Posts Tagged ‘Dana Neuts’


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.

SPJ board meets by Skype, debates code of ethics

“Transparency” is not just a principle to add to the SPJ Code of Ethics. It’s also a guide for how SPJ conducts its business, especially for the national board.

This week, SPJ took a small step forward as the national board held an electronic meeting.

In the past, remote meetings have been held by conference call, with no chance for the public to participate, listen or observe.

But SPJ has adopted an Openness and Accountability Best Practices Guide that acknowledges that meetings and official business are best done in the open, just as journalists expect of public bodies they cover.

On Wednesday at 7 p.m. Eastern, the SPJ national board used Skype to meet electronically for two topics.

I generally avoid Skype, but the meeting went pretty well. Here is a link to the archived broadcast.

I think we had about 20 people on the call at its peak. We kept from talking over each other by typing a message (“raises hand”) through Skype’s chat function. This is a transcript of that written discussion. In many places, the written comments won’t make sense without hearing the spoken comments.

We still need to do better.

It’s a great sign that links and a transcript of the discussion were posted shortly after the meeting, thanks to Tara Puckey at SPJ headquarters.

Hopefully, a summary of the board’s actions will be provided to all SPJ members soon, too. As the Openness Guide says: “Post a summary of the meeting at a chapter website promptly, preferably within five business days of the meeting, so members can keep abreast of chapter activities. Include any decisions or votes.”

***

We limited the agenda for the electronic meeting to two topics that needed to be discussed before the national convention in Nashville next month.

The first one was easy and quick. SPJ has created a “community” called SPJ Digital.

A community is a group of people with a common interest. It’s similar to a chapter, and can create a leadership structure and organize activities. But, unlike a chapter, it’s not based on geography.

SPJ Digital, led by Alex Veeneman, now has 80 members.

The national board approved the creation of this community by a unanimous voice vote.

***

The second topic — whether to endorse (a non-binding action) the newest draft of proposed changes to the SPJ Code of Ethics — took the bulk of our time.

The SPJ Ethics Committee has worked through three drafts, using public comments and collaboration by the committee last month at a meeting in Ohio.

The draft will go to delegates at the national convention in Nashville. It will be discussed at the opening business meeting Thursday, Sept. 4 (2 to 3:15 p.m.). Then, it will be debated, dissected and likely changed through amendments at the closing business session on Saturday, Sept. 6.

The closing business meeting is also when resolutions are introduced, debated and voted upon and when winning candidates for national SPJ offices are announced and sworn in.

The closing business session is scheduled for two hours – 3 to 5 p.m. Even if there are no controversial resolutions, I don’t expect two hours to be enough for scores of delegates to dissect more than 1,000 words of type and reach an agreement. The national board spent nearly that much time on Wednesday debating just two specific points.

I’m told that if needed, the closing business session can go longer, but not much. The next item on the schedule that day is the Legal Defense Fund Auction/Reception at 6:30 p.m., so the business meeting could run another 60 to 75 minutes or so.

Personally, I think debate over a code of ethics update is one of those extraordinary measures that calls for wiping clear a good chunk of the convention schedule. I’ll be disappointed if delegates’ debate is cut off just to follow a schedule and get to a reception.

***

To start discussion on the code of ethics on Wednesday, Secretary/Treasurer Paul Fletcher, who is on the Ethics Committee, moved that the board endorse the latest draft of the proposed code. Rebecca Tallent, a campus adviser at-large, seconded.

Several board members said they support the new version and it’s time for SPJ to move ahead. (The code of ethics was last updated in 1996.)

Immediate Past President Sonny Albarado agreed with some of the copyediting changes I pointed out in my critique of the third draft, especially fixing the typos. The Ethics Committee will be asked to correct any typos and change passive verb constructions to active.

There also was discussion about how the code of ethics will be turned into a “living document” — although that phrase doesn’t actually describe what would happen. It’s not that the code will be constantly updated. What the Ethics Committee has in mind is an “annotated code,” in which case studies are linked to certain principles for an expanded analysis.

***

Although there was little time or interest in doing a full-scale review of the latest draft during what was expected to be a relatively short board meeting, I recommended two changes.

The first concerned this line, which the Ethics Committee had recommended adding to the code: “Be cautious about reporting suicides that do not involve a public person or a public place.”

Ethics Committee Chairman Kevin Smith, in a blog post, wrote that the committee wanted to give a “gentle reminder” about the balance of private and public lives and whether their suicide deaths should become news, and in what detail.

However, I object to the subtext that suicide still should be seen as taboo and generally not a topic of news coverage. Actually, suicide is a serious national mental health concern and should be covered regularly and openly, whenever people are willing to talk. Those deaths should be handled with sensitivity, just like journalists should for deaths from any other causes, such as accidents.

Besides, the wording of this line, to my reading, has an inadvertent reverse message — that caution is not needed for suicide deaths involving a public person or public place. I don’t think that’s what the committee intended.

I moved that that line be removed from the draft of the code that the board endorsed. Student representative Lindsey Cook seconded.

After further discussion (see the transcript), the board voted in favor of my motion. Since the vote was oral, I’m not certain who voted which way, but I believe there were just three no votes.

***

The only other proposal for changing the draft also was mine.

I recommended that SPJ speak out in its code against anonymous online comments, or at least urge caution in allowing their use. Too many times, I see anonymous online comment threads turn into a cesspool of vicious, angry, racist and even libelous comments, all because people know they don’t have to attach their names to their thoughts.

For years, news organizations automatically allowed this free-for-all, but I’ve noticed that some are rethinking this and either shutting them down or more tightly monitoring them.

I moved that this passage be added in the “Minimize harm” section: “Encourage a civil exchange of public opinions, in which participants don’t mask their identities and poison the conversation. Recognize the potential harm of anonymous online comments.” Region 12 Director Tony Hernandez seconded.

Fletcher initially said he liked my suggestion and would accept it as a friendly amendment. However, there clearly was a difference of opinion (starting on p. 5 of the written transcript), so the board agreed to vote on that amendment.

It was voted down (we thought at the time that it was 11-4, but I now see that it was 10-5).

Yes (5): Schotz, Kopen Katcef, Hallenberg Christensen, Hernandez, Brett Hall

No (10): Corry, Neuts, Cook, Radske, Sheets, Matthew Hall, Fox, Tallent, Gallagher Newberry, Albarado

***

Region 4 Director Patti Gallagher Newberry moved for alternate wording: “Encourage online commenters to identify themselves so as to preserve civil discourse.” President-elect Dana Neuts seconded.

There was some support, but it didn’t acknowledge anonymous online comments; it was too subtle for me.

Matthew Hall proposed another alternate — “Encourage a civil exchange of public opinions” — but the board first had to vote on Gallagher Newberry’s motion.

Here, the discussion picked up and many people chimed in. Gallagher Newberry even recommended another version: “Encourage news consumers to identify themselves and offer civil exchanges when offering feedback to news coverage or issues of the day.” I think this is the version we voted on, although I’m not positive.

The board rejected Gallagher Newberry’s proposal by a voice vote.

***

I then put forward a simplified version of my earlier motion, striking the “poison” reference: “Encourage a civil exchange of public opinions. Recognize the potential harm of allowing anonymous online comments.” Hallenberg Christensen seconded.

There was more support this time, but this, too, was rejected — particularly as some board members were ambivalent about tinkering with the current draft. Again, the roll call vote was tough to monitor, as people’s votes scrolled by quickly, which is one reason we need a better system for an electronic meeting. It’s not good to be unsure of what you’re voting on or what the outcome is. Some people might have voted orally.

My final motion was rejected, 8-5.

Yes (5): Schotz, Gallagher Newberry, Hernandez, Kopen Katcef, Hallenberg Christensen

No (8): Matthew Hall, Cook, Albarado, Corry, Tallent, Fox, Sheets, Neuts

***

Finally, the board voted on whether to endorse the latest draft, as amended (without the reference to suicide).

The board voted 11-4 in favor. However, the transcript of the written comments, where we had been voting, show an incomplete total, missing more than half of the votes.

Here’s how it’s shown in the draft minutes compiled by SPJ headquarters, which are in the packet for the next board meeting:

Yes (11): Brett Hall, Neuts, Hernandez, Gallagher Newberry, Albarado, Hallenberg Christensen, Fox, Matthew Hall, Tallent, Kopen Katcef, Fletcher

No (4): Cook, Koretzky, Schotz, Corry

Abstain (1): Sheets

The meeting was adjourned at 8:54 p.m. Eastern.

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