page views per month. Why not solicit an opinion from anyone who visits the Code of Ethics page? A society for professional journalism would surely do that.

Finally, I’ll tout one of my own programs…

S.I.N. challenges college media outlets to break as many entries in the Code of Ethics as humanly possible in a single print or online issue. When a Florida university did this a couple years ago, it wasn’t just educational for the staff. That particular print edition had the lowest returns for the school year (save for the annual football issue) and a Student Affairs dean commented, “I liked it. I didn’t realize journalists had so many ethics!”

What to cut…


The Code of Ethics might be what SPJ is best known for, but Freedom of Information is the best thing it does.

For the past few years, SPJ’s has been obsessed with a Federal Shield Law. It’s certainly a noble and sexy cause. But SPJ’s time-consuming lobbying efforts have accomplished nothing tangible. SPJ has swayed no member of Congress, and I’ve heard of no media outlet taking up SPJ’s plea to “Talk about it. Write about it. Editorialize about it.”

And in fact, how many of SPJ’s 8,000 members will ever need a federal shield law? Or a state one?

I’m not suggesting SPJ ignore the issue. I’m proposing we transfer some of the many hours we burn on it. The sad fact is, for all the Shield Law effort, SPJ’s web page on the topic has attracted less traffic than SPJ’s high school essay contest page.


What to do instead…


If we want to push a federal shield law, Congress doesn’t care about journalists. It cares about voters. Let’s convince the public why it’s crucial. Educating the public about journalism is what a for organization would do.

Freedom of Information shouldn’t be reserved just for journalists. SPJ should train the public on the topic. For instance, the FOI page has a nifty little box that sends you to a couple of FAQs with helpful links – one for students and one for pros. Why not add a third for the public? SPJ should train everyone to use journalism tactics, even if they aren’t journalists.

And once again, I’ll pimp one of my own programs. The First Amendment Free Food Festival feeds college students a free lunch in exchange for signing away their Constitutional rights.

While organized by SPJ college chapters and other student journalists, the event is aimed squarely at the public. That’s why it’s garnered more media coverage than the shield law efforts, even getting SPJ chapter leaders uncomfortably interviewed on FOX News.

What to cut…


SPJ offers solid onsite training, both at its national convention and with traveling workshops called JournCamps.

SPJ also hosts regional conferences, which almost universally suck. I can say this without reservation or accusation, because I’m a regional director who’s had to host them.

SPJ requires its RDs to organize regional conferences each spring. But with a budget of only $500 from SPJ National, these things end up being held on college campuses. With a couple of rare and wonderful exceptions, a majority of regional conferences attract 100 or so attendees, mostly college students. And no one leaves exclaiming, “Wow, that was awesome!”


What to do instead…


Remove the requirement for regional conferences. Keep the good ones and take the lame ones off life support. Use that free time and small sums to train “citizen journalists.” Teach the public how our skills, when ethically and professionally executed, can improve their lives – not just by reading and watching our coverage, but also by doing it themselves.

DIY journalism.

This is the only way out of the wilderness I see for SPJ. It’s scary for long-time members, who grew up in an SPJ that was insular and traditional and static. But ever since the recession, SPJ has had a new tradition: Losing hundreds of members a year.

The real question is: If changing SPJ’s name and expanding SPJ’s mission is too drastic, do you really think our current incremental efforts are going to bring us back more than 1,000 members?

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SCREW SPJ’S ETHICS

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SPZ: Un-Dead Dave

Dave Cuillier

At 6 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 26, SPJ president Dave Cuillier died in New Orleans. By 6:30 p.m., he was undead.


Cuillier was one of 20 re-animated corpses who confronted 75 college journalists at Zombie Stories, the participatory interview program sponsored by SPJ regions 3 and 12 and SPJ Florida.

While Cuillier had (literally) stiff competition – a zombie pirate wench, a zombie monk in flowing robes, a zombie clown in a fright wig smoking a cigar, and a zombie bride in a blood-splattered white dress – he attracted the largest group of creeped-out reporters…
Dave Cuillier

But it ain’t easy becoming undead.


Cuillier sat in the lobby of the New Orleans Marriott while a makeup artist rotted out his presidential face with latex. This being New Orleans on the weekend before Halloween, very few people looked twice at the spectacle.

Later this week, we’ll update you on how the rest of Zombie Stories went. For now, here’s the before-during-after of Dave Cuillier’s zombification…

Dave Cuillier

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The zombie king & queen

Richard Riggs
Even zombies need leaders. Meet Richard Riggs, founder of Krewe of the Living Dead.


By day, Riggs works in a marina in Madisonville, Louisiana. By night, he leads a zombie gang that’s known citywide by its intials, KOLD.

The 38-year-old Riggs was born and raised in New Orleans, which is where 100 journalists will interview 30 of KOLD’s members this Saturday evening.

Gideon GrudoWe call it Zombie Stories, and its director (and former SPJ national board member) Gideon Grudo says it couldn’t happen without KOLD…

What really strikes you is how they’re simultaneously fully devoted to anything undead – just follow the group’s Facebook page to see what I mean – and then very laid back about its culture and “rules.” They don’t care how you feel about the undead or what level of fandom you fall under. If you like a good zombie, they’ll crack a beer with you. That’s more than I can say for some holier-than-thou journalists out there.

Neither KOLD (nor Zombie Stories) would exist if not for a largely forgotten 1981 John Landis horror-comedy. Recalls Riggs…

My mother and aunt took me to see American Werewolf in London when I was 7 – and it horrified me. That pretty much changed the course of what I was interested in. From that night on, I went from a little kid obsessed with Star Wars and sci-fi to being obsessed with Famous Monsters of Filmland and Fangoria magazine. The first Zombie movie I saw was Return of the Living Dead, which didn’t impress me too much. But it did lead me to rent George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, which impressed the hell out of me.

In 2011, Riggs launched his krewe – basically, a social group of horror-flick fans. These days, KOLD’s pub crawls can turn out 150 zombies who shuffle from bar to bar.

Bryanna Leger
If Riggs is King of the Zombies, Bryanna Leger is their queen. Although her family thinks she’s crazy.


Leger is assisting Riggs with Zombie Stories because her day job requires her to be hyper-organized: “I am the Attendee Coordinator for the New Orleans Investment Conference. It hosts as many as 600 attendees and has many speakers who are well-known in the political and investment arena.”

Leger has been a KOLD member for about a year and a half. But it was a fresh breakup and not an old movie that got her involved.

“I had recently gotten out of a long-term relationship and was looking for fun things to get involved in and ways to occupy my mind and time,” Leger says. “I’ve had a morbid fascination with all things horror for as long as I can remember.”

Her relatives never understood that…

I come from a very close family, and although they may not understand all of my interests, they’re aware of them – and love and respect me unconditionally. My 78-year-old grandmother thinks that zombies are ‘disgusting’ – but she’s helped me make some of my costumes.

Zombie Stories

Think you can extract similar quotes from other zombies?


Then come to Zombie Stories.

You’ll interview real (and real interesting) people. If you can cobble together three good questions and elicit three good answers, you’ll win the grand prize: Getting made up as a zombie and embarking on a KOLD zombie pub crawl.

Of course, if you ask dumb questions, you get punished. KOLD zombies will smear your shirt with fake blood. Then again, we give you the shirt. And there’s no cost to play. So even if you suck as an interviewer, you walk away with a free (if bloody) shirt.

Want to know more? Email Grudo at ggrudo.spj@gmail.com.


Zombie Stories is sponsored by SPJ regions 3 and 12 and SPJ Florida, the 2010 Chapter of the Year. So now you know who to blame.


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SPJ: salads, sloths, snails

In 50 days, you can grow your own salad.


Most varieties of lettuce and the smallest varieties of tomatoes (like cherry or grape) and carrots (like Thumbelina or Paris Market) mature in 50 days – as do onions, if you plant them from bulb sets.

Radishes takes as little as three weeks. Want to add goat cheese? You can make it yourself, and it’ll age perfectly within 2-3 weeks. Arugala? Ready to eat after 30-40 days in the ground.

But in 50 days, SPJ can’t even set the table to talk about a name change.

On Aug. 26, SPJ’s delegates – the 104-year-old organization’s “supreme legislative body” – planted the idea of becoming the Society for Professional Journalism. They ordered the board of directors to discuss it.

The next day, SPJ president Dave Cuillier announced…

I am creating a task force to look into it further and provide recommendations to the executive committee and then the full board, which could make a recommendation to the delegates at a future convention.

Wow, that sounds like a long time to harvest. Better get started, right?

But the task force has yet to meet. Last Wednesday, former SPJ president (and make no mistake, all-around great guy) John Ennslin emailed me his formal introduction as chairman of the task force. And yesterday, I learned from Cuillier who else is on it…

Fellow national board members Carl Corry, Paul Davis, Sue Katcef, and David Sheets, along with past president Hagit Limor and former Membership Committee chairwoman Holly Edgell.

Fine folks all. But as of today, nothing has germinated. Which isn’t a surprise, because…

SPJ moves slower than a three-toed sloth with a broken foot and a Xanax addiction.


From salads to sloths. I do enjoy mixing my metaphors.

Since SPJ moves with bradypodidae-like speed at a national level, I’m hoping its chapters possess a little more agility.

I’m asking each SPJ chapter to debate changing the name and mission of their parent organization. Last Thursday, SPJ Florida did just that at its bimonthly board meeting. Chapter president Jason Parsley says he’ll put it to a board vote at the next meeting.

If you or your chapter wants to do the same, email me and I’ll assist in any way you desire. And I’ll list your chapter and its results on this blog.

I don’t care if you vote to support or oppose a name change. As long as you take a stand quicker than SPJ’s national leadership, which is slower than a snail crawling across a stack of pancakes soaked in maple syrup.

There I go again.

If you fancy yourself an amusingly descriptive writer, send me your slowest SPJ metaphors and I’ll cheesily illustrate them. You can remain anonymous in this blog, but I’ll send you a $10 Amazon gift certificate if I use your words. And don’t worry, I protect my sources.

SPJ is an important organization, but until it starts moving at the same pace as the industry it represents, it’ll never be a compelling one. And I’m not just talking about a name change. I’m talking about everything.

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Newest Posts

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2014 Regional Conference Recap April 21, 2014, 3:44 pm
Chicago Ethics Report April 21, 2014, 3:15 pm
A critique: first draft of SPJ Code of Ethics update April 21, 2014, 6:27 am
Congratulations! Mark of Excellence Awards list April 16, 2014, 5:21 pm
Mark of Excellence Award duplicate order form April 16, 2014, 5:13 pm

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