Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category


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.

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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).

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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.

Statements, honors, conventions: What the board did, and discussed

ICYMI, as the acronymists like to say…

Here is a recap of the April 18 national SPJ board meeting in Indianapolis. Not everyone has the time or patience to watch an hours-long meeting by livestream, but several of these topics will interest SPJ members.

Everything we discussed and voted on is part of a board packet with greater details on most topics.

1 – SPJ President Dana Neuts gave a report (p. 2 in the packet) on some of the things that have happened during her time in office or that are in the works. It’s worth a read. For example: the number of public statements SPJ has issued since improving its communications process, the number of communities (like chapters, but related to common interests) SPJ now has, translations of the new SPJ Code of Ethics into other languages and specific efforts to focus on diversity.

2 – An update on what SPJ is doing to improve its technology. It’s spelled out in a memo from the fall (p. 17) and an update memo from April (p. 58).

3 – SPJ is doing pretty well financially (an explanation by Executive Director Joe Skeel, with specifics, is on p. 21). The board unanimously approved a $1.18 million spending plan for fiscal year 2016 — up 9.7 percent from the current year. Revenue is expected to be $1.21 million, up 2 percent from the current year.

4 – Four new chapters were chartered (p. 36): American University in Bulgaria, University of Massachusetts, Nova Southeastern and California State Polytechnic University. That’s right – there is now an SPJ chapter in Bulgaria.  It joins two other SPJ international chapters — one in Qatar and one in the United Arab Emirates. There is also one virtual chapter – at Ashford University.

5 – The ballot is filling up for SPJ national offices. As it stands now, there will be a contested election for secretary-treasurer (p. 37), which is usually a stepping stone toward becoming president. [I plan to run again for Region 2 director. Anyone else who would like to run for this or any other office should email Sonny Albarado at salbarado@spj.org.]

6 – If you’re interested in a brief status report from the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation board: p. 38.

7 – For a status report from SPJ staff at headquarters: p. 40. Some highlights: SPJ is hiring new employees as we are hired to help run other journalism organizations (p. 42); SPJ has developed a good relationship with Google for training activities (p. 45); there will be more training to help delegates understand what happens at the national convention (p. 50).

8 – Why is SPJ’s national convention almost always in September? Executive Director Joe Skeel has laid out the various factors (p. 51). It’s hard to balance the competing interests, such as school calendars and the season for the best hotel rates. Skeel noted that certain cities fill the criteria we want (appeal, food options, geography, meeting space, airport proximity) much better than others. The board agreed to have HQ staff investigate options with higher room rates (i.e., $225 instead of $175). That might add places such as New York City back into the mix, adding benefits that could outweigh costs. Stay tuned.

9 – The staff looked into the idea of extending the postgraduate discount membership rate ($37.50 instead of $75 a year) from three years to four years (p. 54). There was no strong feeling either way, so the board left it alone.

10 – Speaking of communications… When should SPJ speak (p. 59)? Should we issue statements about the deaths of journalists? If they’re prominent? If they’re killed while working? Should we comment on acts of terrorism involving journalists or newsrooms? This was a lengthy, lively debate, but there were no clear answers. My suggestion was for us to start with one question: When can we make a difference? At other times, we can be part of the discussion through social media, which might serve the same purpose.

11 – And speaking of statements… SPJ’s First Amendment advocacy usually is limited to matters of a free press and sometimes free speech. But we ended up weighing in on a freedom of religion issue, with a statement, when Indiana passed its Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In this case, SPJ spoke as an Indiana entity and employer, stating our opposition to discrimination. (Read President Dana Neuts’ very transparent blog post about the internal SPJ debate and dissent.) This sparked more board discussion about when we should speak, and, in particular, how we should handle a comparable situation that might lie ahead. Louisiana has its own Religious Freedom Restoration Act in the works. This could become an SPJ matter again because our 2016 national convention will be in New Orleans. Also, the national board might meet there in the spring before the convention. Moving the convention could put SPJ out hundreds of thousands of dollars, which would hurt the organization greatly. But we are thinking of moving the board meeting, and telling leaders in Louisiana what we would do and why. Again, stay tuned.

12 – 41 percent of SPJ members have no representation in votes taken at the national convention. That’s because they don’t belong to chapters, which send delegates to vote on matters such as the SPJ Code of Ethics update last year or bylaws changes, or the occasional other weighty topic, such as whether to stop giving a Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2012, the system changed to allow all SPJ members to vote on elections for national officers, but the system has not changed on business items – which are difficult to put out to vote in advance, since they are often amended on the floor. Anyway, a committee (including me) is going to look at how to address the imbalance (p. 62). Feedback on this thorny issue is welcome.

13 – The national board agreed to add $30,000 into a new advocacy (“Legal Offense”) fund (p. 69).

14 – As mentioned above, a new policy says that convention delegates will get more training. It also sets guidelines for transparency in convention business and election. For example, vote totals must be given after a vote, which didn’t always happen (p. 75).

15 – Another contentious topic was whether to change the procedure for selecting the Wells Memorial Key, SPJ’s highest honor. A committee recommended giving the full 23-member national board the final say, but past winners and some other opponents objected. A compromise is that it will become a function of the Executive Committee (with seven members), rather than just the officers (five people). Also, the full board will get the list of nominees to review each year, as well as a running list of 10 years’ worth of nominations. Part of the debate was about how to broaden the pool of nominations and honor diversity. The full board will decide the winners of other SPJ awards. (p. 76)

That’s not a full account of the meeting, but it’s pretty close. Also check out President Neuts’ more timely and concise recap.

 

Tech upgrade for SPJ

The SPJ national board agreed on Tuesday (Nov. 18) to spend some money – $32,000 to improve the society’s technology systems.

As a memo on the project described, SPJ’s technology has three parts – an in-house database (called iMIS), a hosting provider and a website.

The database and the website were launched at around the same time in the mid-1990s and were not integrated.

“Because our database wasn’t set up correctly in the first place, upgrades and web integration proved more difficult,” the memo from HQ says. “Over the years, those upgrades and integrations have led to a tangled web that complicate[s] day to day operations.”

One specific example is registrations for SPJ’s national conference, which have to be entered manually.

The project that the national board approved will create “one cohesive platform for almost everything we do,” the memo says.

This will lead to enhanced features on the website and more efficient, improved use of the database (this is boiling down the explanation greatly).

The project will happen in three parts. The first part will take four to six weeks. The second part will take six to nine weeks. If all goes according to plan, the improved member website will be available in late 2015.

This was the second time the national board has met by Skype. The meeting lasted about 13 minutes.

Sixteen of the 23 members of the national board participated in the call.

The vote in favor of the project and expenditure was 13-0. Those voting in favor were: me, Paul Fletcher, Lynn Walsh, Sue Kopen Katcef, Bill McCloskey, Alex Tarquinio, Jordan Gass-Poore’, Brett Hall, Becky Tallent, Michael Koretzky, Joseph Radske, Rob McLean, and Tom Johnson.

Mike Reilley and Patricia Gallagher Newberry were on the call, but didn’t vote. As president, Dana Neuts also didn’t vote. The president typically votes only to break a tie.

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