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.


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