Posts Tagged ‘SPJ’


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.

Requesting Public Information Should Not Result in Felony Charges

Fannin-Focus publisher Mark Thomason spoke at the SPJ National Convention in New Orleans on Sept. 20. Outgoing national SPJ president Paul Fletcher (left). Photo by Curt Yeomans, SPJ Georgia board member

Fannin-Focus publisher Mark Thomason spoke at the SPJ National Convention in New Orleans on Sept. 20. Outgoing national SPJ president Paul Fletcher (left). Photo by Curt Yeomans, SPJ Georgia board member

Mark Thomason, publisher of the Fannin Focus newspaper in Blue Ridge, Georgia was arrested June 24 and charged with three felonies, including one for making a false statement on his open records request.

No journalist or member of the public should ever have to put up with what Thomason has when exercising his or her right to public information.

On the day of his arrest Thomason said he had no idea why he was arrested.

“For two days I sat in a jail cell without a pillow or blanket,” he said.

After his release on a $10,000 bond, Thomason said he faced unusual bond restrictions and was required to provide numerous on-the-spot urine samples for law enforcement in his hometown.

When the Georgia chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists first heard of Thomason’s arrest, they began sharing their outrage with the public.  The chapter also filed a formal complaint to the Judicial Qualifications Commission against the judge, Brenda Weaver, Chief Superior Court Judge of the Appalachian Judicial Circuit, who had Thomason and his attorney arrested.

At it’s annual convention last month in New Orleans, SPJ’s members commended Thomason’s “relentless pursuit of the public’s right to know” in a freedom of information battle involving the actions of chief superior court judge.

Click here or watch below (jump to the 11 minute, 47 second mark of the video) to hear Thomason’s comments to SPJ members and journalists at the convention.

The SPJ membership also called for Judge Weaver to resign and thanked the SPJ Georgia chapter members for their hard work and due diligence bringing this issue into the public conversation.

What Thomason did, standing up for his right to public information, is something, I hope, no other individual, journalist or news organization has to experience. But, if you do find yourself in a similar situation, I want to know.

SPJ was founded to fight for these very issues. Whether that is your right to government access or recording video on a public sidewalk. We are here for you. Or maybe you find yourself being forced to tell a story or write something in a way that you feel is journalistically unethical. Please tell us, so we can help.

So, please contact me and let us know what we can do to help. We are here to help protect journalism and the public’s right to know.

Lynn Walsh is the current National President for SPJ. In her “day job” she manages and leads the NBC 7 Investigates team in San Diego. She loves holding the powerful accountable and spends more time than she would like fighting for access to public information. Follow her on Twitter, @LWalsh, or contact her via email: Lynn.K.Walsh@gmail.com.

Executive Committee Mtg. Summary, Jan. 31

8Z4A1316

Photo by Jack Pagano

On Sat., Jan. 31, SPJ’s Executive Committee met in Orlando, Florida, the site of the 2015 Excellence in Journalism Conference, co-hosted by SPJ, RTDNA and NAHJ.

The executive committee includes president Dana Neuts, immediate past president Dave Cuillier, president-elect Paul Fletcher, secretary-treasurer Lynn Walsh, vice-president ofcampus affairs Sue Kopen Katcef and at-large members Bill McCloskey and Joe Radske. If you missed the live stream, here are highlights from the day-long meeting:

SDX grant requests: Three grant requests were submitted for the executive committee’s review. We voted to approve the requests, which will now go to the SDX grants committee and then to the full SDX board for a vote in April.

International statements: We will handle international journalism incidents on a case-by-case basis.

Online Legal Defense Fund (LDF) auction: The executive committee directed executive director Joe Skeel to explore the possibility of adding an online auction component to our annual silent and live LDF fundraisers. Skeel will report to the full board in April.

Job bank recommendations: The executive committee directed Joe Skeel to contact our job banks vendor to discuss supplementing our current offerings.

Awards and honors: The executive committee discussed recommendations submitted by Lynn Walsh, Sue Kopen Katcef and Andy Schotz for changes to our current awards nomination and selection processes. Some recommendations were accepted; some were not. All recommendations will be submitted to the full board in April for a vote. Any approved changes will be effective for the 2016 awards season. Of note was the discussion of the Wells Key award. The executive committee will recommend to the full board that the entire executive committee select the winner, rather than just the officers.

Membership representation: Paul Fletcher reported that 41 percent of SPJ’s members are not affiliated with a chapter, meaning they do not have delegate representation at convention. I appointed a task force to be chaired by Fletcher to do additional research and to prepare a report for the April board meeting.

Delegate update: Bill McCloskey will work with others to discuss delegate votes at convention and make recommendations to the board at its April meeting for any improvements or changes that should be made.

Tech upgrade: HQ staff is working on data clean-up to prepare for the tech upgrade which will begin after the awards entry season concludes.

Strategic communications update: I gave a report on our progress since hiring Jennifer Royer as our communications strategist last August. We have been able to improve our communications, develop processes and procedures, and become more proactive planning events like Sunshine Week and Ethics Week.

Fellow of the Society: We adjourned to executive session to discuss nominees for the Fellow of the Society award. We will take two more weeks to consider nominees before making a decision.

Joint SPJ & RTDNA meeting: RTDNA chair Amy Tardif and I held a joint meeting of the organizations’ executive meetings to discuss diversity, EIJ programming, partnership opportunities, etc.

For board meeting materials and a link to the meeting video, visit http://spj.org/board-meeting.asp. Please contact me if you have any questions. Thank you.

~ Dana Neuts, SPJ President

 

 

Progress on shield bill

Good news on the Shield Law front over the past week.

On Wednesday (7/17), a bipartisan group of senators led by New York Democrat Charles Schumer and South Carolina Republican Lindsay Graham said they’re going to push for a Shield Law that enshrines revisions to Justice Department policies announced by Attorney General Eric Holder on July 12.

Holder’s revisions to DOJ guidelines would make it harder for prosecutors to obtain journalists’ phone records without advance notice.

The bill Schumer, Lindsay and their colleagues announced Wednesday would go a bit further, ensuring that an impartial judge reviews government attempts to compel journalists and news agencies or third parties, such as phone companies and internet providers, before the Justice Department tries to obtain them.

“In many ways, our bill is tougher than the new [DOJ] guidelines,” Schumer said at a press conference, “but the DOJ has smartly proposed new ideas that would offer additional protections to journalists while carefully balancing that need against national security.”

Holder’s policy changes came after various journalism groups, including SPJ, voiced concerns about the Justice Department’s seizure of the AP’s phone records and a Fox News reporter’s emails. In a letter to Holder in June, SPJ expressed serious concerns that the DOJ wasn’t following its own guidelines for dealing with demands for information from journalists in the government’s investigations of leaks.

After meeting with and hearing from a slew of journalism groups, Holder surprised me and actually strengthened the guidelines.

Of particular note was the Attorney General’s statement of principles: “As an initial matter, it bears emphasis that it has been and remains the Department’s policy that members of the news media will not be subject to prosecution based solely on newsgathering activities.”

The policy changes Holder outlined seek to strike “the appropriate balance between two vital interests,” he said in his report to the President: “protecting the American people by pursuing those who violate their oaths through unlawful disclosures of information and safeguarding the essential role of a free press in fostering government accountability and an open society.”

Schumer, Lindsay and shield bill co-sponsors Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Jon Tester, D-Mont., Roy Blount, R-Mo., and Jonny Isakson, R-Ga., echoed that sentiment in Wednesday’s press conference announcing their intent to submit a “tougher bill” than either the previous bill that languished in the Senate three years ago or Holder’s revised guidelines.

“We’ve struck the right balance here between national security and protecting those who cover government,” Graham said after noting that “guidelines are not gonna cut it in the 21st century.

“We need a statute, a law that transcends administrations.”

Other societies wish they had the kind of reporting on government that Americans have, Graham said.

“We have it, we need to protect it, and quite frankly, cherish it,” he said.

Amen.

Should SPJ broaden international memberships?

For more than a decade I served as lead mentor in Denver for a journalism exchange program run by the Alfred Friendly Press Fellowship.

It’s a great program that brings journalists from other countries to work side by side with their counterparts in U.S. newsrooms.

During that time I worked with journalists from Nigeria, Ecuador, Egypt, Bulgaria, Serbia, China, Cambodia, Russia and the Gaza Strip.

By and large, they were an amazing group of people, many of whom had to exercise a fair amount of courage just to do the type of daily reporting that we here in the U.S. often take for granted.

It was a great experience and one that I’m sure will color my view point as the SPJ board takes up an important policy discussion this weekend on the Society’s approach toward prospective members who live outside the U.S.

Should we actively recruit them? Should we encourage chapters to form in other countries? Should we hold them to the same requirements we ask of domestic members and chapters?

Shortly after becoming SPJ president in September, I asked our International Journalism Committee, through its chairman Ricardo Sandoval Palos, to study this issue and make some recommendations to the board.

The Committee produced a thoughtful document that became the basis for a good discussion that the Executive Committee had on this topic during our winter meeting in Charlotte.

Now that discussion moves to the full board. When we meet in Indianapolis this weekend, I’m planning to ask the board a series of questions on this topic. My hope is that we reach enough of a consensus to help craft a formal policy later this year.

It’s a complex issue. In some countries, concepts we take for granted in the U.S. such as objectivity or acting independently are not universally embraced. In some countries, journalists operate under government imposed restrictions that make those concepts unworkable.

And yet, we live in an increasingly global society where video shot in Syria one moment becomes news in the U.S. a short time later. There’s also a real hunger out there for the training, ethics and ideals that SPJ had stood for in this country.

So we’ll have our talk. In the meantime, it’s worth noting that SPJ already has about 130 members living in other countries.

More than half are part of a thriving student chapter that former Regional Director Richard Roth helped start in Qatar a few years ago under the aegis of Northwestern University.

But the other members come from nearly 30 other countries, including Uzbekistan, India, Mexico, Canada, Morocco, Spain, England, Sweden and Luxemborg.

I believe we need a coherent strategy when it comes to membership in the rest of the world. My hope is that we can take the first steps toward that goal when  we meet in Indianapolis.

n

n

{democracy:11}

Notes from the Executive Committee meeting in Charlotte

Live from Charlotte

Our recent winter meeting of the SPJ Executive Committee on Jan.  28 in Charlotte, N.C., marked an important first: a live webcast of most of our daylong meeting.

It was not without some technical snags. We couldn’t access a WiFi network and the cord to the desktop computer was a bit short.

And the configuration of the room made it difficult for the Web audience to hear everyone.

But we made adjustments, moved some furniture closer and spoke a more clearly to the webcam.

About 11 members tuned in, and by the afternoon, several of them were emailing us with questions and observations that were helpful.

It was a good first effort, one that I’m sure we can improve upon when the full board meets in Indianapolis in April.

A tip of the fedora here to board member Michael Koretzky who has been advocating for these webcasts for several years.

Strategic Plan Revisited

During our meeting, we began work on updating our long-range strategic plan, which the SPJ board first adopted about five years ago.

When it was originally drafted in November 2007, the Executive Committee wanted the plan revised periodically.

In Charlotte, we quickly reached a consensus that no major overhaul was needed. In fact, many of the goals set in the document describe the work we’ve done since then.

But we did agree to update that plan, and we’ll take up the section that deals with Society operations when the Executive Committee reconvenes in Washington D.C. in July.

Prepping for the DNC

We heard a presentation from leaders of the Greater Charlotte chapter on their plans for raising SPJ’s profile when the Democratic National Convention is held there in early September.

The chapter has some ambitious plans, including a training seminar for journalists who will cover the convention, and a style guide that would help visiting journalists get to know the city.

The committee endorsed the chapter’s application for a grant to help them carry out these plans, subject to the approval of the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation board.

We also agreed to send a letter questioning Charlotte officials about a recently adopted ordinance that could make it difficult for photojournalists covering the convention to do their jobs (as well as for residents who live in that area).


International SPJ members

We heard a report from the International Journalism Committee on ways in which SPJ might go about growing its membership in other countries.

The committee’s overall sentiment was to welcome such members and charter chapters oversees while taking care to build in safeguards that will promote journalism that is independent and professional.

After some discussion, the board agreed to focus first on individual members, noting that SPJ already has a small number of members overseas.

We also instructed the committee to come back with specific policy proposals that we can put before the full SPJ board in late April.

Virtual chapters/Affinity groups

We discussed a report from an ad hoc committee that examined the feasibility of organizing members into virtual chapters or affinity groups based upon mutual professional interest such as court reporting or online journalism.

The ad hoc committee recommended against creating virtual chapters with some members seeing it as having a potentially negative effect on geographic chapters. We agreed.

But we also decided to further explore setting up some affinity groups on a trial basis. Our first step in this direction will be to poll members and see what sort of groups they might be interested in joining.

In other matters

The committee also endorsed several proposals, including:

-A strategic communication plan to bring some uniformity when SPJ issues press releases as well as a means to measure the impact of those statements.

-A plan to create a public service announcement consisting of a series of eight one-minute videos that feature various journalists and how their stories helped members of the public. We suggested some ways in which production costs of the video can be minimized. The plan will be subject to a vote by the SDX Foundation board.

-A plan by the Diversity Committee to continue with the diversity fellows program at the Excellence in Journalism 2012 conference as well as finding ways to work with the fellows during the rest of the year.

We also heard report from a committee that is working on implementing the one-member, one-vote system approved by delegates in 2011. Watch for more details on this plan in the months ahead.

Pushing back against the journalism brain drain

The email from Mr. Anonymous arrived in my mailbox one recent morning.

He wanted me to look into overcrowding in one of the local high schools where some classes had as many as 40 kids, he claimed.

“PLEASE INVESTIGATE THIS as you are our only hope,” the anonymous tipster wrote. “YOU CAN HELP OUR STUDENTS. PLEASE DO SO.”

The story will get done. But the email and its plaintive plea made me wonder: What would happen if I was not covering this inner city school district?

I don’t have a lot of competitors on my beat. Sadly, with the cutbacks that newspapers have been forced to make in recent years, there are many school districts and city halls that are not getting the attention we once paid to them.

Later that same morning, other emails followed with news of more layoffs of fellow journalists in Los Angeles, St. Louis and Dallas. It would appear that the cuts that have decimated our industry in recent years are far from over.

I can relate closely to the situation of my colleagues who lost their jobs, having been in that position myself when the Rocky Mountain News closed in February 2009.

As troubling as the numbers are for our industry, there is a secondary kind of loss under way.

Within SPJ’s ranks in recent months, we’ve seen some of the best and brightest people leave the field of journalism for jobs outside the profession.

I think of former SPJ President Clint Brewer, one of my role models, who has taken a job with the state of Tennessee.

I think of Darcie Lunsford, formerly the president-elect, who has taken her bright personality and considerable skills into the Florida real estate business.

I think of Ian Marquand – the heart and soul of our Montana chapter – who also has taken a job in state government.

These are all bright people who have taken a new path on which I am sure they will excel. I’m sure we all wish them well.

All three have committed to staying with SPJ and helping out wherever they can, and I’m sure they will.

But it does make me wonder: What’s to become of our profession and our organization if we keep losing such bright minds and strong leaders?

Well, here’s one thing I believe we can and should do. There are plenty of bright and talented people in our business, many of them just starting out in their careers.

And there are others whom I’ve admired for years who for one reason or another have never joined SPJ.

We need to start reaching out to those folks and bring them into SPJ. We need to replenish our ranks with people like Clint and Darcie and Ian who can and will make a difference.

Here’s what I’m going to do: I’ve been compiling a list of 100 people who fit this description. Over the next 100 days, I’ll be writing a series of letters asking them to join SPJ.

Here’s what I’m asking you to do. Think of three people in your own world who you think would make excellent SPJ members and perhaps even leaders.

Call them. Email them. Write them. Ask them to join. (Here are few good reasons to join.) If you think a phone call from the SPJ president will help, email me their names and numbers. I’ll be happy to make those calls.

Let’s find these folks and make SPJ as strong in the service of journalism this year as it has been since 1909.

The Helen Thomas decision

Few moments in a journalist’s career are more challenging than the times when cherished professional principles are called into question. The exception may be when our journalistic principles run headlong into our personal ones and tug at our moral fabric.

Such was the case over the weekend when the executive board of the Society of Professional Journalists met at it annual summer gathering and faced down an agenda item listed under new business as item “e. The Helen Thomas Award.”

The issue before us was whether we should retain Thomas’ name on our lifetime achievement award in light of her ridiculous and offensive remarks regarding Jews, saying they need to leave Israel and return to homelands of Germany, Poland and the United States. Those remarks cost her a job and disenfranchised her from a number of people and organizations with whom she was associated. Those remarks came in late spring. What SPJ would do wouldn’t be decided until late July in New Orleans.

From the day she uttered her now-famous words, the press wanted to know SPJ’s stance. Let me correct that. Some wanted to know. Most wanted to tell us. Because I felt this organization needed to carefully and judiciously consider this issue, I said from Day One we’d not rush to judgment. But the public did and so did some of our members.  A number of you weighed in on the issue in the weeks leading up to the board meeting and your voices were compiled and available to the board before the meeting.

Most of you provided thoughtful comments. Some made threats to leave the organization if we moved to change the award. Some chastised us for thinking someone so caustic and bigoted should have her named aligned with such an honorable journalism group.

Initially, a motion was made not to change the name and it received a second. What I’d call and very respectful and professional discussion ensued. Everyone had something to contribute. The executive board considered sending the matter to a vote of the full board. There was talk about a resolution before the October convention where sitting delegates could cast the deciding vote. After sharing views for nearly an hour and reflecting on it more personally over lunch, the board decided to take no action, and as such, the award is unchanged. But, as I see it, no action denies Thomas any votes of support from SPJ exec board members.

Personally, this was a tough call.  When I initially considered her remarks, I immediately fell into my First Amendment defense posture. SPJ has spent more than 100 years defending free press and free speech issues. How, after a long-established commitment, even in support of gravely offensive language, could we turn our backs on our principles to punish Thomas for her insensitive comments?

But, the more I thought about it, the more I opened up to other perspectives. As president elect Hagit Limor (an Israeli-born Jew whose father escaped from Germany and survived the Holocaust) said “this isn’t just about free speech rights. It’s about rewarding this kind of language and behavior.” In short, she can say what she wants and be defended, but she doesn’t have to be rewarded with such an important award.

Had Thomas said all black people should go back to Africa, there’s a very good chance this decision would have been made a lot sooner and with a different outcome. I feel confident in saying that.

Many who defended her name on the award made convincing arguments that our award speaks to her work as a journalist, not her personal views, and it’s unfair to throw out five decades of stellar professional journalism over this one incident. The award bears her name and lifetime achievement because it reflects the body of her long and illustrious career. And, quite honestly, that’s a valid argument and I respect it.

In the end, the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award was moved to “old business.” But dealing with bigotry needs to reflect a “new business” mentality. SPJ has three foundational missions – free press, ethics and diversity. If we are to live up to our mission of promoting diversity, it seems counterproductive to allow these very types of words and thoughts to be associated with our organization and, in part, define us. Regardless of her lifetime of achievements, Thomas needs to be mindful that her remarks have no place among people and her brethren whose obligations are to truth and fairness.

Connect

Twitter Facebook Google Plus RSS Instagram Pinterest Pinterest LinkedIn


© Society of Professional Journalists. All rights reserved. Legal

Society of Professional Journalists
Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Center, 3909 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46208
317/927-8000 | Fax: 317/920-4789 | Contact SPJ Headquarters | Employment Opportunities | Advertise with SPJ