Posts Tagged ‘Matthew Hall’


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.

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.

 

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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