By Joe Skeel | July 29th, 2008
When I left the newsroom nearly four years ago to join SPJ’s staff, I said goodbye to the flying bullets associated with deadline reporting, last-second page proofs and story rewrites at the 11th hour.
On to the tranquil waters of magazine publication ‑ where we set our own deadlines weeks in advance in order to avoid such calamity.
Or, so I thought.
Fast forward to Thursday, July 24.
The day started innocent enough, with a task list long enough to keep me busy, but not so long that I felt buried. The day’s biggest jobs: check the Quill proofs from the printer and help get SPJ Leads (our weekly e-newsletter) ready to go and out the door by 5 p.m.
As planned, the e-mail alert arrived in the morning to let me know the Quill proofs were ready to be reviewed. We do it all online now with this super-cool (I think that the technical term) proofing system.
SPJ communications intern Alyson Ahrns was putting the finishing touches on Leads.
Life was pleasant, and I was finally going to have some time to work on those things that I had put off for a few days: getting offices ready for new employees, developing a plan to better communicate with members, edit some convention messages that were to be distributed, etc.
A quarter way through checking Quill, at about 11:30 a.m., the bomb fell in the form of an e-mail from SPJ president Clint Brewer.
“SHIELD LAW EMERGENCY: ALL HANDS ON DECK!” the subject line read.
Word had just come down from our lawyers in Washington, D.C. that the Senate would be taking the shield law bill (which SPJ has been pushing since 2005) to the floor for a vote as early as Monday (although it hasn’t happened yet – stay tuned).
My to-do list exploded, and suddenly, I was buried. We needed to get the word out to journalists across the country: The Shield Law vote is coming, the Shield Law vote is coming!
President Brewer outlined the scope of the media blitz:
- Alert all SPJ members and leaders in states whose senators were still on the fence. We wanted them to make contact with their senators, and get their friends and peers to do the same. Our hope was this last grassroots push would swing those undecided senators to our side.
- Call the editorial departments of the some of the largest newspapers to let them know a vote was coming, and to express our hope they wrote editorials to support the bill and encourage their readers to contact their senators.
- Reach out to editorial page writers, columnists, publishers and broadcast producers to let them know about the vote and encourage them to discuss the importance of the shield law in their pages on over the airwaves.
- Finally, we were to distribute an op-ed written by President Brewer to editorial departments nationwide.
Off we went.
Alyson immediately began crafting messages for all of the audiences. Meanwhile, I finished the job of proofing Quill, which was no easy task this month because of some production goofs we made on our end. In the end, we resent several pages.
As Alyson continued to work on the messages, I edited SPJ Leads (which Alyson completed earlier in the morning) and passed it off to our other summer intern, Breanne Coats, for a final edit. I then turned my attention to the messages Alyson was working on.
At about 2:30, we began blasting the country with alerts, messages and phone calls. Alyson spoke with folks from the New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald and the Los Angeles Times. She left message with a few other major dailies. Alyson shared our position, and she followed up with a fact sheet and SPJ’s talking points about the proposed shield law.
At the same time, I began sending messages to our members, encouraging them to contact their senators. We sent messages to SPJ chapter leaders and national board members to encourage them to talk to their members.
Once the phone calls were completed, Alyson began blasting SPJ’s message to editorial page writers in the targeted states.
One hour later, Round 1 was over.
We sat and waited for calls from those we just reached. We received a few messages from board members and other volunteers that they did indeed reach out to their senators. And, of course, we waited for that message asking “Doesn’t anyone edit this stuff before you send it out? I would expect more from a journalism organization!”
Meanwhile, our ever-competent graphic designer, Andrew Farkas, chipped in and put together SPJ Leads.
At 4 p.m., we received Clint’s op-ed, which was to be sent to editorial page editors, columnists, publishers and producers around the country. By 5, the piece was edited, approved and out the door.
Shortly after that, Breanne, Alyson and I checked SPJ Leads to make sure all the links worked at that it met the standard of a professional journalism organization.
It was 5:30 p.m., and I felt like I had been put through the ringer. Alyson and Breanne looked much more vibrant than me…but they are still young. All I wanted was an overflowing, cold beer and a quiet corner.
In roughly 5 hours of work, we spread SPJ’s message to 15,000 journalists. The full impact of that day is really impossible to measure. We have no way of knowing how many people contacted their local senator. Our news aggregators turn up a lot of “pick-ups,” but not all.
What we do know, is that since our media blitz at least 100 news outlets – including the biggest in the country – have written about the need for a shield law. Maybe they planned to do so all along, maybe not. But we can rest comfortably knowing we did our best to make that happen.
And rest I did!
Now, we wait for the vote.