Bread-and-butter year ahead for SPJ

In September all things are possible. That’s true in my day job, with the start of each new fall semester. And it’s true in the SPJ world, as our annual Excellence in Journalism conference marks the beginning of a new SPJ year.

I look forward to working with SPJers across the country this year.

I start my one-year term as president of the SPJ Board of Directors with great enthusiasm and renewed hope for many possibilities – and a positive, productive year for the Society.

As I’ve said frequently in recent weeks, the year ahead will be focused on bread-and-butter issues critical to the health and vitality of SPJ:

  • Welcoming a new executive director. As many of you know, this key position has been open since April and we are now deep into the process of searching for a new ED. Expect to hear lots more on that as the process plays out.
  • Launching Phase II of a Strategic Planning Task Force. With essential learning from Phase I just complete, we’ll gather a bit more data in the coming months and then work with the new ED to put a plan on paper. The board will take that up at its spring meeting.
  • Continuing advocacy for press rights, with close attention to the executive branch. We do a lot of this — through our vigorous Legal Defense Fund and with our frequent statements — and will keep that up. When government leaders demonize the press, SPJ must continue to speak in support of the First Amendment.
  • Increasing advocacy at the legislative level, and considering lobbying possibilities. We already do some amount of lobbying, so we’ll be exploring our capacity to do more.
  • Increasing collaboration with other media advocacy groups. Again, we have many active partnerships that benefit members and the practice of journalism overall. We hope to grow those as we explore new possibilities.
  • Establishing clearer lines of communication between members — individually and through chapters, regions, committees, communities, etc. — and the board. We’re close to releasing a new board organizational chart that should help in that regard.
  • Examining membership trends and drilling down on how to keep current members and grow our overall membership ranks.
  • Increasing promotion of member initiatives. Members and chapters across the country execute dozens and dozens of innovative programs every year. We’re working on ways to share information about those initiatives more easily and regularly.

I was thrilled to have Beatrice, Frances, Doug and Arthur Newberry celebrate SPJ with me at EIJ19 in San Antonio.

I come to the presidency with nearly four decades of SPJ experience. I joined the Society as a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and have been active at the local, regional and national level for most of my career. I worked in newspapers for about 15 years before I began teaching journalism. It’s been my great pleasure to be a faculty member at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, for the last 23 years – and it was a huge honor to have my longtime boss, Richard Campbell, on hand as I took the oath of office at EIJ. Topping that, of course, was that my entire family could join me in San Antonio. I love SPJ, I love Miami – but I most especially love my partner-in-all Doug Newberry, and our three terrific children, Frances, a 25-year-old artist working in the restaurant world; Arthur, 23, a fellow artist who bakes bread for a living; and Beatrice, 21, finishing her studies in entrepreneurship and American studies at Miami.

Joining me on the board this year – which, you may recall, shrunk to nine members, from 18 this past year and 23 a year earlier – are smart, dedicated SPJers from across the country:

  • Matthew T. Hall, our new president-elect, is the editorial and opinion director at The San Diego Union-Tribune, where he has worked since 2001. He manages the Ideas and Opinion section, writing and editing editorials, and overseeing a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoon, commentary, letters to the editor and a podcast called “The Conversation,” which shares the news of the day in dynamic ways. He previously managed the newsroom’s social media and before that was a columnist and a reporter. He is past president of San Diego’s SPJ chapter and has been on the national board since 2014. He’s seen the Red Sox win three World Series titles in person and gladly missed the other Sox celebration this century because his wife was pregnant with their second child. (Hit him up on Twitter at @SDuncovered.)
  • Rebecca Aguilar, our new secretary/treasurer, is a freelance reporter and guest lecturer of media writing at Richland College in Dallas. She’s been a part of SPJ since 2009, earlier serving as vice chair of the Digital Community and Diversity Committee. Last year, she chaired the Diversity Committee and revamped the Dori Maynard Diversity Leadership Fellowship. A six-year member of the SPJ Fort Worth chapter board, Aguilar has close to three decades of experience in television news with some 50 awards and nominations for her work in the field. Her husband and son also work in television news at competing stations in Dallas.
  • Mike Reilley, an at-large director continuing for his second year, is a full-time lecturer in data and digital journalism at the University of Illinois Chicago campus. He also is an SPJ digital trainer and consults on data projects with Gannett and many other media organizations. He is founder and editor of The Journalist’s Toolbox and, which covers news in Chicago neighborhoods. A former reporter/copy editor at The Los Angeles Times and a producer, Reilley was one of the 11 founding editors of He’s in his 16th year of teaching full-time, with earlier positions at Northwestern, Arizona State and DePaul. He holds a bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and an MSJ from Northwestern University. He lives in Chicago with his wife, Isabella, and is a rabid fan of the Cubs, Husker football and Northwestern football.
  • Tess Fox, also a returning at-large director starting her second year, is a copy editor at the Idaho Press in Nampa, Idaho. She led the revival of the University of Idaho chapter and served as the chapter president before running for the national board. Fox has two cats, Quinn and Frankie, and would like at least one more.
  • Lauren Bartlett, re-elected as an at-large director, has been a member of SPJ since her college days when she was president of the UCLA chapter. She’s been involved in the Society’s national governance since 2008, chairing and serving on several committees and task forces. She served on the board of the SPJ’s Greater Los Angeles chapter for 18 years, with three terms as president. Before moving into communications work – she is currently senior director of communications with the University of Southern California – Bartlett was a reporter in Los Angeles for 12 years, including at The Associated Press there. She lives in Culver City and is a big fan of Disneyland, UCLA football and the San Francisco 49ers.
  • Yvette Walker, also re-elected for an at-large seat, has spent most of her career in daily journalism. Now assistant dean for student affairs and administration in the Gaylord College at the University of Oklahoma, Walker moved to education to prepare the next generation of journalists in these tumultuous times. Earlier, she was a senior newsroom manager at the Kansas City Star and, and worked in newsrooms in Indiana, Texas and Michigan. She also writes a blog, Thoughts and Deeds, on Walker and her husband, Tom, are very active in their church and in caring for their three fur babies: Lemon, a black Labrador retriever; Gato, a Maine Coon cat; and Jade, a grey tabby cat with (of course) green eyes.
  • Ivette Davila-Richards continues as a board appointee. She is a freelance regional assignment editor at Fox News Channel in New York, who has served on the board of the Deadline Club there for the past two years. She also serves as vice chair of SPJ’s Diversity Committee and was a leader at the national level with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. She spent 10 years as an associate producer at CBS News and also worked for Spectrum-NY1 News as a multimedia journalist.
  • Victor Hernandez also continues as a board appointee. He works as executive editor at Crosscut and KCTS , with earlier positions at CNN, NBC, the University of Missouri School of Journalism and technology startup Banjo. He is a frequent speaker and trainer at journalism conferences and serves as visiting faculty at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. In 2018-19, he led our Strategic Planning Task Force.

(Side note on appointed members: Under the new board structure, they serve one year, filling a specific board need. With Hernandez and Davila-Richards cycling off, we’ll soon identify two new appointees that align with 2019-20 priorities.)

We invite you to reach out to any of us with advice or questions, with full contact info on We’ll be back in touch as quickly as we can.

With the new year, SPJ will now be served by 12 Regional Coordinators, half of whom were elected in San Antonio. Staying in close touch with them will be critical to serving members in the year ahead. Region 1 Coordinator Jane Primerano will serve as chair of a new RCs committee. You’ll find contact info for her and other RCs on

Happy to report, too, that most of our terrific 2018-19 committee and community chairs will stay on. They are likewise listed on the SPJ site.

Also working for the benefit of all in the year ahead will be:
The Strategic Planning Task Force. Matt Hall will replace Victor Hernandez as chair and our new ED will join the group as we move to Phase II of that project. Full updates are on the SPTF page.
A new EIJ planning committee. Hall and I will lead that, with other members TBA.
A new EIJ sponsorship task force, as called for by delegates in San Antonio. Hall will be the board’s rep, with wide representation from across our membership, also TBA.

More to come – frequently! – on all of those topics.

Sincere thanks to everyone in the SPJ world for endless initiatives to promote and protect journalism. Specific thanks to 2018-19 President J. Alex Tarquinio for her extraordinary work leading the Society through a challenging year. And most-deserved thanks to our terrific headquarters staff – for delivering a spectacular EIJ and for their day-to-day work to serve members.

I look forward to working with all of you in the year ahead.

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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