Posts Tagged ‘Delaware Pro’

Gleanings from chapter reports (pro)

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

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

• Last year, the Delaware Pro chapter folded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Annual report observations (pros)

Some items of interest as I reviewed this year’s Region 2 annual reports for pro chapters:

Washington, D.C., Pro:

  • A job fair held jointly with other journalism organizations for the second straight year did well. There were 235 job seekers, 22 media companies and 74 volunteers.
  • The journalism service project was interesting: working with interns at Street Sense, a biweekly newspaper written largely by people who are or were homeless.
  • The chapter co-sponsored the D.C. Open Government Summit.

Delaware Pro:

  • One program was a joint screening with the ACLU of a film called “Shadows of Liberty,” a look at media “censorship, cover-ups and corporate control.”
  • The chapter hosted a discussion on criminal justice reform with the state attorney general.
  • There is a special rate on chapter dues for retirees and students.

Maryland Pro:

  • Cool program idea #1: A look back at coverage of the Baltimore protests and riots
  • Cool program idea #2: A talk with Maryland’s new Public Information Act ombudsman
  • Cool program idea #3: A joint meeting with Tweetmasters of Anne Arundel County to look at the best ways to use Periscope

North Carolina Pro:

  • Worked with the Triangle Association of Black Journalists
  • Held a meeting and dinner to hear from local authors
  • A neat statement in the chapter bylaws: All membership meetings and programs are on the record and open to coverage.

Virginia Pro:

  • The chapter stood up for journalists covering the statehouse in Richmond after their seats were moved off the floor and into the gallery.
  • It awarded two fellowships — for one professional and one student — to attend EIJ 15.
  • Under its bylaws, the chapter board includes a representative from the Virginia Commonwealth University chapter.

Greater Charlotte Pro:

  • Programs included a tour of the ESPNU/SEC studios, a discussion of career resilience for journalists and another on good writing.

Annual report tidbits (pro edition)

As journos know, the first time is interesting, the second indicates a trend.

In that vein, we continue the annual tradition of sharing intriguing nuggets from the annual reports SPJ chapters are required to file. It started with last year’s pro and campus chapter reports.

There are six SPJ professional chapters in Region 2. Here are highlights of what they did in the past journo-fiscal year.

Washington, D.C., Pro (my home chapter): Two of the more unusual programs this year were about net neutrality and obituary writing. For the second year, the chapter was a co-sponsor of a successful job fair held at Georgetown University (210 job seekers, 19 recruiters). It’s a good example of journalism organizations working together. The other co-sponsors are the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Asian American Journalists Association, the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association and the Washington Association of Black Journalists. When the chapter did a direct-mail campaign to retain people with expiring memberships, 10 to 12 percent responded with renewal checks.

Virginia Pro: The chapter was instrumental in College Media Day, which also was held for the second time. For $10, students hear from pros on topics such as jobs and internships, covering campus crime, drones, FOI, interviewing and much more. There’s also a Virginia Pro tradition of honoring George Mason, who wrote Virginia’s Declaration of Rights, the forerunner of the Bill of Rights. The chapter lays a wreath at the Mason Memorial in D.C., reads the Declaration of Rights and visits his home, which is now a museum.

Delaware Pro: Just like the D.C. effort, Delaware Pro contacts people to let them know their membership is expiring. It’s important to hold onto the existing members as you also try to attract new one. There was a “tweet up” and holiday happy hour, in which journos and Delaware PR people had some face-to-face time. The chapter was the first organization in the state to organize a debate for the Democratic candidates for state treasurer. The chapter has a mentoring program in which journalism students can connect with a pro.

Maryland Pro: The chapter’s leaders did a lot of the planning work for this year’s regional conference at the University of Maryland, College Park. One of the programs this year, through a collaboration with the Maryland-Delaware-DC Press Association, was a lively panel discussion in Annapolis on social media. The chapter built a new website. It had the most detailed financial records accompanying its annual report, with dozens of pages of bank statements, receipts and membership dues payments.

Charlotte Pro: By the numbers, this was the most active chapter in Region 2, listing 12 programs on its annual report. Of course, quality matters, too; there was good stuff on the list. Professional development programs included effective videography, skillful interviewing and social media for reporting, podcasting and coverage of religion. Programs looked ahead and back at significant events. Journalism movie night – “Absence of Malice,” with an ethics discussion – was a good idea. This year, the chapter started a contest for journalism excellence.

North Carolina Pro: The chapter was right up there with the Charlotte Pro chapter in terms of activity; it had 11 programs listed on its report. It touched on an SPJ core value with a program on race relations coverage and diversity in the newsroom. The chapter scored points for creativity for some of its other activities, including a Thanksgiving social (guests shared what journalistic things they were thankful for) and two community service programs – answering phones at a telethon and volunteering at the Duke University campus farm.

To all: Keep up the good work. Your time and efforts are much appreciated.

The teeth sink in, and don’t let go

I’ve worked with and gotten to know Amy Cherry a little through SPJ. She’s the president of the Delaware Pro chapter, and seems pleasant.

Then, I caught this July 29 clip of her on the job, reporting for WDEL radio and my impression of her changed dramatically.

Wow. You must watch this. It’s about 5 minutes long.

Amy Cherry confronts councilman

I was riveted as I watched this confrontation. Most of all, it’s rare to see a reporter so coolly clobber an elected official (who deserved it) into submission, for so long. This was part watchdog, part bulldog.

I enjoy reading when the Poynter Institute interviews journalists to dissect their accomplishments, so I asked Amy if she would do something similar by email. Here’s the story behind the story, including an FOI component that is impressive and important, too.


What did this councilman do? This confrontation appears to be about whether he returned to Delaware for a special meeting from Maryland, as he claimed, or from Florida, as you discovered. What was the significance either way?

Councilman At-Large Mike Brown lied about his whereabouts when I asked whether he would be present for a special veto override vote that would cut funding for eight vacant positions in the Wilmington Fire Department. Brown told me, of course, he would be present for the vote since it was his original bill and that he was out-of-state in neighboring Maryland. Brown was actually in Florida when he told me that and when I asked him again whether he was in Florida at all this past week, he lied and said, “No.” This lie is significant because Brown was trying to cover up that the City of Wilmington paid $1,000 for him to fly first class on U.S. Airways from Orlando to Philadelphia to return for the veto override vote.


How did you find out the truth? What did you do to find and question him when he came back for the meeting? Talk about the chase.

I found out the truth by digging to obtain Brown’s flight ticket, which since the city paid for it, it’s a public document. Because time was of the essence and FOIA would take weeks, I used my contacts to get that flight receipt in my hand to prove Brown was lying and that the city paid $1,000 for him to return for a vote that would cut the Fire Department’s budget. Instead of meeting him at the airport, I decided to camp outside his home, thinking it was logical for Brown to return home from the airport since he had several hours in between his flight and the override vote.

After waiting about an hour, a black Lexus pulled up, and Mike Brown began to get out of the car. I got out of my car with my microphone in my hand and my photog and Brown quickly jumped back in the car and his driver took off. I jumped back in my car with my photog, and we quickly raced after him. Brown’s driver led us on a chase through city streets around the block. Though traffic laws were largely obeyed, it was clear he was trying to lose me. After about five minutes, we ended up back in front of his home, where I confronted him.


You aggressively confronted him about what he said and did, not willing to let him off the hook. Were you surprised he confessed so quickly? Or did you know you could get him to talk?

I wasn’t sure Brown would talk, especially after trying to lose me in a chase. The man knew he had been caught, and at first, after he responded “no comment,” I thought to myself, ‘OK this is going to end here,’ but I still have the proof and some video, so the story can stand. But I was surprised he continued to talk not only admitting to the lie, but admitting to it several times and digging his grave deeper. He went so far as to say another city councilman was the driver who led us on the chase. What was even more surprising was when he told me to get off his property (note: my photog stayed on the street the ENTIRE time), that Brown then called me back to talk more.

One of my favorite moments of the video is where he said, “I didn’t do anything wrong wrong.” Traveling first class on the city’s dime may not have been illegal or against policy in these circumstances, but you did lie, and you did spend a lot of city money to come back to cut another department’s budget.


This is a great example of a reporter controlling an interview and staying poised. Did that come natural for you?

Staying poised did come naturally for me. I’ve undergone professional vocal training and performed in several plays in high school, so I’ve always been comfortable in front of an audience and interviewing others. But it helped that I was running off adrenaline, especially after the car chase. I knew I had the proof and that he had been caught. It angered me that someone in a position of trust would lie to me, especially if like he said, “he knew I was going to find out anyway.” It angered me that he would try to run from it. Don’t lie to a reporter, you will get caught.

Also, I must add, I was grateful to have a photog (a rarity in the radio business – I probably have a photog twice a year!) so that I could focus on questioning him and really listen to his responses. The whole confrontation took about 5-6 minutes, but it felt a lot longer.


What reaction have you gotten to this piece?

The story and video were among the highest viewed in WDEL history. The video/story received a mention on Romenesko and was aired on the NBC10 Philadelphia 11 p.m. news that night.

Since the story aired, I have received so many phone calls and emails from Delaware politicians and citizens, congratulating me for an investigative job well done and hoping they never get on my “bad side.”
But the best part was walking into the City Council chambers ahead of the veto override vote to a round of applause from city fireman and women. I got so many “thank you’s” and hugs, including from the Wilmington Fire Chief. After the veto override failed, I got more hugs, with many truly believing my story caused the veto override to fail and some councilmen/women to change their minds, saving the Wilmington Fire Department from being cut. I hear the new word around town is, “Don’t lie to Amy Cherry.”

SPJ immersion

That’s the best way I can think of to describe the Ted Scripps Leadership Institute – SPJ immersion.

You learn a lot about a lot, from what SPJ is and does to the psychology of leadership.

I’ll leave it at that, so as not to give away the curriculum from this coming weekend’s leadership session in Richmond, Va. I will be there as Region 2 director, sharing my SPJ experiences and wisdom.

Under the new “traveling” format for the Scripps Institute (coming to a region near you), the Richmond session will be heavy on Region 2 participants:

Christina Jackson from the Western Carolina University chapter

Keith Cannon from Greater Charlotte Pro

Jonathan Michels from North Carolina Pro

Melissa Burke from Delaware Pro

Amy Cherry from Delaware Pro

David Cabrera from the Salisbury University chapter

Minal Bopaiah from Washington, D.C., Pro

April Bethea from Greater Charlotte Pro

David Burns from Maryland Pro

Brett Hall from the University of Maryland chapter

Emily Schweich from the University of Maryland chapter


I am excited to spend some time with this Region 2 crew, several of whom I have met in person and electronically.

See you in Virginia.


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