Archive for the ‘Communications’ Category


Tributes to Past National SPJ President John C. Ensslin

 

Ever since our dear friend John Ensslin’s unexpected death in Denver on Aug. 5 there has been an outpouring of testimonials in his honor. This week the family will hold memorial services in Colorado and New Jersey. SPJ chapters might also wish to mark his passing in some way.

John was a class act. To me, he was not only a friend, he was also a valuable mentor. His generosity and patience with those coming up the SPJ leadership ladder was legendary. John was one of the most dedicated reporters I have ever known. He moved halfway across the country twice to continue in the profession he loved. And it didn’t stop there. Over the years, it was remarkable to watch John reinvent himself from a print reporter to a podcaster.

Today, Monday, Aug. 12, the Denver Press Club will hold a memorial service in John’s honor where they will raise money to support the club’s John C. Ensslin Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship in his name was established a few years ago and awards $3,000 to a student journalist in Colorado.

On Saturday, Aug. 17, there will be a celebration of John’s life with his friends and family from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Nassau Inn, 10 Palmer Square in Princeton, N.J.

John’s wife, Denise, will be at both services. I plan to attend Saturday’s memorial along with members from the local chapters in New York and New Jersey. If you’d like more information about Saturday’s service, please email me at atarquinio@spj.org.

As you may have heard, John and I were planning an event together at the Denver Press Club that would have included one of his favorite pastimes, creating a Studio SPJ podcast. Sadly, that wasn’t meant to be. I will be following through with his invitation to do a guest bartending stint there on Tuesday, Aug. 20. This is literally a rain date after my earlier flight to Denver was cancelled because of bad weather. The proceeds for the evening will be donated to the Denver Press Club’s scholarship named in John’s honor.

Finally, the many SPJ leaders who have been inspired by John’s dedication to both the Society and the profession that it represents may wish to pay tribute to him at their next chapter event. We did that at a recent gathering that included New York and New Jersey chapter members. I hope that many of you will have similar opportunities to share the good memories that you have of John.

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SPJ Renaissance

Having found ourselves at a crossroads, with the recent departure of our executive director, the national leadership of the Society of Professional Journalists debated the most promising way forward. After due consideration, we have committed to the pathway that we believe leads to the brightest future.

As I reported to members in this column last week, the Society’s national board of directors unanimously approved a plan in our June 1 meeting that prepares for both the executive search and the transition period. (See the June 5 ‘Freedom of the Prez’ column for the plan in detail.) Our vote was contingent on approval by the Foundation because the two boards share the expenses and oversight of our headquarters in Indianapolis. At the time, the Foundation’s president was out of the country. I am glad to report that the Foundation’s president has since decided that a vote by his board is unnecessary because we will be working within our budget. A detailed analysis by our financial controller shows that the cost of hiring a consultant will largely be covered by the savings of not paying for a full-time executive director over the summer.

Pending a review of the contract by our lawyer, we hope to have a signed agreement by early next week. As soon as the electronic ink is dry, so to speak, we will announce the name of the consultant in the SPJ news section of our website.

Firstly, we are taking a different approach to the executive director search than in the past, when an all-volunteer committee performed the time-consuming task of screening the applicants. This time around, we are hiring an executive search consultant, more commonly known as a “headhunter.” They will be conducting a nationwide search to recruit promising candidates with backgrounds in the nonprofit sphere. Simultaneously, we will inform our members and other journalists of this opportunity. Candidates who have been recruited and those who step forward themselves will receive equal consideration in the application process. The consultant will then vet the applicants and create a highly-qualified pool of candidates for the search committee to consider.

One of the consultant’s initial steps will be to conduct two separate surveys—one of our employees and another of both boards—in order to form a better conception of the ideal candidate to lead our dedicated staff at HQ. Only the consultant will see the full responses. The search committee will see the consultant’s conclusions but will not have access to the original survey responses, thus guaranteeing complete anonymity.

As I announced last week, Hagit Limor will chair the Executive Director Search Committee, which includes the top leaders of both boards. As well as being a past national president of SPJ and the current vice president of the Foundation, Hagit served on the last two search committees, including chairing the committee that selected our previous long-serving executive director who led HQ until 2017. Once the consultant has lined up the top candidates for our consideration, Hagit will lead the committee meetings and draft the final report for the SPJ board’s approval. The consultants will remain with us as advisers throughout the interviewing process, right up until we sign a contract with our new executive director.

Secondly, the same firm will be hired to perform a necessary on-site assessment of our needs at HQ. The consultant will be there two days a week over the summer and will give us a head’s up if there are any pressing issues that cannot wait until we have a new executive director in the corner office. This consultant is a human resources specialist who will serve as a part-time chief operating officer, helping to smooth the work flow during the transition. Her role will largely be operational, whereas the staff will continue to reach out to me with questions about programs. Having an HR expert on site this summer will be key to making sure we are all hitting our marks as we approach the Excellence in Journalism conference.

It is my fervent wish for the Society’s board of directors to select our next executive director in time for EIJ. I always like to leave every organization on a better footing than I found it. Although the search committee will aim for that goal, which would be next to impossible without hiring a consultant, it is still an aggressive timeline.

Once I hand over the gavel in San Antonio, my work here will be ended. It will be up to the next national president and board of directors to manage HQ if we do not yet have a full-time executive director. Until that instant when I pass the gavel, I will remain focused on supporting the staff during this complex transition so they can keep executing on our programs and serving our members. The oath of office that I took in Baltimore demands nothing less.

— 30 —

Executive Director Transition Plan

I am pleased to report that the SPJ national board of directors unanimously approved a plan for the executive director transition that I presented in our June 1 board meeting. The plan includes hiring an outside search firm to work with the Executive Director Search Committee and a consultant to work on an organizational assessment, which among other things, will aid the new executive director.

Naturally, hiring an outside consultant will result in a higher cost than doing the search entirely on our own. However, a financial analysis shows that much of this cost will be offset by not having to pay salary and benefits to a full-time executive director for several months.

These consultancy fees will need to be shared by the Society and the Foundation. The next step is for SPJ Foundation President Irwin Gratz to present the plan to his board. I reached him by phone while he was on vacation, and he approved of the memo below. He plans to present the plan to his board upon his return.

The original memo, which was discussed in executive session, has been edited to remove confidential details about contract proposals, salary and other human resources information. The names of specific consultants who submitted proposals have also been removed. We will announce a consultant once one has been hired. Nothing has been added to the memo below that was not in the original memo approved by the board.

 

From: J. Alex Tarquinio, SPJ National President

To: SPJ Board of Directors

Re: Executive Director Transition Plan

Date: May 31, 2019

This report provides the following:

A) An overview of the leadership transition process if consultancy services are retained;

B) a recap of the evaluation of the firms examined, including one recommendation for an organizational management consultant for the interim, and two options for executive director search consultants;

C) a financial analysis of the project; [Not Included in Freedom of the Prez]

D) personal recommendations;

E) work proposals from the consulting firms. [Not Included in Freedom of the Prez]

A)

An Overview of the Recommended Executive Director Search Process

The circumstances leading to this executive director transition and the immediate and long-term needs of the staff and the organization should lead the board to adjust its approach.

The core of this search process, however, will remain the same. This has been clearly identified in Bylaws and policy, namely: “The Presidents of SPJ and the SDX Foundation shall appoint an equal number of members to a search committee.  The SPJ President shall appoint one additional member to serve as committee chairman with voting privileges. The committee will forward a list of one or more candidates it deems qualified, from which the SPJ Board of Directors will vote to hire the Executive Director. The SPJ Board of Directors shall immediately notify the SDX Foundation of its decision.”

Irwin and I were in touch about this before his departure, and I am pleased to announce the Executive Director Search Committee at this time. Irwin has appointed himself, Dr. Battinto L. Batts Jr. and Michael Bolden. I have appointed myself, Patti and Matt. Finally, I have invited Hagit to chair the committee.

In every SPJ executive director search in recent memory, the Executive Director Search Committee has completed the task without the benefit of an outside search consultant. The primary costs included flying in candidates and the committee members for interviews in Indianapolis and a background check of criminal and credit records for the finalist only. While this approach is economical, it is not generally considered among a nonprofit board’s best practices.

After a great deal of study, guided by an ad hoc transition committee, I recommend that the board approve funding for both an organizational assessment and a retained executive director search firm. (Find my specific recommendations at the report’s conclusion.)

An Overview of the Recommended Interim Plan

An ad hoc transition committee with leaders from both boards—which included the six members of the SPJ executive committee, plus Irwin and Hagit—met on May 13. It expressed a strong preference for hiring a consultant to perform an organizational assessment that would benefit the new executive director. They also advised having the management consultant work part time from our headquarters to provide a level of staff oversight and guidance during the interim. This would obviously raise the cost of the study but would be dramatically less expensive than hiring a full-time professional interim executive director.

Under this plan, the management consultant will work in the office on Mondays and Wednesdays. The consultant and I chose these days because they coincide with the days that Jake is on site, and because the weekly staff meetings have been held on Wednesday mornings and we felt it would be best for staff morale to continue familiar routines during the transition.

The consultant plans to meet regularly with the staff while simultaneously developing a long-term organizational assessment that will be completed by EIJ. This assessment will focus on three critical areas: human resources, financial operations and technology. We identified these as most in need of both immediate support during the transition and long-term improvement. The consultant is a human resources expert who will look at work flow, capabilities and communication. The financial assessment will look at current operations and recommend best practices both during the transition and once we have a new executive director. Finally, the consultant has advised clients on implementing new CMS software for HR departments, so although she has not worked with NAME OF SOFTWARE, which has its own support services, she is familiar with best practices for transitioning to a new CMS. (See attached proposal from NAME OF CONSULTANT.)

Additionally, the consultant would be a troubleshooter. She would communicate with me weekly and perhaps more often if she discovers issues that she feels require swift action. Linda will still be the go-to staff member in terms of HR questions. If the staff has top-level questions about programming, they will continue to come to me. I have also told the staff I will be visiting the office more frequently over the summer. (As an aside, it is my hope that my next swing through Indy will be to introduce the new consultant to the staff!)

Recap of the Evaluation Process and Recommendations

1)

Organizational Management Assessment (part-time on-site)

One Recommendation: NAME OF CONSULTANT

Patti laid the groundwork for the May 13 meeting by speaking with three management consultancy firms for half an hour each about their rates for three distinct services: an interim executive director, an organizational management assessment and an executive director search.

First, the ad hoc committee discussed the fact that we had no budget for an external ad interim executive director, which came in at a weekly rate of $3,500 to $6,000 (an annualized cost of $182,000 to $312,000). It should be noted this cost would only provide an interim director on site and would not include an organizational assessment. Additionally, the staff had clearly expressed a strong preference for not hiring an outsider to manage them during the transition. Therefore, the ad hoc committee unanimously agreed to continue as we had done since the executive director’s departure. I informed the staff of this decision two days later, during the weekly staff meeting, and Linda explained it succinctly. She told them she would keep the lights on, and if they had programming questions, they should ask Alex. I will also continue to receive regular reports from the staff that will inform the Weekly Reports.

Although the ad hoc committee found the cost of an interim executive director prohibitive, they did think it might be wise to have a management consultant spend two days a week in the office to support the staff and alert me to any unknown issues. Ultimately, the consultant would be working on a report that the ad hoc committee felt was key to SPJ’s long-term success.

Based on Patti’s initial research, we had identified our top two choices, both local Indianapolis firms recommended by our auditor. Patti’s third call was to a consultant in NAME OF STATE. Patti described a general lack of enthusiasm, “as if they were taking the call mostly because NAME OF PERSON asked them to.” We also felt there were advantages to working with a local firm.

I had multiple hour-long phone calls with each of the two Indianapolis firms to describe the project in detail. When I told them about the hybrid role of providing two days of oversight plus a consultancy report, one firm was interested: NAME OF FIRM. The second, NAME OF FIRM, said this would not play to their strengths, but recommended another local consultant. In a phone call with the referral, the owner struck me as disinterested and said she would talk with her associates to determine their capacity. Ultimately, she decided not to submit a work proposal.

In short, only one of the firms canvassed was interested in this hybrid project, but fortunately, it is a terrific fit. The firm was recommended by our long-time auditor. Indeed, NAME OF PERSON, NAME OF FIRM’s owner, used to work for the auditor and participated in an SPJ audit about five years ago. She will oversee the project, and her background in finance complements the HR background of NAME OF PERSON, her colleague who will be on site. Their office is only a few minutes from our headquarters so it will be easy for her to work from our office two days a week while keeping in touch with her colleague. I believe they will blend in nicely with our staff culture. Even better, they are familiar with SPJ and our mission, and excited to work with us.

When I visited headquarters on Wednesday, I informed the staff that the board was considering hiring a management consultant to do an organizational assessment and to work in the office two days a week. This was my first opportunity to discuss the interim plan with them since the staff meeting two weeks before and I emphasized that it would require budget approval by both boards. I then met off site with the two NAME OF FIRM consultants for 2.5 hours to discuss the project so they can prepare a project plan if budget is approved. I have since followed up with NAME OF PERSON by phone to discuss the proposal she sent late Thursday night.

 

2)

Executive Search Service

Two Options:

  • Full-service Retained Search: NAME OF FIRM
  • Discounted Facilitated Search: NAME OF FIRM

The ad hoc committee did not reach a consensus about hiring an executive director search service, with some members worrying about the cost while others thought the main benefit would be speeding up the search. The last executive director search required six months, with additional time for a background check and relocation. Both firms listed below said the Sept. 5 board meeting was an ambitious goal, and although it may be possible, they would not commit to a project end date. It should be noted, however, the likelihood of meeting that goal by EIJ without a search firm is almost nil.

Below are brief descriptions of the work plans for both firms who submitted work proposals.

NAME OF FIRM

NAME OF FIRM will only perform a full-service “retained” executive search. This means we would retain the firm on a 100-day exclusive agreement, which may be renewed if we have not yet hired a candidate. NAME OF FIRM would work with the Executive Director Search Committee to draft the new job description, including developing surveys for the staff and board to gauge their goals. Based on this input, as well as information from the simultaneous organizational assessment, they would develop the candidate pool by contacting strong candidates at national nonprofits who may not be currently looking for a new job and pre-interviewing them to gauge their potential interest in the opening. They would not passively publish job board ads, although we would be welcome to do so if we so desired, and of course we would notify our members and use our social media to promote the opening. These candidates would receive the same screening as recruited candidates. Finally, they would guide the Executive Director Search Committee through a series of interviews with the finalists.

NAME OF FIRM

The owner of this firm described it as “more of an alternative to the board doing it themselves rather than a traditional search firm.” NAME OF FIRM would perform a locally-sourced “facilitated” search, contacting nonprofit leaders in the Indianapolis region and telling them about the opening. They would not conduct a national search or do the same level of pre-screening of potential candidates. They would screen the submissions from SPJ networks or job board postings. They would work with the search committee during the interview process but would not “build the candidate pool” in the traditional sense.

C)

Project Financial Analysis

The financial analysis of our cost savings was provided by Jake, who as our CPA, believes this plan to be a wise investment of our funds.

First, Jake says both the Society and the Foundation have the assets to fund a robust executive director transition plan. The Society has around $850,000 in a rainy-day fund, and the Foundation has assets of around $12 million.

Furthermore, he points out, there will be considerable cost savings while we are not paying a full-time executive director.

A DETAILED FINANCIAL ANALYSIS OF THE RECENT EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR SALARY AND BENEFITS AND THE SAVINGS OVER A PERIOD OF TIME HAS BEEN REMOVED, AS HAS A DETAILED ANALYSIS OF TWO BIDS: OPTION ONE FOR THE ASSESSMENT AND RETAINED SEARCH BY THE SAME FIRM, AND OPTION TWO FOR THE ASSESSMENT BY ONE FIRM AND FACILITATED SEARCH BY ANOTHER. THE FIRST OPTION WAS STRONGLY RECOMMENDED.

D)

Personal Recommendations

My strong recommendation would be hiring NAME OF FIRM to perform both services. This plan would immediately provide the support the staff needs during the transition, while ultimately setting the new executive director up for a higher likelihood of success. Furthermore, retaining the same firm for both services would lead to synergies because the consultants may discover issues during the assessment that informs their candidate pool recruitment.

I do not recommend the second option. However, if the boards decline to fund the full project, my secondary choice would be hiring NAME OF FIRM for the assessment and NAME OF FIRM for the facilitated search. I believe the first option is more likely to secure the best possible candidate.

I strongly advise against foregoing either of these services.

Respectfully submitted,

J. Alex Tarquinio

SPJ National President

— 30 —

SPJ and Journalism Organizations Respond To Election of Donald Trump

Last week, after the election, the Society of Professional Journalists and other journalism organizations released statements reinforcing their commitment to protecting the First Amendment and fighting for the public’s right to know.

Since the election SPJ has seen an increase in donations. Some, when donating, have specifically cited the election outcome.

I want you to know that SPJ is ready to defend the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment and push for government transparency.

We hope that you will continue to join us in this fight. If you have ideas or thoughts or want to help in any way, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me. Also, if you need help donating or renewing your membership, we would gladly help with that as well.

Here is a list of statements made by journalism organizations:

Lynn Walsh is the National President for the Society of Professional Journalists. In her day job she leads the NBC 7 Investigates team in San Diego, California. She loves holding the powerful accountable and spends more time than she would like fighting for public information. Connect with her on Twitter, @LWalsh.

The last roundup

Below is my column for the July/August 2016 issue of Quill:

This column for Quill is the last one I will write as president of the Society of Professional Journalists. As I take a look back on the year, I see, with great satisfaction, many accomplishments from the work of many people. Here’s a quick rundown:

MEMBERSHIP. In my induction speech last September, I noted that SPJ leadership hadn’t looked at membership in about 10 years. Virtually every professional association has had issues and declines in membership, especially since the 2008 recession. SPJ was not alone or immune.

We convened two different meetings, one in Arizona in January and the other in New Orleans in April, to brainstorm and determine ways to enhance membership, both for existing and potential members.

Two tracks emerged. The first, to be rolled out this fall, is designed to enlist people interested in fighting for journalism and freedom of information and to help those already doing so.

In tandem with this effort, SPJ President-Elect Lynn Walsh led a task force looking for a way to pull in all people who were interested in backing quality journalism and the causes we fight for. Her group developed the “supporters” of SPJ idea, and you’ll see a proposed bylaws change at EIJ16 to make this a reality. It’s an excellent idea, and a way to expand SPJ’s reach and influence.

The second membership track will be coming next year – it’s an emphasis on how SPJ helps a journalist at every step of his or her professional career.

Tara Puckey, our membership strategist, and Robin Davis Sekula, chair of the Membership Committee, also have been partnering this year on some well-executed and successful membership marketing campaigns.

SPJ GOVERNANCE. I wrote in my recent Quill column about the 41 percent problem: SPJ governs itself as a representative democracy, with all decisions coming from the annual convention.

But the only delegates at convention are those that represent SPJ chapters. We did a data-dive in late 2014 to learn that 41 percent – nearly half – of our membership is not affiliated with a chapter. In other words, they have no voice at convention.

I chaired a task force to study this problem, and possible solutions. When I became president, I asked Alex Tarquinio to continue and finish the work. She and the other task members did a great job in coming up with a proposed change to the SPJ bylaws, which you’ll also see at EIJ16, to establish a system of regional at-large delegates, truly making SPJ a representative democracy.

This summer, the SPJ board considered a proposal to redraw the regional lines and reduce the size of the board. While that effort wasn’t successful, it prompted us to think about a more global look at SPJ governance and the board itself. Region 4 Director Patti Gallagher Newberry will be chairing a task force on governance, starting this summer and continuing into Lynn’s term.

PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICERS. In December, I led a group to the White House, where we spoke with President Obama’s press secretary, Josh Earnest, on behalf of 53 journalism organizations.

The topic: The trend by public information officers at federal agencies to prevent journalists from doing their jobs and getting information to the American people. The problem has gotten worse, not better, under the “most transparent administration in history,” which is what the president called for the day after his inauguration in 2009.

PIOs have become a stifling pinchpoint for information, or in the case where interviews actually are allowed, minders who seek to make sure that the company line is preserved.

Earnest was cordial and the conversation was candid. But we haven’t seen any follow-up as the Obama administration plays out the clock.

I choose to be an optimist on a daily basis, but this problem is only going to get worse. And it doesn’t matter which candidate wins the presidential election in November.

FIX FOIA by 50. Finally, this was a big one. SPJ is a member of the Sunshine in Government Initiative, a combine of nine journalist and open-government groups. SGI worked tirelessly on behalf of the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, a measure that passed both houses of Congress unanimously. “Fix FOIA by 50” was the mantra, seeking passage of the bill before the 50th anniversary of the act’s initial passage.

The bill brings FOIA into the 21st century; among other reforms, it allows for electronic requests and requires electronic documents to be created. There will be a single online portal to submit FOIA requests to agencies. It establishes, by statute, a presumption of openness in our government.

President Obama signed the bill on June 30, just a few days before July 4, the day President Lyndon Johnson signed the first FOIA in 1966. We fixed FOIA by 50, and we gave America a little something extra to celebrate on Independence Day this year.

Let me close with a couple of thank yous:

To all our professional staff in Indianapolis for the hard work they do for us, and to three people there in particular with whom I have worked closely: To Joe Skeel, for his steady hand as executive director; to Jennifer Royer, our communications strategist who keeps watch on the issues of day and connects SPJ to the media; and to Tara Puckey, who as member strategist is taking the ideas we’ve developed this year and pushing them to reality.

To the other leaders on the ladder with whom I have served over the past three years – Dave Cuillier, Dana Neuts, Lynn Walsh and Rebecca Baker. It has been a real pleasure and honor to work alongside you.

To all the members of the SPJ board. Your service, ideas, passion and hard work on behalf of journalists and journalism are vital.

Above all, thank you for the opportunity to serve as your leader this year.

Despite the many issues in the profession, I can’t think of a better, more fulfilling way to earn a living.

See you in New Orleans!

Executive Committee Meeting Highlights

This week SPJ’s Executive Committee met in Washington, D.C. for its semiannual meeting on Sat., June 27. Here are highlights:

  • The Executive Committee approved minutes from its January 31 meeting in Orlando.
  • I gave updates to the president’s report. Board member Mike Reilley has agreed to lead a group of volunteers to provide staff with guidance for delegate training materials. I am working with the International Community to help with the leadership transition. Also, I met with Sonya Ross of the Associated Press on Friday. We discussed a number of possible partnerships on additional diversity initiatives.
  • SDX President Robert Leger provided us with an update on foundation business.
  • The Executive Committee approved the investment policy for the advocacy fund.
  • President-elect Paul Fletcher gave an update on the non-affiliated member representation task force. The group has had several calls. The next step is to send a survey to SPJ members who are not affiliated with a chapter.
  • Secretary-treasurer Lynn Walsh gave an update on a supporting membership program which would give non-members an opportunity to support SPJ’s mission. She has created a work group who has met by phone once already. She asked us to submit questions on what we’d want to know about such a program if we decide to create this support tier.
  • The Executive Committee approved a policy regarding the hiring and firing of the executive director. The policy will help protect SDX’s interests because the executive director will oversee more of the SDX operations with the shift in education and programming responsibilities from SPJ to SDX.
  • Membership strategist Tara Puckey provided a technology update. She and Billy O’Keefe went to Chicago last week for training. The behind-the-scenes work is still taking place, so changes won’t be outwardly noticeable for a while.
  • Executive Director Joe Skeel gave us an update on strategic partnership updates and how these partnerships impact staff. He gets regular inquiries and requests for proposals on SPJ’s administrative and “back office” support services. Joe also provided us with an update on EIJ18 and possible conference sites. One possible site in Baltimore is already booked for the time period we are considering, but it has offered us a proposal for EIJ19.
  • The Executive Committee entered executive session to select this year’s award winners in the following categories: D. L. Eshelman Outstanding Campus Adviser, Distinguished Teaching, Ethics, Historic Site, Howard S. Dubin Outstanding Pro Members, Julie Galvan Outstanding Graduate, Regional Director of the Year, Sunshine Awards, and the Wells Memorial Key.

If you have any questions about the meeting, please let me know. For copies of reports, meeting materials and a replay of the meeting’s live stream, click here.

 

SPJ Board Meeting Recap

The SPJ spring board meeting was this past Sat., April 18 in Indianapolis. Each meeting is streamed live, but in case you missed it or don’t want to sit through the 6+ hour recording, here are the highlights:

  • The board approved the Fiscal Year 2016 budget. To executive director Joe Skeel’s credit, SPJ has a sizable surplus. We are operating in the black and expect to continue to do so with sufficient reserves set aside for a rainy day and to spend on worthy projects.
  • The slate of candidates for the next SPJ board cycle was announced. New candidates have until about a week before EIJ15 to announce their candidacy. So far, there are only two contested elections (secretary-treasurer and at-large director). Interested candidates should contact Sonny Albarado, past president of SPJ and this year’s nominations chair, or click here for more info.
  • We are seeking nominations to replace regional director Tony Hernandez (Region 12). He moved out of the region, and we are looking for a replacement, effective June 1. We also thanked Tony for his service to SPJ.
  • SDX President Robert Leger gave an update on the SDX Foundation, including the transition of moving programming responsibilities and funding from SPJ back to SDX.
  • The Ethics Committee, led by Andrew Seaman, is beginning the posting of additional materials to supplement the revised SPJ Code of Ethics that was approved by the delegates at EIJ14. In addition, the Code has been translated into five languages (French, Spanish, German, Chinese and Arabic). Those versions are being proofread and, once approved, they’ll be posted to SPJ.org.
  • The board discussed how to handle the proposed Marriage & Conscience Act now in committee in Louisiana. The board will send a letter to the Louisiana legislature citing its concern about the bill which addresses religious and moral beliefs, unlike other religious freedom legislation being considered in other states. Our hope is that the bill will be defeated. If not, SPJ will have to reconsider hosting its 2016 spring board meeting, and SPJ and its partner RTDNA will have to discuss the implications for EIJ16, both scheduled for New Orleans next year. President-elect Paul Fletcher and secretary-treasurer Lynn Walsh will work on the letter to the legislature and share it with the board for input by the end of this month. We will also share it with RTDNA, and they will vote on whether or not they wish to sign the letter as well.
  • The SPJ board gave staff the go-ahead to expand its criteria for the selection of convention cities.
  • I announced two new diversity initiatives: (1) Adding members of other journalism organizations (e.g., AAJA, NAJA, NLGJA, NABJ, NAHJ, etc.) to the Diversity Committee, led by April Bethea, as a pilot project. If this is successful, we hope to expand this to include members of these organizations on other committees to help expand the diversity within our organization. (2) Creating a partnership between the Diversity Committee and Membership Committee to develop diversity-related resources for our members. We’ll first create a list of programming ideas, gathering successful program information from SPJ chapters and regions. We’ll expand to include other resources such as how to identify local chapters of other organizations that we could partner with, and link to other diversity-related resources, such as the NLGJA style guide and the diversity style guide project that is supported by the SDX Foundation.
  • I announced the Membership Committee’s upcoming promotion, #spj4all, a one-day campaign to reiterate our organization’s acceptance of journalists from all backgrounds. The committee, led by Robyn Sekula, will share details soon.
  • Four new chapters were added to SPJ ranks.
  • Secretary-treasurer Lynn Walsh announced SPJ’s new career center, a dramatically improved version of our job bank which includes links to additional resources.
  • At the request of FOI chair and immediate past president Dave Cuillier, the SPJ board approved a $30,000 transfer from our fiscal year end reserves to the Advocacy Fund. The board discussed how money would be spent and what the approval process might be.
  • Regional director Tom Johnson received the board’s endorsement of his “It’s the People’s Data” project.
  • At-large director Bill McCloskey presented a new SPJ Convention Voting Transparency Policy, developed by the By-laws Committee. The policy was approved.
  • Jennifer Royer, communications strategist, and I discussed the proposed guidelines for handling the deaths of prominent journalists and international matters. Each will be handled on a case-by-case basis, and will rely on good judgment.
  • In Becky Tallent’s absence, an update about the release of the Journalism Education Committee’s new book, “Still Captive? History, Law and the Teaching of High School Journalism,” was shared in the board packet and via email.
  • President-elect Paul Fletcher informed the board that 41% of our membership is not affiliated with a chapter, meaning they are not represented by delegates at convention. At my request, Paul has formed a task force to explore the ramifications of this problem and to make recommendations for correcting it.
  • The SPJ board accepted the Executive Committee’s recommendations for 9 of the 10 overall SPJ awards, as outlined in the board packet. Changes will be effective in 2016.
  • The SPJ board discussed the selection of future Wells Key winners. The Executive Committee recommended that the selection group be expanded from the SPJ officers to the full Executive Committee. This recommendation was approved with two amendments – providing the full board with a list of nominees for the current year and the previous nine years (info. to be kept confidential and not shared outside the board), and after the Wells Key is awarded, the Executive Committee will explain to the board why that candidate was selected. These changes will also be effective 2016.
  • We took a photo of the full board for historical purposes and to kick off the #spj4all campaign. #spjlove

The board meeting was packed full of agenda items, and we had good, thoughtful, respectful discussion and debate about these topics and others. In addition, I thanked the board, volunteers and staff for their hard work and continued commitment to SPJ. We’ve accomplished a lot in the seven months I’ve been president, but there is much more to do.

If you have any questions about the meeting, or you’d like to volunteer, I welcome your comments and ideas. You can reach me via email at dneuts@spj.org.

Thank you,

Dana Neuts
SPJ President

 

Why did SPJ take so long to speak out on Indiana’s RFRA legislation?

Last Thursday, while traveling to the region 5 SPJ conference in Louisville, I was contacted by SPJ member and secretary-treasurer candidate Jason Parsley about the legislation passed that day by Indiana Governor Mike Pence, essentially making it legal for Indiana businesses to discriminate against others based on their religious beliefs. Opponents of the law – myself included – interpreted the legislation as being anti-LGBTQ, and a public uproar ensued. Mr. Parsley asked me how this impacted SPJ, and he voiced his concerns as a candidate who might be attending future board meetings in the state. I indicated I was traveling and wanted to research the issue before answering him. I did, however, tell him I was personally appalled by the state’s actions.

After conferring with colleagues, several board members and SPJ’s legal counsel, I made the decision last Friday not to issue a statement for several reasons. I was responsible for that decision, and am not excusing it, but would like to explain my thinking. In no particular order

1) This is a freedom of religion issue, not directly related to journalism.Of those I consulted (approx. 8), only one was in favor of SPJ making a statement.

2) Other organizations, including several representing SPJ by virtue of our location (the local chamber of commerce of which SPJ is a member and the mayor of Indianapolis) spoke vehemently against the legislation, leading many of us to believe immediate action would be taken. In fact, the mayor of Indianapolis has mandated that discrimination not be allowed by law in the city. As it turns out, the issue has been discussed, addressed and morphed daily. In fact, by the time I post this, a resolution may have been found.

3) I did not feel that a stance of this magnitude was mine alone to make. With legislation not taking effect until July 1, and an April 18 national board meeting planned, I put it on the agenda for the April meeting, feeling that would give the board adequate time to discuss this issue in person.

4) As the organization’s elected leader, it is my responsibility to look at how this impacts the entire organization, now and in the future. I must be prudent, cautious and representative of our members. Until yesterday, not including those I reached out to, I had only heard from five of our 7,500 members, including Mr. Parsley. Normally, on big issues, the outpouring of concern is much more significant. That doesn’t mean the issue wasn’t important to others, but I only heard from a few.

That said, I serve the board and our membership. After hearing from many members of our board yesterday and today, as well as Mr. Parsley and his local chapter, I changed my stance. SDX president Robert Leger and I made a joint statement today. In the interim, my actions have been attacked. I could take it personally, and sometimes I do, but I respect the passion and concern that Mr. Parsley and other members have. I understand why they feel I moved too slowly, but I did what I felt was appropriate at the time. My intent was not to dismiss their concerns, and if I gave that impression, I apologize. With new input and new information, I made a different decision.

On a personal level, as a Hoosier born and bred, this legislation is very upsetting, and I am disappointed in my home state’s leaders for allowing it to get this far. Discrimination of any kind is wrong and should not be accepted under any circumstances. Quite frankly, it makes me glad I live in Washington now, a state where all are accepted regardless of how they are categorized. I have friends who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning, and I feel for the uphill battle they fight every day. This sort of short-sighted legislation makes it even worse, and I am sad that our culture and our government are not more evolved. We are all people, and we all have rights, and we need to fight for them every day. Sometimes that means stepping outside our scope or mission to stand up for what we believe in.

Thank you to Mr. Parsley, the Florida SPJ chapter, the national board and all those who have commented or expressed concern, regardless of your position or our differences. I am proud that we are working together and learning from each other to make SPJ – and our world – a better place.

 

Highlights thru Oct. 22

It’s been three weeks since my last post, and a lot has happened in SPJ and the journalism world in that short time. Here are a few highlights:

Earlier this week, we lost journalism legend Ben Bradlee of The Washington Post. He inspired an entire generation of journalists and took editing to a new level. He will be missed. Here is a nice piece in The Washington Post remembering his contributions.

SPJ Georgia and regional director Michael Koretzky fought for and supported George Chidi, a freelance journalist in Georgia, after Thomas Owens, a candidate for DeKalb County commissioner, sought a temporary protective order and filed an application for a warrant on stalking charges against the journalist. The protective order and application were both dismissed, upholding the First Amendment and helping to protect Chidi’s right to do his job. Thanks to SPJ Georgia and Koretzky for fighting on Chidi’s behalf.

SPJ, the Student Press Law Center and 18 other organizations sent a letter to education leaders to renounce the actions of the Neshaminy School District in Bucks County, Pennsylvania for punishing student journalists and their adviser for refusing to use the term “redskins” in the Playwickian, a school publication. Principal Rob McGee suspended the journalism adviser for two days without pay, removed the Playwickian editor from her position for a month, and the newspaper was fined $1,200, the cost of the June edition which omitted the Native American mascot name.

In other SPJ news:

The membership committee, led by Robyn Sekula, is working on a master plan to outline its goals and strategies for the coming year. The committee also named its October Volunteer of the Month – Lee Anne Peck of the University of Northern Colorado. Congratulations, Lee Anne!

The SPJ international journalism community, led by Carlos Restrepo, is also working on a master plan, breaking its work into three primary goals and subcommittees. More on that once the community has had time to review and comment on it.

The journalism education committee is publishing a book in January titled “Still Captive? History, Law and the Teaching of High School Journalism.” The project is the result of three years of research and a survey of nearly 250 Journalism Education Association members in 47 states.

The ethics committee continues to be busy, educating others on the revised Code of Ethics, preparing supplemental materials for SPJ.org and speaking on ethical issues. Check out this post from ethics chair Andrew Seaman on the ethical reporting of Ebola.

The awards and honors committee, led by Andy Schotz, has been working with Abbi Martzall, SPJ’s awards coordinator, to review our awards criteria and make recommendations for changes. Sarah Bauer, the committee’s co-chair, is coordinating the swaps for local and regional SPJ chapter contests. If she hasn’t already, she’ll be contacting awards coordinators in the near future to plan for swaps for next year’s contest season.

The Generation J committee, led by Claudia Amezcua, has been working with her committee on its plan for the year and will be working with secretary-treasurer Lynn Walsh and past president John Ensslin on the recommendations made by the futures task force in June. Two goals for Gen J this year are to broaden the committee’s mission to include journalists at all career levels and to partner with other committees to offer training opportunities via joint Google hangouts.

Led by SPJ past president David Cuillier, the FOI committee has been hard at work, developing a blogging and tweeting strategy for the committee to handling breaking FOI news and to be proactive on FOI issues. For FOI resources, check out the FOI page on SPJ.org.

At SPJ headquarters, staff has been busy on many fronts, including planning for EIJ15 (yes, already!), sending out new ethics posters and bookmarks, working on affinity partnerships to offer additional benefits to our members, and developing communications strategies for how and when to communicate with the public and other media organizations.

Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to Phoenix on behalf of SPJ where I talked to ASU journalism students about how to get started freelancing and get those first critical clips. I also met with SDX president Robert Leger and had a fun evening with SPJ members of the Valley of the Sun Pro chapter where we celebrated some local journalism and PR successes and talked about what’s next for SPJ in the year ahead. I’ve also been working with communications staff at HQ to create an outreach plan to help promote our communities. Up next: a visit to Peninsula College in Port Angeles, Washington, finding a volunteer to help support our communities, and planning our January executive committee meeting.

I am sure I have omitted a letter SPJ signed onto or committee projects and, if so, I apologize. The omission is unintentional, but email me so I can include it next time. As always, thanks for your support of SPJ. If you have questions, concerns or ideas, you can email me at SPJDANA @ GMAIL.COM.

Highlights thru Oct. 1

branding ironThe highlight of last week was, without a doubt, my trip to the Fort Worth to meet with members of the Fort Worth Pro SPJ chapter. They graciously hosted a “meet the president” event where they presented me with my very own branding iron and gave me the opportunity to update them on what’s new in SPJ along with my goals for the year. I also got the chance to visit with Carol Cole-Frowe, one of my favorite freelancers, and Eddye Gallagher, our region 8 director. Eddye and her husband Ed showed us around Fort Worth, including a number of historic sites.

But that was just a small portion of what SPJ accomplished last week. Here are a few other highlights:

Ethics: Posters and bookmarks of the new Ethics Code are ready to download. Hard copies will be back from the printer this week. In addition, members of the Ethics Committee have been doing media interviews, scheduling speaking engagements and preparing the supplemental documents that will sit “behind” the Code on SPJ.org to help explain and clarify some of the Code’s content.

Jennifer Royer, SPJ’s communications strategist, shared her communications plan with the national board to explain how SPJ will communicate the new Code to students, journalists, educators and the public. I did a media interview today with a student from American Journalism Review and will be speaking at Green River Community College on Oct. 4 to discuss the revised Code.

Communities: Carlos Restrepo of the International Journalism Community reached out to new members to ask for their ideas and goals. SPJ Digital held its first Google hangout with its leadership team to plan for the months ahead. SPJ Freelance continues to reach out to potential members. Gen J further explored the idea and benefits to becoming a community.

Journalism Advocacy: SPJ signed onto a letter to the U.S. Forest Service written by the NPPA to protest the need for permits in certain situations where newsgathering and photography may be done in the nation’s wilderness areas. Though the U.S. Forest Service has backed off on some of the original permitting provisions, the new language is vague, putting press freedom in danger. {SPJ.org will post a copy of the letter soon.}

Education: Members of SPJ staff and immediate past president Dave Cuillier attended ONA in Chicago last week to discuss partnerships and funding opportunities and to scout for programming ideas and speakers for future SPJ programming.

Member Engagement: Tuesday Taylor Carlier conducted a Twitter chat with the hashtag #youngjournojobs. She’s preparing a Storify of the event, so stay tuned for that on SPJ.org. Also, Tara Puckey is working with a group of SPJ members in Nebraska who don’t have a chapter. The group will host the region’s spring conference.

Diversity: A member of NAHJ staff reached out to me to see how he could help SPJ expand its base of diverse journalists. I will follow-up to see what types of partnerships we can forge with groups like NAHJ, NAJA, NABJ, NLGJA and others.

I’m sure I’ve missed some highlights. If I did, please email me or post in the comments section. Thanks for your support of SPJ!

~ Dana Neuts, President

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