Best of the Best

In Connecticut, journalists took to a firing range to learn about guns.

The Florida SPJ chapter has hosted Death Race at funeral homes since 2013.

In Florida, SPJers staged a fake death in a funeral home in service to good obit writing.

In California, student members wrote an open letter to decry the administration’s anti-press rhetoric.

In San Antonio, students chalked up sidewalks to support the First Amendment.

In Michigan SPJers staged a Q&A with a new mayor. In Utah, they produced PSAs about the dangers of fake news. In Arkansas, they networked in ugly sweaters. And in New Mexico, they used GoFundMe dollars to send student journalists on a reporting trip.

All across the country, both professional and student chapters are producing amazing programs and fundraisers to serve their members and promote good journalism.

Over the years, as I judged chapter of the year competitions, I’d read about these accomplishments and wish every member could read about them too.

Now, thanks to the ever-energetic Andy Schotz, you can.

As a regional director and chair of the Awards and Honors Committee from 2013-2019, Andy’s work included reading the reports, too. After EIJ19, he took up the task of compiling some of the best of the best, mostly from 2019 chapter reports.

That’s where you’ll find the examples I cite with lots and lots more. Many include links; all include the sponsoring chapter so you can follow up.

Going forward, you’ll find them on’s Tools for Leaders pages – under “One-Stop Shop,” along with resources like Programs in a Box, a chapter grant application form, PDFs to the SPJ Code of Ethics and a member directory search.

Next time you gather to brainstorm – pondering what you can do to wow current members and attract new ones – I hope you’ll return to the list and borrow liberally.

And I haven’t asked Andy yet – but I’m sure he’d be happy to add your best programs to the next version of the list.

Speaking of great programming, I’ve been happy to participate in some since EIJ19.

Jan Leach staged an impressive Poytner/Kent State University Ethics Workshop in September.

  • In September, I joined a line-up of terrific guests at the 15th annual Poynter/Kent State University Media Ethics Workshop. Melissa Falkowski and Eric Garner recounted the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and how they balanced their duty to protect their students with helping them cover the biggest story of their lives. Poynter Institute ethics guru Kelly McBride, in her remarks, provided thoughtful argument that journalism and advocacy are not such strange bedfellows. And I led a “what would you do session” related to the Covington Catholic case of this past January – with smart Kent State students considering what they would have reported from the Lincoln Memorial mall that day.
  • Closer to home, I stopped at a day-long workshop for student media leaders in the Greater Cincinnati market. A Cincinnati Enquirer editor, Michael Perry, organized the first-time event, with SPJ as a sponsor, to share common problems and solutions. My own students’ chapter, meanwhile, celebrated summer news interns last month, while it works on its next program, about coverage of the mass shooting in Dayton in August.
  • And just this week, I joined SPJ staff members at DePauw University, where SPJ was founded 110 years ago, for an event featuring investigative journalist Brandon Smith, while preparing to head to Fort Worth, Texas, at week’s end for the traditional “first chapter visit” of my term.

When it comes to best of the best, SPJ delivers. Happy to share that news and hope you’ll help spread it too.

Reminder: The 2019-20 board hosts its first online meeting of the year Saturday, Oct. 19, noon-2 p.m. ET, with agenda soon to come. Look for the link and join us!


Talking back: New org chart should help with communication

Communicators sometimes are not the best communicators.

We’ve all heard that in our workplaces – and your national board heard that from plenty of members last year, too.

In response, this year’s board today unveils a new organizational chart.

Yes, pretty wonky news. Woo hoo! New org chart!

But we think it could go a long way to making sure we communicate with you and you can communicate with us.

As you likely know, the board now includes just seven elected members. Three are officers and four are at-large. Soon, we’ll appoint two more members. (More on that in a moment.)

In shrinking from 23 members two years ago to 18 last year to nine now — effective just more than two weeks ago, at the Excellence in Journalism conference in San Antonio – the board’s highest  priority is strategy. (More on that in a moment, too.) We will aim to set goals with our staff and our members, and then help facilitate success in reaching those goals. Translation: More queen bee, less worker bee.

To get there, we want to make sure all parts of the SPJ universe know the best ways to connect.

So that means:

  • I’ll be the chief liaison to our staff, while serving as chair of one committee and member of one other.
  • President-Elect Matt Hall will chair a task force and serve as a member of two committees.
  • Secretary-Treasurer Rebecca Aguilar will chair the Finance and Diversity Committees.
  • At-large director Yvette Walker will be the go-to for the J-Education, Ethics, Legal Defense Fund and Nominations Committees.
  • At-large director Mike Reilley will serve in that role for the FOIA, Awards & Membership, Bylaws and Resolutions Committees.
  • Tess Fox, also an at-large director, will be the liaison for our five Communities and Students/Educators.
  • Lauren Bartlett, also at-large, will be the chief point of contact for our new Regional Coordinators Committee and Members at Large (a.k.a., members not affiliated with chapters).

If you lead one of those parts of the SPJ world, expect to hear from them. If you need anything – large or small – be in touch. And, yes, of course, you are welcome to contact any of us anytime and we’ll respond!

Returning to the appointed board member question, the org chart identifies “partnerships” and “membership initiatives” as their assigned duties. That is my hope. The board will consider possible appointees at its Oct. 19 meeting (noon-2 p.m., ET, with Zoom link to come if you want to join us!). I’m hoping we can recruit one-year appointees that align with those priorities, but that is still TBA at this date.

While I’m communicating news of our new modes of communicating with all of you, I’ll share a few other updates:

  • We are moving forward on our search for SPJ’s next executive director. We’ve interviewed two candidates since EIJ and hope to have news very soon!
  • We’ve set three more opportunities for you to join the conversation about SPJ’s future. You’ll find links very soon to online focus group sessions of Oct. 26, 29 and 30 on the Strategic Planning Task Force’s landing page.
  • We’ve established an EIJ Planning Committee to help share the heavy load that is planning a national conference. Matt and I will represent the board and are working to populate that now to bring you the best-possible EIJ20, next Sept. 10-12, in Washington, D.C.
  • We’re working to establish a new EIJ Sponsorship Committee, in response to a measure passed in San Antonio. Matt will be the board rep, with invites now out to a number of folks most engaged on that topic.
  • We’ve investigated some issues with voting at EIJ19 and determined the problems did not affect the outcome of any of the races. Steps are being taken to ensure next year’s election runs more smoothly. (Apologies, again, to at-large candidate Haisten Willis for inadvertently reading incorrect results in your race.)
  • We’ve responded to two complaints filed via the “EIJ19 Code of Conduct” policy and decided the EIJ Planning Committee should review the code for next year.

Since returning from EIJ, it’s been pretty much all-SPJ, all-the-time. (Shhh, don’t tell my boss.) Every time I’ve been asked, “How’s it going?” I’ve turned to my new favorite cliché’. “Like drinking from a fire hose.”

But worthy work, and worth the time. I was reminded of that yet again today, when I read A.G. Sulzberger’s most-excellent essay on just what’s at stake in a world where our elected leaders demonize the press, daily, as fake news. Hope you’ll read his smart take and share, if you are so inclined.

P.S. Giant thanks to ace SPJ designer Tony Peterson for making our org chart pretty!

Bread-and-butter year ahead for SPJ

In September all things are possible. That’s true in my day job, with the start of each new fall semester. And it’s true in the SPJ world, as our annual Excellence in Journalism conference marks the beginning of a new SPJ year.

I look forward to working with SPJers across the country this year.

I start my one-year term as president of the SPJ Board of Directors with great enthusiasm and renewed hope for many possibilities – and a positive, productive year for the Society.

As I’ve said frequently in recent weeks, the year ahead will be focused on bread-and-butter issues critical to the health and vitality of SPJ:

  • Welcoming a new executive director. As many of you know, this key position has been open since April and we are now deep into the process of searching for a new ED. Expect to hear lots more on that as the process plays out.
  • Launching Phase II of a Strategic Planning Task Force. With essential learning from Phase I just complete, we’ll gather a bit more data in the coming months and then work with the new ED to put a plan on paper. The board will take that up at its spring meeting.
  • Continuing advocacy for press rights, with close attention to the executive branch. We do a lot of this — through our vigorous Legal Defense Fund and with our frequent statements — and will keep that up. When government leaders demonize the press, SPJ must continue to speak in support of the First Amendment.
  • Increasing advocacy at the legislative level, and considering lobbying possibilities. We already do some amount of lobbying, so we’ll be exploring our capacity to do more.
  • Increasing collaboration with other media advocacy groups. Again, we have many active partnerships that benefit members and the practice of journalism overall. We hope to grow those as we explore new possibilities.
  • Establishing clearer lines of communication between members — individually and through chapters, regions, committees, communities, etc. — and the board. We’re close to releasing a new board organizational chart that should help in that regard.
  • Examining membership trends and drilling down on how to keep current members and grow our overall membership ranks.
  • Increasing promotion of member initiatives. Members and chapters across the country execute dozens and dozens of innovative programs every year. We’re working on ways to share information about those initiatives more easily and regularly.

I was thrilled to have Beatrice, Frances, Doug and Arthur Newberry celebrate SPJ with me at EIJ19 in San Antonio.

I come to the presidency with nearly four decades of SPJ experience. I joined the Society as a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and have been active at the local, regional and national level for most of my career. I worked in newspapers for about 15 years before I began teaching journalism. It’s been my great pleasure to be a faculty member at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, for the last 23 years – and it was a huge honor to have my longtime boss, Richard Campbell, on hand as I took the oath of office at EIJ. Topping that, of course, was that my entire family could join me in San Antonio. I love SPJ, I love Miami – but I most especially love my partner-in-all Doug Newberry, and our three terrific children, Frances, a 25-year-old artist working in the restaurant world; Arthur, 23, a fellow artist who bakes bread for a living; and Beatrice, 21, finishing her studies in entrepreneurship and American studies at Miami.

Joining me on the board this year – which, you may recall, shrunk to nine members, from 18 this past year and 23 a year earlier – are smart, dedicated SPJers from across the country:

  • Matthew T. Hall, our new president-elect, is the editorial and opinion director at The San Diego Union-Tribune, where he has worked since 2001. He manages the Ideas and Opinion section, writing and editing editorials, and overseeing a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoon, commentary, letters to the editor and a podcast called “The Conversation,” which shares the news of the day in dynamic ways. He previously managed the newsroom’s social media and before that was a columnist and a reporter. He is past president of San Diego’s SPJ chapter and has been on the national board since 2014. He’s seen the Red Sox win three World Series titles in person and gladly missed the other Sox celebration this century because his wife was pregnant with their second child. (Hit him up on Twitter at @SDuncovered.)
  • Rebecca Aguilar, our new secretary/treasurer, is a freelance reporter and guest lecturer of media writing at Richland College in Dallas. She’s been a part of SPJ since 2009, earlier serving as vice chair of the Digital Community and Diversity Committee. Last year, she chaired the Diversity Committee and revamped the Dori Maynard Diversity Leadership Fellowship. A six-year member of the SPJ Fort Worth chapter board, Aguilar has close to three decades of experience in television news with some 50 awards and nominations for her work in the field. Her husband and son also work in television news at competing stations in Dallas.
  • Mike Reilley, an at-large director continuing for his second year, is a full-time lecturer in data and digital journalism at the University of Illinois Chicago campus. He also is an SPJ digital trainer and consults on data projects with Gannett and many other media organizations. He is founder and editor of The Journalist’s Toolbox and, which covers news in Chicago neighborhoods. A former reporter/copy editor at The Los Angeles Times and a producer, Reilley was one of the 11 founding editors of He’s in his 16th year of teaching full-time, with earlier positions at Northwestern, Arizona State and DePaul. He holds a bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and an MSJ from Northwestern University. He lives in Chicago with his wife, Isabella, and is a rabid fan of the Cubs, Husker football and Northwestern football.
  • Tess Fox, also a returning at-large director starting her second year, is a copy editor at the Idaho Press in Nampa, Idaho. She led the revival of the University of Idaho chapter and served as the chapter president before running for the national board. Fox has two cats, Quinn and Frankie, and would like at least one more.
  • Lauren Bartlett, re-elected as an at-large director, has been a member of SPJ since her college days when she was president of the UCLA chapter. She’s been involved in the Society’s national governance since 2008, chairing and serving on several committees and task forces. She served on the board of the SPJ’s Greater Los Angeles chapter for 18 years, with three terms as president. Before moving into communications work – she is currently senior director of communications with the University of Southern California – Bartlett was a reporter in Los Angeles for 12 years, including at The Associated Press there. She lives in Culver City and is a big fan of Disneyland, UCLA football and the San Francisco 49ers.
  • Yvette Walker, also re-elected for an at-large seat, has spent most of her career in daily journalism. Now assistant dean for student affairs and administration in the Gaylord College at the University of Oklahoma, Walker moved to education to prepare the next generation of journalists in these tumultuous times. Earlier, she was a senior newsroom manager at the Kansas City Star and, and worked in newsrooms in Indiana, Texas and Michigan. She also writes a blog, Thoughts and Deeds, on Walker and her husband, Tom, are very active in their church and in caring for their three fur babies: Lemon, a black Labrador retriever; Gato, a Maine Coon cat; and Jade, a grey tabby cat with (of course) green eyes.
  • Ivette Davila-Richards continues as a board appointee. She is a freelance regional assignment editor at Fox News Channel in New York, who has served on the board of the Deadline Club there for the past two years. She also serves as vice chair of SPJ’s Diversity Committee and was a leader at the national level with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. She spent 10 years as an associate producer at CBS News and also worked for Spectrum-NY1 News as a multimedia journalist.
  • Victor Hernandez also continues as a board appointee. He works as executive editor at Crosscut and KCTS , with earlier positions at CNN, NBC, the University of Missouri School of Journalism and technology startup Banjo. He is a frequent speaker and trainer at journalism conferences and serves as visiting faculty at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. In 2018-19, he led our Strategic Planning Task Force.

(Side note on appointed members: Under the new board structure, they serve one year, filling a specific board need. With Hernandez and Davila-Richards cycling off, we’ll soon identify two new appointees that align with 2019-20 priorities.)

We invite you to reach out to any of us with advice or questions, with full contact info on We’ll be back in touch as quickly as we can.

With the new year, SPJ will now be served by 12 Regional Coordinators, half of whom were elected in San Antonio. Staying in close touch with them will be critical to serving members in the year ahead. Region 1 Coordinator Jane Primerano will serve as chair of a new RCs committee. You’ll find contact info for her and other RCs on

Happy to report, too, that most of our terrific 2018-19 committee and community chairs will stay on. They are likewise listed on the SPJ site.

Also working for the benefit of all in the year ahead will be:
The Strategic Planning Task Force. Matt Hall will replace Victor Hernandez as chair and our new ED will join the group as we move to Phase II of that project. Full updates are on the SPTF page.
A new EIJ planning committee. Hall and I will lead that, with other members TBA.
A new EIJ sponsorship task force, as called for by delegates in San Antonio. Hall will be the board’s rep, with wide representation from across our membership, also TBA.

More to come – frequently! – on all of those topics.

Sincere thanks to everyone in the SPJ world for endless initiatives to promote and protect journalism. Specific thanks to 2018-19 President J. Alex Tarquinio for her extraordinary work leading the Society through a challenging year. And most-deserved thanks to our terrific headquarters staff – for delivering a spectacular EIJ and for their day-to-day work to serve members.

I look forward to working with all of you in the year ahead.

The Last Word

Here are my final remarks from the President’s Installation Banquet at the Excellence in Journalism Conference in San Antonio on Sept. 7, 2019.

At my induction last year in Baltimore, I quoted Albert Camus, who, on the liberation of Paris from Nazi rule, urged journalists to make their voice one of energy, not of hatred, and to take pride in objectivity, and not rhetoric. Let’s not sugarcoat our situation today, our profession is, likewise, under extreme duress and not just simply from ever shrinking newsrooms and the questioning of the media’s integrity but worse: physical assaults at political rallies, and the most disturbing event of all – the deadly attack on the Capitol Gazette. In short, our mission to defend and celebrate journalism is still relevant and ever more dependent on our collective willingness to seek and stand up for the unadulterated truth no matter what the circumstances.

To do this we must jealously hold fast to the freedoms granted us by the First Amendment. These were violated recently, in San Francisco, despite the California Shield law. Police raided the home of journalist Bryan Carmody seeking clues to a confidential police informant. Thanks to SPJ’s NorCal chapter he was interviewed by me at the Medill campus in downtown San Francisco. By the way, it was Bryan’s first public interview. This was a shining example of a successful collaboration between SPJ’s national and local leaders, and their partners, for the right cause – defending our journalist’s rights and with them – our democracy.

I’m particularly proud of the unprecedented summit, Quo Vadis Democracy, that our stellar SPJ staff produced in New York this spring. Together we organized panels about online disinformation and the dangers it poses to our elections and democracy as a whole. One of the featured speakers at this summit is with us here tonight, Maria Ressa, and we are honored to have her with us again. As many of you may be aware by now my focus has always been advocacy and to do this right it is best done in partnership with like-minded groups. We took a giant leap in that direction when we met with more than 30 press freedom groups at this summit where we put together a joint resolution.

I had the honor of later speaking about this summit and journalist protection before an audience of 400 at the United Nations headquarters on World Press Freedom Day. Indeed, it’s been a never-ending pleasure to meet with foreign journalists from countries without any meaningful press freedom. I sincerely believe that, at its best, SPJ, particularly its code of ethics, can serve as a model to the world.

The potential is there but it is imperative we get our house in order. Yes, we’re working diligently to find a new Executive Director, but we ourselves must acknowledge that this is a national organization. It is incumbent upon its leadership, now and in the future, to think large. We have been and we should be focused on advocacy, both in the halls of Congress and in statehouses across the land. And let’s make it clear, this room and our board should more closely resemble the diversity of America that we see when we walk out on East Commerce Street, steps from the front door of our hotel.






During the 2018-2019 term, SPJ has responded to the heightened challenges to press freedom, including verbal and physical attacks on journalists, with a wave of advocacy statements and interviews by SPJ leaders.

The key statements and media interviews can also be found here


Media Interviews by SPJ National Leaders


September 2019











June 2019



May 2019





April 2019




March 2019


February 2019





January 2019




November 2018



October 2018


September 2018

  • Live radio interview with SPJ National President-Elect J. Alex Tarquinio about the First Amendment and Open Government on Court Radio, WRNB 100.3 FM Philadelphia, Sept. 1, 2018


Public Appearances by SPJ National Leaders


August 2019


  • SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio moderated a live interview with San Francisco journalist Bryan Carmody, whose home was raided by the police in search of clues to his confidential sources, along with his lawyer. (video)


  • Lynn Walsh organized a Facebook “Train the Trainers” program from Aug. 15 to 16. SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio gave opening remarks.


  • SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio and SPJ Indiana State Pro Chapter President John Russell gave remarks at the 110th SPJ Anniversary event at DePauw University. (video)


July 2019

  • SPJ Journalist on Call Rod Hicks hosted the final session of the Casper Project, with Foundation President Irwin Gratz and SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio giving opening remarks, July 16.


  • SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio represented the Society at a forum on journalist safety at the United Nations, July 17.


  • SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio gave opening remarks at a D.C. Pro chapter event about Whistleblowers, July 31.


June 2019

  • SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio gave opening remarks at an SPJ Google News Institute event before the SDX Banquet, June 21.


May 2019

  • SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio delivered prepared remarks and participated on a panel with Steven Adler and Warren Hoge before an audience of 400 at the United Nations headquarters in New York on World Press Freedom Day, May 3. (video) (text of remarks)



April 2019

  • SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio produced and hosted a World Press Freedom Day Summit from April 26 to 27 with a generous grant from Craig Newmark. The theme of this gathering, known as Quo Vadis Democracy was journalism nonprofit leaders was the threat of disinformation to journalism and democracy. (videos) (text of group resolution)


March 2019



November 2018


  • SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio represented the Society at the Paris Peace Forum, Nov. 11, 2019. Her column about it was picked up by the Associated Press.


October 2018

  • SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio and RTDNA Executive Director Dan Shelley spoke to a group of 25 global journalists at the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Press Center at the United Nations, Oct. 5.



  • SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio gave remarks at the SPJ Google News Institute election training event in Washington, D.C., Oct. 16.


September 2018


Advocacy Statements

The Legal Defense Fund Committee

Signed 55+ (some are in process) Friend of the Court briefs and advocacy letters and statements since October 2018, which can be viewed here


Press Releases


July 2019


May 2019






March 2019




February 2019


January 2019


December 2018


November 2018




October 2018





Journalism Trust Initiative

The old maxim that a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on is out of date. In the Internet age, a lie can circle the globe many times while the truth is struggling to get followers.

The deliberate spread of disinformation is an ancient problem. What is new is the rapidity and ease with which it can spread. Technology has put low-cost disinformation tools into the hands of anyone with Internet access. In recent years, several programs have been created to tackle this thorny issue, among them, the Journalism Trust Initiative. Reporters Without Borders, also known internationally by its French name Reporters Sans Frontières, has been working on this year-long project to verify news websites in the fight against online disinformation.

I am a proud participant in the JTI project, having been invited to represent the Society of Professional Journalists on the drafting committee. I was immediately won over to the idea of using algorithms to elevate content from ethical news outlets above the flotsam and jetsam of the Internet. For the past year, my fellow participants, who include more than 120 global media and non-profit leaders, have met to discuss such important topics as media ownership, transparency and ethics. SPJ is the only U.S. professional journalism association represented.

Yesterday, the project took a giant leap forward with the announcement of a $1.5 million gift from Craig Newmark Philanthropies to help fund the implementation of JTI. After more than a year of meetings to hammer out a consensus-based set of standards for trustworthy journalism, the second phase of this project will allow media outlets to implement the standards in a voluntary, self-regulatory process.

Yet as the first phase draws to a close, the critical stage of gathering public comments is underway. After approving a draft document at a plenary session in Geneva in June, the working draft  has been shared with the public for comments.

Attendees at the Excellence in Journalism Conference in San Antonio will get a chance to weigh in on the document and contribute their suggestions in a half-day workshop, from 1 – 4 p.m. in Lone Star B on the second floor of the conference.

If you’re in San Antonio, come contribute your ideas about how applying journalistic standards to websites might fix disinformation. And most importantly, help us decide if the U.S. news media should get on board with this project.

If you’re not in San Antonio, learn more and contribute comments until Oct. 18 via this website. My fellow project participants and I will review all comments before voting on the final document in November.


President’s Letter from San Antonio

Here is the final President’s Letter from the board packets for the Sept. 5 meeting of the national board of directors at the Excellence in Journalism Conference in San Antonio. Read the highlights of the year, including major accomplishments by the SPJ volunteers and staff.


FROM: J. Alex Tarquinio, SPJ National President

TO: SPJ national board of directors

RE: Final report for Sept. 5, 2019 board meeting


At this crucial moment for our Society, we should not rush headlong into the future without pausing to reflect on the accomplishments made during this pivotal year. Despite the challenges of operating without a permanent executive director, our tireless volunteers and staff have achieved great things in this, the 110th anniversary of the Society of Professional Journalists.


The national committees have been going full steam ahead. Here are some top-level highlights from the reports to follow in this packet:

  • Membership: Colin DeVries, the committee chair who took charge midterm, created a successful summer membership drive that resulted in 220 new members (versus 148 in the same period a year ago) and 607 renewing members (versus 296.)
  • Diversity: Rebecca Aguilar and Ivette Davila-Richards, the new committee chair and vice chair, have revamped the Dori Maynard Diversity Leadership Program from top to bottom. The committee is hosting six extraordinary Fellows out of a pool of 21 applicants.
  • Ethics: The committee chaired by Lynn Walsh has created a 45-minute presentation that can be shared with non-journalists. Once again, SPJ’s Ethics Week was promoted on the Reuters billboard in Times Square.
  • Generation-J Committee: Tess Fox revived the committee, which has decided to focus on two projects going forward: a student chapter guidebook and a mentorship program.
  • Education Committee: Under the leadership of co-chairs Rebecca Tallent and Leticia Steffen, the successful #Press4Education program continues to grow, matching 186 volunteers with teachers to date.
  • Legal Defense Fund Committee: The committee, chaired by Hagit Limor, acted on more than 55 cases and resurrected the silent and live auctions.
  • Freelance Community: The community, chaired by Hilary Niles, continues to grow, primarily through Facebook and Twitter, and is seeking greater awareness within SPJ.
  • International Community: The community, which is led by co-chairs Elle Toussi and Dan Kubiske, has forged new partnerships with One Free Press Coaliton and the International Senior Lawyers Project.

Meanwhile, the national board has begun some painstaking and important transitional work, some of which will continue into the new term.

  • Policy Review Task Force: The task force, chaired by Matt Hall, conducted a thorough inventory and review of national board policies.
  • Strategic Planning Task Force: The task force, chaired by Victor Hernandez, initiated work on the first strategic plan since 2006, an objective that our executive search consultants advise us would be best to attain sooner rather than later, with the involvement of our new full-time executive director.
  • Executive Director Search Committee: The SPJ board unanimously decided to go forward with a professional search firm, rather than to lead the search process itself, as SPJ has done in the past. Search Committee Chair Hagit Limor is the point of contact for the consultants. The board policy review and the drafting of a strategic plan are integral to this search, as many qualified applicants would view the lack of strong policies or planning as a negative.
  • The 110th Anniversary Task Force: On a lighter note, this task force chaired by Yvette Walker has generated some fun ideas, such as a Spotify list of songs about news.

Furthermore, despite the high turnover at HQ in the first half of the 2018-2019 term, I was determined not to drop the ball on the key goals I had set when I ran for this office two years ago—improving diversity at all levels of the Society, while increasing our press freedom advocacy and forging new partnerships. Some highlights of these goals:

  • We obtained a generous $25,000 grant from the Craig Newmark Philanthropies to hold a journalism nonprofit summit ahead of World Press Freedom Day. Held over two days in New York, 82 people from more than 30 press freedom groups attended the summit and helped craft a joint resolution.
  • On World Press Freedom Day, May 3, I spoke on a panel at the United Nations before an audience of 400 to discuss the SPJ journalism nonprofit summit the week before, which had focused on threats to journalism and democracy in a time of disinformation.
  • Bryan Carmody, the San Francisco journalist whose home was raided by the police in search of clues to a confidential police source, spoke for the first time publicly about the case at an event that I moderated, which was hosted by the SPJ NorCal Pro chapter at the Medill School in downtown San Francisco. This was an example of a successful collaboration between SPJ local and national leaders and our partners.
  • I served as a drafting committee member in the Journalism Trust Initiative, a project of the Reporters Without Borders/Reporters sans frontières (RSF).
  • Along the way, key SPJ leaders—including Rod Hicks, Lynn Walsh, Paul Fletcher, Danielle McLean and myself—have issued a steady stream of advocacy statements and media interviews. See Addendum A.



On May 13, two weeks after the departure of the SPJ executive director, the executive committee of the SPJ national board and the top two officers of the SPJ Foundation held a conference call to determine what to do while SPJ searched for a permanent executive director. The President-Elect had done research on hiring an interim executive director. However, the leaders from both boards on the May 13 call determined that SPJ could not afford to take this step, so they asked for a report focused on having the SPJ President continue as acting interim while hiring business consultants to do two things: search for a full-time executive director and draft an on-site managerial assessment of headquarters to inform this search and help guide the next full-time executive director.

I prepared this report based on advice from SPJ Legal Counsel Mark Bailen and numerous interviews with executive consultants. The report was unanimously approved in a meeting of the full SPJ national board on June 1. SPJ Foundation President Irwin Gratz also approved this report, which detailed a financial analysis by SPJ Controller Jake Koenig that showed the cost of hiring a consultant for both the executive search and the on-site assessment would largely be offset by not paying for an interim executive director. A public version of the report, which excluded just the private bids and financial analysis, was shared with SPJ members via the Freedom of the Prez blog on June 5. See Addendum B, or this link:

The staff has performed heroically over the past four months, despite the lack of a permanent executive director on site. After a year of intense turnover in Indianapolis through April, we’ve had no staff departures other than the communications employee who left to get married and move out of state, which had been expected. Meanwhile, we have added three new employees since April, Zoë Berg and Ashlynn Neumeyer, two communications interns, and Kathy Parker, a full-time accountant.

The staff, both old and new hires, have bonded together as a team and their positive attitude has ensured the smooth execution of the SDX banquet in June and the Excellence in Journalism Conference. We are expecting about 1800 attendees in San Antonio, about the same as the last time we had all three conference organizers in 2017. Additionally, we’ve brought back some of the cherished traditions that we had to forego last year because of the staff turnover at that time, such as the Legal Defense Fund auction and the Pro Chapter Leaders meeting. The staff has also negotiated new agreements with some of our existing partners, without losing a single partner despite being in a transitional period.

Here are some top-level highlights of the staff’s recent accomplishments:

  • EIJ is expected to have 1800 attendees, more than 70 sessions, and 92 exhibit booths. Key events that have been arranged by the staff include breakout sessions, super sessions, the J-Expo, opening night reception, President’s Installation Banquet and reception, Scripps reception, Student Union, donor reception, LDF auction, three board meetings, 10 committee meetings, 9 Regional meetings, Freelance Corner meetings, EIJ News, 110th committee table and SPJ tee-shirt sales.
  • The Knight Foundation approved a $45,000 ($15,000 per year over three years) grant to support the Excellence in Journalism Conference.
  • More than 70 awards were presented, and we had 170 guests at the SDX banquet on June 21 at the National Press Club, which ran like clockwork, despite the fact that many of the new staff were working the banquet for the first time.
  • The Communications team managed by Jennifer Royer issued around 20 advocacy statements on press freedom issues.  (See an advocacy list as an addendum to this report.)
  • The Quill magazine redesign is going well under new editor Lou Harry. had its highest monthly views ever in June with 6695 hits.
  • Rod Hicks wrapped up the SPJ Foundation-funded Casper Project with a well-attended public forum in Casper Wyoming, where Irwin and I both gave brief introductory remarks.
  • Caroline Escobar managed a summer membership drive amid EIJ preparations that resulted in a 47% increase in new members and twice as many renewing members compared to the same period last year.
  • At the April mid-year board meeting, the SPJ board decided to move the 2021 conference to New Orleans. Basharat Saleem negotiated a new contract with the Hyatt Regency New Orleans. The room rate will be $149 (compared with a $198 four-year average) with a total of 1193 hotel rooms.
  • In addition to the usual graphics and website updates by Tony Peterson and Billy O’Keefe, both worked on special projects this year:  to include the World Press Freedom Day Summit;  the redesign of the SPJ Foundation logo and branding, due to the name change;  and the 110th Anniversary celebration, which required the logo, pin, ads, thank you cards, Quill addition, conference ribbon and step and repeat banner.
  • SPJ is to provide complete event support for the JAWS CAMP in late September, with Basharat and Matt Kent from the staff to be on site.
  • The Google program, now managed by Lou, is on track. So far in 2019, 2562 journalists have been trained through the SPJ Google Tools training program and it is closing in on the projected total of 4000 for the year.
  • Facebook agreed to provide further funding to carry their Journalism project, managed by Lynn Walsh, through to the end of 2019. Since the program was launched in March 2018, SPJ and Facebook have led more than 150 trainings in newsrooms, classrooms and at conferences in Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C. and 41 of the 50 states. To date, the program has trained more than 4,000 journalists and counting.
  • Controller Jake Koenig hired a full-time accountant, which I approved during my first trip to Indianapolis as acting interim executive director, based on his identifying understaffing as the reason for slow financial reporting. Jake and Kathy, the new full-time accountant, and Toni Sculky, the part-time accountant, are now working together to bring reporting up to date.
  • Despite all the hard work and many distractions, both the staff and volunteers found time to plan for and celebrate SPJ’s 110th Anniversary, which culminated in a ceremony organized by Larry Messing at DePauw University just steps from the spot where SPJ was founded.
  • Last but certainly by no means least, none of this would have been possible, throughout this demanding interim period, without the stalwart Linda Hall keeping the staff on track. It is hardly surprising that they refer to her as their “den mother.”

In closing, amid the current climate of uncertainty for our profession, we, nevertheless, have ample reasons to look optimistically towards SPJ’s future. Our mission to educate the current and future generations of journalists, while defending journalism ethics and advocating for open government and press freedom, has never been more relevant and worthwhile. I’d like to end by saying it has been a privilege to pilot SPJ through this challenging transitional period. It is my fervent hope that the swift resolution of the executive director search and the realization of the strategic plan will steer this organization, which has meant so much to me in the 12 years that I have served it as a volunteer, into a brighter tomorrow.


Tributes to Past National SPJ President John C. Ensslin


Ever since our dear friend John Ensslin’s unexpected death in Denver on Aug. 5 there has been an outpouring of testimonials in his honor. This week the family will hold memorial services in Colorado and New Jersey. SPJ chapters might also wish to mark his passing in some way.

John was a class act. To me, he was not only a friend, he was also a valuable mentor. His generosity and patience with those coming up the SPJ leadership ladder was legendary. John was one of the most dedicated reporters I have ever known. He moved halfway across the country twice to continue in the profession he loved. And it didn’t stop there. Over the years, it was remarkable to watch John reinvent himself from a print reporter to a podcaster.

Today, Monday, Aug. 12, the Denver Press Club will hold a memorial service in John’s honor where they will raise money to support the club’s John C. Ensslin Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship in his name was established a few years ago and awards $3,000 to a student journalist in Colorado.

On Saturday, Aug. 17, there will be a celebration of John’s life with his friends and family from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Nassau Inn, 10 Palmer Square in Princeton, N.J.

John’s wife, Denise, will be at both services. I plan to attend Saturday’s memorial along with members from the local chapters in New York and New Jersey. If you’d like more information about Saturday’s service, please email me at

As you may have heard, John and I were planning an event together at the Denver Press Club that would have included one of his favorite pastimes, creating a Studio SPJ podcast. Sadly, that wasn’t meant to be. I will be following through with his invitation to do a guest bartending stint there on Tuesday, Aug. 20. This is literally a rain date after my earlier flight to Denver was cancelled because of bad weather. The proceeds for the evening will be donated to the Denver Press Club’s scholarship named in John’s honor.

Finally, the many SPJ leaders who have been inspired by John’s dedication to both the Society and the profession that it represents may wish to pay tribute to him at their next chapter event. We did that at a recent gathering that included New York and New Jersey chapter members. I hope that many of you will have similar opportunities to share the good memories that you have of John.


A New Game Plan

Last week, the Society of Professional Journalists kicked off a new game plan designed to take us to a higher league. After weeks of debating our executive director search and plans for the interim period, our newly-hired consultants, Talbott Talent, met with the staff and the executive director search committee.

I was on hand to introduce the Talbott team to the staff on Tuesday and Wednesday. Leah York, Talbott Talent’s president, was at our headquarters on Transition Day One to discuss the consultant-led executive search process. Heather Rolinski, Talbott’s director of organizational effectiveness, was there both days to answer questions about how she will conduct the on-site organizational assessment that will provide a roadmap for our future executive director. We talked about the timeline and how we will gather input from the staff, the boards of directors of both the Society and Foundation, and our membership.

On Thursday, Leah held a video conference call to go over the procedures and the timeline for the executive search with the members of the Executive Director Search Committee. As previously reported in this column, that committee is being chaired by our foundation board’s vice president, Hagit Limor, and includes Dr. Battinto L. Batts, Jr., Michael Bolden, Irwin Gratz, Matt Hall, Patti Gallagher Newberry, and your’s truly.

Finally, on Friday, the Long-term Strategic Planning Task Force, which I appointed earlier this year, talked about how a membership survey could help inform the executive director search. This task force is being chaired by Victor Hernandez and includes April Bethea, Patti Gallagher Newberry, Mike Reilley, Jennifer Royer, Yvette Walker, and myself.

July will be a defining month. After meeting one-on-one with all of our employees in the coming weeks, Heather will draft a survey tailored to our needs at HQ. Simultaneously, Talbott will conduct another survey of both boards looking at how we see the new executive director’s immediate challenges as well as our long-term goals for the organization. While the consultants are busily polling our board and staff, our strategic planning task force will be drafting a survey for our membership to see where you’d like us to lead SPJ.

In short, we’ll be taking the next month to tap into the collective hopes of all of our stakeholders to define what sort of leader should guide us into a brighter future. All of this will inform the position profile that defines our next executive director.

Finally, we will hold a public comment period on Saturday, July 13 to hear from members about the qualities that you think are most important in our next executive director. This will take place at noon on the East Coast. We’ll have half an hour, at which point the executive committee will need to hold a private conversation to discuss the awards we’ll give out at our upcoming convention in San Antonio. To join the public comment period about our next executive director on July 13, click here.


SPJ Renaissance

Having found ourselves at a crossroads, with the recent departure of our executive director, the national leadership of the Society of Professional Journalists debated the most promising way forward. After due consideration, we have committed to the pathway that we believe leads to the brightest future.

As I reported to members in this column last week, the Society’s national board of directors unanimously approved a plan in our June 1 meeting that prepares for both the executive search and the transition period. (See the June 5 ‘Freedom of the Prez’ column for the plan in detail.) Our vote was contingent on approval by the Foundation because the two boards share the expenses and oversight of our headquarters in Indianapolis. At the time, the Foundation’s president was out of the country. I am glad to report that the Foundation’s president has since decided that a vote by his board is unnecessary because we will be working within our budget. A detailed analysis by our financial controller shows that the cost of hiring a consultant will largely be covered by the savings of not paying for a full-time executive director over the summer.

Pending a review of the contract by our lawyer, we hope to have a signed agreement by early next week. As soon as the electronic ink is dry, so to speak, we will announce the name of the consultant in the SPJ news section of our website.

Firstly, we are taking a different approach to the executive director search than in the past, when an all-volunteer committee performed the time-consuming task of screening the applicants. This time around, we are hiring an executive search consultant, more commonly known as a “headhunter.” They will be conducting a nationwide search to recruit promising candidates with backgrounds in the nonprofit sphere. Simultaneously, we will inform our members and other journalists of this opportunity. Candidates who have been recruited and those who step forward themselves will receive equal consideration in the application process. The consultant will then vet the applicants and create a highly-qualified pool of candidates for the search committee to consider.

One of the consultant’s initial steps will be to conduct two separate surveys—one of our employees and another of both boards—in order to form a better conception of the ideal candidate to lead our dedicated staff at HQ. Only the consultant will see the full responses. The search committee will see the consultant’s conclusions but will not have access to the original survey responses, thus guaranteeing complete anonymity.

As I announced last week, Hagit Limor will chair the Executive Director Search Committee, which includes the top leaders of both boards. As well as being a past national president of SPJ and the current vice president of the Foundation, Hagit served on the last two search committees, including chairing the committee that selected our previous long-serving executive director who led HQ until 2017. Once the consultant has lined up the top candidates for our consideration, Hagit will lead the committee meetings and draft the final report for the SPJ board’s approval. The consultants will remain with us as advisers throughout the interviewing process, right up until we sign a contract with our new executive director.

Secondly, the same firm will be hired to perform a necessary on-site assessment of our needs at HQ. The consultant will be there two days a week over the summer and will give us a head’s up if there are any pressing issues that cannot wait until we have a new executive director in the corner office. This consultant is a human resources specialist who will serve as a part-time chief operating officer, helping to smooth the work flow during the transition. Her role will largely be operational, whereas the staff will continue to reach out to me with questions about programs. Having an HR expert on site this summer will be key to making sure we are all hitting our marks as we approach the Excellence in Journalism conference.

It is my fervent wish for the Society’s board of directors to select our next executive director in time for EIJ. I always like to leave every organization on a better footing than I found it. Although the search committee will aim for that goal, which would be next to impossible without hiring a consultant, it is still an aggressive timeline.

Once I hand over the gavel in San Antonio, my work here will be ended. It will be up to the next national president and board of directors to manage HQ if we do not yet have a full-time executive director. Until that instant when I pass the gavel, I will remain focused on supporting the staff during this complex transition so they can keep executing on our programs and serving our members. The oath of office that I took in Baltimore demands nothing less.

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