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.

 

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