Lifting up and pressing on: Mourning, celebrating The Capital

As survivors related by blood, marriage or ink at The Capital cope with loss and trauma, their community came out Saturday to root for them, on a day made festive by food and music.

On- and off-duty journalists were there, but this was largely a music festival crowd cheering for the press. People paid $25 or $30 to hear Good Charlotte, which has Maryland roots, and more than a half-dozen other bands.

The get-together — organized quickly and expertly by the city — was called Annapolis Rising. It was a benefit to honor The Capital after five of its employees were shot to death in their newsroom on June 28. It also paid tribute to police, fire and EMS agencies that responded almost instantly to the call.

This was a community wrapping its arms around its own a month later, with grief still fierce and fresh. (Read Andrea Chamblee’s raw account in The Washington Post of what happens when a wife finds out her husband has been shot, then is dead, and her mind and heart nosedive.)

Speaking on stage during one of the more somber moments, the children of Wendi Winters — who died after confronting the gunman — said this was an event their mother would have loved and would have been covering.

Chamblee said plainly that her husband, John McNamara, would not have been there. He would have been tired from the grind of covering government and elections.

 

Andrea Chamblee, talking about her late husband, John McNamara

 

There were so many moments of sorrow and inspiration on Saturday:

Relatives received a flag flown over the State House a few blocks away. Mayor Gavin Buckley invited people to hug a first responder, then followed his own advice as he gave medals on stage.

 

Mayor Gavin Buckley (left) before he gives medals to representatives from police, fire and EMS agencies

 

A heart projected onto the side of a parking garage contained the names of the five victims — John McNamara, Wendi Winters, Rebecca Smith, Rob Hiaasen and Gerald Fischman.

 

On the parking garage next to the Annapolis Rising stage

 

After selling more than 2,000 “Press On” Annapolis-themed T-shirts, the creator donated $35,000 to a fund to benefit the victims’ families.

 

A $35,000 donation from proceeds of the sale of “Press On” T-shirts

 

Capital reporter Selene San Felice urged people to live the spirit of togetherness for more than a day or a week or a month. Editor Rick Hutzell reminded mourners not to forget about other tragic deaths.

 

Rick Hutzell (left), editor of The Capital, with his staff and Andrea Chamblee, the widow of John McNamara

 

Throughout the day, there was a wave of support for journalism at large and the ideals of a free press.

“A town without a newspaper is not a community,” said Lucy Dalglish, the dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park.

 

Lucy Dalglish

 

“When you attack a hometown newspaper, you attack the heart of America,” U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes said.

 

U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes

 

Comedy Central host Jordan Klepper recalled the branches of his family tree filling different roles at his hometown paper.

 

Jordan Klepper

 

Olivier Knox of SiriusXM, the president of the White House Correspondents Association, quoted the confirmation email he received after subscribing to The Capital.

 

Olivier Knox

 

Even the politicians who aired ill-timed jabs at the paper (it sometimes gets things wrong; it is sometimes biased) concluded with messages of support.

“Now, journalists don’t do this work for the pay,” Marty Baron, executive editor of The Washington Post, told the crowd. “Rarely does it pay a lot. They don’t do this work for the hours. The hours are awful, disruptive to ordinary life. There’s nothing elite or elitist about their lives.

“They do this work because they believe firmly in all citizens’ right and duty to understand their community and their country, and they want to fill that essential role in civic life. They do it in service of the glorious opportunity granted to us in the Constitution to participate in our democracy.

 

Marty Baron

 

“Today, we must do more than reflect on the horror of June 28th and the overwhelming sorrow in losing Rebecca, Wendy, John, Rob and Gerald. This is an occasion to reflect also on what this country’s founders gave future generations. They gave us a precious gift — the right of free expression and the right to a free and independent press, what James Madison called ‘the only effectual guardian of every other right.’

“Today, we remember five people who put those ideals into practice. I hope we will also remember the people who, at The Capital and elsewhere, share those five individuals’ spirit and sense of purpose and who carry on the work they loved. They continue to do work that this community and this country still needs.”

Near the end of the night, the crowd had swelled and was jubilant as Good Charlotte gave its own tribute, rocked for a while and promised to come back every year for a similar celebration.

 

Good Charlotte, the headline band at Annapolis Rising

 

For 10 hours, Maryland’s capital city put journalism and the newspaper it knows on a pedestal. What a day.


An update for the board: budget, staff, and more

The SPJ national board held an electronic meeting on Saturday, part of a plan President Rebecca Baker announced when she took office: The board would hold meetings at four points during the journo-fiscal year instead of the traditional two (EIJ, on  spring).

This was the second of our two additional meetings. The first was in November.

My take: The additional meetings are useful. They help the board talk together to figure things out, rather than rely on lengthy email threads.

Highlights from Saturday’s meeting:

• Some SPJ partnerships with other organizations are ending or have already: ACES — The Society for Editing. RTDNA and its foundation (for managing finances). NAHJ (for managing finances — SPJ continues to handle membership and conference planning). But there might be a new partnership soon with another journalism organization.

Similarly, there might be some partnership changes at future EIJs.

• Several staff members at SPJ headquarters left in the last several months. Other people have been hired and the office is expected to be at full staffing shortly. Here is the current staff.

• HQ continues to work to address a budget shortfall that we have known about for several months.

• SPJ’s new Journalist on Call, Rod Hicks, has started his work.

• The scope of the Scripps Leadership Institute will change soon. Details on that will be announced later.

• There is no update on the investigation into money that was missing from the Region 10 fund.

• The board agreed to postpone a discussion of a possible change to the new requirements for oversight of regional funds. A task force is working on a comparable review and recommendations for new financial requirements for pro and campus chapters.


Gleanings from chapter reports (campus)

After reviewing this year’s SPJ chapter annual reports for Region 2, I’ve already summarized the latest with the pro chapters.

Now, some highlights from the campus chapters:

• Western Carolina University: One of its two programs in the past year was a Google training session.

• Washington & Lee University: The chapter had a down period a few years ago, but is coming back strong, roughly tripling in membership in the past year. Its program of the year was a keynote speech by alumna Alisha Laventure, a WFAA Dallas morning news anchor, who decided to respond on air to comments President Trump made about Haiti.

• Virginia Commonwealth University: The chapter co-hosted this year’s Region 2 conference. Its programs included a screening of the documentary “Obit,” a joint dodgeball tournament with the Public Relations Student Society of America and the Ad Club, and a resume workshop.

• University of Maryland: The chapter is solid every year. Its program of the year was called “Free Speech in the Age of Trump” and included multiple angles on free speech, including what limits are in place on campus. Other highlights: Creating a video on open government for Sunshine Week; raising $300 for the University of Puerto Rico School of Communication after it was damaged by Hurricane Maria; a nice variety of journalism and social events; and the sale of “Not the Enemy” T-shirts.

• Salisbury University: The chapter’s program of the year was “Fact or Fake? Media Literacy in Politics.” The Maryland Pro chapter and the Institute for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement were cosponsors. There was a First Amendment podcast with Delmarva Public Radio. Other programs examined citizen journalism, the MeToo moment and “sensitive” journalism when reporting on crime.

• James Madison University: The chapter got its name out there with a successful sale of T-shirts (more than 200) on behalf of the Media Arts and Design major. There were two movie screenings (“The Post” and “Nightcrawler”), a social media seminar and a program with an ethics scenario.

• High Point University: The program of the year was “Is Time Really Up”? Female journalists shared stories and advice about working in journalism. The chapter held a First Amendment Free Food Festival, had a speaker from “People” magazine and showed the film “Christine.”

• George Mason University: In a busy year, the chapter hosted speakers from various media and news organizations and helped with a RealNews forum. There was a simulated press conference, a look at election coverage, a panel on creative careers and broadcast journalism training. The chapter went on tours of The Washington Post, the National Press Club and the Newseum; held a toy drive; wrote postcards to incarcerated journalists; and interviewed candidates for the school’s next director of journalism.

• Elon University: The program of the year was a panel discussion on fake news. Adviser Anthony Hatcher spoke to two large continuing education classes on the topic, as well. In a separate program, an alumnus spoke about filing FOIA requests.

• Appalachian State University: One program was about ethnicity in the newsroom. The chapter also attended a presentation by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.

Thanks to students and advisers for their good work for SPJ and journalism in the past year.


Gleanings from chapter reports (pro)

As SPJ chapters know, it’s annual report time. That’s when chapters lay out what they have been doing, particularly with programs, as well how they are doing financially. It’s an important process, and I thank chapter leaders for the time and effort they put into them.

In recent years, there have been six pro chapters in Region 2.

• Last year, the Delaware Pro chapter folded.

• Both the North Carolina and Greater Charlotte Pro chapters have had a downturn, but committed volunteers (Ken Ripley for North Carolina, Frank Barrows for Charlotte) are working on plans to revive them.

• I know that the Virginia Pro chapter has been active, but was late in turning in its report, so I have not seen it yet.

Virginia Pro chapter members Robyn Sidersky and Jeff South did the heavy lifting on this year’s Region 2 conference near Richmond. The conference went well thanks to their work.

• The Maryland Pro chapter has been in transition lately, as officers and members have come and gone. Kudos to Jennifer Brannock Cox for holding the chapter together and recruiting new volunteers to help. Anna Walsh has enthusiastically taken over as president.

The chapter’s program of the past year was a panel on fake news, in collaboration with the Salisbury University chapter (which Cox advises) and the Institute for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement.

• The Washington, D.C., Pro chapter has been a standout (disclosure: it’s my chapter). The quantity and quality of programs in the past year has been very good, including Google News training, FOIA training and happy hour mixers. An annual job fair, in partnership with other journalism organizations, is successful.

The annual Hall of Fame and Dateline Awards dinner at the National Press Club always draws a big crowd.


Investigation into Region 10 money still underway; new SPJ financial regulations approved

Some people have asked about the May 21 email from the SPJ board of directors (see below) about the possible misuse of money in a regional fund in Region 10.

The investigation is still underway, but these are some basic details:

• The board and SPJ HQ have been working with chapters in Region 10 (which covers Washington state, Oregon, Montana, Idaho and Alaska) to figure out what happened.
• A member of the Western Washington SPJ chapter filed a report with the Seattle Police Department on May 10.
• The police report (a public record) says that while Ethan Chung was Region 10 director, thousands of dollars of SPJ money was taken out of the bank during a two-year period for use that was unauthorized.
• Chung was Region 10 director from about October 2015 to January 2018, when he resigned.
• In February, the board appointed Donald W. Meyers as Region 10 director to replace Chung.
• The local chapters and SPJ HQ have gotten access to the bank records and are reviewing them.
We will share more information about the case as it develops.
***
As the May 21 email notes, SPJ has strengthened its oversight on how money in regional funds is kept and monitored. I was part of a task force (along with at-large national board member Lauren Bartlett and regional directors Michael Koretzky, Kelly Kissel and Ed Otte) that came up with the new measures. We presented them to the full board, which approved them in April.
The task force is working on additional measures to strengthen financial practices for pro and campus chapters.
At the chapter level, SPJ has had a few cases of money being taken from bank accounts without authorization.

The Greater Los Angeles Pro chapter went through this with unauthorized withdrawals from 2009 to 2011.

The Oklahoma Pro chapter learned in 2012 that money was missing. Scott Cooper, who was the chapter’s secretary-treasurer and Region 8 director, later admitted to embezzling more than $43,000 from the chapter. He was ordered to serve four weekends in jail and repay the money.

***
This was the May 21 email on the current Region 10 investigation:
In the interest of transparency, we are writing to alert you that we have filed a police report with the Seattle Police Department over alleged misappropriation of funds from Region 10 bank accounts.
An internal investigation is ongoing. Based upon information to date, it is our understanding that the alleged misappropriation is isolated to one individual.
The national board, headquarters staff and local chapter leaders are cooperating with authorities to get as clear and complete a picture as possible of the extent of the unauthorized activity. Donald W. Meyers, the new Region 10 director, is helping to lead our efforts. We will update you as we get additional information.
To help avoid a similar situation in the future, the national board adopted new rules for regional accounts at its April 14 board meeting. The new rules further enhance the organization’s accountability measures.
If you have any questions, please contact Alison Bethel McKenzie, SPJ executive director, at abmckenzie@spj.org.
Sincerely,
National Board of Directors
Society of Professional Journalists

SPJ/SDX boards: budgets, bylaws and more

Some highlights of the most recent (April 14/15) SPJ and SDX national board meetings in Indianapolis:

Sigma Delta Chi Foundation board (April 14):

• SPJ Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie told the board that more than 100 applications had come in for the newly created Journalist on Call position. The goal is to fill the position by mid-May. The person does not have to live in Indianapolis, but must be willing to travel and should be: comfortable talking to many types of people; patient; adventurous; mobile; a fundraiser.

The scope of the position has changed several times. McKenzie said the current focus is picking specific communities and exploring public trust in journalism. The idea of “helicoptering” in during breaking news that involves the press has moved down the list of priorities. She called the job duties “a work in progress.”

• The board approved a $1.67M budget for FY19 (see p. 12 of the board packet). About 4.5 percent, or $54K, will be set aside for SDX grants. Of that, $43K goes to SPJ for EIJ 18. The remaining $11K will be divided among several grant applicants. (see p. 42)

• The board agreed to proceed with a bylaws change to shift oversight of a Quill magazine endowment fund to the board. It’s a complicated process that requires votes by SPJ convention delegates in both 2018 and 2019. (see p. 45)

• Board member Bill Ketter asked if it’s times to change the name of the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation Board to the Society of Professional Journalists Foundation Board, to make it clearer to the public what the board is. Board member Todd Gillman noted a push in recent years to change SPJ from the Society of Professional Journalists to the Society for Professional Journalism, which could be a factor. The simple solution: Use only the acronym — SPJ Foundation Board.

• Board member Fred Brown said he has updated the SPJ ethics book. It will be online only. Other board members suggested making it a membership incentive and adding a video component.

• Board member Paul Fletcher said an effort to create an SPJ history book has floundered. Someone who was going to work on it stopped several years ago.

• Board President Robert Leger said he is not going to run for re-election this year.

• The board went into executive session to get legal advice. After returning to open session, the board voted to act on the matter discussed in executive session, according to the majority’s wishes. Board member Robyn Davis Sekula was the only board member opposed.

SPJ board (April 14):

• SPJ President Rebecca Baker said the “Press for Education” campaign resulted in 100 people speaking about journalism in schools in seven weeks.

• The board formally approved Don Meyers as the Region 10 director (even though the board, during a conference call in February, already chose Meyers to fill the Region 10 position after Ethan Chung resigned). Region 10 includes Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.

• The board approved a $1.21M budget for FY19 (see p. 14 of the board packet). It’s a deficit budget and includes some cuts.

• The board approved three new SPJ chapters — William Paterson University in New Jersey, Augusta University in Georgia, and Georgia Southern University.

• The board approved a new, stronger policy for oversight of regional funds, with tighter procedures and more accountability. Each regional director must work with a regional treasurer, and both get training. Chapter presidents in that region must see copies of the regional fund bank statements. A regional director who does not follow the procedures could be removed from office.

• The board went into executive session to discuss a) the next group of Fellows of the Society and b) a question about a specific company’s involvement in EIJ18 and c) to get legal advice. After returning to regular session, the board voted on a motion by Region 1 Director Jane Primerano to take no action on a matter discussed in executive session. The motion passed, with four board members (Patti Gallagher Newberry, Lauren Bartlett, Leticia Lee Steffen, Andy Schotz) opposed.

SPJ board (April 15):

• The board approved a motion to proceed with a change in the bylaws pertaining to the Quill magazine endowment fund (see the SDX summary above).

• The board talked about EIJ18, including programs and the Mark of Excellence Awards event.

• The board unanimously approved a “position profile” that lists the ideal qualifications for members of the national board (see p. 46), a policy for board appointments (p. 48) and reimbursement stipends (p. 49). The board also approved having existing people stay on the board until their positions expire through the bylaws changes.

• The board went into executive session to discuss EIJ21, which is scheduled to be in Minneapolis.

• At the request of student board member Hayley Harding, the board unanimously voted to support the national Save Student Newsrooms movement.


A new regional director; more news TK

The SPJ national board met electronically on Monday to choose a new regional director to serve on the board.

The vacancy was for Region 10, which covers Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.

Ethan Chung was Region 10 director until he resigned.

The board decided Monday on Donald W. Meyers to fill the seat. Meyers is a reporter/multimedia reporter with the Yakima Herald-Republic and a member of the William O. Douglas SPJ chapter in Washington state.

Meyers served on the national board when he was the Region 9 director from 2010 to 2014. He ran for Region 10 director at EIJ 17, but lost to to Chung.

Also Monday, the board talked about a personnel topic. There should be public news soon about that discussion.


SPJ correctly decides on neutral ballots

On Dec. 11, the SPJ national board approved a neutral process for future elections. There will be no “seal of approval” or stars, check marks or other symbols on the ballot indicating the preferences of a Nominating Committee.

This is a victory for keeping SPJ elections more fair and pure.

Advocates who wanted to have a Nominating Committee nudge voters toward certain candidates had good intentions — trying to get the most qualified and capable people in office.

But it was an unnecessary step. Voters can make good choices if they have sufficient information; they don’t need to be protected from themselves. The better approach for SPJ elections is to provide thorough information about candidates through Quill, online forums, Twitter chats, podcast, questionnaires and more. That will be our philosophy for future elections.

The debate about the Nominating Committee is tied into a new governance structure for SPJ. Over a two-year period, the national board will shrink from 23 people to nine people.

We will get away from the idea that regional directors are needed to represent the thoughts of each of the 12 regions, which is a fallacy, since differences of opinion in SPJ never align or divide by geography. We will move toward a system of smart, competent board members representing everyone, with a streamlined, more efficient way of discussing and making decisions. I fully support the new approach.

The lone remaining detail for the transition was forming a Nominating Committee and what work it should do. The committee will find and recruit strong candidates to run for national board seats (also an excellent change).

But it will not issue opinions on who the best candidates are (a proposal that was up for debate). There will be no “seal of approval” for committee-preferred candidates on the ballot (a bad idea that would have tilted elections) or anywhere else.

The board voted 10-3 in an electronic meeting on Dec. 11 (with 10 absences) in favor of a plan to limit the Nominating Committee’s work to finding candidates and making sure they meet the basic qualifications spelled out in the SPJ bylaws. Here are the requirements to be eligible to serve as SPJ’s president or president-elect:

   To serve as president or president-elect a person must be a member in good standing of the Society and must previously have served as a member of the board of directors, or the board of the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation, or been the chair of a national committee, a professional chapter or community president who also has been or is a member of a national committee.

The 10 board members voting in favor of the Nominating Committee limit were: me, Alex Tarquinio, Lynn Walsh, Patti Gallagher Newberry, Rebecca Baker, Tom McKee, Jane Primerano, Michael Koretzky, Matthew Hall and Michele Day.

Those opposed were: Joe Radske, Lauren Bartlett and Sue Kopen Katcef.

As a compromise idea before the vote, Bartlett suggested a point system, in which each qualification that a candidate met (board member, SDX board member, committee chair and so on) earned a point. I opposed this idea. This would be the first time that SPJ would tell candidates that hitting every item on the list would be seen as better than meeting the minimum qualifications. That’s an unfair change to impose right before someone runs for office, and I don’t agree that checking every box makes the candidate more qualified.

Overall, the board had a good debate and made the right choice.


Candidates with the ‘Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval’

In SPJ elections (or any elections), do you want someone telling you how to vote?

That will be the topic when the SPJ national board holds an electronic meeting on Monday afternoon: whether to have preferred candidates in future elections.

At the Excellence in Journalism conference in the fall in Anaheim, delegates approved a plan to overhaul the SPJ national board, shrinking it from 23 to 9 people in a two-year period.

Another part of the plan is a new Nominating Committee, creating a more formal process for recruiting future candidates for the board.

The intention is good. Instead of having one person (usually the past president) doing the recruiting, a group of seven, representing various SPJ constituencies, will do the work.

What has not been decided yet is how the committee will operate.

This is important for one main reason. A task force suggested having the committee “vet” candidates and recommend them. This will entail making subjective decisions about which candidates are the best and giving them a “seal of approval.”

One idea has been to have that “seal” show up on the ballot. In the next election, you might see, for example, four candidates for president-elect and only one has an asterisk/check mark/thumbs up from the Nominating Committee, nudging you to vote for that person.

I strongly object to anything other than a neutral, politics-free ballot. Campaigning and endorsements are fine in an election, but they have no place appearing on the ballot. It’s no different than when you go to your local polling place and candidates’ signs can’t be any closer than 100 feet away from the door.

Proponents of the “seal of approval” have a good motivation. They think a Nominating Committee will highlight the best candidates, making it more likely we’ll have qualified board members.

But that underestimates the ability of voters to be thoughtful and discerning when making their choices. The “seal of approval” process essentially shifts the decision from all SPJ members to a group of seven. The election becomes a ratification process for the Nominating Committee’s preferences.

That’s going in the opposite direction for SPJ, which expanded voting rights in elections several years ago from a small group of delegates at the national convention to all SPJ members.

But how, some SPJ board members ask, can we be sure voters make smart choices? The answer is easy: Give them the information they need.

Currently, SPJ members are told who the candidates are, but little else. Candidates give some basic biographical information in Quill (if they choose to) and they make a short speech at the national convention (if they go). This is not nearly enough.

SPJ should treat elections like the governments we cover treat them. We need to get information from candidates through a questionnaire. (Some voters told me this questionnaire I sent to this year’s candidates helped them choose.) We need Twitter chats, podcasts, and maybe a (livestreamed) forum at the convention.

I am convinced that voters will make good choices if they have good information. Voters don’t need to have their hands held as they fill out the ballot.

* * *

This is a draft I proposed for the makeup and work of the SPJ Nominations Committee, followed by a Q&A addressing concerns that other board members have raised. Most of this was written by others; my draft addresses the concerns raised above.

SPJ’s Nominations Committee

Purpose and Composition: The committee will identify and recruit candidates for election to the Board of Directors.

The Nominations Committee shall have seven members:

  • The immediate past president of the Board of Directors
  • A current elected board member
  • A regional coordinator
  • An undergraduate student member
  • Three at-large members to be appointed from SPJ’s committees, communities, chapters or other SPJ constituencies.

Committee members will serve two-year terms, to be staggered, except for the student member and the immediate past president, who will serve one-year terms.

  • In Year 1, one other member of the committee besides the immediate past president and the student member will serve a one-year term.

The Nominations Committee chair will be appointed by the Board of Directors.

  • In accordance with the bylaws, the chair may not be an officer or board member.
  • The chair will:
    • Work with the Board of Directors to select appointees for the remaining Nominations Committee seats within 60 days of assuming his or her position. Self-nominations, member recommendations and board recommendations are allowed. Committee members should represent as many diverse viewpoints as possible to: 1) enhance the chances of identifying qualified candidates from all possible constituent groups and 2) enhance the chances of having a Board of Directors diverse in race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age, medium, geography and professional experience.
    • Conduct virtual teleconference meetings or conference calls (open only to Nominations Committee members) to discuss potential board candidates.

To serve on the Nominations Committee, individuals must be SPJ members in good standing.

  • Members of the Nominations Committee cannot be candidates for an elected position and cannot lobby for the election of any candidate on the ballot. They must wait at least one year after leaving the Nominations Committee before running for or being considered for appointment to the Board of Directors.
  • Committee vacancies that occur after the committee has been selected will be filled by the Nominations Committee chair in consultation with SPJ’s president. Those members will serve the remainder of the term.

Nominations Committee Policies and Procedures

The Nominations Committee will:

  • Identify board candidates through a call for nominations in the winter and by actively recruiting through many diverse channels. Candidates may nominate themselves, be nominated by a fellow SPJ member or be nominated by a Nominations Committee member. Nominations Committee members should be active all year in promoting board membership and recruiting qualified candidates.
  • Verify that all board candidates are eligible to serve, according to SPJ’s bylaws, but will not recommend which candidates should be elected.

Candidates may add themselves to the ballot up to five days before an election begins.

The ballot will list only the name and background of all candidates.

The president, by April 1, shall appoint one or more people to work on efforts to educate SPJ members about candidates leading up to the next election, such as questionnaires about SPJ issues, podcasts, the use of social media, and other means.

________________________
Here are some questions and answers about this approach, using some concerns raised by other SPJ board members.

Q: Why not have the Nominations Committee designate the best candidates (with a label of “preferred,” “recommended” or a similar term)?

  A: All SPJ members will pick who the best candidates.

Q: How do we prevent an unworthy candidate from being elected?

  A: Voters will decide who they want, just like we would in any other election.

Q: But how can we be sure voters know which candidates deserve to be elected?

  A: We will do what we should have done already: pay more attention to making sure members have thorough information about candidates. Currently, we have a short bio in Quill and that’s about it. Candidates share more information about themselves if they want, but this tends to be generalities and platitudes. For all future elections, we will have some or all of the following: questionnaires on SPJ issues and experience; Twitter chats; podcasts; possibly a candidate forum at EIJ.

Q: A candidate is obviously unethical in his/her work. Why not tell voters about that?

  A: That type of information is fair game in any and all of the information forums we choose. We can and should ask candidates questions about their work, including asking them to defend it. Keep in mind that “unethical” is subjective; not everyone would agree what this means. 

Q: Of course we would agree on unethical ethics. We’re talking about a blatant lack of ethics, like working for Breitbart News.

  A: Does working for the National Enquirer indicate a blatant lack of ethics? A current board member used to work there. Should he be removed from the board?

Q: Fair point, but I’m talking about something much worse, something egregious.

  A: Why would SPJ members elect an egregiously bad candidate? They don’t need to be protected from themselves.

Q: Why have a Nominations Committee if it can’t name its preferred candidates on the ballot?

  A: The Nominations Committee serves another important function: rounding up and recruiting strong candidates. That’s a big improvement over the previous process, in which one person (the past president) did almost all of the work.


A new regional director, a nomination process debate and more

A recap of the SPJ national board’s electronic meeting on Nov. 4:

• The board chose Tom McKee to be the next Region 4 director, out of six applications. McKee will take over for Patti Gallagher Newberry, who vacated the position when she was elected national secretary-treasurer at EIJ 17 in September.

McKee’s credentials are excellent. For five years, he has been the president of the Cincinnati Pro chapter, a three-time winner of Small Chapter of the Year. McKee has worked for WCPO-TV for 28 years, including the last as a reporter and multimedia journalist.

After a debate about which candidate to select, two members of the board voted no — Lynn Walsh and Joe Radske.

• President Rebecca Baker said SPJ received about 70 applications for the executive director job. Joe Skeel is scheduled to leave the position on Dec. 1. A committee is reviewing the applications and will interview finalists.

The board voted unanimously to appoint Associate Executive Director Tara Puckey as interim executive director for the period between Skeel’s departure and when the next executive director takes over.

• The board reviewed feedback about EIJ 17 that was collected in surveys through an email and on the conference app. There are too many comments to capture here, but SPJ’s staff and board are talking about the feedback.

• The board debated part of the process tied to the new governance structure that delegates approved at EIJ 17 (shrinking the national board from 23 to 9 over a two-year period). There will be a seven-member Nominating Committee, an improvement on the current informal process of the past president having to find and recruit candidates.

A sticking point on the nominations process is whether the committee should be able to “recommend” candidates to voters, or designate some as “qualified,” or some other indication of preference.

I argue against that approach. I don’t mind a committee recruiting good candidates, and making sure they meet minimum objective criteria (i.e., a member in good standing, a former chapter president), but I think voters should be trusted to make sound choices, without being told which way to vote. I suspect that voters who don’t pay attention to the campaigns will defer to the Nominating Committee’s “recommendations,” turning an election into more of a ratification.

The best way to ensure good choices is to examine the candidates and their positions on issues as much as we can. I would like us to do candidate events – online forums, Twitter chats, questionnaires, podcasts and even an EIJ session. Endorsements are OK, but they should not appear on a ballot.

Board member Matt Hall also suggested adding a “cooling-off” period. Someone would have to wait a certain period between serving on the Nominating Committee and running for the board. (I favor this idea.)

• The board voted in favor of moving the bylaws governing Quill magazine from SPJ to the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation, which funds and oversees Quill. Skeel said the transfer clarifies the roles of SDX and SPJ.

Walsh cast the only vote against the move.

 


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