Retooled SPJ staff is ready to confront new attacks on our free press

President Trump continues his verbal assaults on the press at rallies and in tweets on almost a daily basis. But the Society of Professional Journalists is responding the best way it knows how: by providing the training, networking and professional development that journalists need to continue uncovering the truth, holding the powerful accountable and perpetuating its role as a pillar of democracy.

SPJ is working toward those goals with largely a brand-new staff, with whom I had the pleasure of meeting at the Ted Scripps leadership training program in Indianapolis last weekend. Make no mistake: this is an impressive and experienced group of people. Their passion, talent and energy will propel SPJ forward in its mission to improve and protect journalism.

The new hires are: Director of Development Larry Messing, Quill Editor and Training/Education Manager Monica Williams, Director of Programs Marilyn Garateix, Director of Conferences and Events, Basharat Saleem, Manager of Membership and Chapters Caroline Escobar, Director of Finance and Administration Amy Wong, and Communications Coordinator Isaac Taylor. Kudos to our new executive director, Alison Bethel McKenzie, for assembling such a laudable group.

They join Director of Communications and Marketing Jennifer Royer, Communications Coordinator Marina Cinami, Program Coordinator Christine Cordial, Creative Director Tony Peterson, Office Manager Linda Hall, and Web Administrator Billy O’Keefe as the engine behind SPJ’s day-to-day operations.

SPJ also recruited longtime Associated Press editor Rod Hicks for a brand-new position, Journalist on Call, to address the dwindling trust in the media by some segments of the public. From the SPJ press release on Rod’s hiring:

Hicks will serve as something of an ombudsman, helping journalists understand why the public doesn’t trust them and what they can do to re-earn more trust. He will also spend time with the general public, local officials and community groups to explain the important role ethical journalism plays in society. A great deal of the focus will center on how the media and public can work together in crisis situations. 

Rod is representing SPJ this week at the National Association of Black Journalists conference in Detroit, and will continue travelling around the country, reporting back to U.S. newsrooms what he learns in his travels. No other journalism organization has such a position, and I couldn’t be prouder that SPJ is leading the charge in working to restore trust in fact-based news reporting.

SPJ now has the most racially and culturally diverse staff in its 109-year history. I want to thank the staff who preceded our new team for their years of hard work and wish them well in their new endeavors.

Defending the First Amendment and promoting open government are more crucial now than ever. Join SPJ's fight for the public’s right to know — either as an SPJ Supporter or a professional, student or retired journalist.

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