The Departure of SPJ’s Executive Director

This is a personal note to members who may have questions regarding this week’s news that Alison Bethel McKenzie has left the Society of Professional Journalists.

First, I wish to reassure everyone concerned that this transition is running smoothly. Naturally, some people have been asking about how this came about. To be clear, Alison submitted a letter to me announcing her departure. After the recent posting on our website with the news, Alison commented publicly that she wished the organization success and plans to remain a member.

As for SPJ’s valued leaders — whether at the regional, chapter, committee or community levels — the national board is keen to reassure you that the SPJ staff will continue to support our members throughout this transition. Each staff member received a personal phone call from either Foundation President Irwin Gratz, Foundation Vice President Hagit Limor, SPJ President-Elect Patti Gallagher Newberry or myself before the news was announced on our website. The staff has been remarkably calm and professional in their actions all week.

In short, SPJ headquarters in Indianapolis is running normally. The office manager, Linda Hall, a 13-year veteran of SPJ HQ, is handling any questions about the day-to-day running of the office, schedules, etc. — as she always has done with her usual aplomb. I’m there for the staff should they need to consult me on any questions that may arise about the programs they manage. We plan to hire an interim executive director in the very short term; however, I have no qualms about the staff keeping to their high standard of work as that person settles in.

Our partners are also responding superbly. Yesterday, I personally contacted each of our partner organizations, i.e. the Radio Television and Digital News Association (RTDNA), the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), the American Society of News Editors (ASNE),the American Copy Editors Society (ACES), the Journalism and Women Symposium (JAWS), Google and Facebook. In many cases, we had conversations of up to half an hour reviewing the current needs of their programs. Similarly, the entire planning committee for this year’s Excellence in Journalism Conference held a meeting to discuss the next steps in detail. The partners were invariably optimistic about future collaboration, and all seemed to appreciate the personal phone call. Several of them offered to help SPJ out in any way they could during our search for a new executive director.

Over the next couple of weeks, our primary goal is to hire an interim executive director to help the staff keep the trains running on time. I will also be appointing an executive director search committee. Irwin has shared his notes with me from the executive director search committee that he chaired last year. We may tweak the process a bit, but of course, the national boards of both the Society and the Foundation will be represented on that committee because the new permanent executive director will work for both. More information about that search committee will be shared as it becomes available.

Finally, this is a particularly auspicious week for SPJ, as well as for journalism. The staff is creating communications and social media planned around both SPJ’s Ethics Week, which Ethics Committee Chair Lynn Walsh is leading, and the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Press Freedom Day, which I’ve personally taken charge of. The staff continues to hit the marks we set for these important programs ahead of this eventful week, and I couldn’t be prouder of them. The next time you see one of our hard-working staff — whether at an awards show, training program or our annual conference — please share with them how much you appreciate their efforts.

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