Sunshine Week begins early this year

Today marks the beginning of Sunshine Week, an annual rite of spring for media nonprofits. As the days lengthen, we are reminded that the framers of our constitution, among them James Madison, had a vision of government transparency that was a radical break from the world they were born into. Madison, a consummate publicist in an era before his name became associated with that art, first tried to sell the public on the need for federalism in the Federalist Papers. When the Constitution continued to encounter opposition, he proposed the articles that came to be known as the “Bill of Rights.”

Sunshine Week was created by our friends at the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) to coincide with Madison’s birthday on March 16. Since the first Sunshine Week in 2005, the annual celebration of open government has grown to include many partners. The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) is proud to count ourselves among them.

In advance of Sunshine Week, I traveled to Washington, D.C. to do some lobbying on Capitol Hill with our friends in the News Media for Open Government, an alliance of news media and journalism organizations that includes SPJ. I joined with alliance members from ASNE, RCFP, the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, the National Newspaper Association and the News Media Alliance.

Together, we met on Monday with legislative aides for Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, and Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, who both serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

We discussed the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) portal, the signature achievement of our media coalition: the #FixFOIAby50 campaign. This campaign successfully sought to modernize this crucial tool of government transparency by FOIA’s 50th anniversary on July 4, 2016. The passage of this legislation created a unified portal to act as a clearing house for FOIA requests to government agencies. Now, our goal is to push for the improvement of the portal so that requests are smoothly handled and more swiftly fulfilled. In particular, we want documents that are repeatedly requested to be made public.

We also talked about the Journalist Protection Act, a much-needed new law that would help safeguard the act of newsgathering. This failed to win passage in the last Congressional session, and it is one of our coalition’s top priorities for the current session.

The Journalist Protection Act would amend the federal penal code to make it a crime to assault a journalist on the job. It would punish an individual who knowingly injures a journalist with the intention of intimidation or to impede the act of newsgathering.

Sadly, this law has become necessary in the hostile climate for American reporters that has evolved since the 2016 election. Congressmembers of both houses began talking about reintroducing this legislation in February, after a Trump supporter violently shoved a BBC cameraman filming President Donald Trump giving a speech at a rally in El Paso, Texas.

“This is what happens when a President calls a #FreePress the ‘enemy of the people’ and whips his rallies into a frenzy. Assaults must not be tolerated, and I look forward to re-introducing the #JournalistProtectionAct along with @SenBlumenthal,” California Democratic Congressmember Eric Swalwell wrote on Twitter at the time.

Likewise, we at SPJ, and the other members of the News Media for Open Government, look forward to advocating for this legislation during the 116th U.S. Congress.

World Press Freedom Day

The following day, I went on my own to meet with legislative aides on the other side of the Capitol Building, in the offices of Congressmembers Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, and Steve Chabot, an Ohio Republican.

I had met with both Congressional aides previously in September. Their bosses co-chair the Congressional Freedom of the Press Caucus, which focuses exclusively on threats to press freedom outside of the United States.

Among the occasional statements made by the caucus is an annual resolution in support of the United Nations World Press Freedom Day, marked each year on May 3. This year, we at SPJ plan to celebrate World Press Freedom Day in a big way. (For more about those plans soon, keep an eye on Freedom of the Prez.)

On Tuesday, we chatted about the greatest risks to global press freedom and the need to advocate for journalist safety overseas. Earlier this year, the caucus held a meeting in D.C. spotlighting their demand for a thorough investigation into the death of Saudi Arabian journalist and Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi. SPJ will watch for future caucus events and share them with you on our social media.

After these meetings, it was on to the National Press Club, where I met with the newly-installed president, Alison Kodjak. In her day job, she’s an NPR health policy correspondent.

We talked about the Club’s plans for a Night Out for Austin Tice on May 2, a day before World Press Freedom Day, in order to raise awareness about the only American journalist currently being held hostage overseas. Participating restaurants have pledged to donate a portion of their proceeds that evening to a fund that will add to a $1 million reward established by the Federal Bureau of Investigations for information leading to the safe return of Austin Tice.

Tice, an award-winning freelance journalist and veteran U.S. Marine Corps officer, was abducted while covering the civil war in Syria in 2012. Kodjak said one of the most important aspects of the May 2 event is to raise awareness about his captivity.

At the start of Sunshine Week, it’s important to remember the many ways we can advocate for press freedom — whether by striving to improve upon our federal and state freedom of information laws, to protect the act of newsgathering, or to raise awareness of the efforts to intimidate or impede journalists at home or abroad. Pick your cause, then go forth and fight for it.

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EIJ has a new sponsorship policy

As I wrote in this column in the fall, we’ve been hammering out a new sponsorship policy for the annual conference that we co-host with our friends at RTDNA.

Until this month, our Society had effectively been without a written policy since the first Excellence in Journalism conference (EIJ). Although the SPJ national board approved sponsorship policies in 2003 and in 2008, these policies were superseded by the 2010 legal agreement to co-host conferences with RTDNA, which states that both groups must agree on sponsorships.

The new policy, which both group’s national governing boards have now approved, allows media and non-media entities to sponsor sessions or events and to propose session ideas and speakers. However, these sessions will now be required to be vetted by the EIJ Planning Committee, which includes elected representatives and staff members of each of the co-hosts of the convention in a given year. As before, the executive directors of each EIJ partner retain the right to refuse or decline contracts from any sponsor, exhibitor or advertiser. But the new rules give the EIJ Planning Committee a formal role and the final word in the review process.

EIJ partners will disclose the new sponsorship policy to potential conference sponsors in sales materials and other appropriate publications or web pages.

Officially, the new policy now agreed to by both partners states:

  • Both media and non-media entities will be allowed to sponsor sessions/events, and to propose session ideas and speakers. Proposals will be vetted by the EIJ Planning Committee. Once proposals are accepted, the Committee and its designated producer will assume full responsibility for participants, topics, times, places, etc.
  • Neither media nor non-media entities may offer speaking fees for sessions/events they sponsor. SPJ, RTDNA or the EIJ Planning Committee may choose in certain circumstances to use sponsor or grant monies to provide fees to speakers.
  • Neither media nor non-media entities may cover expenses for speakers participating in sessions/events they sponsor. SPJ, RTDNA or the EIJ Planning Committee may choose in certain circumstances to use sponsor or grant monies to cover speaker expenses.
  • EIJ partners will retain the right of refusal over all sponsors, exhibitors or advertisers, with contracts reviewed by the executive directors of partner groups before accepting.
  • EIJ partners will disclose its policies on sponsorship of sessions/events to potential sponsors in sales materials for EIJs and other appropriate publications or web pages.

As soon as we closed the doors on the last EIJ in Baltimore, I appointed a task force to draft the policy. This task force was chaired by SPJ President-Elect Patti Gallagher Newberry and included high-ranking officers and the executive directors of both conference partners, as well as others with experience in media conference sponsorships. A key goal of their work was to ensure that the EIJ Planning Committee, which I have been a part of for the last two years, was consulted on sponsorships and took the lead on producing any sponsored sessions.

In December, the task force presented the above recommendations to the SPJ national board of directors, which passed it with two amendments. After consultation with RTDNA, the SPJ board elected to drop both amendments at its meeting earlier this month.

One amendment that the board later rejected would have banned the conference organizers from offering honorariums to speakers. In practice, that rarely has happened, as EIJ speakers volunteer their time and expertise, but the conference partners decided to retain the flexibility to consider such payments in the future.

Another amendment at the December meeting that the board later overturned would have banned EIJ sponsors from suggesting participants for sponsored panels or other events. In the past, some events have included participants suggested by sponsors. Both boards agreed to continue that practice, with the additional oversight from the EIJ Planning Committee.

The new sponsorship policy increases transparency and puts firm control of the process in the hands of the EIJ Planning Committee. This is an important step to build on EIJ’s already considerable standing as a leading national journalism conference.

Personally, I’m thrilled that SPJ and RTDNA agreed on a responsible sponsorship policy for the conference that we have hosted as co-equal partners for nearly a decade. This is a huge step in validating our close partnership.

The two groups have collaborated on EIJ every year since 2011. From time to time, they have been joined by other groups, notably, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), which has joined the conference every other year since 2013; while the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) was a welcome addition to EIJ in 2016 and 2017.

This year, EIJ will be co-hosted by SPJ, RTDNA and NAHJ from Sept. 4-8 at the Grand Hyatt in San Antonio. For more information and to register, visit www.excellenceinjournalism.org

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Giving the thumbs up to Reuters’ jailed journalists

Giving the thumbs-up gesture in solidarity with Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, jailed in Myanmar one year ago today.

Dec. 12 marks the disgraceful anniversary of the detention of two courageous Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. And if the authorities in Myanmar have their way, they will spend the next six years in jail.

A “thumbs-up” gesture has become a global symbol of solidarity with the pair of Reuters reporters, so today, photos of believers in press freedom giving the familiar gesture along with the hashtag #FreeWaLoneandKyawSoeOo have been circulating on social media.

The journalists were detained last year after reporting on a massacre of Rohingya in a broader effort by the government to suppress the minority group that the United Nations has called a genocide. The result of their reporting: a chilling story filed in February, Massacre in Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel peace prize-winning leader of the country, has not used her position to defend or pardon the jailed journalists.

The Society of Professional Journalists has advocated on behalf of these brave Reuters reporters, as well as the other journalists who made the four covers of TIME Magazine’s “person of the year.” We sent a letter to the White House demanding that it push for an independent investigation into the murder of Saudi Arabian journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. We released a statement last week urging the Philippine government to drop the politically-motivated charges against news website Rappler and its CEO Maria Ressa. And we held a forum about the attack on the Capital Gazette at our annual conference in Baltimore in September.

We will keep advocating on behalf of these courageous journalists until the last one is freed or vindicated.

–30–

 

 

 

 

 


EIJ sponsorship update

The Society of Professional Journalists has taken an important step in the creation of a sponsorship policy for the modern era. As I wrote in this column when we launched the Sponsorship task force this fall, the Society has effectively been without a written policy since the first Excellence in Journalism conference (EIJ). Although the national board approved sponsorship policies in 2003 and in 2008, these policies were superseded by the agreement to co-host conferences with other journalism groups beginning in 2011.

First and foremost, it is important to understand what a sponsorship policy is. It is a set of guidelines for approving sponsors and for what sponsors will be permitted to do. A sponsorship policy must at the outset be impartial. It does not state which particular organizations will or will not be authorized to sponsor an event, but rather, lays the framework so future boards can make decisions on whether or not a prospective sponsor conforms to the proposed organization’s policy on sponsorship.

I decided to create this task force in mid-August, after learning that there were objections to a sponsored program that had not been approved by the EIJ planning committee, a committee which I have been a member of for the past two years. Although our staff had brought other sponsored sessions to the committee’s attention, I discovered that there was no existing rule or policy requiring this. As the Society’s incoming national president, I asked Patti Gallagher Newberry, who was then running unopposed to become our president-elect, to chair a task force to develop a set of standard operating procedures for EIJ sponsorships.

No conference sponsorship policy should ignore or make light of the fact that EIJ is a partnership. Indeed, the spirit of cooperation among the conference co-hosts is the very heart and soul of EIJ. With this intent uppermost, our first step was to invite our longstanding partner, the Radio, Television and Digital News Association (RTDNA), to join the task force.

Since 2011, we have co-hosted our annual conference with RTDNA. Together, we have had the good fortune to also partner with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), who we’ve been pleased to have join us every other year since 2013; while the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) was a welcome addition to EIJ in 2016 and 2017. As nobody can deny, there is strength in numbers, especially in these challenging times for our profession.

High-level leadership from RTDNA participated in our Sponsorship task force review, and later this month, their board intends to consider the recommendations of this task force and the motion approved by our board.

In our most recent board meeting, conducted by video conference on Dec. 1, the SPJ board decided that both media and non-media entities should be allowed to sponsor EIJ sessions or events. However, sponsored sessions will now be required to be vetted by the entire EIJ planning committee, rather than leaving the decision to do so up to the staff. Although the sponsors can indicate which topics they would like to sponsor, they cannot select the speakers. Furthermore, the planning committee, or the producers that it designates, will now take control of producing the sponsored sessions.

As before, the executive directors of each EIJ partner retain the right to refuse or decline contracts from any sponsor, exhibitor or advertiser. But the rules that SPJ’s board approved earlier this month would give the conference planning committee, which includes elected officers and staff from all of the EIJ co-hosts in a given year, a formal role and the final word in the review process.

The next step is to wait to hear from our friends at RTDNA. Their board may decide to adopt or to reject our guidelines. Once the two established EIJ partners have decided how to collaborate on conference sponsorships, we can inform other groups who partner with us on EIJ conferences now and in the future.

–30–

 

 


#ICYMI: My take on the transatlantic divide on press freedom

Paris — More than an ocean separates the United States from France. The contradictory world views of their leaders veered sharply into focus on the centennial of the first world war. Hours after making the now famous Armistice day pronouncement beneath the Arc de Triomphe that “patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism,” French President Emmanuel Macron introduced an event launching a global initiative for freedom of information and democracy.

Everyone living in a free and democratic society should be in agreement on the importance of this issue. The clear advantage of reliable public information, and of the liberty of speech and of the press, should be a nonpartisan issue. Yet in the high-profile announcement, the heavy burden of partisanship, pitting globalists against nationalists, signaled the challenges ahead.

Although none of the speakers mentioned the U.S. president by name, their bête noire was conspicuous by his absence. This highly-restricted event occurred within the Paris Peace Forum — a three-day tribute to multilateralism that President Donald J. Trump bowed out of — in a session hosted by Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based global non-governmental organization also known by its French name, Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF).

“It is a common good for humanity that there be honesty in information and liberty of the press and of opinion,” the French president told the select audience that included heads of state, diplomats and Nobel laureates. I was there representing the Society of Professional Journalists.

Macron cited philosopher and political theorist Hannah Arendt, a German Jew who fled Nazism and became famous for her writings condemning all forms of totalitarianism, quoting from her 1967 book Truth and Politics in which she wrote, “Freedom of opinion is a farce unless factual information is guaranteed and the facts themselves are not in dispute.”

He went on to draw a comparison between trends today and more primitive forms of democracy last witnessed 50 to 100 years ago. His point was not lost on the audience, which included the heads of state of Canada, Costa Rica, Norway, Senegal and Tunisia, all of whom followed up with remarks about the imperative need to protect freedom of expression.

French President Emmanuel Macron introducing the press freedom event hosted by Reporters Without Borders/Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) at the Paris Peace Forum on Nov. 11, 2018.

In the same vein, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pointed to the anxiety stirred up by globalization as paving the way for politicians to scapegoat the press. “Attacks on the media are not just about getting your preferred political candidate elected,” he said, “they’re about increasing the level of cynicism that citizens have towards all authorities, towards all of the institutions that are there to protect us.”

This was one of several veiled digs that Trudeau made at the expense of Trump, who has consistently pushed the envelope to test the limits of the electorate’s appetite for his media bashing. From the U.S. president’s initial mocking of the press trailing his campaign, he progressed to the assertion that the media are the enemy of the American people. In July, the White House barred a CNN reporter from covering a Rose Garden event. In November, it pulled the credentials of Jim Acosta, the network’s Chief White House Correspondent.

The RSF event took place only four days after the revocation of Acosta’s press pass. As one of relatively few Americans present, I was peppered with questions about what this meant. I explained that the U.S. has a solid legal framework, so the question would most likely be decided in the courts.

Heads of state from Costa Rica, Tunisia, Norway, Senegal and Canada addressed the audience. RSF Secretary General Christophe Deloire moderated the panel.

Fortunately, the White House has since backed down from what might have proved a protracted legal battle. Yet countries that lack strong democratic institutions are increasingly seeking political advantage by muzzling the media. Examples abound, from Myanmar’s unjustified jailing of the Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, to the appalling murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Unsurprisingly, the group of 25 prominent media and communication experts of 18 different nationalities that were assembled by RSF to study the problem came up with a global response. The Nov. 11 declaration by the commission, which was led by RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire and Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, proposed creating an international body of experts to continuously research global information issues and recommend the best practices and norms for public communication.

While we applaud the efforts of press freedom groups to expand free speech around the world, there is no effective substitute for political will. It is up to our citizens to express their outrage at the daily undermining of the credibility of responsible media outlets. When eroding the foundation of a free press is no longer a popular political tactic, we will be closer to realizing the ideal of a free and open information society.

–30–

This column appeared in the Winter, 2018 issue of Quill Magazine. I shot the photos and video while representing the Society of Professional Journalists at the press freedom event hosted by Reporters Without Borders/Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) at the Paris Peace Forum on Nov. 11, 2018. French President Emmanuel Macron introduced the event.


#TruthNeverDies

UN Marks Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists With a Look Back at the Life of Chris Hondros

 

Chris Hondros was a stranger to fear. In the opening scene of a documentary about the award-winning conflict photographer, he takes a cellphone call amid crossfire in Monrovia, Liberia. At this point in the film, the audience doesn’t see Hondros. We hear his off-screen voice calmly explain that “things are fine” to the caller, who must surely have heard the hail of bullets. He ends the conversation quickly by saying “give me a call back in about half an hour.”

The Getty Images photojournalist covered nearly every major global conflict beginning with the war in Kosovo in 1999. He went on to cover Iraq, Pakistan and the Arab Spring — until his luck ran out when he was killed by a mortar attack in Libya in April 2011.

A recent documentary directed by his childhood friend Greg Campbell portrays the American photojournalist’s courage and passion for his calling. In an early clip, a teenage Hondros is greeted by scoffs when he tells the other boys sitting around a table that he really isn’t afraid of anything. The rest of the film goes on to prove this wasn’t an empty boast.

The feature-length film, titled simply ‘Hondros,’ (now streaming on Netflix), was screened at the United Nations headquarters in New York today. The audience included diplomats, journalists and the film’s executive producer, Riva Marker, who said the production company she co-founded with American actor Jake Gyllenhaal, Nine Stories Productions, which is better known for fictional films, made this documentary because of the strength of the childhood friendship between the filmmaker and the photojournalist.

The occasion marked the fifth anniversary of the UN’s International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.

The UN created this global event in late 2013 to raise awareness about the impunity with which journalists around the world are being killed, imprisoned or silenced. Today’s date was chosen in memory of Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon, two French journalists murdered in Mali on Nov. 2, 2013.

 

Here I am posing in front of the United Nations headquarters with the hashtag of the day: #TruthNeverDies.

 

Today, the UN unveiled a new awareness campaign to draw attention to this issue with the tagline #TruthNeverDies. UN Secretary-General António Guterres announced the campaign in videotaped remarks shown at the event.

“In just over a decade, more than 1,000 journalists have been killed while carrying out their indispensable work. Nine out of ten cases are unresolved, with no one held accountable,” the secretary-general said. “This year alone, at least 88 journalists have been killed. Many thousands have been attacked, harassed, detained or imprisoned on spurious charges without due process. And this is outrageous. This should not become the new normal.”

He went on to express how deeply troubled he was by the growing number of attacks against journalists and the culture of impunity, while calling on governments and the international community to protect journalists and create the conditions they need to do their work.

Today was also a reminder that the recent brutal killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was hardly an anomaly. It is a method of repressing free speech that is becoming all too common.

UNESCO publishes its findings related to the safety of journalists in the World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development: 2017/18 Global Report

Facts and Figures for 2006 – 2017 include:

  • 1010 killings of journalists have been condemned by UNESCO Director-General in the last 12 years.
  • Nine out of ten cases of killed journalists remain unresolved.
  • 93% of killed journalists are local and only 7% are foreign correspondents.
  • Journalist killing per region: 33.5% in the Arab Region. 26% in Asia & Pacific. 22.9% in Latin America and the Caribbean. 11.6% in Africa. 4% in Central & Eastern Europe. 2.5% in Western Europe and North America.

 


Mapping Out the Future of EIJ Sponsorships

After serious deliberation, I am pleased to announce a task force to brainstorm future sponsorship policy for our national conference. This remarkable group has been selected from among the most talented and experienced members within our own organization and other media groups.

The task force will look into creating a policy and standard operating procedures for selling and producing sponsorships at our annual Excellence in Journalism conference, better known as EIJ. Since 2011, we have co-hosted this conference with the Radio, Television and Digital News Association (RTDNA). The National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) has joined us every second year since 2013; while the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) was part of EIJ in 2016 and 2017.

Unquestionably, EIJ has been a spectacular success — with average attendance over the last two years doubling from the two years before we began co-hosting our annual conferences. A larger and more diverse audience has attracted higher profile speakers, a top-notch journalism expo, and yes, more sponsors. These sponsorships fund not only EIJ, but all of the good work that we and our partners do throughout the year.

However, it has become increasingly clear that SPJ has been improvising our EIJ sponsorship policy. In order to lay the groundwork for EIJ’s future growth, it’s time to stop playing the sponsorship game by ear.

Meet the Sponsorship Task Force

Patti Gallagher Newberry

The task force will be chaired by Patricia Gallagher Newberry. As President-elect, she will be stepping up to SPJ President next year, and so by tradition, she will serve as our representative on the programming task force for our next annual conference. In 2019, we will co-host EIJ in San Antonio with our friends at RTDNA and NAHJ. In her other life, Patti is area director and senior lecturer in the journalism program at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where she has been a faculty member since 1997.

Robert S. Becker

Robert S. Becker is the chairman of our national Bylaws Committee and of the Washington, D.C., professional chapter’s Freedom of Information Committee, a role he has filled for more than 25 years. The attorney also serves as the Mid-Atlantic Region member of our national Freedom of Information Committee. In this position, he provides advice and information on access to journalists and others in the D.C. metropolitan area.

Alison Bethel McKenzie

Alison Bethel McKenzie is executive director of SPJ and of our foundation. She took over the reins in March, well into the planning of this year’s EIJ, and joined the programming committee. Alison is a veteran journalist with over 30 years of experience as an award-winning reporter, bureau chief, senior editor and media trainer. She has a decade of nonprofit leadership experience, including six years as the executive director of the International Press Institute in Vienna, Austria. Earlier in her career, she worked as an editor at The Boston Globe, The Detroit News, Legal Times, a weekly law journal in Washington, D.C., and the Nassau Guardian, a newspaper in the Bahamas.

Bob Butler

Bob Butler is an award-winning journalist who has worked in radio, television and print. He is currently a reporter at KCBS Radio in San Francisco. He spent 18 months as the diversity director for CBS Corporation. Bob was a key member of the Chauncey Bailey Project, which investigated the murder of journalist Chauncey Bailey. He created and executes the Television Newsroom Management Diversity Census. He is a former president of the National Association of Black Journalists and sits on the board of SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents thousands of broadcasters around the country.

Ivette Davila-Richards

Ivette Davila-Richards spent 10 years as an associate producer at CBS News in New York. She was one of our diversity fellows at the EIJ conference in Baltimore and has since joined the national Diversity Committee. She is a board member of The Deadline Club, which is our professional chapter in New York. She served in leadership roles at NAHJ for eight years — two years as president of its New York chapter and six years on its national board, first as regional director in the northeast and then as Vice President for Broadcast.

Scott Libin

Scott Libin is chairman of the RTDNA Foundation and Immediate Past Chairman of the RTDNA board. He is a fellow at the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota. Scott has 30 years of experience in broadcast and digital journalism. Before joining the University of Minnesota faculty, he served as vice president of news and content at Internet Broadcasting. Scott has been news director at WCCO-TV and KSTP-TV in the Twin Cities, as well as WGHP-TV, in the Greensboro, N.C., market. Scott spent seven years on the resident faculty of The Poynter Institute, a school for journalists in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Dan Shelley

Dan Shelley is Executive Director of RTDNA and of its foundation, as well as a former Chairman of the Board, the organization’s top officer. Dan is a veteran radio and digital executive. He was Senior Vice President of Digital Content Strategy for iHeartMedia, where he was responsible for the development of a national content strategy for the company’s more than 850 radio stations. He was a Senior Vice President at Interactive One, where he oversaw the digital platforms of the company’s more than 50 radio stations. Prior to that, he was Director of Digital Media at WCBS-TV in New York.

Why We Need an EIJ Policy Review

SPJ members — not to mention the organization’s prestige — have benefited enormously from our partnerships with other media groups. Amid constant assaults on our profession’s credibility and enormous economic pressures in newsrooms, the EIJ model has allowed us to join forces with our colleagues. Sponsorships play a critical role in this success.

However, the national board of directors recently realized that we needed to clarify our sponsorship guidelines so both the staff and the board understood how sponsors were approved and how any sponsored sessions were produced.

Let me take this opportunity to dispel some lingering misconceptions that have formed in recent months and apologize for any erroneous statements by our board.

The SPJ staff has traditionally handled approving EIJ sponsorships and organizing any sponsored sessions. Apparently, it wasn’t unusual for sponsors to have a significant hand in the planning of these sessions, a relatively common practice at other national journalism conferences. The board was unaware of this. Now that we know, one of the key assignments of this task force will be coming up with recommendations for how this programming should be handled in the future.

Unfortunately, in a flurry of emails leading up to our Baltimore conference, some SPJ national board members became convinced that sponsors were not, in fact, involved in planning sessions. They shared this inaccurate information in emails to our members. The board of directors sincerely regrets this error.

For the record, the specific panel in question was the FOIA panel sponsored by the Charles Koch Institute, a 501(c)3 nonprofit foundation with a track record of sponsoring First Amendment programming by a wide range of press groups such as The Washington Post, the Poynter Institute and the Newseum. A past national SPJ president contacted the board in mid-August to say that he had been invited to speak on the conference’s FOIA panel by the session’s sponsor. Until this time, the board members did not realize that sponsors had been involved with planning sessions.

Further confusion ensued a few days later, when another past national president retrieved a memo from 2003 and sent it to both boards. The 2003 memo outlined a policy at a time when SPJ still held its annual conferences alone. For example, this memo says that “SPJ will control all aspects of the convention program,” and that “non-media contributions shall be handled by SPJ staff.”

The media business itself has evolved enormously in the last 15 years, with nonprofit and for-profit corporations stepping up to fill the void left by the decline in advertising and programming dollars.

Although the 2003 memo will be among the historical reference materials available to the task force, these capable individuals will need to start from scratch to build our new sponsorship policy.

As a consequence of these misunderstandings, I decided in mid-August that forming a task force to draft an EIJ sponsorship policy would be the first order of business once the new board took office in Baltimore. On Aug. 16, I asked Patti if she would chair this task force. To those who know Patti, it will be no surprise that she instantly agreed.

I think we can all rest more easily for the time being and allow Patti to take charge of this important work. I’ve asked her to bring recommendations to the national board at our Dec. 1 meeting that will help us create an enduring sponsorship policy.

–30–


SPJ demands Khashoggi’s killers be brought to justice

We call on Trump to push for independent investigation in a letter to White House

Editor’s note: Shortly after this letter was mailed and sent electronically to the White House, Saudi Arabia confirmed the death of the missing journalist. The Society of Professional Journalists still calls for a full and transparent independent investigation that leads to the arrests of the perpetrators of this crime.

 

October 19, 2018

The President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

I am writing to you today on behalf of the Society of Professional Journalists, the nation’s largest and most broad-based journalism organization, to express our deep concern over the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as well as your ongoing rhetoric attacking press freedom, a crucial pillar of our democracy.

While our organization takes no political party stance, like all free speech groups we are partisan on the issue of press freedom and the other rights guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which you have sworn to uphold.

Today, we implore you to lay aside political rhetoric and stand up for press freedom worldwide. As President of the United States, a position long viewed as the leader of the free world, we urge you to insist on a full and transparent independent investigation into the disappearance and alleged extrajudicial killing of Mr. Khashoggi. That would send a strong message to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia — where journalists critical of the royal family have been jailed — that attacking, jailing and murdering journalists is an affront to the people’s right to know and the people’s right to participate in the democratic process.

That message, Mr. President, must be followed by a sincere commitment on your part to condemn those who would seek to weaken our democracy by silencing a free press. We were extremely disappointed by your apparent praise of Congressman Greg Gianforte’s assault on a reporter who asked him a question — behavior for which the congressman himself has publicly apologized. Assaulting or otherwise threatening a journalist is not macho behavior to be commended at a campaign stop. It signals a cynical disregard for the safety of journalists to repressive political leaders around the world.

Now it is time to take a stand for global press freedom. We expect you as our President to remind Saudi Arabia that there are grave consequences for an ally of the United States if it takes, as alleged, the unconscionable step of silencing a journalist by premeditated ambush, torture and murder.

Respectfully,
J. Alex Tarquinio
President
Society of Professional Journalists


President’s Installation Banquet Speech

 

Remarks Given by National SPJ President

J. Alex Tarquinio

after being sworn in at the

President’s Installation Banquet

at the Excellence in Journalism Conference

in Baltimore on Sept. 30, 2018

 

An editor once opined, as editors do, in a time of deep skepticism towards the media that it was imperative for journalists “to make their voice one of energy rather than of hatred,” and, “if we take pride in objectivity rather than in rhetoric, in humanity rather than in mediocrity, then we will preserve many things and we won’t be without merit.” That editor was the writer and philosopher, Albert Camus, and the time was 1944, a week after Paris was liberated from Nazi occupiers. In his moment, Camus understood the endemic public mistrust of journalists. After all, not a few had been Nazi collaborators and the political divisions appeared to be insurmountable.

Our fight to maintain high journalistic standards today, amid assaults on our credibility and economic pressures, isn’t a new one. In each age and across the globe, journalists have been combatting government propaganda, roadblocks to public information, interference with news distribution, and even trials and executions for exposing the truth. These battles still rage on, as far off as Myanmar, where two of our colleagues have been arbitrarily imprisoned, and as near as Washington, D.C., where the president refers to the media as the “enemy of the American people.”

Demagoguery isn’t new, it just takes on a new face in each age.

Our challenge as journalists is to rise above the rhetoric, to use our craft to reveal the humanity of the voiceless rather than the mediocrity of the talking heads.

That is why the Society of Professional Journalists will continue to support reporters who are stymied at every turn with lawsuits or endless Freedom of Information requests.

That’s why we’ll keep sharpening the skills of all of our members, especially freelancers and journalism students, who don’t benefit from on-the-job training.

That’s why we’ll enlighten the public about how we do our jobs, through public speaking engagements, editorials and our innovative new program, #Press4Education.

That’s why we’ll push harder for diverse coverage by media outlets that reflect the communities they cover.

And above all, that’s why we’ll keep educating the public and our fellow journalists about our ethics code. This is the gold standard by which mutual trust between the public and the press can be earned.

As news gatherers, we need to be rigorously even-handed in our coverage and leave rhetoric to the opinion pages. We mustn’t lose sight of the diverse spectrum of opinions in our society and succumb to the phony dichotomies of reality TV. And we must be unswerving in our support of free speech. Just as citizens living in a free society have the right to be informed, those same citizens, no matter what their viewpoints, have the right to be heard.

As American journalists, we are privileged. Although the First Amendment is under constant pressure it stands tall and by association so do we while conducting our everyday reporting. This is far from the case in other oppressed parts of the world, where the journalists live in fear that they might be jailed or murdered for exposing wrongdoing. We have traditionally enjoyed real freedom of the press—unparalleled in the history of the world.  We must not take this for granted, but rather set shining examples to inspire our international colleagues who risk their liberty and their lives in simply doing their jobs.

Yet it’s hard to deny that anti-press rhetoric has been rising in many democracies—including our own—at a time when our reporting is being overwhelmed by a steady digital stream of opinion, publicity, rumor and deceit. As our country becomes more polarized, we must rise above partisan politics. We mustn’t retreat into defensiveness. Let the restrained response we give to those who label us “fake” show who has the moral high ground.

As the largest journalism association in the land, SPJ has advocated for the free flow of information for generations. We supported legislation in 2016 to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act and will push to see that this is fully implemented, creating a consolidated online portal to request information from any federal agency. We see a real need for legislation currently sitting in Congress that would make it a federal crime to assault a journalist reporting in the field. And we will keep pressing the government not to use public information officers as gatekeepers to limit our access to sources, and not to pursue whistleblowers who sound the alarm about government waste or wrongdoing.

One thing we could be better at is communicating our goals to our members and to the public at large. SPJ signs on to countless legal briefs and supports journalists in peril, yet we do very little to tell the public about this advocacy. If Americans understood what it takes sometimes to get the story, they might be better able to discern the difference between reporting and propaganda.

And as I stated when I ran for this office a year ago, I’d like to see SPJ form closer partnerships with other press freedom organizations. SPJ should be the go-to press group for journalists from across the globe when they think of freedom of information and democracy.

We can learn from the expertise of other groups that specialize in foreign reporting, covering trauma or digital journalism, while spreading the word about our esteemed code of ethics and our fight to improve access to public information.

I hope to make these partnerships a cornerstone of the coming year. Because we amplify our message when we speak with one voice.

As this audience knows, we couldn’t do all of this without our members who step up to lead these efforts. Much of our work is done by the national committees, so I wish to announce a few new faces who I’ve asked to chair the committees in the year ahead. I will begin with those who are continuing to lead the same committees—and obviously, we thank them for their past and continuing service to SPJ. And if you’re here, please stand up when you hear your name.

Andy Schotz will continue to chair the Awards & Honors committee; Danielle McLean will continue to lead the Freedom of Information committee; Hagit Limor will once again chair the Legal Defense Fund committee and Bob Becker will continue to keep us on the straight and narrow with Bylaws.

Now for the new faces, Leticia Steffen will co-chair the Education Committee, along with last year’s chair Becky Tallent; Rebecca Aguilar, will chair the Diversity Committee; Lynn Walsh will chair the Ethics committee; Michael Arena will chair the Membership committee; one of the new national board members, Michael Savino, will chair the Resolutions committee; and finally, the Nominations committee, which recruits candidates for the national board and the regional coordinators, will be chaired by Eddye Gallagher.

It is the volunteer efforts of these dedicated members that allow SPJ to thrive. We thank you.

And my appreciation to everyone here for your support and belief in SPJ. Together, we set the bar high. Now let’s go out and make our voices heard.

Thank you, and good night.

–30–


There is no democracy without a free press

Today, hundreds of newspapers across the country are publishing editorials to fight back against repeated attacks on the media. The brainchild of The Boston Globe, newspapers were asked to publish their own editorials that highlight the dangers of the assault on the press.

The Society of Professional Journalists stands in solidarity with these newspapers and applauds their efforts to explain the importance of the work they do every day. We know that without them, the country would be a much darker, more secretive place.

After all, it’s journalists who uncover stories of children being abused by people in positions of authority; of drinking water being contaminated because regulations and laws weren’t followed; of the misuse of money and power by government officials and agencies.

Freedom of the press was included in the writing of the First Amendment for good reason. Our founding fathers knew that it is human nature for those in positions of power to sometimes abuse that power. For democracy to thrive, they believed it was important to ensure there would always be a watchdog – the press – to maintain balance and, when needed, protect citizens from their own government by helping them obtain information. (As the Washington Post tagline states: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”)

Journalism is a public service. Journalism is done for the public good. We’re taught as journalists to show the story, not tell the story. The best way to show the public that we are not “the enemy” is by telling accurate, fair, truthful stories. By showing that we care about the people and communities we cover. By acting ethically at all times.

But while a majority of journalists do just that, they remain at risk. According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, 27 journalists have been attacked so far in the United States in 2018. Worldwide, according to Reporters Without Borders, 50 journalists, 10 citizen journalists and 3 media assistants have been killed in 2018.

Journalists should not have to consider hiring security guards to accompany them to political rallies. Journalists in every city and town across America should not worry for their safety every time they go out to cover a story.

A segment of the American public is clearly angry about what they describe as “fake news” or too much opinion and not enough facts. Journalists don’t understand why the average citizen struggles to tell the differences among news, opinion, commentary and analysis, or to realize that not every journalist produces each kind of journalism.

The United Nations Human Rights Chief said earlier this week the numbers of incidences of violence and death against journalists will increase worldwide if the rhetoric does not stop. Other countries look to the United States to set the precedent, he said, adding that, “The U.S. creates a demonstration effect, which then is picked up by other countries where the leadership tends to be more authoritarian [in] character or aspires to be authoritarian.”

No profession is perfect. Journalism is no exception. But a United States without a free press is not a place most Americans would want to live. Simply put, there is no democracy without a free press.


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