Archive for the ‘SPJ board meeting’ Category


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

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

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

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

Highlights from Saturday’s meeting:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SPJ/SDX boards: budgets, bylaws and more

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

Sigma Delta Chi Foundation board (April 14):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SPJ board (April 14):

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

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

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

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

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

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

SPJ board (April 15):

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

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

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

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

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

SPJ correctly decides on neutral ballots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Candidates with the ‘Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

SPJ’s Nominations Committee

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

The Nominations Committee shall have seven members:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nominations Committee Policies and Procedures

The Nominations Committee will:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A new regional director, a nomination process debate and more

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walsh cast the only vote against the move.

 

SPJ overhaul, election, Journalist on Call, and more

One of the most significant parts of this year’s SPJ national conference was a radical change in the society’s governance.

The SPJ board will drop from 23 members this year to 9 members in 2019. The board no longer will be elected to represent parts of the country (12 regions across the country) or certain constituencies. It will be a smaller, more nimble board, elected because of expertise. Seven members of the new board will be elected; two more will be appointed after the election, filling gaps in voices or expertise.

This page explains the bylaws change in more detail.

I supported the overhaul, for a number of reasons. It makes sense to remove regional directors (who will be called “regional coordinators”) from the board and have them concentrate on working with their local chapters. Until now, they were the only board members with dual roles; often, one role suffered at the expense of the other.

Convention delegates approved the bylaws change 86-14. Some of the opposition was from students objecting to the elimination of student representative positions on the board. It’s a legitimate concern, but the board (thanks largely to the advocacy of Vice President of Campus Chapter Affairs Sue Kopen Katcef) is required to appoint a campus voice (student or faculty) to the board if one is not elected.

Another good feature of the new structure is the creation of a seven-person nominating committee to recruit good candidates. This will be an improvement on the current process, which falls on the shoulders of the past president.

The transition to the board structure will happen over a two-year period. The board probably will have 14 members next year, then 9 the following year.

The Press Club of Long Island, worried about future representation for chapters, proposed an amendment that would have guaranteed having at least one regional coordinator every year on the new board.

The current board did not support this proposal. I was against it because it reverted back to the representational model in a way that wasn’t necessary. Every year, almost every member of the national board came up through involvement in a chapter.

Delegates defeated the PCLI amendment 76-27.

A separate proposal to change the new board to 11 members instead of 9 members also was defeated. The vote was 67-39.

*****

Convention delegates also approved resolutions:

• Condemning “corrosive actions and words of the Trump administration toward the news media and journalists”

• Denouncing a culture in which governments prohibit “public employees and private experts from communicating with reporters”

• Praising the Student Press Law Center’s work on New Voices legislation guaranteeing broader free press rights for students in several states

• Commending journalists covering hurricanes Harvey and Irma, even as their offices, studios and homes flooded

• Recognizing the 50th anniversary of the Public Broadcasting Act

• Thanking Executive Director Joe Skeel and Associate Executive Director Chris Vachon, both of whom are leaving SPJ for other jobs, and thanking the rest of the staff.

*****

This year, five SPJ races for the national board were contested, including an unusually high seven people vying for one at-large seat. The results were:

• President-elect:

  • J. Alex Tarquinio – 780 (winner)
  • Jason Parsley – 224

• Secretary-treasurer: Patricia Gallagher Newberry – 921 (unopposed)

• At-large director (one seat):

  • Alex Veeneman – 98
  • Elle Toussi – 171
  • Randy Bateman – 51
  • Melissa Allison – 123
  • Michele Boyet – 188
  • Lauren Bartlett – 230 (winner)
  • Mikal Belicove – 70

• Campus representative (two seats)

  • Rahim Chagani – 404 (winner)
  • Kathy Rosenhammer – 270
  • Marivel Guzman – 82
  • Haley Harding – 565 (winner)

• Vice president for campus chapter affairs

  • Sue Kopen Katcef – 583 (winner)
  • Keem Muhammad – 397

• Campus adviser at large: Jeff South – 868 (unopposed)

• Region 2 director: Andy Schotz – 110 (unopposed)

• Region 3 director: Michael Koretzky – 68 (unopposed)

• Region 6 director: Joe Radske – 34 (unopposed)

• Region 10 director:

  • Ethan Chung – 45 (winner)
  • Don Meyers – 24

• Region 11 director: Matt Hall – 131 (unopposed)

• Region 12 director: Kelly Kissel – 50 (unopposed)

Total votes: 1,039 (which is probably about 14 percent)

*****

SPJ board meeting, Sept. 6, 2017

• Staffing report: Executive Director Joe Skeel, Associate Executive Director Chris Vachon, Fundraising Coordinator Katie Hunt and Director of Education Scott Leadingham all are leaving their positions. Skeel will stay the longest, through Dec. 1. A development manager and an education manager will be hired, with some different responsibilities than the current positions have. The communication intern position has been extended from one year to two years.

• Inactive chapters: The board approved a recommendation to inactivate several pro and campus chapters (none in Region 2).

  • Pro: Milwaukee Pro, Inland Northwest Pro
  • Campus: Boston U., Brockport College, Canisius College, Franklin Pierce U., Winthrop U., Kent State U., Wayne State College, Western Michigan U., DePauw U., Franklin College, Indiana U.-Purdue, U. of Wisconsin-Madison, U. of Central Missouri, U. of Missouri, Abilene Christian U., Baylor U., SMU, TCU, U. of Oklahoma, Utah State U., Seattle U., U. of Idaho, U. of Oregon, Cal State U.-Long Beach.

• A committee has recommended changes to Quill magazine, including:

  • Cut from six issues to four issues per year, with additional updates on the website
  • More in-depth, themed stories
  • Limit news about chapters and SPJ HQ to the website
  • Have students participate more

• The board voted unanimously that a $52,000 donation from the state of Hillary Wiggin shall go to the First Amendment Forever Fund

• The board approved a spending policy. The proposal that came to the board said: “Executive Committee approval is required to pay for any services costing $3,000 or more unless the full board previously authorized the expense.” After some debate, the board raised the threshold to $5,000 and approved the policy 17-6. Board members who voted against were: Bill McCloskey, Rebecca Baker, Lynn Walsh, Paul Fletcher, Joe Radske and Rachel Wedding McClelland.

• The board went into executive session to talk about plans for hiring a new executive director.

*****

SDX Foundation board meeting, Sept. 6, 2017

The main item on the agenda was for the Journalist on Call. It’s a proposed new staff position, to be defined in more detail later.

It might be an expert who could be available for journalists and news organizations with an immediate need, such as a legal or ethical problem. It might be a clearinghouse of information, connecting people to resources they need. It might be someone to promote journalism and credibility to the public.

Attempts to get outside grant funding have been unsuccessful, so the board considered whether to fully fund the position with SDX money. The projected budget was about $120,000 a year, including salary, benefits and travel, for three years.

Some possible savings to help reach that budget included: salary savings through staffing changes, eliminating three JournCamps, eliminating on-demand video training, and printing Quill less often.

SDX board member Sally Lehrman proposed cutting the position to one year as a trial, to be developed further. The board opposed that idea.

Lehrman also proposed increasing the budget from $120,000 a year to $180,000 a year, which passed.

The final vote on creating the Journalist on Call position with a budget of $180,000 a year was 17-6 in favor. Board members who voted against the motion were: Todd Gillman, Kelly Hawes, Jane Kirtley, Al Leeds, Mac McKerral and one other person who I missed in my notes.

• The SDX Foundation board also approved the recommendations for changing Quill magazine (see above). The only vote against was by Al Leeds.

• The board approved adding April Bethea, Robyn Davis Sekula and Michael Bolden to the board. It also approved having Paul Fletcher continue to serve on the board.

*****

SPJ board meeting, Sept. 10, 2017

• There were three nominations for two spots on the board’s Executive Committee. Matt Hall, with 15 votes, and Jane Primerano, with 11 votes, were elected to the committee. Lauren Bartlett had 10 votes.

• Incoming President Rebecca Baker said she was appointing four people to the SDX Foundation board: J. Alex Tarquinio, Lynn Walsh, Joe Radske and Andy Schotz.

• The board approved Matt Hall and Bill McCloskey for the board’s Finance Committee.

• The board reviewed a draft of a job description for advertising the position of executive director.

• Baker announced that the board will have additional meetings during the year, besides the spring meeting and the meetings at the national convention. The additional meetings will be in November, January and July.

• Executive Director Joe Skeel said three people were chosen for the new position of at-large delegate representing SPJ members who don’t belong to chapters. Two attended the convention from Region 11. A third person, from Region 3, had to cancel.

Spending policy, budget, governance: What SPJ’s board did

Updated at 6:30 p.m. May 1 with information about candidates

The biggest item on the SPJ national board agenda when it met in Indianapolis on April 22 and 23 was whether and how to overhaul the society’s structure of governance.

That topic has been studied for several months and will go before delegates for one or more votes at the national convention in Anaheim in September.

For background information from the Indianapolis board meetings (SPJ and SDX), go to a page at SPJ.org with board agendas and materials. Below are highlights, with notations to corresponding pages in the board packet.

***

April 22 SPJ board meeting:

• Budget: The board unanimously approved a $1.25 million budget for fiscal year 2018. Executive Director Joe Skeel said it’s more conservative than usual. Revenue in a few key areas is down, such as advertising and contest entries (p. 24). SPJ has been losing members, but a new recruitment and retention plan has Skeel optimistic that we can regain some lost ground. Staffing at SPJ HQ will decrease as duties are reorganized (p. 25). An investment in improving SPJ’s computer system is a priority.

• New chapter: A campus chapter was unanimously approved for Austin Peay State University in Tennessee.

• Conflicts of interest: The board unanimously agreed to strengthen part of its conflict of interest policy (p. 39). Old passage: “After disclosure, I understand that I may participate in discussion to respond to questions, but then shall leave the meeting before the final discussion and vote and shall not vote on the question.” New passage: “It is my responsibility to state my connection and potential conflict on any topic as it comes up during a discussion. After disclosure, I will remove myself from the discussion and leave the meeting, unless I am called on to answer questions. I will not vote on the topic.” This was sparked by an executive session discussion in which someone with a connection to both SPJ and an outside organization participated in a discussion about the other organization. I thought this was an insufficient separation and proposed a stronger one.

• Credit cards: At Skeel’s recommendation, the board unanimously approved a policy for SPJ employees using SPJ credit cards (p. 40). It clarifies the proper use of credit cards and the ramifications of improper use.

• Spending policy: The board discussed a possible policy on SPJ spending, as recommended by Region 11 Director Matt Hall: “The Executive Committee shall approve any expenditure over $5,000 that is not authorized in the annual budget.” This was largely a response to a decision by SPJ President Lynn Walsh, in consultation with SPJ’s staff, to spend $5,000 on an Ethics Week project that included hiring a consultant. Walsh said the proposal came up quickly and needed quick action. SPJ has no policy on the president getting approval for spending. But some board members expressed concern, especially when SPJ hires consultants, and thought this was a matter for board approval, like the last two times SPJ hired a consultant. The board talked about how much authority a president should have without needing to consult with the board. The proposal was sent back to SPJ’s Finance Committee to work on the wording.

• Candidates: The board heard from Immediate Past President Paul Fletcher, the nominations committee chairman, about candidates running in the next election.

Update: Today, Fletcher sent me a full list of the candidates so far. He shared them at the meeting, but I didn’t catch all of the names then.

Alex Tarquinio is running for president-elect. Patti Gallagher Newberry and Daniel Axelrod are competing for secretary-treasurer.

Five people were running for one at-large director seat, but one dropped out. The remaining four are: Alex Veeneman, Elle Toussi, Randy Bateman and Melissa Allison. Current at-large director Bill McCloskey is not running again.

Candidates for two campus representative seats are Rahim Chagani and Keem Muhammad (who is on the board now).

The only other contested race so far is for Region 10 director between Ethan Chung, who holds the position now, and Don Meyers, a former regional director.

Incumbent Sue Kopen Katcef is running again for vice president for campus chapter affairs. I am running again for Region 2 director. Region 3 director Michael Koretzky and Region 11 director Matt Hall are running for another term.

There are no candidates so far for one campus adviser at large seat (now held by Rebecca Tallent) and for directors in Region 6 (currently Joe Radske) and Region 12 (currently Amanda Womac).

• Membership: Associate Executive Director Tara Puckey has been overseeing a package of initiatives to boost SPJ’s membership (p. 44). They include “kudos boxes,” better invoices, working with non-journalism groups and much more. Take a look.

• Communications: SPJ also is working on a communications plan. It starts on p. 51.

T-shirts: SPJ is going to have terrific First Amendment T-shirts. More details to come.

• Executive session: In executive session, the board agreed on choices for SPJ Fellows and talked about a staffing analysis that Skeel prepared.

• Governance: After returning to open session, the board had a lengthy discussion and debate about a proposal to restructure its system of governance (p. 57). A task force has proposed cutting the board from 23 to 9 members (three officers, four at large, two appointed). A nominations committee would do “vetting.” One sticking point: What does vetting mean? A slate of endorsed candidates? Qualified? Is it better to steer voters toward “preferred/qualified” candidates or to not try to influence by applying a label? Regional directors would become “regional coordinators” and would no longer be on the board. Addendum C (p. 71) shows the phase-in timetable and process. Also take a look at feedback by the Bylaws Committee (p. 72).

*****

April 23 SPJ board meeting:

• Governance: The board continued the discussion on the governance restructuring proposal, focusing on a few key sticking points. A majority of the board opposed including term limits for members of the new board. With that change, the board approved the task force’s new governance proposal, sending it to this year’s convention delegates for vote(s) in September. The only board member to vote no was at-large director Rachel Wedding McClelland. The board also decided against the task force’s proposal to cut stipends for the regional directors/coordinators. (I was in favor of cutting the stipend, but it was not put out for a formal vote.)

• Diversity: The board and SPJ spent several minutes talking about questions raised in the SPJ Diversity Committee’s midyear report (p. 82). The committee expressed frustration that its ideas for changing the Dori Maynard Diversity Fellowship were not carried out. Keem Muhammad, a student member of the SPJ national board, said the fellowship is wasted if SPJ does not attempt to create longer-lasting connections with fellows. SDX Foundation President Robert Leger replied that some fellows have gone on to leadership positions. He said he disagreed with the Diversity Committee’s request that females be considered minorities for the purpose of the fellowship, which would change what the program is.

Seized funds and communication strategy

The SPJ national board took up two topics — money and communication — during an electronic meeting on Jan. 5:

1 – In September, the board voted to revoke the charters of three SPJ chapters: Mid-Florida Pro, North Central Florida Pro and Inland Northwest Pro.

Shutting down a chapter is extreme, but only comes after years of inactivity, as was the case here. A chapter gets 60 days to come up with a plan for how its money will be disbursed, or the money will be taken and used elsewhere within SPJ or SDX. The bylaws say:

Section Seventeen. Upon the decision to terminate any professional or campus chapter, whether by dissolution, disbandment, revocation pursuant to Section Thirteen of this Article, or otherwise, any remaining chapter funds shall be distributed to another adjoining active Society Chapter then in good standing, the Society, or the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation, as directed by the chapter’s governing body, or, in the absence of action of the local board within 60 days of termination, the national board of directors.

The national board later heard from the Inland Northwest Pro chapter, which wanted another chance. Region 10 Director Ethan Chung supported the request, and the board granted that second chance.

The Mid-Florida Pro chapter, which has not held programs in about four years, did not try to continue. After the 60-day deadline, a chapter representative asked that its remaining money (about $12,000) go to the First Amendment Foundation. But SPJ bylaws say the money must stay within SPJ or SDX.

During our Jan. 5 meeting, SPJ President Lynn Walsh made a motion that the board reconsider its earlier vote on seizing the chapter’s treasury and ceded to the chapter’s wishes. Immediate Past President Paul Fletcher seconded the motion.

Upon proper motion by Walsh and second by Fletcher, the board voted against the motion to “reconsider the September vote and respect the wishes of the Mid-Florida Pro Chapter, instead giving the money to the SDX Foundation or somewhere else within SPJ.”

The vote was 10-8 against the motion.

No: Keem Muhammad, Jane Primerano, Bill McCloskey, Amanda Womac, Michael Koretzky, Ed Otte, Andy Schotz, Leticia Lee Steffen, Ethan Chung, Patti Gallagher Newberry

Yes: Rebecca Tallent, Paul Fletcher, Sue Kopen Katcef, Joe Radske, Michele Day, Lynn Walsh, Matthew Hall, Kari Williams

I voted no because the process the national board used was fair. Chapters get plenty of leeway to resume their activity. They get a few years of probation before their charters are revoked. There is no point having an inactive chapter indefinitely.

The 60-day period for deciding on a place for the money also was fair. The chapter was given numerous opportunities to meet that deadline; it did not.

The bylaws are clear about money staying in SPJ or SDX, and the chapter’s request did not follow that.

I thought the money should have stayed in Florida to help SPJers there. The Florida Pro chapter is excellent and could serve the people who previously were in the Mid-Florida chapter. But there was little interest in my idea. Region 3 Director Michael Koretzky assured me that the Florida Pro chapter doesn’t need the extra money to do programs that serve that region.

*****

2 – Walsh has said she wants to work on a better communication strategy for SPJ. She has created a committee to look at best practices. The committee includes:

  • FOI Committee Chairman Gideon Grudo
  • Ethics Committee Chairman Andrew Seaman
  • Membership Committee Chairwoman Robyn Davis Sekula
  • Region 3 Director Michael Koretzky
  • Communications Strategist Jennifer Royer
  • Michele Boyet, an officer in the Florida Pro chapter.

They will join the SPJ Executive Committee at its meeting in San Diego this month.

The question before the national board on Jan. 5 was a $6,860 budget.

That covers travel, hotel and meals for the six people above. (Executive Committee members have stipends to cover expenses.) The budget also covers $2,250 for (W)right On Communications of Solana Beach, Calif., and North Vancouver, British Columbia, to lead a strategy session.

Walsh said during our electronic meeting that SPJ needs a more specific plan for how and when to speak out, particularly on issues in the news. She said an attempt to create a plan internally has not worked well.

Walsh noted that the national board, a year ago, approved a budget of $8,850 for a strategy session on membership. That also included covering the costs of SPJers who flew in for the meeting and to pay a consultant.

A motion by Walsh to approve the budget for the communication strategy session, seconded by McCloskey, passed 16-2.

Yes: Muhammad, Primerano, Womac, Koretzky, Otte, Steffen, Chung, Gallagher Newberry, Tallent, Fletcher, Kopen Katcef, Radske, Day, Walsh, Hall, Williams

No: McCloskey, Schotz

I voted against this proposal because I am skeptical of hiring consultants to run meetings. I’ve covered many “facilitator” sessions as a reporter and I’m not convinced they are worth the expense. I also don’t buy the argument that an outsider has to be brought in to help a journalism organization learn how to communicate.

For the record, I voted against the budget for the membership consultant, too.

 

What the board and delegates did at EIJ16

Below is a recap of discussions and actions taken by the SPJ national board and convention delegates during Excellence in Journalism 2016 in New Orleans in September.

*****

SPJ national board meeting #1 (Sept. 18):

1) A few items from SPJ Executive Director Joe Skeel’s staff report:
• The Native American Journalists Association would like to join NAHJ, RTDNA and SPJ for EIJ17.
• SPJ distributed 84 news releases from September 2015 to Aug. 19, 2016.
• SPJ’s social media followers were: 33,000 Facebook; 42,000 Twitter; 2,345 LinkedIn.

2) The board revoked the charters of three inactive chapters. It also designated 22 chapters as “inactive,” including one in Region 2 — Howard University. “Inactive” is an intermediate step. A chapter can easily be revived if there is interest, but this is a sign that there has been no sign of interest in a while.

3) On a related note, the board unanimously agreed that the money taken from the bank accounts of revoked chapters will go to a regional directors’ fund to be distributed, by request, to other chapters (and not just in the same region). First, under SPJ bylaws, the chapters that were revoked have 60 days to take action on how to distribute the money. The national board takes action if the local board does not.

3) The board went into executive session to talk about a possible investment and to do an evaluation of Skeel.

4) When the board reconvened in public session, it unanimously approved a motion by at-large director Bill McCloskey made a motion that SPJ consider reincorporating in another state. SPJ currently is incorporated in Illinois. Under Illinois law, SPJ and other nonprofit organization can’t take electronic votes. This makes it tricky for SPJ to do conference call and electronic meetings, and take any action.

5) The final action was a vote on a change in the awards process. Last year, the board voted to give the final approval on most SPJ national awards (minus the Wells Key). Region 3 Director Michael Koretzky decided this year that the board didn’t need to formally vote on these awards, but should have the right to call for a vote after reviewing the choices. At EIJ16, the board approved that update to the process. Two people voted against this change — me and Region 6 Director Joe Radske. [Note: I voted no because the new iteration of the process was not what the board decided last year — we wanted approval authority, not the ability to review.]

For more information about these and other topics, go to the board packet:
https://www.spj.org/pdf/boardmeeting/spj-board-meeting-agenda-2016-09-18.pdf

*****

SPJ national board meeting #2 (Sept. 18):

1) At-large director Bill McCloskey was again chosen to serve on the Executive Committee.

2) University at Maryland SPJ chapter member Maggie Gottlieb, who won a seat on the board as campus representative, also was added to the Executive Committee. Gottlieb and new campus representative Keem O. Muhammad were each nominated to serve on the Executive Committee, resulting in a secret vote within the board.

3) Bill McCloskey and I were chosen for the Finance Committee

4) The board talked about the process for choosing the Wells Key, resulting in a proposal to have the national board, and not just the Executive Committee, review nominations. After a period of debate on this and other points, the proposal was tabled. Three people voted against tabling the proposal — Koretzky, Radske and me.

*****

Conference business session (Sept. 20):

1) Delegates approved several resolutions as a group:
• Commending Mark Thomason for standing up to a Georgia judge who had him arrested and jailed because of a public records request he made
• Urging the University of Kentucky to comply with Kentucky’s public records law
• Urging President Barack Obama to abandon restrictions to getting government information
• Support increased protections for student journalists
• Support women in journalism
• Recognize Alistair Cooke’s contributions to British-American relations
• Thank outgoing SPJ President Paul Fletcher and the SPJ staff

2) A change in the bylaws to create a “supporter” category, in which people can donate money to SPJ without becoming full members, was approved by a voice vote.
First, there was some concern that the new category would steal people who might otherwise be members.
By a 69-31 vote, delegates supported preserving a provision that anyone in the “supporter” category would be ineligible for full membership.

3) Delegates approved a bylaws change that addresses a gap in representation of SPJ members who don’t belong to a chapter. The new process is to choose delegates in each region to represent unaffiliated members, at the same same rate (one delegate per 50 members) in place for chapter delegates.
The measure passed by a voice vote, with only D.C. Pro chapter President Kathy Burns opposed.

4) A resolution to start the process of renaming “Society of Professional Journalists” to “Society for Professional Journalism” was defeated 57-44.
[Note: After being opposed to this idea for a few years, I voted in favor this year. I think the proposed name now matches changes underway to make SPJ more open and inclusive.]

5) By a predominant voice vote, delegates tabled a resolution opposing requirements that college faculty give mandatory “trigger warnings.” The resolution did not oppose the warnings, which might precede possibly objectionable discussion topics in class; it challenged making those warnings mandatory. Ben Meyerson of the Chicago Headline Club, who moved to table the resolution, said it strays from SPJ’s journalism mission.

6) By a predominant voice vote, delegates approved a resolution supporting the rights of journalists to report on political campaigns without threats or reprisal. A first draft of the resolution was amended to remove references to specific presidential candidates, so it would apply to all presidential candidates and all journalists.

7) Delegates approved a resolution supporting transparency in media ownership.
An early draft of the resolution was aimed at Sheldon Adelson for his family’s secret purchase of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, condemning “the manipulation of news outlets for personal gain by wealthy media owners everywhere.”
The broader revised version that passed condemned “the clandestine behavior of Adelson’s group leading up to the purchase of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and subsequent manipulation of news coverage.”
The revised resolution passed by voice vote, with two people voting no.

*****

Election results:

1) President-elect: Rebecca Baker — unopposed (926 votes)

2) Secretary-treasurer: J. Alex Tarquinio — unopposed (919 votes)

3) Director at-large (one open seat):
Rachel Wedding McClelland — 444 votes (winner)
• Jason Parsley — 271 votes
• Elle Toussi — 173 votes
• Alex Veeneman — 69 votes

4) Campus adviser at-large (one open seat):
Leticia Lee Steffen — 522 votes (winner)
• Chris Delboni — 395 votes

5) Regional directors
• Region 1: Jane Primerano (unopposed) — 142 votes
• Region 4: Patricia Gallagher Newberry (unopposed) — 77 votes
• Region 5: Michele Day (unopposed) — 88 votes
• Region 7: Kari Williams (unopposed) — 32 votes
• Region 8: Eddye Gallagher (unopposed) — 65 votes
• Region 9: Ed Otte (unopposed) — 47 votes

6) Student representative (two open seats)
Keem O. Muhammad — 414 votes (winner)
Maggie Gottlieb (of the University of Maryland) — 387 votes (winner)
• Emily Bloch — 282 votes
• Jessica Hice — 241 votes
• Katherine Rosenhammer — 84 votes

There were 1,016 votes, for a turnout of 16 percent.

Board votes 13-3 against new boundaries, contraction

On Monday, the SPJ national board met electronically to discuss a proposal to change the board structure.

Region 3 Director Michael’s Koretzky’s proposal had four parts, including cutting the number of SPJ regions from 12 to 9. Also, one of the two campus adviser at-large positions would be cut. That would decrease the size of the national board from 23 to 19.

Some of the savings by having less stipend money could be distributed to chapters for programming.

The board had a conference call about the idea on May 9, but held off taking any action, to gather reaction from SPJ chapters and members.

On Monday, during our second meeting about the proposal, the board voted 13-3 to reject it. There was one abstention.

The only three votes in favor were by Koretzky, President-Elect Lynn Walsh and Region 6 Director Joe Radske.

I voted no. I’m not against contracting the board, and I appreciate the window of opportunity we have with no declared candidates yet for the three regional director positions that would be cut. But I’d like to see a more comprehensive review of the board makeup and structure than this one change.

Cutting three positions without people in them might seem like a simple change, but the board heard feedback from people across the country who didn’t like the new groupings of states and chapters. Some cited cohesion between certain chapters. Others questioned the much longer distances they would have to travel for regional conferences.

Koretzy’s response to the travel question was that people can attend whichever regional conference they want. That’s true, but it doesn’t answer the legitimate concern about Mark of Excellence Awards that are given out at regional conferences. A student wouldn’t enter in one region, then attend an MOE award luncheon in another.

We could try to fix that, too, by letting students enter the MOE awards in whatever region they want. But that could get sticky. Could a student in Los Angeles enter in the Northeast? Maybe we could require students to enter their own region or one that is contiguous.

Perhaps these details could be worked out, but we didn’t work them out in advance and didn’t provide answers. Thus, the objections.

Over the weekend, I posted my thoughts about the proposal, as well other possible changes we could make to the national board.

The most significant part of my idea is to remove regional directors from the board. We could have a set number of at-large board members instead. The regional director positions could remain and the boundaries wouldn’t be affected.

I will be part of a task force President Paul Fletcher has created to study the function and structure of the national board. I will pitch my idea as part of our review.

Some points raised during Monday’s electronic board meeting:

• Region 11 Director Matt Hall: If we change the structure of regional conferences first, it might be easier to change the regions afterward.

• Region 12 Director Amanda Womac: Grassroots representation, through regional directors, is important.

• Region 9 Director Tom Johnson: The chapters in his region are strongly opposed to the new boundaries.

• Radske: The changes make sense for his region, but cutting a campus adviser position on the board is a mistake.

• At-large Director Bill McCloskey: This is a solution looking for a problem. If money for chapters is the point, let’s figure out how to free up money in the budget.

• Walsh: It’s not a perfect plan, but it’s a change worth doing now. We can work on finer details later.

• Region 5 Director Deborah Givens: The size of the board is not a problem. We have other topics to address.

There were amendments to Koretzky’s plan (such as eliminating Kentucky’s switch to Region 2) before the board voted.

The board received a fair amount of comments on this, although not as many as if we had tried to publicize the proposal earlier, such as before the first meeting.

I heard two comments from Region 2 — both from North Carolina folks who want to see their state remain in this region.

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