Ruminations & TYs

The board met seven times in 2019-20, including last Saturday. Six of the seven venues were Zoom.

As I get ready to pass the baton to President-Elect Matt Hall, a few ruminations and a lot of thank-yous.

First: Whatta year! When I signed on as SPJ president last Sept. 7, I predicted a bread-and-butter term, low on drama and high on the necessary work to finish a board restructuring that began in 2015. I believe I may have used the word “boring” at the time. Instead, it’s been a year of challenges, most met and won.

  • We started 2019-20 without an executive director. We met that challenge by bringing on John Shertzer, who has done an exceptional job under the most trying of circumstances.
  • We started the year planning to stage our 10th Excellence in Journalism conference in Washington, D.C. When COVID-19 dismantled those plans, we rose to the challenge of staging this weekend’s SPJ2020 as a virtual event.
  • We started the year with a deficit operating budget. We’re now back in the black and on firmer financial footing.
  • We started the year with a troublesome database and a contract for the wrong replacement. We’ll flip the switch over to a system that works better for staff and members alike later this fall.
  • We started the year without a staffer designated as our programming chief. Our new director of education came aboard in August.
  • We started the year needing to complete the final step of a restructuring that reduced the board from 23 to 18 to now nine members – and called for a strategic plan to guide the way forward. Last Saturday, the board accepted a plan two years in the making and we’ve got a blueprint for the future, both short- and longer-term.
  • We planned for 12 regional conferences, annual spring board meetings in Indianapolis and even (for a brief moment in time) a trip to an international press event in The Hague. Instead, we made a strong pivot into virtual programming as the pandemic up-ended our SPJ lives along with our professional and personal lives.

Despite all – that is, the dismantling of most usual SPJ practices – I could not be prouder of this organization. We rose to the occasion. We met the moment. We’re about to deliver one helluva virtual conference! We end one year and start another with a clearer focus and stronger sense of mission.

Before I depart, I offer my most sincere and most profound thanks to so, so, so many SPJers for their 2019-20 contributions:

  • Thanks, first, to members of the national board. That includes departing board members Mike Reilley, Tess Fox, Erica Carbajal and Taylor Mirfendereski; continuing board members Matt Hall, Lauren Bartlett and Yvette Walker; as well as Rebecca Aguilar, our current secretary-treasurer and one of two candidates for president-elect.
  • Thanks to the two task forces of 2019-20. Hall headed the Strategic Planning Task Force, which worked with Shertzer and others to deliver our plan for 2021 and beyond.  Nerissa Young headed our Sponsorship Task Force, which put forward a resolution about conference sponsors for delegates to consider on Saturday. Hall, Young and their task force members went above and beyond to complete their work.
  • Giant thanks to members of the SPJ2020 Conference Planning Committee – Hall and Reilley joined me from the board; members AmyJo Brown, Dee Ann Divis and April Bethea; and Shertzer, plus SPJ Development Director Larry Messing, from HQ.  Remarkable, really, that we made the decision to go virtual only at the end of June.
  • Thanks, as well, to the entire SPJ2020 team – our fantastic Fellows; our Super Session moderators and guests; our panelists and trainers for breakouts and workshops; our volunteer hosts; and our staff who put all the pieces together. We assembled some 35 distinct bookings for the conference, in record time. Fingers crossed that the Tech Gods are with us, and we deliver for our 500-plus attendees!
  • Thanks to SPJ leaders and members across the country for carrying on the work of the Society, despite the great challenges imposed by the pandemic. Specific thanks to the leaders of our committees, communities, regions and chapters, who forged ahead to serve members with little expectation of recognition. You are the lifeblood of SPJ. Without your contributions, SPJ would be greatly diminished.
  • Thanks to all of our candidates for office. Best of luck and much appreciation for putting up your hand to be part of the SPJ story.

Finally, a much deserved thanks to the SPJ staff. In this most extraordinary of years, they have been tireless in their efforts to deliver for our members.Thanks to:

  • Zoe Berg and Ashlynn Neumeyer for providing vital support to our steller Comm Chief Jennifer Royer, who is always at the ready to advance SPJ.
  • Thanks to Caroline Escobar providing superior service to our members day in and day out, especially on database and SPJ2020 matters.
  • Thanks to Jake Koenig for playing a key role in transitioning to a calendar fiscal year and a positive bottom line.
  • Thanks to Matt Kent for running our contests and elections like a seasoned pro.
  • Thanks to Rod Hicks for embracing online programming, particularly for college journalists.
  • Thanks to Tony Peterson to ensuring always on-point and polished SPJ branding.
  • Thanks to Billy O’Keefe for providing innovative (and always fast!) design and support of our web presence, including our super-cool SPJ2020 site.
  • Thanks to Lou Harry for bringing quality Google training to our members and top-notch Quill (print and online) content to our members.
  • Thanks to Larry Messing for expertly chasing down SPJ2020 guests and concurrently securing needed sponsor dollars.
  • Thanks to Karyn Sneath for joining our happy crew at 3909 N. Meridian St. (eventually in person!) as our new and much-needed director of education.
  • Thanks thanks and more thanks to Linda Hall for keeping the trains running on time, 3909 in good working order and everyone up to speed all the time on what’s going on in SPJ World.
  • A final and most special thanks to John Shertzer for coming aboard as executive director last December, righting the Good Ship SPJ, and steering us through the rocky waters of 2020 to a brighter future. When we hired you, we said you were the right hire at the right time. Your ability to learn and lead on the fly turned out to be a perfect fit for SPJ in the past year.

Now, if you are reading this and you’ve not yet signed on for SPJ2020 – get to it! I’d love to see you on Zoom as we end this most remarkable of SPJ years.

Despite the unexpected events of the year – my 40th as a member of SPJ! – I have so loved to serving as your president and am so looking forward to seeing what the Society can accomplish in the years ahead.

Nearing the finish line for SPJ2020

So excited to welcome Errin Haines of The 19th to SPJ2020. Fun fact: She’s been one of Judy Woodruff’s regular guests for PBS’s coverage of the political conventions.

It’s down to the finish line for SPJ2020 and your 2019-20 SPJ board.

Since I last posted here, we’ve built out the SPJ2020 schedule and web site for the virtual Sept. 12-13 event – what I’ve been calling this fall’s BEST journalism conference — with lots of exciting additions:

More Fellows guests: We’ve already told you we’ll have our four living Fellows at the conference. Recently added: Judy Woodruff (a 2018 Fellow) and Michele Norris to talk about PBS icon Gwen Ifill, our posthumous honoree this year. You’ll see some familiar SPJ faces online for our Fellows presentations, too, with various leaders in conversation with the Fellows. (Small perk of the presidency: I assigned myself Marty Baron of the Washington Post!)

More panelists: Among the other recently confirmed guests are Errin Haines of the new The 19th site for the super session on politics; Getty photographer Michael Santiago for the super session related to Black Lives Matter; Patrice Peck of Coronavirus News for Black Folks for the super session on COVID-19; and NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly (a personal fave) for a breakout session titled “Getting the Story: Foreign Correspondence During the ‘New Normal.’ ”

Special event: “The Glorias,” a new film about Ms. magazine co-founder Gloria Steinem, will be the focus of our second to last event of the conference. Film critic Amy Nicholson (LA Weekly and the podcast “Unspooled”) will host a live chat with “Glorias” director Julie Taymor from 4-4:30 p.m. (The film, with an all-star cast led by Julianne Moore as Steinem, is scheduled to open Sept. 30.)

More candidates: At this writing, the SPJ Election Central site includes profiles for 15 candidates in all – two for president-elect; three for secretary-treasurer; two each for regional coordinator in Regions 1 and 5;  and one each for RC in Regions 8 and 9. (No. 16 is coming soon, RC for Region 7.) Come Sept. 4, you’ll see videos on the election page, too. Thanks to each and every one of you for throwing in, and to everyone who helped recruit you.

Closing ceremony: We’ll handle all the usual awards of the conference during a closing ceremony – including our prestigious (and still super-secret) Wells Key award. Hope you’ll stick around to the very end (starting at 4:45 p.m. on Sunday) as I sign off as your 2019-20 board president and “hand” the gavel to my friend and board colleague Matt Hall.

What a deal: Final conference note: If you have not signed up yet, consider this your personal invitation. IMHO, our list of guests and topics does, really, make this the best journalism conference of the fall – and a true bargain at $25 for student members and $45 for pro members.

Now, back to the day job – where, like in the SPJ world – it’s Zoom Zoom Zoom all day long! But before I go: Please consider this your invite, too, to the final SPJ board meeting of my term, Saturday, Sept.  5, noon-3 p.m. EST. On tap: We’ll review (and, I hope, adopt) a 2021 Annual Plan, the culmination of two years of work by our Strategic Planning Task Force; a look at our operating budget for the first six months of 2020 (happy to note we are back in the black!); a proposal for enhanced membership cards, similar to press passes; a discussion about future fall conference locations and partners; and year-end committee and community reports. You’ll find a link to the meeting and everything else you need on the SPJ Board Resources page.

Hope to see you then – and again for (third time!!) the fall’s best journalism conference, SPJ2020, on Sept. 12-13.



And now: SPJ2020

It’s all SPJ2020, all the time, for your SPJ board and HQ staff!

Nikole Hannah-Jones won a Pulitzer for her “1619 Project” for The New York Times earlier this year. — Photos by New York Times

Since the board’s OK on June 27, we’ve been in a hard pivot from our usual in-person four-day Excellence in Journalism conference to a tight, two-day virtual iteration now called SPJ2020.

Here’s what you’ll get Sept. 12-13 for the very affordable ticket price — $45 for professional members and $25 for student members:

  • Five Fellows of the Society. We’re bringing on Marty Baron of the Washington Post, Nikole Hannah-Jones of the New York Times, Jorge Ramos from Univision and Les Zaitz from Oregon’s Malheur Enterprise, with combined live and recorded sessions. And we’re working on a presentation to honor our fifth Fellow, Gwen Ifill, posthumously.
  • Three Super Sessions. We’ll hone in on the Three Ps – the pandemic, the protests and politics – with panels of high-level journalists deeply engaged in each topic. One of the benefits of the virtual environment: Big names are more inclined to say “yes” given the limited time commitment and lack of expense.
  • About 20 breakout sessions and workshops. There’ll be something for everyone – from upping your freelance game, to building inclusive newsrooms and audience trust, to serving as a government watchdog, to increasing your writing chops. All that, plus how-to sessions on using Census data, LinkedIn, Google, Facebook and mobile tools.

Thanks to the efforts of a dedicated Conference Planning Committee — me, President-Elect Matt Hall, board member Mike Reilley, SPJ Foundation member April Bethea, Dee Ann Divis of the DC chapter and AmyJo Brown of the Pittsburgh chapter, plus Executive Director John Shertzer and Development Director Larry Messing – SPJ2020 will be a highly relevant, on-point gathering, well worth a few hours of your September calendar. SPJ Web Adminstrator Billy O’Keefe is hard at work on the conference site, which we’re aiming to open for registrations around Aug. 1.

By the way, we’ll strip out some of the usual “business of SPJ” from the conference to stage at other times. That includes meetings of the SPJ and SPJ Foundation boards and our annual celebration of student Mark of Excellence awards. Other business matters will be incorporated in new ways. Candidates for board and RC positions, for instance, will submit pre-recorded speeches, as will winners of various awards. We’re working on how to handle voting on candidates (open to all members) and resolutions (open to chapter delegates).

Speaking of the next board meeting (the last one of my term!), that is set for Saturday, Sept. 5, noon-3 p.m. ET. The board will consider Year 1 of a long-awaited strategic plan; an update on the finances and database of SPJ; and future conference locations, among other topics. Watch future Leads newsletters for the meeting packet.

A few other shoutouts:

  • Thanks to our nine partners in News Media for Open Government (NMOG) for solid work to endorse the Journalists Protection Act earlier today. The proposed legislation would make it a federal crime to intentionally cause bodily injury or threaten a journalist in a manner designed to intimidate him or her from gathering news or reporting it. (Thanks, too, to SPJ Communications Director Jennifer Royer for taking the lead on the news release.)
  • A second kudos is due Mike Reilley and Billy O’Keefe for a significant upgrade to the Journalist’s Toolbox. It’s got a slick new front page, a new YouTube page and a new twice-monthly newsletter. As part of the redesign, Reilley, the site’s editor and creator, has built out more than 400 resources for covering COVID-19, expanded info on public records and data visualization, and added a page on covering protests.
  • Tip-of-the-hat to Rod Hicks, the SPJ Journalist on Call, for organizing a free five-part webinar series for college journalists. Beginning July 28, students are invited to the weekly Media Trust series to consider such weighty topics as bias, credibility and coverage of communities of color, with guests from the New York Times, Fox News, PBS, regional news outlets, universities and other pro-press groups.
  • Final shoutout to any and all newsrooms recommitting themselves to building newsrooms that reflect their communities. The death of George Floyd has ignited so many important conversations around race in America. It’s heartening to see newsrooms once again asking whether the composition of their staffs are accurate and adequate representations of the towns and cities they cover. It’s overdue and much needed.


ICYMI: SPJ is moving forward

If you didn’t make the SPJ Board of Directors’ Zoom call of last Saturday, you may have missed some bits of big news for SPJ. Thus, a few ICYMIs, plus a hint of good news to come.

Karie Angell Luc’s state fair photo for the Lake County (Illinois) News-Sun is the SDX 2019 best feature photo winner.

ICYMI No. 1: EIJ2020 is canceled – but a virtual conference is springing up in its place. We finally reached the verdict that it was not possible to go forward with our 10th annual Excellence in Journalism conference, scheduled for Sept. 10-13 in Washington, D.C., in partnership with RTDNA. But the board fully endorsed a two-day SPJ-only virtual conference for Sept. 12-13, and has already begun working with staff to pivot to Zoom. Tomorrow, we get down to the nitty-gritty with a Conference Committee meeting. We’ll review earlier picks from program ideas submitted way back in January – and decide which are still feasible. (If you pitched one, you’ll hear back one way or another, very soon). We’ll settle on Super Session ideas and recruit those guests. We’ll determine price points. And we’ll book our 2020 Fellows for starring roles. (More on that below.)

ICYMI No. 2: SDX has its winners! The annual SDX Awards Dinner is second only to EIJ as a marque SPJ event. I was in Journalists’ Heaven the twice I attended at the National Press Club in D.C. That event, like our usual EIJ, was another COVID-19 victim. But the contest went forward – and the super-impressive winners were announced in a virtual ceremony last Friday. Our HQ staff put together a super show (now on YouTube)  and an impressive online announcement to celebrate the winners. If you need a shot of best-of-the-best journalism, take a few minutes to watch the video or read the list. We’ll be pressing some of our winners into service for future SPJ events.

ICYMI No. 3: SPJ is in the webinar business. By my count, we’ve produced about a dozen webinars from HQ since the start of the pandemic. Our International and Freelance Communities likewise have their own impressive line-ups, as do chapters around the country. The SPJ webinar archives now feature such big names as Jorge Ramos of Univision, Brian Stelter of CNN, Maria Ressa of Rappler, Dorothy Tucker of NABJ and Hugo Balta of NAHJ. Watch for the number to continue to rise as we bring on a new director of education around Aug. 1. And if you want some SPJ love for your online programming, be sure to include @spj_tweets when you promote via Twitter.

Next up: Watch for news, coming very soon, about the 2020 Fellows. I was thrilled to join SPJ Executive Director John Shertzer in calling our four picks for the year (plus a relative of a fifth, for post-humous recognition) to invite them to serve as Fellows. All graciously agreed to join the 214 other Fellows we’ve selected over the last 72 years, and agreed to “appear” twice on our behalf – once at the fall conference and a second time for a future SPJ event. Can’t wait to share their names and can’t wait to “meet” them during what promises to be the premiere virtual journalism conference of the fall.

To catch last weekend’s board meeting, you can watch on YouTube or read the full board packet. We moved forward on both existing topics (a strategic plan for SPJ, member awards and committee/community work) and new ones (press badges and our database among them).

Of note: Candidates are still needed for national board positions, along with Regions 7 and 9. Please write me ( or President-Elect Matt Hall ( to step up!





And now: #GeorgeFloyd

CNN’s Omar Jimenez and two colleagues were arrested in Minneapolis early last Friday and released after about an hour.

Last week, at this time, SPJ and all of journalism was laser-focused on COVID-19 and the loss of 100,000 lives.

Then a man named George Floyd died in Minneapolis, and SPJ once again pivoted with the world of journalism.

In the past week, we’ve devoted considerable energy on two fronts: pointing journalists to resources to help their coverage of Floyd-related events and defending – loudly and frequently – their right to cover the story without harassment and harm.

If you’ve been on Twitter – and who hasn’t? – you know that journalists around the country have been attacked or threatened by police and protesters as they’ve covered the unleashing of national pain over yet-another police-involved shooting of a black man.

From coast to coast, journalists reported being doused with tear gas, pepper spray or paint balls; returning to news vehicles marked with graffiti; facing arrest or the threat of it.

In all, journalists have reported 233 “press freedom incidents” while covering Floyd news, according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

The site, created by the Committee to Protect Journalists and supported by SPJ and multiple other partner groups – has been updating the list daily on Twitter. Today’s update showed:

  • 41 arrests/detainments.
  • 153 assaults — 125 by police, 27 by others.
  • 39 equipment/newsroom damage.
  • 53 physical assaults, 33 by police.
  • 35 tear gassings.
  • 21 pepper sprayings.
  • 55 rubber bullet/projectiles.

These attacks are unjustified.  Journalists are doing their jobs, for their communities, as allowed by the First Amendment. They are literally putting their lives on the line — in the midst of a pandemic, from understaffed newsrooms, in the face of daily denigration from a press-hating president.

If you are among the journalists harmed in any way as you’ve covered this most critical story, please know that we at SPJ stand with you and for you:

  • Last Friday, we asked the Minnesota State Patrol to explain why it arrested the CNN journalists.
  • On Saturday, we released an open letter to police officers and protesters. We offered our empathy for their roles – but implored them to treat journalists with the same respect and dignity they expect.
  • We then joined more than 100 other pro-press groups in a letter from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, decrying attacks on journalists and calling for Minnesota authorities to clean up their act.
  • We were also among 29 signers of a National Press Club letter to law enforcement nationwide, asking them “to halt the deliberate and devastating targeting of journalists in the field.”
  • We’ve also put a tremendous number of helpful resources in front of members and non-members alike, through our Journalist Toolbox site. Toolbox founder/editor and SPJ Board Member Mike Reilley has been updating the “covering protests” page frequently – with info about how to estimate crowd sizes, what to do if your phone is seized, whether you are free to take photos and videos in public places and much, much more.
  • Speaking of your right to work in public spaces, Ethics Committee Chair Lynn Walsh has been fielding calls on that. Her take: “The answer is not to stop recording, reporting or taking photos.”

We’ll continue the conversation on Friday, from noon to 1 p.m., when we host an online panel titled “Stories from the Frontlines: Journalists and Protests with Brian Stelter.” Stelter, host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” will talk with journalists covering the Floyd protests to explore why members of the press have faced such unprecedented harassment, intimidation and detainment; and how they can protect themselves and maintain access going forward.

Joining him will be Errin Haines, editor-at-large of; and Jesse J. Holland, author/scholar and former Associated Press journalist; Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio reporter; Mike Trautmann, news director and director of investigations, Louisville Courier-Journal; Dorothy Tucker, investigative reporter at CBS-Chicago and president of the National Association of Black Journalists; and Haisten Willis, freelance journalist, Washington Post and other outlets.

We appreciate all of them taking time from their work to join us. We invite you to join the event by registering for the Zoom session.

Finally, we appreciate all of you – whether covering #GeorgeFloyd news, returning to COVID-19 stories, or tracking everyday stories of the newsmakers and news events in your communities.

Stay safe out there.


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