Don’t confuse sponsorship with like-mindedness

It’s understandable to treat conference “sponsorship” as a sign of endorsement, admiration, or some other positive connection. That’s how some critics have characterized the Fox sponsorship at this year’s Excellence in Journalism conference next week.

That’s not how I see it. (Note: I am a member of the board of directors of the Society of Professional Journalists, but speaking only for myself.)

Ours is a journalism conference. That doesn’t mean every journalist or news organization invited to participate or share the costs has been vetted for impurities. Program participants have expertise to share. Sponsors make a financial commitment to help with the cause — training journalists, celebrating excellence, honoring stalwarts.

This year, the Fox Corporation is a platinum sponsor, providing $50,000. The sponsorship includes two programs it will hold during EIJ. The plan was for a boot camp on multimedia reporting and a session on how women can establish themselves in the media world, but that has changed — the boot camp will be offered twice instead.

Fox will get exhibit space and its logo on conference tote bags.

I can’t imagine canceling those programs, denying everyone who signed up to learn, a few weeks in advance because of a segment Fox News aired. (The host said of people crossing the U.S. border: “… we have been invaded by a horde, a rampaging horde, of illegal aliens.” He also said: “But when you go back in time and when you look at what an invasion is, whether it’s the Nazis invading France and Western Europe — whether the Muslims were invading a country back in the early years. It was an invasion.”)

Is that giving Fox a free pass for odious remarks by one pundit? Hardly.

In announcing that Fox would remain an EIJ sponsor, SPJ issued a press release that, in the first sentence, blasted the pundit’s “invasion” remarks as “vile anti-immigrant commentary.”

To be clear: SPJ is accepting a sponsor’s money to help put on a worthwhile conference while calling out something the sponsor aired. That sounds like a wise approach to me.

A partnership in producing a conference does not make the partners simpatico in journalism or in business decisions that allow inflammatory rhetoric a place on the air, online or in print.

Fox and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists have had an ongoing connection in conference sponsorship.

NAHJ has been a partner with SPJ and the Radio Television Digital News Association at EIJ conventions in 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019.

Fox has been an EIJ sponsor in 2013, 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019.

What suddenly made Fox toxic this year? Or, more specifically, in August, after being acceptable as a sponsor in July, June and the rest of the year?

In a statement, NAHJ President Hugo Balta said his organization took a stand after the Fox News Radio host (whose show can only be heard through a subscription) used prejudicial language to describe Latino immigrants.

The first few paragraphs of Balta’s statement addressed news coverage — such as the value of “simply reporting the facts, without bias ….”

Even though Balta didn’t give examples of bias in Fox’s news coverage, it’s hard to argue with the principle. The language and tone of immigration coverage is worth self-examination by all media, beyond what one pundit says.

In 2011, SPJ took on a question about proper terminology. At the urging of our Diversity Committee, delegates at the national convention approved a resolution urging journalists to stop using “illegal immigrant” and “illegal alien” to describe “undocumented people living in the United States.”

However, The Associated Press Stylebook, the source for many newsrooms, discourages the use of “undocumented,” too.

The serious among us strive, and sometimes struggle, to get it right.

What better place for examinations of this type than a conference in San Antonio, among three major journalism organizations.

Not everyone, even within SPJ, agrees with the approach to sponsorship that I described.

A similar argument came up last year about EIJ sponsorship by the Charles Koch Institute. SPJ chapters in Los Angeles, San Diego, Chicago and elsewhere were unhappy about the arrangement and called for change.

I oppose litmus tests for sponsors who otherwise fit the guidelines we have in place.

The threshold might sound obvious — we know it when we see it, as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said about the limits of obscenity.

But imagine the vetting process — reviewing a sponsor’s ethical practices, diversity in the newsroom, marketing, corporate morality, and on and on. It can quickly turn into quicksand.

I will keep an open mind for ideas for improvement if we revisit the topic of sponsorship and welcome the recommendations of critics, including chapters who spoke out before. But snap judgments about a sponsor shortly before a convention aren’t a sound foundation for a policy.


A good talk

Saturday was a good day for SPJ.

When the Executive Committee met on an electronic call, around 60 people not on the committee tuned in to listen and participate.

That was astounding. Usually, a half-dozen people attending an SPJ board meeting in person is a good turnout. For electronic meetings, a few observers might dial in.

What changed this time?

The biggest factor is the diligence of a coalition of chapter boards and leaders from across the country, coordinated largely by D.C. Pro chapter Immediate Past President Jonathan Make.

Make and the group have been effective in recent months in pressing national SPJ leaders on issues such as chapter dues, communication and transparency.

The strong public participation on Saturday led to a comment period that stretched beyond 30 minutes, the original plan, to around 90 minutes.

Afterward, the Executive Committee went into executive session to choose national SPJ awards, including the Wells Key.

After some shaky electronic board meetings, hindered by conflict and technical problems, this meeting was excellent, largely because it was so inclusive.

Membership

One of the two topics on the public portion of the agenda was a membership idea President-Elect Patti Gallagher Newberry and Membership Committee Chairman Colin DeVries shared.

The suggestion was to have a short period around EIJ in September in which registration membership fees would be discounted.

Linda Hall, SPJ’s office manager and former membership coordinator, suggested $50 for pros (down from $75) and $20 or $25 for students (down from $37.50).

In the chat area online, SPJ members listening in posted reactions. One wrote that current members might resent a newcomer paying less. Another wrote that the discount could apply to renewals.

Gallagher Newberry said the Membership Committee will work on a specific plan.

Executive director search

Hagit Limor, the chairwoman of SPJ’s executive director search committee, gave an overview of the process and timeline.

Since Alison Bethel McKenzie resigned as executive director at the end of April, board President J. Alex Tarquinio has filled in on some of those duties.

The SPJ board and the SPJ Foundation board in June hired Talbott Talent to help conduct the search and do an organizational assessment of SPJ’s operations.

SPJ member Forrest Gossett has insisted, in emails to the national board, that SPJ leaders release the terms of the contract, including what Talbott is being paid. However, Limor and Tarquinio said on Saturday that the contract is considered confidential, which not unusual.

Limor said Talbott is working on survey questions to go to board members the week of July 15 and survey questions to go to SPJ’s staff the week of July 22.

Anyone else who wants to weigh in on the executive director search can email comments to Limor at hlimormedia@gmail.com.

She said Talbott will compile the feedback and plans to draft a report by July 31, outlining traits and qualifications valued in an executive director. Within two days after that, there will be a position profile to guide the hiring.

Limor said recruiting will begin Aug. 6, although word has gotten around that SPJ is filling the vacancy. Applicants can indicate their interest by emailing spj@talbotttalent.com.

The goal is to hire an executive director before EIJ 19 in early September, but no later than mid-October. The new executive director would start one month later.

Feedback

Participants on Saturday’s call had many ideas for the traits and qualifications of an executive director. They included:

• Can carry the day when a board “goes rogue”

• Good at leadership; consensus builder

• Focuses on reversing a decline in membership

• Keeps chapters in mind

• Knows how to motivate a staff

• Transparent, even when news is bad

• Willing to commit to at least five years in the job

• Entrepreneurial experience

• Journalism experience, but it’s not mandatory; a history of support for the First Amendment and journalism

The last point tied into a discussion about whether the executive director should be the “face” (and voice) of SPJ, similar to the Radio Television Digital News Association’s approach, or if the person only needs to focus on association management. Many people on the call spoke up in favor of the latter.

Civility, transparency

A few other topics came up during the public comment period:

• Some people chided Region 3 director Michael Koretzky for posting a video critical of how Tarquinio ran a previous board meeting, urging him to remove the video. A few others said it’s better to look ahead rather than dwelling on the video.

• Several people criticized SPJ’s transparency, particularly when and how national leaders and SPJ HQ have shared information. Some important announcements have come late at night.

Tarquinio said she uses the Freedom of the Prez blog to share information.

A task force I am on is reviewing and updating SPJ policies. As part of our work, we are creating a new openness and transparency policy that addresses sharing information, giving notice of meetings and more. Email me at LawnGyland@aol.com if you have suggestions.


Remembering, honoring: ties to the Capital Gazette

Maryland has a particularly close-knit, overlapping journalism network. Competitors often become colleagues as we move from one place to the next, then sometimes back again.

For me, three daily newspapers, in particular, feel like a triad, in size and in scope.

Most of my 19 years working in Maryland has been at two of them — The Herald-Mail in Hagerstown and The Frederick News-Post.

The Capital Gazette in Annapolis, where my connections are more secondary, is the third leg.

Even if we don’t know our counterparts, in this newspaper group, we intrinsically understand each other’s work, roles and travails. We each do much the same thing — monitor lots of government bodies; provide a forum for debate; document achievements and setbacks in words and images — but in different counties.

On June 28, 2018, I was driving from Maryland to New York to attend a long-awaited milestone high school reunion.

About halfway through my trip, a newspaper friend in Virginia called to ask if I heard about a rumor of a shooting at The Capital Gazette. I hadn’t.

It turned out to be true. For the rest of the day and evening, an odd haze divided my heart — joy at reconnecting with childhood friends tempered by sadness and grief over a newsroom massacre.

*****

Whenever we talk about what happened, it’s forever appropriate to say and honor who was killed that day:

• Rob Hiaasen, 59, an assistant editor and columnist

• Wendi Winters, 65, a community correspondent who headed special publications

• Gerald Fischman, 61, the editorial page editor

• Rebecca Smith, 34, a sales assistant

• John McNamara, 56, a sports writer who also covered news and edited the Bowie Blade-News and the Crofton-West County Gazette

Andrea Chamblee (left), the widow of John McNamara, and Erica Fischman, the widow of Gerald Fischman, at a community event in Annapolis in July 2018 to honor the Capital Gazette and victims of the shootings. (Photo by Andy Schotz)

By chance, I got to meet McNamara about a year earlier, after a Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association awards banquet.

That day, Maryland’s cohesive network was at play in how that happened. Glen Cullen, an editor who worked with me at The Gazette weekly chain (unrelated to The Capital Gazette), used to work with McNamara in Annapolis and invited him to join us.

Quickly, I learned during that conversation over drinks and a meal that McNamara used to work at The Herald-Mail, a while before I got there.

I know of at least one other Hagerstown tie to the victims. A while back, Hiaasen once wrote a wonderfully fun feature story about my Hagerstown newsroom’s practice of running photos of large, distinctive vegetables people grew in their gardens.

*****

Shortly after the shootings last year, SPJ’s board and staff asked ourselves what so many others did: How can we help the Capital Gazette?

One way, we decided, was to gather donations, especially after we learned of a benefit fund.

We instantly came up with $10,000. That included $3,500 from three SPJers donating their budgeted expense-reimbursement money and $6,500 from previous sales of our First Amendment T-shirts.

For six more months, all SPJ T-shirt sales money was earmarked for the Capital Gazette.

Hundreds of orders poured in, originating in nearly every state, Washington, D.C., and Canada. Some buyers included poignant notes, sharing the ache in their hearts.

SPJ channeled this caring and kindness into another $10,000 donation.

Our total of $20,000 was divided between two funds — $10,000 for Capital Gazette survivors and their families; $10,000 for University of Maryland journalism scholarships in the name of some victims.

Our T-shirt sales were responsible for $15,000 of that total.

*****

Capital Gazette staff and families at a community event in Annapolis in July 2018 to honor the newspaper and victims of the shootings.

At first, many people who wanted to help the Capital Gazette donated money through a GoFundMe account that Madi Alexander, a data journalist for Bloomberg Government, quickly set up after the shootings.

Soon, that GoFundMe account was folded into one started by Tronc (as Tribune was known at the time), the Capital Gazette’s parent company.

The Tronc account was through the Community Foundation of Anne Arundel County.

I was heartened by how much that account swelled in the days, weeks and months after the shootings — surpassing $100,000, then $500,000, then $1 million. The flood of support was a comforting way to counter the sadness.

Recently, I checked on the final result.

Amy Francis, the Community Foundation’s director of development, told me that the fund remains open. However, collections to directly benefit Capital Gazette survivors and families stopped on Dec. 31. A Community Foundation fund can’t help only specific people; it has to have a wider purpose and is now meant for “broader community healing.”

In total, $1.944 million was collected through that fund. Of that, $111,000 was put aside to keep the fund active into 2019 and beyond.

After an extensive review process, a committee distributed the rest, $1.833 million, to victims’ families and Capital Gazette employees — a total of 35 people.

Francis said the Community Foundation got advice from communities where other mass shootings happened — Sandy Hook, Connecticut; Las Vegas; Parkland, Florida.

“This is our hometown. This is our hometown paper …,” Francis told me. “We were honored to provide this service.”

The Community Foundation also hosts a University of Maryland, College Park, scholarship fund set up to honor the five victims. Hiaasen taught there. McNamara and Fischman were alumni.

The journalism school at College Park is named after the late Philip Merrill, whose family owned the Capital Gazette for many years.

When Francis and I talked earlier this year, the scholarship fund had about $170,000. It has grown since then, and the first two scholarships have been awarded. (The University of Maryland also established separate awards to honor McNamara, Fischman and Hiaasen.)

*****

The Capital Gazette is never far from my thoughts.

I know the Annapolis neighborhood where the staff, until recently, had a temporary home.

A friend and former colleague of mine in Frederick has rejoined the Capital Gazette staff (more cross-pollination).

I’ve met some of the staff and worked with them on a Sunshine Week project. I read their social media posts — their humor; their proud moments; their up-and-down struggles to cope with a new, difficult normal.

(A side note: Please support photojournalist Paul Gillespie’s wonderful photo project — Journalists Matter: Faces of the Capital Gazette)

(Side note 2: Show your support for the Capital Gazette, and for all journalism, by subscribing. It’s a damn good paper.)

(Side note 3: The state of Maryland is showing its support by designating June 28, every year, as Freedom of the Press Day.)

When I think of my peers in Annapolis, I try to heed editor Rick Hutzell’s eloquent advice: Remember the victims, but also focus on friends and coworkers left behind: Gillespie, Chase Cook, Joshua McKerrow, E.B. Furgurson III, Selene San Felice, Rachael Pacella, Danielle Ohl, Phil Davis and many others.

Today, as always, I’m right there with you, my friends.

Andy Schotz is SPJ’s Region 2 director and an editor at The Herald-Mail in Hagerstown, Md.


SPJ meetings become open; sponsorship policy passed

One significant thing about the Feb. 2 electronic meeting of the SPJ national board is that the public finally was invited to participate. (The most important item of business, though, was a new sponsorship policy, which is addressed later in this post.)

The board has been holding electronic meetings for years, and no one has given it much thought that they were inaccessible to observers. We’re a journalism organization, committed to transparency, yet we’ve been excluding anyone who might want to hear what we’re doing.

That finally changed this month, with a dial-in number that let SPJers (and anyone else) join the call and speak up during a public comment period. Only a handful of people took advantage of it this time, but it was a good start. Kudos to SPJ President J. Alex Tarquinio and the SPJ staff for following through and making this happen.

Highlights from the meeting:

• SPJ board member Tess Fox will restart SPJ’s Generation J, an electronic community for early-career professionals.

• The board unanimously approved adding an SPJ campus chapter at the University of Michigan.

• A committee is reviewing about 160 proposals for workshops and breakout sessions for EIJ 19 in San Antonio. Further details are posted on p. 37 of the board meeting packet.

• Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie talked about plans for celebrating SPJ’s 110th anniversary, including a logo and merchandise.

• Board members were less enthused about commemorating the 50th anniversary of SPJ admitting women. Region 10 Director Donald Meyers said it’s a “joyous” milestone that shows SPJ’s progress. But at-large director Lauren Bartlett said the focus should be on celebrating women, not pointing out SPJ’s exclusion of women for most of its history. Bethel McKenzie noted that Sigma Delta Chi was an all-male fraternity to start.

The board unanimously voted to have board members work with the SPJ staff to recommend ways to celebrate women in 2019. Secretary-Treasurer Matt Hall tried to make an amendment to have board members Sue Kopen Katcef, Yvette Walker and Bartlett as the study group, but Tarquinio said the group must be formed first, then the members appointed.

• Bethel McKenzie said the staff’s main focus for fiscal year 2020 is to close a budget deficit. She expects the deficit to be higher than the $41,000 shortfall approved in the fiscal year 2019 budget last year. More detail is included in a budget memo on page 42 of the board packet. Some factors: the loss of about $54,000 in association management revenue; the possibility of renting out the basement at SPJ’s headquarters building in Indianapolis; not filling the vacant deputy executive director position. (The memo mentions the possibility of raising dues for the first time in 13 years; the board declined to consider that.)

• SPJ is waiting on our current EIJ partner, RTDNA, to decide whether to continue the partnership for EIJ 21 in Minneapolis. Bethel McKenzie said she asked RTDNA for an answer by March. SPJ is considering alternative 2021 locations if RTNDA is not a partner.

• Bethel McKenzie said the tentative plan is to hold three Scripps Leadership Institute sessions this year — in Kansas City, Atlanta and Cincinnati. (Editor’s note: The focus of the sessions has changed from SPJ leadership training for pros and students to general leadership training, without an SPJ focus, for college students.)

• At my request, a discussion about SPJ’s proposed new sponsorship policy started in open session, rather than executive session. After a summary by President-Elect Patti Gallagher Newberry, it continued into executive session to discuss aspects that involve our EIJ partner, RTDNA. Other executive session topics were the fiscal year 2020 SPJ budget, potential new partnerships, and an upcoming evaluation of the executive director. The session lasted 1 hour and 8 minutes.

• Back in open session, the board unanimously approved a change in the new process for evaluating the executive director. It will no longer involve a survey of former staff members.

• The board approved a working group’s outline for how to conduct future reviews of the executive director. There will be eight topics for evaluation, including budgeting, fundraising and partnerships, with general and specific questions in each area.

• Also in open session, the board approved an amendment to a sponsorship policy it approved on Dec. 1. (See below for the final approved version.)

This marks the second time in two months the board changed its mind on the policy. A task force presented a proposal leading up to the Dec. 1 board meeting. During the meeting, the board amended two items, then passed the amended version.

On Feb. 2, the board changed course and reverted back to the initial version.

The final changes are in two areas:

• An attempt to put a tighter control on ideas pitched by sponsors has been removed. On Dec. 1, the board decided that when sponsors “propose session ideas and speakers,” those proposals “can be rejected.” The final version strikes “can be rejected.”

• Another Dec. 1 amendment was: “Sponsor or grant money will not be used to pay speakers.” The final version says: “SPJ, RTDNA or the EIJ Planning Committee may choose in certain circumstances to use sponsor or grant monies to provide fees to speakers.”

The board voted to override the Dec. 1 amendments and return to the initial proposal, which RTNDA supports. (As long as there as an EIJ partnership, the partners have to agree on a sponsorship policy.)

I was the only SPJ board member to vote against the new version. I supported the Dec. 1 amendments.

During the Feb. 2 meeting, I was assured that the final version makes the EIJ Planning Committee a stopgap against a poor proposal by a sponsor. However, the final language — “Proposals will be vetted by the EIJ Planning Committee” — doesn’t expressly say the committee can reject a proposal. “Vetted” is ambiguous and could be interpreted as “reviewed.”

I also was assured that a provision that “the Committee and its designated producer will assume full responsibility for participants, topics, times, places, etc.” is a safeguard. But “full responsibility” is ambiguous, too, and could be interpreted as making sure panelists show up and equipment works.

I voted no on this final proposal because I think we need a firewall between sponsor’s money and the substance of conference sessions. A sponsor may support Freedom of Information, for example, but should not dictate who serves on a panel, the questions asked, the material covered, who moderates and similar details.

This example is not hypothetical. This whole review began because SPJ chapters in Chicago, Los Angeles and San Diego objected to the Charles Koch Institute paying $20,000 to sponsor an FOI session.

SPJ responded poorly to critics, promising them that the Charles Koch Institute did not plan the session, which turned out to be incorrect.

When a task force later looked into what happened and recommended a new policy, that review included a survey. SPJ members who responded strongly agreed that a firewall has to be in place between sponsor money and conference session. I agree with that sentiment and wish the board listened to it.

I didn’t mind the Charles Koch Institute sponsorship for a number of reasons, but only if a firewall existed.

Here is the final version of the new sponsorship policy:

  • Both media and non-media entities will be allowed to sponsor sessions/events, and to propose session ideas and speakers. Proposals will be vetted by the EIJ Planning Committee. Once proposals are accepted, the Committee and its designated producer will assume full responsibility of for participants, topics, times, places, etc.
  • Neither media nor non-media entities may offer speaking fees for sessions/events they sponsor. SPJ, RTDNA or the EIJ Planning Committee may choose in certain circumstances to use sponsor or grant monies to provide fees to speakers.
  • Neither media nor non-media entities may cover expenses for speakers participating in sessions/events they sponsor. SPJ, RTDNA or the EIJ Planning Committee may choose in certain circumstances to use sponsor or grant monies to cover speaker expenses.
  • EIJ partners will retain the right of refusal over all sponsors, exhibitors or advertisers, with contracts reviewed by the executive directors of partner groups before accepting.
  • EIJ partners will disclose its policies on sponsorship of sessions/events to potential sponsors in the prospectus for EIJ19 in San Antonio and any other appropriate publications or web pages.



Virginia lawmakers kill legislation to protect student journalists

Editor’s note: This week, Virginia lawmakers killed a measure to strengthen First Amendment rights for student journalists. Other states (including Maryland) have passed similar legislation as part of a New Voices movement. Capital News Service at Virginia Commonwealth University gave permission for its work to be posted here.

01/28/2019

By Saffeya Ahmed/Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. — A legislative panel rejected a bill protecting student journalists from administrative censorship on a tie vote Monday.

House Bill 2382, sponsored by Del. Chris Hurst, D-Montgomery, would have protected free speech for student journalists in public elementary, middle and high schools, as well as public institutions of higher education.

A subcommittee of the House Education Committee deadlocked 3-3 on the bill after hearing testimony from students and faculty advisers from high schools and colleges across the commonwealth.

Kate Carson, a former writer and editor for The Lasso, the student newspaper at George Mason High School in Falls Church, said her school’s administration censored several controversial topics the publication attempted to cover, including bathroom vandalism, absence policy abuse and a sexting scandal.

“As student journalists, we were perfectly positioned to report on these issues and separate fact from rumor,” Carson said. “Instead, The Lasso was censored when we attempted to cover the vandalism and policy abuse. We didn’t even attempt to cover the sexting scandal.”

One teacher told the panel how her students’ paper was shut down and she was removed as adviser after the students published an article about renovating the school.

“We have seen an increasing number of censorship cases in the commonwealth,” said Hurst, a former anchor for WDBJ, the CBS affiliate in Roanoke. He said the bill seeks to reapply the Tinker standard to student free speech, which was established in a 1969 Supreme Court case. This standard requires administrators to have reasons for censoring content, Hurst said.

Del. Chris Hurst (photo by Saffeya Ahmed)

In 1988, the Tinker standard was overruled in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, which laid out that school administrations have the right to censor school-sponsored media if they wish.

“All this bill does is protect against what we call the ‘making the school look bad censorship,’ the image-motivated censorship,” said Frank LoMonte, former executive director of the Student Press Law Center and head of the New Voice Initiative, a campaign network for anti-censorship laws. “Anything a school can stop you from saying on a T-shirt or ball cap, they can stop you from saying in a newspaper.”

Frank LoMonte speaking to the subcomittee (photo by Saffeya Ahmed)

Two people voiced concerns with the legislation, saying the protections should not apply to school-sponsored speech or to young student journalists.

“We’re not talking about an 18- or a 19-year-old; we’re talking about possibly a 14- or 15-year-old writing a story,” said Thomas Smith of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents. “There are many instances in the code where they treat college students and post-secondary students different from secondary students.”

The legislation would have protected “school-sponsored media,” which includes any material “prepared, substantially written, published or broadcast” by student journalists and is distributed or available to the student body. The bill prohibited administrative censorship or disciplinary action unless content:

  • Is libelous or slanderous material
  • Unjustifiably invades privacy
  • Violates federal or state law
  • Creates or incites students to create a clear and present danger

If HB 2382 had passed, Virginia would have been the 15th state to provide protections for high school or college journalists. Half of the states that have passed similar legislation to Hurst’s bill did so in the last four years. Five other states introduced bills in 2019 to protect student journalists.

-30-


New sponsorship policy approved

When the SPJ national board held an electronic meeting on Dec. 1, most of the meeting was in executive session for four topics:

  • the president’s report (including updates on personnel and vacancies for two appointed board seats)
  • Excellence in Journalism updates
  • a sponsorship task force report
  • an upcoming annual review of the executive director

A written part of the president’s report — on board structure, meetings, committees, priorities and more — was not in executive session and is part of the public meeting packet.

After discussing the sponsorship task force’s report in executive session, the board unanimously approved a new policy, after making two small changes from what the task force recommended.

The new SPJ policy:

  • Both media and non-media entities will be allowed to sponsor sessions/events, and to propose session ideas (but the proposals can be rejected). Proposals will be vetted by the EIJ Planning Committee. Once proposals are accepted, the Committee and its designated producer will assume full responsibility for participants, topics, times, places, etc.
  • Neither media nor non-media entities may offer speaking fees for sessions/events they sponsor. (Sponsor or grant money will not be used to pay speakers.)
  • Neither media nor non-media entities may cover expenses for speakers participating in sessions/events they sponsor. SPJ, RTDNA or the EIJ Planning Committee may choose in certain circumstances to use sponsor or grant monies to cover speaker expenses.
  • EIJ partners will retain the right of refusal over all sponsors, exhibitors or advertisers, with contracts reviewed by the executive directors of partner groups before accepting.
  • EIJ partners will disclose its policies on sponsorship of sessions/events to potential sponsors in the prospectus for EIJ19 in San Antonio and any other appropriate publications or web pages.

RTDNA, our EIJ convention partner for several years, is scheduled to review the same proposal later this week.

The sponsorship task force met for about two months. It was created after a few chapters protested in August that the Charles Koch Institute was to be a sponsor at EIJ 18 in September.

In 2003, SPJ passed a policy that did not allow sponsors to plan their own programs. However, because of turnover at SPJ headquarters and on the board, no one was aware of that policy as EIJ 18 was planned.

The 2003 policy also was approved before SPJ had a convention partner, so it needed to be reviewed and updated.

The board and SPJ’s headquarters gave out incorrect information about the Charles Koch Institute’s involvement in the EIJ 18 session it sponsored.

Also during the public portion of the Dec. 1 meeting, the board unanimously approved a process for evaluating SPJ’s executive director when the one-year mark arrives in March.


Bad communication, an apology: examining Koch sponsorship

Heading into this year’s national Excellence in Journalism convention, a few SPJ chapters criticized the national board and headquarters because the Charles Koch Institute was sponsoring a Freedom of Information Act session.

I didn’t mind the sponsorship, which appeared to mesh with an SPJ policy approved in 2003.

However, SPJ failed to give critics (and all SPJ members) accurate information — particularly about whether the Charles Koch Institute planned the session it sponsored. For that, I apologize. (Note: This piece reflects my views — not the SPJ board or anyone else.)

SPJ President J. Alex Tarquinio hinted at this in a column posted Oct. 24, writing that because of “a flurry of emails … some SPJ national board members became convinced that sponsors were not, in fact, involved in planning sessions.”

That characterization is technically true, but further explanation and context is in order.

In August, the Chicago Headline Club contacted SPJ Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie and then-President Rebecca Baker with concern about the Charles Koch Institute as an EIJ sponsor. This prompted thorough discussion by the SPJ and SDX boards and McKenzie of this and other sponsorships.

Tarquinio, as president-elect, agreed to form a task force to examine the issue and make recommendations by Dec. 1. That effort is underway. All SPJ members have been invited to take a survey on sponsorship questions. An online conversation will be held Nov. 26 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Eastern.

Irwin Gratz, a past SPJ president and incoming president of the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation Board (now known as the Society of Professional Journalists Foundation Board), tracked down the approved 2003 policy and shared it with the boards during our discussion. Many of us weighed in on how the Koch sponsorship aligned with that policy.

Some key points:

  • “No money will be accepted from domestic or foreign governments, or from political organizations.”
  • “SPJ will control all aspects of the convention program. All convention programs will be on-the-record. People and organizations with positions directly opposed to those of any contributor may be invited to appear.”

This is the 2003 SPJ convention sponsorship policy

Since the policy was approved in 2003, SPJ has had plenty of turnover in its headquarters staff and on its board. As a result, it looks as if, when the Koch sponsorship was proposed and accepted, no one was aware of that policy.

(The task force has found that the SPJ board in 2008 approved an update to the policy. The two key points above did not change, but others did.)

A collective failure in communication compounded the problem. The SPJ and SDX boards reviewed the 2003 policy as if it governed the Koch agreement. Regional directors sent messages explaining and supporting the Koch agreement to all chapters, based on the same understanding.

Separately, though, our staff was proceeding differently with Koch and other sponsors, who were, indeed, allowed to plan sessions they sponsored.

It’s a legitimate question whether the 2003 policy applies now, since it was approved when SPJ held its own conventions, without partners (i.e., RTDNA) we have now. We can no longer say “SPJ will control all aspects of the convention program.”

Certainly, the policy needs to be re-examined and updated, which the task force is doing.

But the failure to provide accurate information was wrong, and we have ourselves to blame.

When I asked during the board’s Sept. 30 meeting if Koch planned the session it sponsored, Tarquinio said, “They did not plan it, but obviously we spoke with them and the process was a little [I’m not sure of the word she used here] this year because, as many of you know, Alison did have to step in for our program manager, who left in the middle of EIJ.”

(The sponsorship discussion during the Sept. 30 meeting is posted here, starting at about 45:40.)

McKenzie then told us that sponsors at that level picked from a choice of sessions. (McKenzie said that level was $25,000, but it actually was $20,000, according to the sponsorship task force.)

“They and any other sponsor at that level can plan their panel,” she said. “It’s their panel. It’s a sponsored panel.”

She said she chose the moderator, plus one panelist. Koch chose the other two panelists. “I reviewed their description and tweaked it, and sort of changed it a little bit,” McKenzie said. “So I was pretty heavy-handed in putting their panel together.”

She continued: “My understanding is, in the past, it hasn’t worked like that — that the sponsor pretty much picks, chooses the panel, chooses the description. I just was very involved in this particular panel.”

When I asked about the 2003 policy that said SPJ controls all aspects of the program, McKenzie said, “I was not aware of our policy at the time.”

Board member Lauren Bartlett mentioned “talking points” our headquarters staff gave the board on Sept. 24 about the Koch sponsorship, including this:

  • The institute doesn’t control anything about the session. It did not pick the topic or select the speakers, who are independent from the Koch foundation.

“No, that was inaccurate,” McKenzie told us.

Collectively, we failed and I understand the frustration of the Chicago Headline Club and others.

There is room for reasonable debate about appropriate sponsorship limits. But facts matter, too.

The Chicago Headline Club told its members that “the Charles Koch Institute, for example, is part of a secretive and complex family of groups whose goal is to advance the Koch brothers’ political ideologies.”

I note that as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the Charles Koch Institute is legally prohibited from political advocacy (although I was called “naïve” to think this limitation is meaningful or obeyed).

Also, the Charles Koch Institute has a record of funding journalism efforts — such as with The Poynter Institute and the Newseum — that align with SPJ’s mission.

For example, from the Charles Koch Institute’s website:

Civil debate and the free exchange of speech and ideas — on our college campuses, in the arts, and in the press — allow us to challenge both ourselves and the status quo. In order to protect good ideas and speech, we must protect all ideas and speech, so long as they do not violate the person, property, or liberty of others.

Also:

The Media and Journalism Fellowship program is for aspiring and entrepreneurial journalists and story tellers. Our program offers media and creative professionals the opportunity to refine their skills while learning about the crucial role of free speech and a free press in our society.

The Poynter Institute was in a similar situation when it accepted money from the Charles S. Koch Foundation (the same organization, despite the variation in the name) to strengthen student publications.

Kelly McBride wrote about why Poynter was comfortable with the arrangement:

We pick the schools. We set the curriculum. We hire the faculty. We occasionally update our contacts at the Koch Foundation about our progress. I can personally attest that over the last year our contacts at the Koch Foundation gave us complete independence to run the program the way we saw fit. …

As an ethics specialist, I’m confident that we will uphold journalism values if we engage in a process of vetting projects, rather than sorting potential donors along a continuum of acceptable and unacceptable, then drawing a line.

If SPJ has the same firewall, I am comfortable with the same approach.

I don’t agree with all of the points raised by SPJ chapters in Chicago, Los Angeles and San Diego. For example, Chicago insists that the SPJ Code of Ethics applies here. I disagree — the code is a set of guidelines for journalism, not deciding conference sponsorships.

Still, I apologize that we gave critics, and others, wrong information.

I couldn’t attend the FOIA session at EIJ because it conflicted with a national board meeting, but the Charles Koch Institute posted this about it:

At its 2018 Excellence in Journalism Conference last week, the Society of Professional Journalists held a panel discussion on use of the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA. Panelists included National Public Radio science correspondent Nell Greenfieldboyce and Jesse Franzblau, a policy analyst at Open the Government (OTG) — an organization that works to promote government openness through the use of access to information laws.

Starting with the premise that FOIA has allowed journalists to shine a light on government for more than 50 years, panelists explained how journalists can navigate FOIA for their benefit; how to find the right information and to isolate good stories; and how to ensure that they get the timely and complete answers from state officials.

The discussion coincided with OTG’s release its citizen’s guide to “America’s Forever Wars and the Secrecy that Sustains Them.” The project, which OTG policy analyst Emily Manna describes as helping the public understand FOIA’s role in “bringing transparency to issues vital to the public’s understanding of military and national security programs,” is supported by Open Society Foundations and the Charles Koch Institute.


Scrutinizing “news”: Students challenge U. of Md. information site

A pitched debate about information is happening on the University of Maryland’s College Park campus.

The campus has a number of news sources, including an independent student newspaper, The Diamondback, which won SPJ’s overall Mark of Excellence best in show award this year.

The administration has created its own information source, called Maryland Today. It goes beyond press release portal — it’s presented as more of a news site or digital publication. It is produced by the school’s Office of Strategic Communications.

For several weeks, I’ve seen social media posts from current and past students, especially those who worked on The Diamondback, criticizing Maryland Today as spin and propaganda.

The pushback rose a notch last week with this piece in The Washington Post. Valerie Strauss of the Post handed over column space, mostly for a story and opinion piece by students in Dana Priest’s class. Priest is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner now teaching at College Park.

Priest scrapped a planned assignment and instead had her students scrutinize Maryland Today in her class called “From Censorship to Disinformation: The Global Battle for Political Power.”

The battle over PR vs. news on campuses is nothing new. This situation is different, though, because of the perception of Maryland Today as a journalistic attempt to compete against, or even try to blot out, existing news sources.

Students, in their story and opinion piece in the Post, examined Maryland Today for how it’s presented, whether it looks at all sides of a story, its ethics and its transparency — who is writing these stories? Maryland Today also was called out for not giving recipients the ability to opt out of a mass email.

This public dissection of Maryland Today on campus is fascinating. What was missing in the Post column, though, was a response from the Office of Strategic Communications.

(After the Post column was published, Priest tweeted that the Office of Strategic Communications has agreed to talk to her students, possibly on Monday.)

Curious, I checked on Wednesday with Joel Seligman, the associate vice president for strategic communications, to ask if he wanted to respond to the Post piece, in which students urged him to “study the dangers of state-sponsored disinformation.”

Students wrote: “In a small, local way, by pretending to be journalism and using the university’s millions to compete with the scrappy Diamondback, Maryland Today further weakens the free press.”

On Friday, Seligman wrote me back with responses on several points. I am posting them here in their entirety — maybe this will help further the debate.

*****

From Joel Seligman:

Maryland Today (today.umd.edu) is part of a full portfolio of communications for stakeholders of the university. Our comms all have the same goal — to make more people aware of the ways Maryland fulfills its mission as a preeminent public research university.

For example, a few of the communications* our team also produces —

— TERP Magazine, Award-winning publication mailed three times a year to faculty, staff, alumni and parents

— Legislative Briefs, emailed monthly to elected officials

— The Shell, emailed monthly to alumni

— umd.edu, the main website for the university

— UMD Right Now, a site for the working news media (https://umdrightnow.umd.edu/ )

 

Specifically to address Maryland Today:

— The primary audience is faculty, staff and students who are on the campus every day

— We have not had any factual errors reported to us — but errors are inevitable at some point and our writers/editors will correct them in a timely and appropriate manner when they happen

— The weekday email of Maryland Today has the highest open rate of any mass emails that we send

— The feedback from recipients is overwhelmingly positive

 

Specifically re: the criticisms:

— We do not agree with the writers of the opinion piece in the Post on the definition of news. “News” is in common usage for sites such as Maryland Today, including on the UMD Merrill College of Journalism site: https://merrill.umd.edu/news/college-news/ . Many universities actually name their products with the word news: see http://news.berkeley.edu/. (Note that we do not use the word “news” on the site, but I believe we could legitimately do so.)

— My view is that the critics in the Post piece are trying to convey that Maryland Today is not “journalism,” a word we have never used. It is not journalism.

— On the matter of identifying Maryland Today as a university communication, the “University of Maryland” universal navigation bar is at the top of the site, as it is with all of our sites. The text “Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Strategic Communications for the University of Maryland community weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays” has always been at the bottom of every page of the site. (We have made the text bigger, recently). The university’s logo and our office address appear on every page of the site as is the standard for all of the web pages we maintain. 

— On the matter of using red in our design which the writers in the Post say is the same color as the Diamondback — red is the color of the university and the dominant color on all of the university’s web pages.

— On the matter of using the same font as the masthead of the Diamondback — it is not the same font. Theirs is uppercase, ours is mixed case. We do use the same alphabet.

— On the matter of unsubscribing — I agree that we want people to be able to unsubscribe and we are working on that feature, timing TBD (it is not a violation of CAN-SPAM Act for the university to email its employees and students without an unsubscribe available…however, unsubscribe is a “best practice” and I wish we had it)

— On the matter of providing some bios of our staff, we are considering how best to do that. I like the idea but want to be fair across the board with the whole team, not just those who are assigned to working on Maryland Today.

 

As a final point, Maryland Today is in its infancy — less than 2 months old. It will evolve and get better thanks to input from all quarters, something we welcome for all of our work.

 

I’m looking forward to meeting with Dana Priest’s journalism class this Monday and will share the info above with them.

 

Thanks for including my thoughts.

 

Joel

 

* This list represents a small percentage of the overall output of our department which includes student recruitment marketing, alumni and donor marketing, digital, targeted email, media relations, social media management, advertising, video production, graphic design, editorial content, photography, producing Homecoming and Maryland Day and counseling the university’s leadership on matters pertaining to communication strategy.


From EIJ — election results, SPJ/SDX board meetings, resolutions

The following are the results from this year’s SPJ national and regional elections. Results were announced at EIJ ’18 in Baltimore.

President-elect:

  • Patti Gallagher Newberry (unopposed): 791

Secretary-treasurer:

  • Matt Hall: 502
  • Nerissa Young: 347

At-large director (two years; two seats):

  • Mike Reilley: 456
  • Tess Fox: 441
  • Mercedes Vigón: 437
  • Robin Sherman: 180

At-large director (one year; two seats):

  • Yvette Walker: 728
  • Michael Savino: 645

Region 10 director:

  • Don Meyers (unopposed): 47

Region 1 coordinator:

  • Jane Primerano (unopposed): 148

Region 4 coordinator:

  • Paul Kostyu (unopposed): 58

Region 5 coordinator:

  • Amy Merrick (unopposed): 76

Region 7 coordinator:

  • Leah Wankum: 14
  • Katelyn Mary Skaggs: 8

Region 8 coordinator:

  • Kathryn Jones (unopposed): 64

Region 9 coordinator:

  • Ed Otte: 40
  • Rhett Wilkinson: 16

There were 888 votes out of a total of 6,200 possible voters, or 14.3 percent.

*****

Highlights of the SPJ national board meeting on Sept. 27:

  • Stephanie Bluestein, president of the Los Angeles Pro chapter, and Ben Meyerson, a member of the Chicago Headline Club board, expressed their objections to an EIJ sponsorship by the Charles Koch Institute.
  • The board went into executive session at 9:17 a.m. to discuss a personnel issue, potential litigation and a contract issue (EIJ sponsorship). The executive session ended at 11:02 a.m.
  • Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie said Lynn Walsh, a former SPJ president, will become a consultant for SPJ in charge of Facebook training.
  • Director of Development Larry Messing said SPJ HQ has submitted a new proposal to the Scripps Howard Foundation for a new focus for the Ted Scripps Leadership Institute. For many years, it was a program to develop SPJ leaders. McKenzie said Scripps Howard “wanted a more dynamic focus.” The new focus will be leadership for college journalists.
  • The board approved new financial requirements for chapters. Region 8 Director Eddye Gallagher voted no. President Rebecca Baker abstained. The board unanimously approved an amendment that allows chapters to choose a method of transparency in their records.
  • President-elect J. Alex Tarquinio said a task force to examine SPJ’s sponsorship policy will start on Sept. 30 and will work on having recommendations by Dec. 1.

*****

Highlights of the SDX national board meeting on Sept. 28:

  • Journalist on Call Rod Hicks said he will work on a news literacy project, to train thousands of people, through SPJ chapters. He also said he is working on a long-term project to work with one community to measure its trust in news over time. He is interested in Casper, Wyoming, which is one of the five states with the lowest trust in media, according to a Gallup survey. He is looking for about 125 people who could attend a session every one or two months.
  • The SDX board also talked about the change in focus of the Scripps Leadership Institute. McKenzie said SPJ is looking at 15 schools, and various news platforms, for the new format.
  • The SDX board voted to change its name to the Socety of Professional Journalists Foundation Board. Jane Kirtley voted no. A big consideration was whether SPJ changes its name from Society of Professional Journalists to Society for Professional Journalism. Some said it was better to stick with “SPJ,” which will be correct either way.
  • Board member Fred Brown said he has finished updating the SPJ ethics book, including a new case study on an anonymous op/ed piece in The New York Times from a supposed White House insider. Board members discussed whether to keep the new version as digital or to have a printed book, too.
  • Board member Paul Fletcher will continue working on an SPJ history book.
  • Messing said there will be a new fundraising effort that allows people to send a text message and get a link on how to donate.
  • Board member Dave Carlson objected to donations from planned giving being added to the general fund, calling it “reprehensible.” The board discussed making a change that calls for money to be placed in a designated fund, instead.
  • Board Treasurer Howard Dubin said SPJ’s headquarters needs about $36,000 in repairs, including stairs and the roof. SPJ and SDX will share the costs. The board unanimously approved spending up to $18,000.
  • The board unanimously approved David Cuillier and Frank LoMonte as new members. Also, Todd Gillman, Irwin Gratz, Evelyn Hsu, Alex Jones, Bill Ketter, Hagit Limor, Robert Leger and Sonya Ross will serve new three-year terms. Lynn Walsh withdrew from serving on the board because she will be paid as a Facebook consultant and wanted to avoid the appearance of a conflict. Al Leeds is leaving the board. The board also approved Gratz as president, Limor as vice president, Sonny Albarado as secretary and Dubin as treasurer.
  • The board went into executive session at 11:14 a.m. to discuss a legal matter and personnel. The executive session ended at 12:30 p.m. When it returned to open session, the board approved hiring a company called Labyrinth to help the SDX Foundation register as a charity in many states. The foundation recently realized it has been raising money in states despite not being registered to do so as a charity. Alex Tarquinio and Todd Gillman voted no. Dave Carlson abstained.

*****

Highlights of the SPJ national board meeting on Sept. 30:

  • The board unanimously ratified appointments to the SDX Foundation Board.
  • President J. Alex Tarquinio shared a meeting schedule for the year. Board meetings for the year will be held Dec. 1 (electronic), Feb. 2 (electronic), April 13, June 1 (electronic), Sept. 5. The Executive Committee will hold electronic meetings on Jan. 19 and June 15.
  • Tarquinio said the board will talk later about appointing two additional members, under a new structure approved last year. There will be nominations by early November.
  • Tarquinio said Eddye Gallagher will be the Nominations Committee chair for the coming year.
  • Tarquinio said she is creating three new task forces to look at a strategic plan, a sponsorship policy and a focus on partnerships.
  • The board discussed the details of what happened with the Charles Koch Institute sponsoring an FOI session at EIJ.
  • Bill McCloskey and Andy Schotz were appointed to the Finance Committee.
  • Lauren Bartlett and Michael Koretzky were appointed to the Executive Committee, along with the board’s officers.
  • The board voted to pick a regional director to fill the seat that Matt Hall vacated to become secretary-treasurer. Tarquinio abstained.
  • Alejandra Cancino, the president of the Chicago Headline Club, criticized SPJ leaders for not following SPJ’s sponsorship policy in allowing the Charles Koch Institute to plan its own sponsored session at EIJ.
  • The board went into executive session at 10:43 a.m. for an orientation session with the board’s attorneys and for a personnel discussion. The executive session ended a 12:10 p.m.

The meeting was adjourned at 12:11 p.m.

*****

At EIJ, delegates discussed the following resolutions:

  • A proposal to change SPJ’s name from Society of Professional Journalist to Society of Professional Journalism was rejected. I believe the vote was 60-19. Some who spoke against the proposal said it has been rejected multiple times before and would not accomplish anything. Former SPJ President Kevin Smith accused the sponsors of the reolution (Michael Koretzky and Mac McKerral in playing a “con game” by not acknowledging clear opposition in a past survey and from a task force. A few supporters said it reflects a change in SPJ’s culture and fits with the challenges we face.
  • A resolution to create a task force on SPJ’s sponsorship policy was approved by a voice vote. Cancino, who submitted the resolution, said she speaks for scores of SPJ members who opposed allowing the Charles Koch Institute sponsor a session this year at EIJ. The Resolutions Committee recommended rejecting the resolution since incoming SPJ President J. Alex Tarquinio already has announced that there would be a task force.
  • Delegates approved a resolution condemning the Oklahoma State University football coach for threatening to cut off access to student journalists who asked his team about the departure of one player. Someone in the public relations office then said there would be repercussions if students reported about the threat.
  • Delegates approved a resolution supporting student media, which faces hostility and/or cuts at many schools.
  • A resolution calling on TV stations to stop sending journalists out into dangerous storms and dramatizing or exaggerating actual conditions was overwhelmingly rejected by a voice vote. Some people said it was offensive to assume that dramatization occurs and added that journalists are kept safe when go out into storms.
  • A resolution was approved in support of Reality Winner, asking President Donald Trump to commute her sentence. Winner was sentenced to five years in prison for leaking a top-secret government report on Russian election hacking.
  • A resolution denouncing the imprisonment and calling for the release of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who were convicted in Myanmar of violating an Official Secrets Act, even though they were performing normal duties related to their jobs.
  • A resolution calling for an SPJ contest solely for retired journalists was rejected.
  • A resolution was passed expressing support for Fred Rogers and Public Broadcasting.
  • A resolution was passed to honor the late Richard D. Hendrickson, who died at age 77 after a lengthy career in journalism and teaching.
  • Resolutions were approved thanking outgoing SPJ President Rebecca Baker for her service and the SPJ staff for its work on EIJ 18.

Learn about this year’s SPJ candidates: Election extravaganza

SPJ’s annual election is this month. Watch for an email ballot as Excellence in Journalism ’18 opens on Sept. 27.

SPJ members will choose a president-elect, a secretary-treasurer and four at-large directors (two for two-year terms, two for one-year terms).

Members in Region 10 will choose a regional director, who will serve one year on the national board.

Members in Regions 1, 4, 5, 7, 8 and 9 will choose regional coordinators.

Below are the candidates’ answers to a questionnaire I sent them.

For more information about candidates (bios, podcast interviews), go to the Election Central page.

*****

President-elect (choose one)

• Patti Gallagher Newberry

1 – Why are you the best candidate for this position?

Acknowledging that I am the ONLY candidate for president-elect, I will bring members more than 35 years of deep engagement in and dedication to SPJ; proven leadership skill; quick follow-through; passion; and vision. During my year as president-elect and, I hope, president after that, SPJ will remain one of my highest priorities and most significant time commitments.

2 – Do you support the new smaller structure of SPJ’s board of directors? Is this a significant change? What specifically do you like or not like?

As the chair of the task force that proposed the smaller board, I strongly support the change. Key to making it work: 1) electing dedicated, visionary board leaders; 2) creating a structure and culture that facilitates responsive communication between the board and the many operating units within SPJ (headquarters, committees, communities, regions, chapters, individual members); and 3) creating a strategic plan to guide board efforts and the Society’s priorities.

3 – What is a specific change you have made or helped make within SPJ?

Most recently, I led the initiative to reduce the size of the board. In the coming year, I will lead an effort to craft a strategic plan and to review EIJ sponsorship rules. Over the years, I have organized dozens and dozens of SPJ activities — from EIJ panels to regional conferences to efforts of my own chapter at Miami University.

4 – What is a specific change you would make within SPJ if you were elected?

SPJ needs a strategic plan to guide its priorities. We need a thorough review of what we do, what we should do and what we should leave to other journalism advocacy groups. That review should be the starting point of crafting a clear, concise strategy to guide the way forward.

5 – SPJ’s membership is declining. How would you address this?

Membership should certainly be one of the cornerstones of a strategic plan. The board should work closely with the existing Membership Committee on a plan of attack. Everything should be on the table in this effort: What are the barriers to membership? Are we charging the right price? Are we providing enough member service? Are we recruiting in the right ways?

6 – What is one thing SPJ is doing well? One thing SPJ is not doing well?

SPJ has been a leading and significant voice on First Amendment issues, especially as Donald Trump and his administration have sought to vilify the press in the last two years. As part of that, SPJ has been out front on press literacy, as leaders at the national, regional and local levels have reached out to their communities to explain why a free press is critical. SPJ could, of course, do better in many areas. One would be lobbying. I would like to see SPJ more engaged in supporting pro-press legislation and fighting bad laws and bills at all levels of government.

7 – Why is SPJ important to you? What do you tell journalists who ask why they should join?

I joined SPJ in about 1980 as a college student to be in the company of other students turned on by journalism. Thirty-eight years later — after about 15 years as a journalist and now 22 years in journalism education — SPJ allows me to engage with and learn from people who do great journalism, celebrate great journalism, and work everyday to promote and protect good journalism.

8 – What is your best moment or achievement in journalism?

During my days in newsrooms, the best days were when I learned something important and was able to share that with readers. Getting on page one was pretty swell, too. During my years in the classroom, I succeed when my students succeed. Turning students on to the possibilities and power of journalism — whether teaching them how to find public documents or where to find scoops or how to get a reluctant administrator to talk — is an awesome task.

One of my prouder moments in recent years: When my son, Arthur, won the 2017 Cartoonist of the Year in the national SPJ Mark of Excellence competition. I consider myself most fortunate that two of my three (young adult) children attend Miami University, where I am area director of journalism, and both are involved in significant student media work.

*****

Secretary-treasurer (choose one)

• Matt Hall

1 – Why are you the best candidate for this position?

I live and breathe journalism. I’m a past president of the San Diego Pro SPJ chapter who has been elected to the national SPJ board three times to represent journalists in the West, and as a secretary-treasurer candidate, I am now fortunate to have endorsements from a diverse group of journalists from nearly every SPJ region. I’m a social media pioneer, I’m on Twitter all the time at @SDuncovered, and I manage a major newspaper opinion section at a time when speed and community building are a journalist’s stock-in-trade.

SPJ needs leaders who are not only plugged in but are able to do membership outreach and manage massive workloads; SPJ needs leaders who understand our divisive climate and can get the word out quickly on pressing matters. When two reporters were arrested in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, I was the first national board member to email the board to say we needed to issue a statement about that travesty. When five people were shot and killed at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, this year, I was the first board member to suggest we issue a statement of solidarity.

2 – Do you support the new smaller structure of SPJ’s board of directors? Is this a significant change? What specifically do you like or not like?

This is a significant change. I support it, and I worked with other national board members to enable a smooth and smart transition. Reducing our board from 23 members to nine members over two years will help the organization move more quickly and strategically to guide an industry in flux while allowing us to represent, advocate for and celebrate members and all journalists. Mindful of the importance of robust regional communication, I also pushed hard to ensure regional coordinators would still get stipends to defray travel and other costs and have open lines of communication with the new smaller board. That connection is and will remain crucial to SPJ’s success, so I lobbied to make it stronger via formal reporting mechanisms.

3 – What is a specific change you have made or helped make within SPJ?

Among many changes, I will list one at each level of SPJ leadership:

• One, I led an effort to build consensus around and adopt a spending policy, which the national board approved at EIJ17 in Anaheim last year on a 17-6 vote. I thought the policy — which requires prior approval to pay for any services costing $5,000 — was needed after a consulting contract was approved without the board’s knowledge. I think this shows in a concrete way that I would be both transparent and fiscally responsible as your secretary-treasurer.

• Two, I created the SPJ Region 11 social media accounts, which have become a model for other SPJ regions and have created some of the largest, most engaged communities in SPJ, especially @spjregion11 on Twitter.

• Three, I helped establish the Windows and Walls awards for the San Diego Pro SPJ chapter, which is now one of the chapter’s most successful programs, honoring and shaming the government agencies that are the best and worst at transparency each year.

4 – What is a specific change you would make within SPJ if you were elected?

I would post budgets and other documents in a fast, public way so members could readily know what the national board is discussing and doing. I would build better networks so chapters and unaffiliated members nationwide could communicate better with national leaders. I would revitalize our communities and committees and enable their leaders to brainstorm and have conversations outside their groups by connecting them via a new Slack channel or its equivalent, allowing committee and community chairs to share ideas across focus areas instead of just within them.

5 – SPJ’s membership is declining. How would you address this?

I’d start by listening to members and offering more of what they want. In the past decade, SPJ’s membership and budget have fallen precipitously, mirroring broader newsroom trends. SPJ’s membership is now down to some 6,500 members from a peak of nearly 10,000, and its annual budget is about $1.2 million, down from $1.7 million. We need to stop that membership drop, and reverse it, and we will do that by being a better resource for them.

For months, as part of my secretary-treasurer campaign, I’ve been on a listening tour, talking to SPJ leaders nationwide, picking people’s brains, asking how we can be better, stronger, more diverse. Once we understand what our members want, we will be better equipped to provide it.

6 – What is one thing SPJ is doing well? One thing SPJ is not doing well?

Our greatest strength is that SPJ’s journalism advocacy is second to none. At the local, regional and national level, we fight for journalists every day, offering them everything from moral support to legal assistance. That must continue.

But we’re not doing a great job of explaining the benefits of a national membership to our members and potential members, especially students. We need to communicate better generally, and I think the smaller board and a separate team of regional coordinators will allow us to be smarter about our priorities and quicker about communication.

7 – Why is SPJ important to you? What do you tell journalists who ask why they should join?

It sounds like hyperbole, but it’s true: SPJ is the best organization I will ever join. It has helped me build lifelong friendships nationwide, fostered a sense of community in an industry plagued by cost-cutting and offered me a chance to give back to students and pros alike to ensure journalism remains in good hands for a long time to come. Journalism needs the help now more than ever, and I’d like to see our organization become more diverse, be even stronger at advocacy and better teach media literacy to students of all ages and the public at large. If the organization can accomplish those goals while defending journalists against false claims of fake news, it will thrive — and support not just journalists but democracy.

8 – What is your best moment or achievement in journalism?

It’s hard to pick one in a long career I’ve been lucky to have, but the San Diego Pro SPJ chapter winning national chapter of the year in 2015 in my first year as chapter president was an amazing honor. It was a testament to both my leadership and teamwork building. Likewise, when my seven-member team at the Union-Tribune won five first-place awards at the San Diego chapter’s awards banquet in July, I was proud that my team was so honored. That’s what journalism is about for me: Teamwork.

Personally, I’d say my proudest achievement was being chosen as the 2017 Donald M. Murray Visiting Journalist at my alma mater, the University of New Hampshire, and spending a week talking in classes and in public sessions about journalism. I often speak at San Diego-area colleges, but it was an honor to talk to future journalists where I first dreamed of being one and to inspire students with dreams of their own to join an industry that needs innovative, ethical members more than ever.

 

• Nerissa Young

1 – Why are you the best candidate for this position?

I think it’s for members to decide who the best candidate is for this position. However, I have been active in SPJ for nearly 30 years at local, regional and national levels. I was president of campus and pro chapters when they were named chapters of the year. I am adviser to the OU chapter, which has been chapter of the year for three of the past four years. I have helped write SPJ’s two most recent books, the ethics text and the state of high school journalism book. I have served on three national committees: Project Watchdog, Ethics and Journalism Education. I have been part of panels at numerous regional and national conventions.

I look forward to using my energy and experience in a new way to serve the society by working with the national board. I am running for office, not against anyone or anything SPJ is doing. I can work well with others and look forward to adding my voice to those of the talented and capable people already on the board and who will be elected at EIJ.

2 – Do you support the new smaller structure of SPJ’s board of directors? Is this a significant change? What specifically do you like or not like?

While I favored a smaller board, I initially did not like the governance model proposed because I was concerned about a lack of student representation on the board. I had many spirited discussions with Patti Newberry and ultimately voted in support. Yes, this is a significant change but one that I hope will make the board more nimble and able to act faster. It’s difficult to convene two dozen people by phone or in person and have a quorum to conduct business. If a quorum isn’t available, no business can be conducted. That doesn’t serve the organization or its members. I look forward to having a role in shaping how the new governance model will be implemented.

3 – What is a specific change you have made or helped make within SPJ?

I served on the national ethics committee when the code was updated in 1996. I also served on the governance change focus group.

4 – What is a specific change you would make within SPJ if you were elected?

Journalism as an industry needs to acknowledge its effect on journalists and the communities they serve with regard to trauma. The explicit details released about the suicide deaths of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade this summer were horrific. No one is served by those graphic details, and research shows that suicide contagion is real and accounts for a small increase in suicides right after such reporting. It happened after Robin Williams’ death. One reason the public likes to hate journalists is they think we are unfeeling automatons out to get clicks.

Journalists are leaving the profession because they are not getting the support they need when they cover traumatic events. Media owners need to start respecting journalists who stand up to the “we’ve got it, we may as well use it” mentality, reducing the amount of gratuitous graphic content and providing support to journalists who are recovering from their own trauma. It needs to be a concerted effort to rebuild credibility. SPJ can provide a national platform from which to speak and opportunities to educate journalists about trauma through professional development.

5 – SPJ’s membership is declining. How would you address this?

Jobs in traditional journalism are declining. Budgets continue to tighten, and there is little support from employers for dues and time to attend SPJ functions. As I told John Ensslin in the candidate podcast interview, that is the $64,000 question. I don’t have the magic bullet answer.

The initiatives for Next Gen-Journalism and freelancing are positive ways to reach those who are working in nontraditional media organizations via entrepreneurship and show we care about what they are doing and are here to support them. Membership is important, but serving well the members we have is important, too. We have to look at strategic partnerships with other like-minded organizations to reach strength in numbers that media owners and legislators will respect and listen to.

6 – What is one thing SPJ is doing well? One thing SPJ is not doing well?

One thing SPJ is doing well is reaching out to like-minded organizations and forming coalitions to present EIJ, which enriches the members of all participating organizations, and joining in the letter to the Obama administration asking for better cooperation with public information officers. It shows that SPJ is not the lone voice crying in the wilderness but representing concerns of a much larger constituency.

Overall, SPJ is doing most things well. We’ve seen nearly a complete staff turnover, and the new staff seems to be doing well. Quill is one of SPJ’s signature products, and it’s been a little lost the past few years in terms of content. We’ve had two editor changes in two years’ time. The executive board needs to determine what Quill’s role should be — a trade magazine, a journal or whatever — and work with the editor to be sure that role is executed well.

7 – Why is SPJ important to you? What do you tell journalists who ask why they should join?

I value my SPJ membership for two reasons: It links me to like-minded people who care about journalism and its role in democracy, and the professional development programs have always kept me ahead of the curve on what’s happening in the business. SPJ is like journalism church. I always leave regional and national conferences energized and optimistic about what we do and why we do it.

8 – What is your best moment or achievement in journalism?

I knew a local school board was conducting the public’s business behind closed doors because members always gathered in the superintendent’s office behind a closed door before each meeting. I decided one Friday afternoon to speed dial each one and ask them about the content of those discussions before they had a chance to talk among themselves and come up with the same story. Every member admitted they were talking about business on the agenda. After the story ran, I was invited to gather with them to visit, and the superintendent’s office door stayed open.

*****

At-large director, two-year term (choose two)

• Tess Fox

1 – Why are you the best candidate for this position?

I am the best candidate for this position because I am a young person with tangible experience working with and recruiting students, young millennials and recent graduates, and building a student chapter. If SPJ is going to be sustainable in the long term, we need to better communicate to students and recent graduates the importance of an SPJ membership. I am the best candidate for this position because I want to ensure SPJ has a robust future, especially during such a tumultuous time for journalism and the First Amendment.

2 – Do you support the new smaller structure of SPJ’s board of directors? Is this a significant change? What specifically do you like or not like?

I support the smaller structure of SPJ’s board of directors. A smaller board can reach a consensus faster, and fewer people attending bi-yearly meetings translates into savings for SPJ.

3 – What is a specific change you have made or helped make within SPJ?

I helped keep the University of Idaho SPJ chapter active. At the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, the chapter was on its last leg. I led the rebuilding of the chapter as the president. I helped plan, organize and execute several events throughout the school year. We met all the requirements of a student chapter and were nominated for outstanding campus chapter and program of the year for Region 10.

4 – What is a specific change you would make within SPJ if you were elected?

I would use my experience, the experiences of my peers and the J-Ed committee to put together a master guide for starting and maintaining a student chapter. The logistics of a student chapter vary greatly from a professional chapter, and I think there is need for such a resource.

Since the candidate bios were released via email, I have already had members reach out, asking for advice to grow their chapter. I was lucky to have two excellent, knowledgeable advisers who knew how to run a chapter. That might not be the case for everyone, and especially during a time when SPJ’s membership is declining, we can’t afford to lose members because they need help and can’t find what they need.

This resource would also fit into my larger goal of recruiting more young people into SPJ.

5 – SPJ’s membership is declining. How would you address this?

Create a plan to recruit more students and recent graduates.

I would address this by working with the Generation J and membership committees create a plan for encouraging young professionals to join SPJ. These committees know what has worked and what hasn’t. Through their experience and mine, we can formulate the best plan of action. There may also be value in talking to college students and recent graduates to find out what they need to be successful on their career path in journalism. This would give us an idea of how to market to recent graduates and find areas SPJ may be lacking.

In my experience, there are many journalists in college or graduates that just don’t know what SPJ is all about. Easing that knowledge gap closed could be helped by encouraging the creation of more student chapters. Student chapters are a great way to demonstrate SPJ’s value to the next generation of journalists.

There are entire states with no student chapters, even though there are university journalism programs, like my current state of Oregon. Hawaii, Montana, Alaska and Wyoming don’t have student chapters either. Some states only have one, despite having a number of student and recent graduates that could use guidance. Encouraging awareness through the creation of student chapters can help grow SPJ’s membership.

6 – What is one thing SPJ is doing well? One thing SPJ is not doing well?

SPJ has a strong social media presence. There are always interesting articles being tweeted from the account, things that sometimes don’t cross my Twitter feed. I love knowing that if I need to find some industry-related news or a recent think-piece about media, it was probably tweeted out by SPJ and I can find it easily.

SPJ is not reaching young people very well. When I was recruiting for the UI chapter, many students had no knowledge of SPJ. Once I explained all the benefits to them, they were on board. This goes back to the importance of exposing younger journalists to SPJ. If we can show up-and-coming journalists and communications professionals how SPJ can make their career and lives better, we can expand our membership.

7 – Why is SPJ important to you? What do you tell journalists who ask why they should join?

SPJ is important to me because it has given me a chance to be a leader in my field already. I’m only 22 and have gained so many valuable skills being involved in SPJ for a year. Being involved in SPJ means meeting people outside of my area, making valuable connections and earning valuable leadership and managerial experience before entering a management position at work.

There are plenty of good reasons to join, like discounts, networking and opportunities to hone your skills. The best reason to join though is to be part of something more than a job. SPJ’s protection of the First Amendment will affect generations to come, and being part of that is why I’m a member of SPJ, and why other journalists should be members too.

8 – What is your best moment or achievement in journalism?

During my last year of school, I worked on a story about a rental company in Moscow, Idaho, that disappeared and how the housing regulations in Idaho allow for this kind of thing to happen. I worked on the story for six months, conducted about 30 interviews and wrote over 2,000 words. I’m so proud of how this story turned out. Many students, a population already strapped for cash, lost hundreds of dollars when this company disappeared with everyone’s money. Writing about something that deeply affected people and being about to provide them answers to their questions was such a wonderful experience. I’m sad to have left Moscow because I could probably write 10 more stories on this subject.

You can read that story here: https://www.blotmagazine.com/2018/03/07/everyone-has-to-live-somewhere-the-sudden-closure-of-whitepine-property-management-highlights-larger-issues-for-ui-students/

• Mike Reilley

1 – Why are you the best candidate for this position?

Previous board experience, deep understanding of SPJ, held many SPJ positions in the past. Strong digital and teaching background, which the board needs. And I’m kinda funny.

2 – Do you support the new smaller structure of SPJ’s board of directors? Is this a significant change? What specifically do you like or not like?

Yes, very much so. The board was too bloated when I served in 2014-15. Too many voices were being drowned out by a few. This board is more nimble and can get more done.

3 – What is a specific change you have made or helped make within SPJ?

JournalistsToolbox.org, training more than 4,000 journalists in the SPJ Google tools training program (effecting changes in newsrooms and giving SPJ a stronger digital presence). Founded a student chapter (SPJ/ONA DePaul) that ranged between 58 and 70 members a year.

4 – What is a specific change you would make within SPJ if you were elected?

Develop a strategic plant with President-Elect Patti Gallagher Newberry. Expand an investigative journalism fellowship I developed with Rob McLean for Region 7 during my time on the board previously. I would like to see this become a national program, where we offer six fellowships around the country, with a minimum of three going to minority journalists. Fellows are aligned with investigative teams on a project of their choosing, trained by me to use digital tools (scraping, spreadsheets, data viz tools) to develop the stories. We then have them present at a Regional conference or the national conference. How to fund it? I would seek outside partnerships/funding from a foundation other than SDX. We need more outreach/creativity in funding projects.

5 – SPJ’s membership is declining. How would you address this?

  1. Research: Survey members who leave. Why? Specifically target the thousands of student members who no longer belong after they graduate. How do we retain them in their first five years on the job. Find out why, then address the issues based on the research and take action.
  2. More value-added membership offerings: More webinars, put JournalistsToolbox.org behind a membership paywall, etc.

6 – What is one thing SPJ is doing well? One thing SPJ is not doing well?

Not well: SPJ is losing money, membership and partnerships. Leadership must turn the tide.

Well: Code of ethics and support of the First Amendment. I’d argue that the SPJ Google training program is one of the best things SPJ has done in the past 10 years. The outreach, impact and results have been astounding.

7 – Why is SPJ important to you? What do you tell journalists who ask why they should join?

I tell them for the price of skipping Starbucks twice a month they can join a fantastic organization that supports the First Amendment. You’ll make lasting friendships and contacts. You’ll make a difference and maybe even have a little fun along the way.

8 – What is your best moment or achievement in journalism?

Moments — teaching digital journalism to students full-time for 16 years at Northwestern, Arizona State University, DePaul and University of Illinois-Chicago.

 

• Robin Sherman

1 – Why are you the best candidate for this position?

Best? I’d say I am a good candidate for a board at-large position for several reasons based on a broad background and having the primary traits necessary for a solid, working board member:

1) Journalism association experience: I would bring to the board ideas based on 20 years of experience working on policy and hands-on management of numerous responsibilities for a sister professional journalism association, the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE), the only journalism association devoted exclusively to the business-to-business (B2B) journalism market. The society is now managed by The Poynter Institute.

ASBPE has more than 1,000 members and numerous chapters. I have been its executive director; associate executive director; board member; chair of its ethics, research, and conference/program committees; writer, editor and designer of its member newsletter; and a member of its membership and other committees.

Bottom line: I have a good understanding of how journalism associations can operate and can bring that experience and perhaps new ideas from a related journalism society to SPJ.

2) Business-to-business and consumer journalism background:

As a former corporate editorial director/associate editorial director for a large B2B journalism publishing company for 11 years, I have a strong B2B journalism background. I helped 100 editors and artists working on 30+ publications improve their content and presentation using service/solutions journalism to meet our primary mission. I developed and managed a multi-million-dollar editorial budget. And, I’ve been an associate publisher, editor-in-chief, and designer of business magazines.

On the consumer side, I’ve worked on weeklies and dailies, e.g. The Atlanta Constitution, as a reporter, news editor, copy editor and layout editor.

Bottom line: I am a well-rounded journalist who knows content development, editing and presentation (design) as well as business and consumer journalism, especially service and solutions journalism. I am sensitive to both the business side of publishing and the journalism side, as well as the need for all stakeholders to work collaboratively and ethically.

3) I see the big picture and the importance of detail. My strongest interests are examples of this concept:

  1. promoting ethics and quality journalism and news literacy for the public
  2. directing original, useful journalism research
  3. developing useful, step-by-step, actionable content
  4. improving content presentation and design to make information accessible and understandable.

The original research I’ve conducted is one specific example. Research requires broad thinking in topic development (thesis) and detailed implementation.

I’ve researched markets to launch new publications by conducting competitive content analyses and readership studies (readership traits, needs, and desires; market structure; types of advertisers) and focus groups.

As chair of ASBPE’s research committee, we partnered with the Medill School of Journalism to study the lack of publisher leadership on journalism continuing training, especially digital skills.

I also led a study on the influences of advertisers on journalists and how to use editorial advisory boards to advantage (and later wrote a book chapter about this).

In college, I studied the professionalism of daily reporters in the state of Georgia.

Bottom line: I am a proponent of original research on issues that can make a difference for decision-makers, including board members. Show the data. Research is just one example of seeing a bigger picture and knowing the basic details for solid methodology.

4) I am a worker. A solid board of directors understands the larger perspective and sets policy, but its members must also be hands-on implementers, regardless of the number of paid employees.

I am a part-time freelancer editor and designer who by fortunate choice is winding down the amount of paid work to focus more time on volunteer work, such as the SPJ at-large board position, should I win the position.

My fervent wish is to give back to journalism what I’ve learned, defend and improve our profession, and help my colleagues do their work more effectively.

Bottom line: All this taken as a whole makes me a solid candidate who is willing to work hands-on and not be encumbered by time constraints that full-time journalist candidates are likely to have.

2 – Do you support the new smaller structure of SPJ’s board of directors? Is this a significant change? What specifically do you like or not like?

In my long experience working with boards, I find small ones work better than large ones. Communication, decision-making and implementation is more efficient. A dozen or so is often a good number for board size, provided all members give of themselves more or less equally.

In an ideal world, all or most of the stakeholders would be represented. In the case of SPJ, a large organization with members working in a variety of news and journalism management roles across multiple platforms, the work of the board would be unwieldy if too large.

Structures can be in place to represent the needs of important niche groups within the organization. We know sometimes they are called committees, or communities, or chapters, or regions, or even special interest groups who can report to the board as part of the decision-making process.

3 – What is a specific change you have made or helped make within SPJ?

I’ve only been a member for one year, and the work I do is with the Georgia chapter as a manager of its LinkedIn discussion group. I’ve not been in a direct position to help implement change, although I recognize the need for all chapters to grow and seek substantive member benefits that only chapters can provide or do more effectively than SPJ national.

Growing our LinkedIn discussion group was one thing I’ve tried to do, but it is difficult. One also needs a strong chapter membership campaign to coordinate with it. A discussion forum is one of the few useful tools a chapter has that national SPJ apparently doesn’t have. Some members might want a place to discuss issues amongst themselves, get quick advice, and network on a more local level.

4 – What is a specific change you would make within SPJ if you were elected?

Beyond an aggressive movement to get news organizations 1) to audit themselves for ethics and quality journalism and 2) to prepare presentations that journalists can use to speak to local civic organizations about trust-building/ethics, press freedom, and how and why journalism does what it does, I’d like 3) to help improve Quill magazine and 4) be a research committee person to examine journalism issues.

Re: Quill. I understand from recent SDX discussions some of what I say below may already be in place.

I have directed, developed or improved the content and design of more than 40 publications and have been a conference speaker and workshop leader on this topic. It starts with understanding the readers/members and providing information they can use.

But how?

If I started from scratch, here’s what I’d do:

1) The magazine needs an editorial advisory board whose function go beyond providing general editorial direction. [I understand there is a publication committee.] I have identified some 20 or so things a board can do. I did original research about how publications use such boards to advantage and published a chapter in a book entitled “Best Practices of the Business Press.” I’d love to serve on such a board.

2) Research.

  1. Conduct an in-depth focus group of readers (I’ve moderated a couple)
  2. Do a comprehensive quantitative readership study that asks the correct questions about members’/readers’ need and desires. [I believe some of this has been done recently.]

3) Attend a workshop geared to developing

  1. a clear mission
  2. an overall understandable (at a glance) content structure that reflects the mission
  3. content and presentation components that make the information useful and accessible.

In board meeting minutes, I’ve read a semblance of a  new editorial mission for Quill, but as a Member of SPJ and a reader, the mission of the publication and why and how it is useful to me is not readily apparent. Nor how its content fits holistically with content on other platforms.

This should be apparent to the reader almost immediately when looking at the cover and/or contents pages. It needs to help readers get to its substantive content quickly and quickly tell readers why the content is useful and how it can be used by the reader. It’s about the reader experience.

As a former publication/editorial consultant, I have conducted such workshops. If I were on the SPJ board, I’d lead the workshop for free, thus avoiding a conflict of interest.

5 – SPJ’s membership is declining. How would you address this?

Here are possible ways:

1) The most critical need is to understand why people join SPJ now and why they would in the future. Here are some of the questions to have answers for:

  • What’s in it for the member?
  • How does SPJ help members become better journalists and even get promoted?
  • In what specific ways is SPJ useful to members? “If it is not useful, it is useless,” University of Missouri journalism professor emeritus Don Ranly used to say.
  • Can these actionable benefits to member be developed at a reasonable cost to the member?
  • What is the members’ return on investment?

The answers can come from research both quantitative and qualitative, e.g. properly conducted surveys and focus groups.

2) Association can choose from more than one revenue model. In the business-to-business world of journalism, the most prevalent model is still the free subscription, provided the reader works in the market that the publication is in. There is the paid-only subscriber model. And a combination of the two.

If membership is declining to significant levels, the free membership model might be economically feasible, if the association can find more advertisers/sponsors who want their message seen by the largest population of journalists possible. Food for thought.

3) Build the chapters in major cities or regions within a state. If all news is truly local, then logic might indicate that membership is local as well. But don’t expect members to drive 25 miles in rush hour to attend a monthly meeting. Perhaps substantive virtual meetings will make it easier for someone to take time away from work but spend less time and money traveling. Moreover, chapter benefits must be different from national benefits. And, they must be truly useful benefits.

4) Create a young leaders’ scholarship (say 29 years old or younger), give them one free 1-year membership to their local chapter (or even national) and free attendance at certain chapter meetings in return for, say, writing an article or two for the society or chapter or working on a local project. Young leaders would be nominated by their supervisors based on certain criteria. I’ve seen this concept bring in new members and leadership for ASBPE.

6 – What is one thing SPJ is doing well? One thing SPJ is not doing well?

SPJ’s work with ethics and the First Amendment is excellent. I say that because I have served as chair of the American Society of Business Publication Editors ethics committee, and I wrote the initial draft of its ethics guide for the which I felt was the strongest, most comprehensive code at the time. But the SPJ work is awesome. I associate SPJ’s ethics and First Amendment work with improving journalism quality.

The missing piece, to me, is an aggressive movement to get news organizations to do both internal (or perhaps via third-party, if nothing else works) audits of their own ethics and journalism quality. Then quickly improve their procedures and transparency.

Some good work on this has been done by at least three or four other journalism-related organizations. But I am not aware of news organizations taking the critical step to actually show they are improving. SPJ ought to work closely with these other organizations to develop better internal auditing tools and incentivize their use.

Only then can news organizations take the second step, which is to teach the public about what journalism is, how it does journalism, and why it does it the way it does it. It’s more difficult to sufficiently discuss news literacy with the public if one’s own house is not fully in order.

For example, how many news organizations publish their code of ethics on their website or even say they have adopted the SPJ code and provide a link to it? How many ask the public to hold them accountable? How many teach the public how to do a content analysis of their reporting and measure the quality of their journalism?

I would challenge SPJ to work harder with other journalism organizations to get new organizations to better police themselves and be transparent with the public about their ethical and reporting procedures. When I was a corporate editorial director, I created an internal journalism excellence program based on content analyses and service journalism. The Trust Project and The Trusting News Project can’t do it alone. To me, this is an urgent need.

7 – Why is SPJ important to you? What do you tell journalists who ask why they should join?

Journalism is in crisis because of the lack of public trust. I want to collaborate with SPJ colleagues to be part of the solution to help build trust and high-quality journalism and to teach news literacy to the public. Our Constitutional foundation is in danger otherwise. As an association with a high public profile, SPJ is the perfect place to help coordinate this effort.

I’d tell prospective members that SPJ is trying to do substantive work within the political and social environment today. Be involved. As a long-standing societal institution, the press needs your help. Plus, you will hone your skills via SPJ and become a better journalist and manager. You’ll have more personal fulfillment.

8 – What is your best moment or achievement in journalism?

Three quickly stand out.

1) Based on my reporting, the Georgia State Judicial Qualifications Commission essentially removed a sitting Superior Court judge because the judge asked the official court recorder to erase recordings of court proceedings/testimony.

2) Wrote the initial draft of the national ethics code and best practices for the American Society of Business Publication Editors.

3) In partnership with the Medill School of Journalism while I was research chair for ASBPE, I directed original research about the lack of digital journalism skills training by B2B publishers.

For more detail about my backgroundplease see my LinkedIn profile at: www.linkedin.com/in/robinshermaneditdesign

• Mercedes Vigón

1 – Why are you the best candidate for this position?

I have hands on experience serving in several national and international boards of professional journalism associations, such as the International Press Institute, the Caribbean Media Institute, and the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting. And, since the 2000 convention, I have also worked with the NAHJ unofficially, first as a News Director, but mostly in a capacity of academic advisor. My mission has been reaching out to my former colleagues, specially in the Spanish-Language and Hispanic News Media, and working with them to strengthen professional practices.

Some accomplishment would be securing and managing grants proposals, such as one from the SSRC for “Covering the Islam,” and promoting alliances for promoting better climate change data, or for project oriented trainings  (mostly, in investigative journalism) in the Caribbean and Latin American.

2 – Do you support the new smaller structure of SPJ’s board of directors? Is this a significant change? What specifically do you like or not like?

My experience with boards let me to conclude that inclusive smaller structures are more effective, as communication tend to be easier, and board members have more clarity in their mandates. Now, transparency and communication between the board members, and the rest of the association needs to be worked out very carefully. And this is quite complicate to implement. In other words, this structures only depend on trust to succeed.

3 – What is a specific change you have made or helped make within SPJ?

I have not contributed directly to make any substantial change in the SPJ organization. I have collaborated with the SPJ student chapter, as academic adviser of the FIU student organization, NAHJ.

4 – What is a specific change you would make within SPJ if you were elected?

Now, why would I offer to serve?  I have always worked as a bridge of understanding… I have been a young journalist struggling to find a place, and mid-career professional trying to advance in the field. I have had the luxury of time to reflect about the times, and to develop new training guidelines. Finding the balance between technology and fact based journalism has always been a problem. But now, the political situation and the financial tensions, have given journalists an opportunity to recalibrate and re-emphasize the importance of our roles in society. And we cannot do this alone: one story at a time. We are perceived as a body; and sometimes we need to react as such

For me is important to serve, because this is what I do. I am not a full time journalist anymore. I prepare journalists and support them during their careers. If elected to the board. I will continue doing what I do: advocating, training, generating grant proposals. But with a more ambitious goal on mind.

5 – SPJ’s membership is declining. How would you address this?

6 – What is one thing SPJ is doing well? One thing SPJ is not doing well?

7 – Why is SPJ important to you? What do you tell journalists who ask why they should join?

5, 6 & 7 — GLOBALIZATION … Reaching out requires winning the trust of  a more diverse sets of groups. I am comfortable in the NAHJ, everybody knows me, I feel at home… But it is only a small grain of sand in the big mountain. We need more alliances and collaborations. Every association should be working with each other, not competing. And this can be done, the times require that we figure out how to create an inclusive network… where everybody is invited, and journalists react as one when needed.

8 – What is your best moment or achievement in journalism?

In 2013, I  directed, produced and wrote with my students, “Islam in Buenaventura” — a documentary about an Afro-Colombian Muslim community in Buenaventura and Cali, Colombia. “Islam in Buenaventura” has been screened all over the U.S., and in three international film festivals: the Short film Festival “Somos Afro,” the Human Rights in Barcelona, and the third one in Indonesia, where it won the Award of Merit for International Short Film.

*****

At-large director, one-year term (choose two)

• Michael Savino

1 – Why are you the best candidate for this position?

As immediate past president for Connecticut SPJ, I already have experience supporting my state’s journalists in a variety of ways. I have come to the defense of reporters when they need it — including multiple times approaching legislative leaders and their staffs when ranking members are harassing reporters. I have also led our efforts on advocating for FOI access and have organized several professional development panels, networking activities, and other events.

2 – Do you support the new smaller structure of SPJ’s board of directors? Is this a significant change? What specifically do you like or not like?

I support a streamlined version that allows our organization to be more responsive. So, yes, that is significant. Last year, I proposed a motion that would have added two more seats to the board as a way to address concerns about diversity. The motion failed, but I think the new board can still be representative so long as the organization and its members remained committed to supporting a diverse group of leaders.

3 – What is a specific change you have made or helped make within SPJ?

I have not yet had the opportunity to make any changes within SPJ, but I’m looking forward to the chance.

4 – What is a specific change you would make within SPJ if you were elected?

If elected, I want to help SPJ take a lead in making journalism more responsive to the mental health needs of its employees. We should follow the model we have set with ethics, including creating a list of best practices. I don’t think we need a committee on this, but identifying best practices and establishing a partnership with an organization for a hotline could be major benefits for members.

5 – SPJ’s membership is declining. How would you address this?

Obviously some of this is due to the reduction in working journalists, but SPJ can’t just sit by an accept that as an excuse. The SPJ Supporter program is a great way to get people from outside the industry to bolster our revenue, and we can do more to promote that.

We also need to continue to promote the benefits members can get, aside from knowing they support our mission. I feel I became a better leader because I attended a Scripps Leadership Institute, and I recommend it to everyone I can.

SPJ’s membership also brings discounts. Perhaps we can expand that. We can also look for more opportunities to offer sales on membership fees. That is one of the biggest obstacles I run into. But I’m confident that once we get people to sign up, we can show members the value.

6 – What is one thing SPJ is doing well? One thing SPJ is not doing well?

SPJ continues to take the lead in creating tools to help journalists do their jobs. The Whistleblower Project and partnership with Facebook and its training program are just two recent examples of our organization constantly looking for new professional development opportunities.

One concern I have with SPJ is its partnership with certain groups and people that actively try to undermine our work. This includes a sponsorship from the Charles Koch Institute, for example, despite his Koch Industries tactics against reporters who try to unveil some of his organization’s activities. Sinclair is also a sponsor of this year’s event, even though the television network directed its local anchors to read a script that pushes the “fake news” narrative that undermines our work. SPJ can and should continue to support the journalists who work for these organizations while avoiding such relationships with the larger organizations.

7 – Why is SPJ important to you? What do you tell journalists who ask why they should join?

First and foremost is the ways SPJ defends us. The national organization promotes legislation and creates partnerships that help journalists at all levels. It also has a legal defense fund to help journalists who run into First Amendment issues. In Connecticut, we also push for legislation and provide several programs. Those things require money. Beyond that, they also get access to plenty of benefits through the national organization, and discounts to CT events whenever we have to charge.

It also comes with access to Quill and other resources that include the latest industry trends and tips.

8 – What is your best moment or achievement in journalism?

I have two. As a journalist. I am proud to be elected as president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, which happened in June. My colleagues on the board have long cheered my in my work for public disclosure (they also gave me their top award for journalists in 2016), and now want me to lead the charge in lobbying for changes.

As a member of CT SPJ, I’m most proud of the time I came to the aid of a reporter when a state lawmaker (in the majority caucus) threw a plush toy at her in the state House chamber. At the time, I also covered the capitol, and I immediately ran down to the House to address this. I talked with members of his staff to demand immediate action.

The next day, after an unrelated press conference, the House speaker himself pulled me and the reporter into his office to apologize and explain that the lawmaker would be disciplined. The lawmaker was stripped of his deputy speaker title. The reporter expressed gratification because she runs her own website and doesn’t have an organization to come to her aid.

 

• Yvette Walker

1 – Why are you the best candidate for this position?

I am the best candidate for an at-large director because I know the news industry and have witnessed transformative times. I have worked with print, online and broadcast news in my career, and now work in educating the next generations of journalists. I have specialized in teaching news ethics and was the Ethics Chair at the University of Central Oklahoma. Now I am Dean of Students at Gaylord College at the University of Oklahoma.

I understand the difficulty of reporting in small communities as well as large; I have covered crime and features; and I have managed daily news operations. I have covered media issues as editor of the Journal of the National Association of Black Journalists.  And as a black woman who has worked in white newsrooms, I understand why diversity is important. As Lanier Frush Holt wrote in Quill about stereotypical depictions, “… While there are more diverse faces in front of the camera, the people who ultimately decide what becomes news — directors and managing editors — largely remain male and white.” I agree. It is important to diversify upper management, as well as boards, in media.

2 – Do you support the new smaller structure of SPJ’s board of directors? Is this a significant change? What specifically do you like or not like?

A smaller board is more efficient and can be more nimble than a large board. We work in a fast-paced environment and sometimes need to turn on a dime. However, it is a significant change, so let me speak to what I think I can bring  to this new board.

One of the biggest changes concerns geographic representation, and so, being centered in, and having lived in the Heartland of the country (10 years in Missouri and 12 years in Oklahoma), as well as living in Texas, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois during my career, I believe I can represent and understand the concerns of a large area of the country. Also, I can provide diversity in race and gender to the board, which was another major concern with the new, smaller structure. Finally, as a dean of students at the University of Oklahoma, I can help represent the student sector, which was another concern about the smaller structure.

3 – What is a specific change you have made or helped make within SPJ?

During my career in newsrooms across the country, I have been doing what SPJ advocates: ethically publishing important, diverse issues in my communities. I have encouraged young journalists to become members and get involved. I see the importance of SPJ, and I want to help others who have not joined to see its importance, too. When SPJ board members reached out to me about the next executive director, I was able to talk about the skill set needed and the importance of diversity. This is an opportunity to bring new ideas and new people to a new board.

4 – What is a specific change you would make within SPJ if you were elected?

I would work with the board to do the one thing that might be holding back potential members, both minority and non-minority and that is to tell SPJ’s story. What makes SPJ important and different than other media organizations? Between SPJ and all those organizations, there is a lot of noise out there. What is SPJ’s role to the average journalist? SPJ is historic, important and has inspired generations of journalists. But is it energizing and identifying with today’s journalist? I would like to help SPJ make that connection.

5 – SPJ’s membership is declining. How would you address this?

I would represent declining membership by reaching out to people like me — those who love this industry, but perhaps have not been active — by convincing them their time is now to help be a part of the conversation. I would reach out to the large freelance writing community, many of whom are post-news career, but still very much engaged.

Also, we have to look beyond our borders and consider opening more international chapters. Global membership is a mostly untapped area with whom we can connect. Finally, our student chapters in many ways have some of our most passionate members. We need to raise them up to be future SPJ leaders.

6 – What is one thing SPJ is doing well? One thing SPJ is not doing well?

The focus on news ethics in practice and theory is what SPJ is known for and does particularly well. Adding media literacy and ethical messaging to this conversation would build on this important strength. Also, the Journalist On Call initiative will help fill the gaps between how media operate and what news consumers understand. As a former ombudsman at the Kansas City Star, I know the importance of speaking directly to our communities. The On Call program certainly can help build trust between communities and journalists.

However, SPJ is not great at telling people what SPJ is. Besides advocating ethics, is SPJ an advocacy organization? Is it a professional development organization? Is it akin to the Poynter Institute? Is it all of the above? I’m not sure SPJ is rising above the noise of other organizations. Do people understand the connection of SPJ to Quill magazine, which does report news, but also expresses advocacy ideas? SPJ must tell people what it is and why it is important.

7 – Why is SPJ important to you? What do you tell journalists who ask why they should join?

I tell journalists they should join because they need a solid foundation to help them make decisions and to fight against those who think we are the enemy. SPJ membership — along with friendship and collegial experiences — can provide that. SPJ has one of the oldest code of ethics in media and is a lighthouse to many (particularly young) journalists needing help making decisions in covering news. Providing this guidance is not the only reason SPJ is important, but it might be the one that has stuck with me the longest.

8 – What is your best moment or achievement in journalism?

I’m not the one looking to stand in the spotlight. I’m a coach, a mentor, an editor. I find the most rewarding moments are when I help make stories sing, or help a reporter or student find their way through a complicated issue. As a young reporter, my best moments were connecting with sources, gaining their trust and getting the story for my readers.

*****

Region 10 director (choose one)

• Donald W. Meyers

1 – Why are you the best candidate for this position?

I have previously served as a regional director, and I know the challenges that face a large, sparsely populated region. Since February, I have been working with national and the chapters in the region to address financial issues and improve transparency. I would like to be able to continue that effort, as well as reactivate some of the SPJ chapters that have gone dormant.

2 – Do you support the new smaller structure of SPJ’s board of directors? Is this a significant change? What specifically do you like or not like?

The smaller structure allows the national board to be more nimble in its response to national matters, while allowing the regional directors/coordinators to concentrate on the issues going on at their level. My only concern would be ensuring that the coordinators be able to act as liaisons between the board and the chapters.

3 – What is a specific change you have made or helped make within SPJ?

There are two. First, I helped create SPJ’s national Black Hole Award. Working with then-FOI chair Dave Cuillier and President Hagit Limor, I wrote the rules that set the criteria for awarding the Black Hole, as well as outlining its purpose.

The other is getting the national board to give national committee chairs a comped registration for the national convention. These are men and women who do a lot of the heavy lifting for SPJ, and they do it without a stipend from national. I felt that a comped registration would be a way to show gratitude for their service and ease some of the burden they shoulder.

4 – What is a specific change you would make within SPJ if you were elected?

If I am re-elected, I would continue the efforts to make the organization more transparent, particularly when it comes to finances. I would also work on maintaining chapter health and promoting our advocacy work.

5 – SPJ’s membership is declining. How would you address this?

We need to remind people about what SPJ does for them. We need to be more in the forefront of free-press issues. We also need to show how SPJ is helping the journalist on the ground, particularly through the Legal Defense Fund.

6 – What is one thing SPJ is doing well? One thing SPJ is not doing well?

I think our advocacy for free press and open government are great. Nationally and through our chapters, we are among the strongest First Amendment advocates in the nation. I think we need to do a better job of getting that message out and showing journalists at smaller organizations that SPJ can help them as well. And to do that, we need to make sure our chapters are as strong as they can be.

7 – Why is SPJ important to you? What do you tell journalists who ask why they should join?

SPJ is a great source for professional development and advocacy for journalists. I have gotten far more out of SPJ than I have put in. I tell people about our Legal Defense Fund and our advocacy, and how SPJ has led the charge to improve our open records and meetings laws, as well as our commitment to ethical journalism.

8 – What is your best moment or achievement in journalism?

Winning an FOI court battle, with SPJ’s help, that not only got me the records I was seeking, but forced other organizations in the state of Utah to change their rules on releasing the names of finalists for administrative posts. I had one journalist, who learned about my role in that case, thank me for taking the stand (that some critics called a Pyrrhic victory because I got my records so far after the fact that they were more  historical) because she had other agencies quickly hand over similar documents because they didn’t want to go through what the city I sued with SPJ’s help went through.

I would also say that seeing the Utah State Legislature, under pressure from SPJ after receiving its national Black Hole award and the public anger directed at lawmakers because of that, reverse a law that gutted the state’s public records act. In addition to writing the guidelines for the Black Hole award, I also nominated the Utah Legislature for the award.

*****

Region 1 coordinator (choose one)

• Jane Primerano

1 – Why are you the best candidate for this position?

I have served as RD since I was appointed interim when Rebecca Baker was elected secretary-treasurer in 2015. Since then, I have run three successful conferences and assisted my professional and student chapters with some excellent programs. I have a couple of goals still to achieve. We are closer to a revived Philadelphia chapter than we were, but I really want to remain as RD/RC until it is a reality.

2 – Do you support the new smaller structure of SPJ’s board of directors? Is this a significant change? What specifically do you like or not like?

I support the new board structure. I was among the RDs who wanted reassurance we would continue to have our caucus (and a travel stipend to meet once a year in person) because each region functions better when we discuss the matters that concern all of us. I believe a streamlined board will function more efficiently. I hope the new structure brings in new ideas and accomplishments.

3 – What is a specific change you have made or helped make within SPJ?

I helped insure the RDs/RCs would remain a voice within the organization. On the regional level, I worked with the Maine and New England chapters to change Maine’s status to satellite chapter and I supervised work on an Upstate New York professional event (the first in many years).

4 – What is a specific change you would make within SPJ if you were elected?

I will continue to work to renew the Philadelphia chapter, either as a stand-alone or as a satellite to Keystone. Once that is accomplished, I will turn my attention to Upstate New York.

5 – SPJ’s membership is declining. How would you address this?

I will continue to work on the addition of two new pro chapters in Region 1 and support my student chapters. I will also continue to address colleges to promote new college chapters and recruit members at the annual Center For Cooperative Media News Summit and other events throughout Region 1.

6 – What is one thing SPJ is doing well? One thing SPJ is not doing well?

SPJ is the go-to organization on all journalism ethics questions. We also do a great job of going into schools and addressing individuals and organizations about media literacy. We have not been spectacular on diversity matters, but, my theory is you can’t address every issue with equal strength simultaneously.

7 – Why is SPJ important to you? What do you tell journalists who ask why they should join?

SPJ is vital because of its work on ethics, FOI and media literacy. I tell people about those things and remind them of the importance of networking. Many of us have found mentors and jobs through SPJ and when we have reached maturity in our careers, cherish the ability to help younger members. In addition, SPJ chapters and national have assisted many journalists who run afoul of government agencies.

8 – What is your best moment or achievement in journalism?

It’s hard to choose one after decades in the business. Early in my career, I covered a battle between a farming community and a chemical plant that resulted in the closing of the plant. I am very proud of stories I’ve written — investigative pieces on Colony Collapse Disorder in the beekeeping community and water policy in New Jersey. I am also proud of my work with high school journalists through the Garden State Scholastic Press Association and its Fall Student Press Day.

*****

Region 4 coordinator (choose one)

• Paul Kostyu

1 – Why are you the best candidate for this position?

I have had a long-time affiliation with SPJ in a variety of capacities. Even as an academic, I found more value in being a part of SPJ than with my fellow academics in AEJMC. That’s simply because SPJ is more in tune with the needs of the profession and thus I can better teach my students the skills they need to be successful. So I bring to this position extensive professional knowledge over 45 years as a working journalist, as a freelancer and as an academic.

2 – Do you support the new smaller structure of SPJ’s board of directors? Is this a significant change? What specifically do you like or not like?

I do support the new smaller structure, because I think it will be more efficient. It will be less cumbersome in terms of arranging meetings of the board. However, I think it is critical that the smaller board keep open lines of communication with regional coordinators. I’ve always felt as a journalist that though we are in the communication business, we are pretty lousy at communicating with each other. I’d like to make sure as much information as possible reaches the most important constituents — our members.

3 – What is a specific change you have made or helped make within SPJ?

During my five years as a co-editor of the national convention’s newspaper, I challenged the then-SPJ policy of closing board meetings to the newspaper staff. As a result, board members saw the error of the policy, and irony and hypocrisy of SPJ closing meetings while challenging public bodies to open their meetings. I also fought for the independence of the student staff to be edited by SPJ representatives. While I have not been at a national convention for a few years, I hope independence and openness are a matter of routine.

4 – What is a specific change you would make within SPJ if you were elected?

Other than what I have mentioned in my other responses, I do not have anything specific change I would like to make. I will be better able to answer this question once I have been able to meet with board members, other regional coordinators and regular members. I’m not in favor of change just to have change. But I do want to make sure SPJ is running efficiently, effectively and within its budget.

5 – SPJ’s membership is declining. How would you address this?

It’s critical that SPJ remain relevant to the profession. It has to be viewed as a valuable and necessary resource. We should try to keep the organization as cost-effective as possible. We need to do a better job of reaching out to college students to get them involved early, while recognizing that they often don’t have the money to spend on trips to conferences. Any time we can do workshops and seminar on campuses works to SPJ’s advantage. National should provide regional  coordinators travel budgets to help defer the costs of visits to college campuses and to chapter meetings in their regions.

We need to take advantage of the renewed interest in journalism programs that has been created by the Trump administration (much as we did during the aftermath of Watergate). We need to educate the public about news literacy. We need to be the organization that our fellow journalists call first for information or responses. We should teach our members the practical skills they need to succeed. This could be done in conjunction with IRE, SEJ and other specialty organizations.

6 – What is one thing SPJ is doing well? One thing SPJ is not doing well?

I think SPJ is on top of the challenges of the profession, especially during this very dangerous time to be a journalist in the U.S. So its responses to national, regional and local challenges are very important.

In the past year or so, I have twice written (actually emailed) to the president of SPJ (two different presidents) and both times got no response. None. Not a peep. That is not good communication with members. The president has to be accessible to members, not just board members and regional coordinators. We need to improve our communication with each other. By the way, one of those emails was about a factual error in the president’s column in Quill. So it never got corrected. That’s inexcusable for our organization.

7 – Why is SPJ important to you? What do you tell journalists who ask why they should join?

SPJ is important to me because it is the one organization that links journalists across specialties. I tell my students and others that it is a good way to learn more about the profession, techniques and story ideas. It’s an excellent way to network. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel because someone somewhere has done a story or investigation that perhaps can be done again at a different news outlet. SPJers are willing to help and mentor others.

8 – What is your best moment or achievement in journalism?

I’ve had many good moments and achievements in journalism. I’ve been nominated for a Pulitzer and have received awards nationally and regionally for use of public records, investigations, feature writing, environmental reporting, etc. My work has changed laws and convicted folks.

But frankly, I am most proud of a series of stories I wrote about how newborns are tested for hearing loss in Ohio. Before my stories, newborns were tested by crunching a piece of paper next to their ears to see if they reacted. That process was not only ineffective, but led to higher health care costs for people later in life when they tried to get their hearing corrected.

My stories educated legislators about an electronic process done while a baby is sleeping. That testing leads to earlier recognition of hearing loss, making it easier and less expensive to correct. Ohio law changed because of those stories. I find satisfaction that in a small way I helped the voiceless — in this case, newborns — in Ohio.

*****

Region 5 coordinator (choose one)

• Amy Merrick

1 – Why are you the best candidate for this position?

I have a breadth of journalism experience that reflects our membership. I was a reporter for 11 years at The Wall Street Journal, so I know what it’s like to work in a large newsroom. Now, I freelance for magazines, so I understand the opportunities and challenges that our freelance members contend with. As an adviser of a thriving student chapter, I’m in touch with what students need to learn new skills and launch their careers.

At DePaul, we co-hosted the Region 5 conference in April 2018, bringing in more than 100 attendees, panelists and workshop leaders. We fostered discussion about important issues facing journalists, including sexual harassment in the newsroom, and diversity, equity and representation in student media. In July, I attended the Ted Scripps Leadership Institute in Indianapolis, which gave me a better appreciation for SPJ’s structure and goals.

2 – Do you support the new smaller structure of SPJ’s board of directors? Is this a significant change? What specifically do you like or not like?

The specific number of SPJ board members is less important than the results they achieve. SPJ needs to continue developing robust recruitment, leadership development and nominations processes for potential board members. Moving toward a smaller board structure can increase flexibility and responsiveness, so long as there is a large candidate pool with many people expressing their ideas.

The risk in moving toward a competency-based board is gravitating toward members who are familiar, rather than cultivating a broader network of potential candidates. This year, there is only one recent graduate running for a board position, and no current students, who make up a large proportion of our membership. Outside of the board, most regional coordinator positions (including the one I am running for) are unopposed. The structures that will shape a responsive, creative, dynamic board have to be considered year-round, not just right before elections.

3 – What is a specific change you have made or helped make within SPJ?

I launched and maintain Region 5’s Twitter account, better connecting our members and helping them take advantage of all of SPJ’s opportunities. I would like to expand our communications to a full website and email newsletter. There are great chapters in our region doing creative things, and it could be easier for all of us to share what we’re learning.

4 – What is a specific change you would make within SPJ if you were elected?

I would like to establish a formal, online-based coaching and mentorship program, pairing established journalists with younger members, those seeking a career transition, journalists interested in leadership development or anyone who could benefit from one-on-one guidance.

5 – SPJ’s membership is declining. How would you address this?

The best way to determine why SPJ’s membership is declining is to ask a broad base of our members, as well as former members and journalists who are not part of SPJ. Many journalists create their own networks across social media, rather than joining formal organizations. We can do more to support, listen to and participate in those networks. SPJ has become more public in its support of First Amendment issues, which may help people understand the value of creating a community around shared values.

Our student membership is too expensive. Other organizations, such as Investigative Reporters and Editors and the Online News Association, charge students $25. Many students do not declare a journalism major until after their sophomore year, meaning they can’t take advantage of SPJ’s discounted four-year rate.

6 – What is one thing SPJ is doing well? One thing SPJ is not doing well?

SPJ’s advocacy for the First Amendment, for journalists whose reporting puts them in harm’s way, and for access to government records through FOIA gives the organization purpose and clarity. With the new Journalist on Call position, Rod Hicks has a chance to foster important conversations in communities that lack trust in the media.

If we agree on the fundamental values that SPJ supports, then we have to move ahead to create opportunity, to support each other and to report important stories. The pain of newsroom layoffs has been substantial, and I empathize with the concerns of reporters whose organizations have shaky finances, as well as the difficulties faced by freelancers and unemployed journalists. At the same time, SPJ’s messaging can be more encouraging, inclusive and forward-looking.

7 – Why is SPJ important to you? What do you tell journalists who ask why they should join?

SPJ’s Code of Ethics is an indispensable guide to journalists’ core values. By joining SPJ, journalists and supporters of the First Amendment strengthen a community committed to upholding those values. Journalists can share with each other how they reported specific stories. They can teach each other new skills. They can offer advice on resumes and advertise career opportunities. They can speak as a united voice for journalists whose reporting has put them in danger. They can work together for open access to government records. From the most formal conference to the most informal local meeting, they can gather to build collaboration and friendship, and to find ways to produce significant, ethical journalism.

8 – What is your best moment or achievement in journalism?

In 2016, I helped DePaul students launch an online multimedia magazine, 14 East. The magazine, which I advise, crosses cultures, life experiences and geographic boundaries. A story about working conditions for campus security guards incorporated interviews at universities throughout Chicago. Another piece used the words of prison inmates — handwritten by the inmates and carried out of the prison by visitors. The magazine hosted a workshop about reporting on sexual assault that was attended by students from other schools and by early-career Chicago reporters.

As a journalist, it has been my mission to explain systemic issues and to connect people with new perspectives. To help student reporters take up this challenge is my proudest accomplishment.

*****

Region 7 coordinator (choose one)

• Katelyn Mary Skaggs

1 – Why are you the best candidate for this position?

I am about to graduate with my bachelor’s degree and I think I could best serve Region 7 by bringing student and professional journalists together. Professional journalists have so much to share and teach about journalism and telling compelling stories, while many student journalists have lots to share about growing technology and social media. I would love to see both groups come together and share ideas and wisdom. I would like to see Region 7 plan more education activities across the region with both groups. (I have always believed learning should never stop.)

2 – Do you support the new smaller structure of SPJ’s board of directors? Is this a significant change? What specifically do you like or not like?

I have heard about the new smaller structure. However, I wasn’t very familiar with the structure of SPJ before the change, so I personally have not seen a significant change.

3 – What is a specific change you have made or helped make within SPJ?

There is nothing specific that I have been able to change or help within SPJ, yet. I am hoping to get deeper involved in the organization and assist with any changes, which are in the best interest of SPJ.

4 – What is a specific change you would make within SPJ if you were elected?

One thing I would like to see happen in SPJ is professional chapters work more with student chapters. Both groups have so much to learn from one another and it would be a great networking opportunity. I would love to help make this happen.

5 – SPJ’s membership is declining. How would you address this?

I would address this by speaking with members and asking what they are not getting from their membership. Do they want more networking and educational activities or just social events? I think we need to speak with members who are thinking about leaving to better understand why they want to leave and hopefully find a solution for them to stay.

6 – What is one thing SPJ is doing well? One thing SPJ is not doing well?

One thing SPJ does extremely well is making helpful resources available, like the code of ethics, the freelance community and so much more. I personally have not experienced anything that SPJ is not doing a wonderful job at. However, I am aware of the decline in membership.

7 – Why is SPJ important to you? What do you tell journalists who ask why they should join?

I joined SPJ in 2015 and have loved every minute of being involved. My SPJ experience has been very educational and given me amazing opportunities to network. SPJ is also important to me because of its backing of the First Amendment, which is something that I am very passionate about. I always tell journalists about joining that they have nothing to lose, but everything to gain. I have yet to meet a member of SPJ that has not gained something from their membership.

8 – What is your best moment or achievement in journalism?

My best achievement in journalism so far is winning second place for the best special section from College Media Association in 2017. The special section win was for an investigation about Southeast Missouri State University’s reporting on sexual assaults and rapes on the campus. My role in the special section was retelling victim’s stories. My team’s reporting resulted in the university changing campus policies.

 

• Leah Wankum

1 – Why are you the best candidate for this position?

I excel in connecting journalists with the resources they need. SPJ has personally helped my career, as I’ve learned from others in the organization on how they’ve helped each other grow in the field.

2 – Do you support the new smaller structure of SPJ’s board of directors? Is this a significant change? What specifically do you like or not like?

I would prefer not to answer this question, as I don’t have first-person experience with the restructuring and its effects. Happy to learn more and provide an opinion later, but I’m sure our leadership would only make this change for the benefit of the organization and its members.

3 – What is a specific change you have made or helped make within SPJ?

I have not had the opportunity.

4 – What is a specific change you would make within SPJ if you were elected?

I would make sure SPJ continues its leadership role in the industry, as both a resource for journalists and non-journalists alike, not only to maintain the organization’s relevance in our society, but also to establish and foster standards for best practices in a fast-paced world.

5 – SPJ’s membership is declining. How would you address this?

Again, we need to stay relevant to journalists, especially young journalists like me who have a more consumerist attitude toward membership. We need to consistently exemplify our value, not only because of our legacy as an institution, but also because no other organizations out there have the brand recognition to reach as many journalists as SPJ does.

6 – What is one thing SPJ is doing well? One thing SPJ is not doing well?

SPJ’s code of ethics is consistent and relevant. I know many journalists who turn to it for guidance. I’m not sure how SPJ is specifically NOT doing well, but declining membership speaks for itself. We need to get back in tune with membership, tap into their current needs and wishes and discover how to meet them.

7 – Why is SPJ important to you? What do you tell journalists who ask why they should join?

SPJ connects me to valuable resources, outstanding mentors and networking opportunities. Through SPJ and the KC Press Club, I have found camaraderie and friendship, something I think is especially important in this relatively isolating industry. I tell journalists about my own valuable experiences, because sometimes I think journalists (especially younger professionals) tend to isolate themselves as well, and tend to avoid relying on others for assistance.

8 – What is your best moment or achievement in journalism?

When SPJ recognized me as a national winner in breaking news in 2016, I was honored beyond words. It spurred me to action, when I was uncertain of my job prospects after completing my master’s degree. I am truly grateful for everything SPJ has done for me, and I’d love the opportunity to give back.

*****

Region 8 coordinator (choose one)

• Kathryn Jones

1 – Why are you the best candidate for this position?

I joined SPJ as an idealistic student in journalism school at Trinity University in San Antonio. I still have my original membership certificate, which I’ve kept with me on my many moves around Texas. It’s now framed and displayed in my office at Tarleton State University, where I’ve taught journalism for the past five years. Previously, I spent more than 30 years as a staff writer for The Dallas Morning News and Dallas Times Herald, a writer under contract and now a freelancer for The New York Times, and a writer-at-large and now contributing editor for Texas Monthly magazine. I also served as the editor of a community newspaper and I co-founded a news website.

I have a wealth and diversity of journalism experience that give me a broad perspective. In addition to my dedication to SPJ and mix of professional experience, I have the time, energy, self-motivation and industry contacts to be an effective coordinator.

Tarleton hosted the Region 8 conference in 2016, so I also have experience planning a major event. We put together panels on covering border issues, investigative journalism techniques, Google tools and data visualization, freelance writing, and ethical issues facing journalists. We also brought in Jackie Calmes, who’s covered the nation’s capital for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, as keynote speaker. The SPJ chapter also sponsors public panels throughout the annual Free Speech Week.

2 – Do you support the new smaller structure of SPJ’s board of directors? Is this a significant change? What specifically do you like or not like?

Yes. Board members say it increases efficiency and communication. As long as it’s effective and representative, the size doesn’t matter as much to me.

3 – What is a specific change you have made or helped make within SPJ?

As someone who made a living and career at freelancing for more than 20 years, I’ve made SPJ more aware of the needs of freelance writers. I’ve spoken at SPJ conferences about freelance writing and also was a founding member of a freelance writers’ network in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. I would like to continue efforts to recruit freelancers to join SPJ since many journalists in the region have left news organizations, either through buyouts or layoffs, and are now freelancing or even founding their own news websites.

4 – What is a specific change you would make within SPJ if you were elected?

I’d like to start a Region 8 blog with news about activities in the region, tips from experienced journalists, profiles of members doing interesting things in their careers, thoughts about current events pertaining to journalism, and other items of interest. This site also could share news about jobs or freelance opportunities in Region 8, such as the Mid-Atlantic Muckraker (great name!) Region 2 blog does. The blog could build a stronger bridge between university and professional chapters and, I hope, become a resource that would encourage more people to join SPJ.

5 – SPJ’s membership is declining. How would you address this?

In addition to using the blog described above as a recruiting tool, I would reach out to young journalists and journalists in nontraditional jobs. Journalism job descriptions are changing and many young journalists I know perceive SPJ as an organization for “older,” established writers and broadcasters. Certainly, many of us got involved in SPJ in university chapters and that’s a good way to grow membership, especially if the membership fee could be trimmed to $30 or even $25.

But I also want to encourage universities that don’t have an SPJ chapter to start one and reach out to interns and young journalists working full-time and part-time at a variety of journalism organizations, including nontraditional ones. Mentoring and networking could be a strong draw.

I suspect the drop in SPJ membership also has to do with the declining employment in traditional journalism outlets. One way to reach out to that base is to share job news, links to job banks, and include conference sessions on how to reinvent oneself after a career jolt. I also would reach out to bloggers, journalism website entrepreneurs, and others who have found new ways to continue their journalism careers.

6 – What is one thing SPJ is doing well? One thing SPJ is not doing well?

SPJ is the guiding light in journalism for ethics and First Amendment issues. I’d like to see Region 8 support other advocacy organizations, such as the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas that champions pro-journalism legislation and fights attempts to water down the Texas Public Information Act. The other thing SPJ does well is staging the national conference. The breakout sessions are informative and it’s exciting to meet and learn from other journalists across the nation. The conference really gets attendees inspired.

One thing SPJ is not doing well is reaching out to the many people in journalism who have been displaced because of layoffs, buyouts, or consolidation. Perhaps we could have a “hardship” status for people who would like to be involved but who are currently out of work and cannot pay the membership fee.

7 – Why is SPJ important to you? What do you tell journalists who ask why they should join?

Journalism is under attack as never before. Seeking truth and reporting it present new challenges, and one of those is public trust. Journalists’ ethics, accuracy and fairness are under intense scrutiny from those in power who want to undermine our credibility. SPJ’s Code of Ethics is more important than ever for journalists in this changing, volatile environment. So is speaking with a collective voice and explaining why journalism matters. SPJ is in the best position to do this.

I tell journalists they should join SPJ to learn about jobs and industry trends, hone their skills and learn new ones from peers who are trying different tools and techniques, feel a sense of camaraderie and pride in preserving democracy and defending the principles of free speech, and to meet and connect with other professionals across the nation.

8 – What is your best moment or achievement in journalism?

I’m proudest of an award I won in 2011 for promoting open government — the Nancy Monson Award given by the Texas Press Association and Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. The award was for news stories and columns I wrote as a small-town newspaper editor about a mayor pro tem and her husband, a former police chief, who used their positions to procure a city job for her son/his stepson, even though he had a criminal record. He lied on his job application about his criminal past, which I uncovered by gumshoe reporting and tracking down public records in three counties.

When I ran the stories on the front page, the community blowback was like nothing I’d ever experienced. Readers canceled subscriptions; advertisers canceled ads. The owners of the newspaper were not happy, either. I received hate mail and never worked in my office without keeping the door locked. But I persevered because of the principles I learned from SPJ — to hold those in power accountable, to be accurate and fair, and to be courageous in reporting a story I knew was going to be unpopular.

 

• Bal Joshi

withdrew from race

*****

Region 9 coordinator (choose one)

• Ed Otte

1 – Why are you the best candidate for this position?

With two years of experience as regional director, I’ve worked with the pro chapter boards in New Mexico, Utah and Colorado. And involvement with two recent regional conferences — 2018 and 2015 in Denver — as well as the Mark of Excellence contest will provide continuity.

2 – Do you support the new smaller structure of SPJ’s board of directors? Is this a significant change? What specifically do you like or not like?

The smaller board should provide for more efficiency, especially in relations with the executive director and the headquarters staff. It is a significant change and should demonstrate immediate benefits. A concern is that pro and college chapters will continue to have access to the new board members. That communication and response are vital for a smooth transition.

3 – What is a specific change you have made or helped make within SPJ?

While serving as president of the Colorado Pro chapter, we expanded our outreach to college journalism programs in the state and provided educational programs at the Denver Press Club. (The programs were taped and posted online.) While on the national board, I worked on the regional fund task force. The small group, led by Lauren Bartlett, established strong oversight rules for pro and college chapters.

4 – What is a specific change you would make within SPJ if you were elected?

Help implement the fund oversight rules — they’re needed to ensure transparency and chapter stability. Financial strength helps nurture chapter activity, outreach efforts and maintain SPJ’s visibility.

5 – SPJ’s membership is declining. How would you address this?

College students and campus chapters offer the most potential for membership growth. Regional coordinators should work with the chapter advisers to grow membership and then with pro chapters to attract working journalists.

6 – What is one thing SPJ is doing well? One thing SPJ is not doing well?

SPJ does two things very well — emphasize media ethics and work with other national organizations in protecting public access to government records and meetings. This occurs at the local and national levels. In this political climate, SPJ needs to react faster to defend the First Amendment and the work of journalists. Given the shrinking resources of nearly all journalism organizations and media outlets, partnerships with other organizations — again at the local and national levels — are vital.

7 – Why is SPJ important to you? What do you tell journalists who ask why they should join?

SPJ is a counterweight to the groups that claim fake news is the norm and that the press is the enemy of the people.

8 – What is your best moment or achievement in journalism?

Most satisfying achievement occurred while serving as executive director of the Colorado Press Association. Our member newspapers partnered twice with the Denver bureau of The Associated Press to conduct statewide surveys on access to public records. The results, a package of stories by newspaper reporters and AP staff, ran in dailies and weeklies. They raised awareness about abuses in local government, school districts and law enforcement. They also produced legislation that improved public access to the records.

 

• Rhett Wilkinson

1 – Why are you the best candidate for this position?

Having been a journalist in multiple states in Region 9, and four areas within one state, I know it rather well, understanding various cultures within the region. This enables me to be an excellent voice for the region and see that it needs more folks committed to journalism leading and working for its media outlets.

I have already volunteered for journalism. I co-founded a magazine in college and saw a billboard go up in town on the topic of an article I wrote just two weeks earlier. I have studied Federal Election Commission documentation and challenged the Secret Service, writing one or more stories for each action. All of that was for free.

I have demonstrated abilities in the craft, having worked for The Inquisitr, Vote Smart, Patch and Bleacher Report, with my work being seen in ESPN, Pew and USA Today.

I have ideas that are specific about inspiring the people who are most likely to get involved in journalism — getting field representatives onto campuses and offering free memberships to new college students, which is critical given the decline of the craft. I also understand modern tools journalism needs today. (For example, I know why Google+ is the most important sharing platform.)

2 – Do you support the new smaller structure of SPJ’s board of directors? Is this a significant change? What specifically do you like or not like?

I do, and I think it is. I like that it will be able to be more nimble. I know that is cliché, but I believe that entities lose effectiveness soon after reaching a certain size.

3 – What is a specific change you have made or helped make within SPJ?

I am still looking forward to that opportunity, having been a member for just five years.

4 – What is a specific change you would make within SPJ if you were elected?

I would like for SPJ to visit campuses and inspire students to do journalism. The key is getting at the heart of the issue of journalism in decline. That is through influencing the hearts and minds of the people who are determining what to do with their lives.

Field representatives could do this work, or I would do it if there were not enough resources for that. (And even with field representatives, I would probably still do it.) My work schedule allows it since I can work — and take off time — whenever I want.

I also would want to be an ambassador of a program for free memberships for students entering college. (See below.)

5 – SPJ’s membership is declining. How would you address this?

I would allow free memberships for students entering college. These would last a year to two years, long enough for the students to make a decision on their major while also not binding SPJ to costs of doing that too long. This could also allow for SPJ to save money by doing this in lieu of scholarships.

The larger problem is that there are less people involved in journalism, so those people most likely to make a decision to do it need to be incentivized to pursue it.

6 – What is one thing SPJ is doing well? One thing SPJ is not doing well?

SPJ is doing great at reminding its members that they are doing critical work, through methods including, but not limited to, its awards and how it communicates in its emails. It needs to be more proactive as an advocate of journalism and its protections, though it is engaged in proactive action at that as we speak.

7 – Why is SPJ important to you? What do you tell journalists who ask why they should join?

The SPJ helps the public understand the importance of journalism and reminds its members of that, and does it in various ways — public communications and awards as just two examples. It provides notifications about open positions and has local chapters. It has provided mechanisms to advocate for journalism. I used a freedom-of-the-press graphic provided after Trump kept media from a press conference for my social media profiles. It provides opportunities to meet others and thus learn about their efforts to bring corruption to light and hold elected officials in check. And its trainings are excellent, since our work is too important to not be optimized.

I would tell journalists that it’s important to be part of the best advocacy organization in the nation for their craft.

8 – What is your best moment or achievement in journalism?

I studied Federal Election Commission documents to discover that Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah) had used campaign funds for Disney World and that she had a missing report per her expenditure disclosures. I volunteered to do this.


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