Posts Tagged ‘New Orleans’


From the spring SPJ board meeting

Better late than never…

Here are highlights of the actions and discussions from last month’s SPJ national board meeting in New Orleans:

Membership

• The big topic of the day was membership. I’m not sure how long ago it was that SPJ had at least 10,000 members, but the number has been dwindling and is now less than 7,000.

One of SPJ President Paul Fletcher”s top priorities has been to address this decline, which is why a group of SPJers convened in Scottsdale, Arizona, in January and brainstormed some ideas and strategies.

The plan last month in New Orleans was for the national board to go into executive session to hear about the ideas and discuss them. But several board members (including me) preferred to have the discussion in public, which we did.

We then did some brainstorming of our own, looking at the Arizona group’s outline — appealing in one sense to “fighters” (in the advocacy sense) and in another sense to those seeking a “lifetime connection” (helping journos young and old).

Many good ideas came out of this session — too many to list here. (Plus, our session was free form, writing suggestions on sticky notes on walls, and I wasn’t taking notes.) I’ll share more specifics as our discussion advances.

The rest of the agenda

• The board talked about a rough proposal by the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation board for a new SPJ position — someone who could be a central resource for journos in need. The person might travel to hotspots for national coverage (i.e., Ferguson, Mo., or Baltimore), particularly when issues of press freedom or access arrive. This is still just an idea that’s being molded.

It’s not up to the SPJ board to approve the position, but board members had ideas about the pros and cons. Region 3 Director Michael Koretzky suggested starting it with a one-year fellowship to see how well it works, rather than having a multi-year commitment, which is what the SDX board prefers to attract a top-notch person.

The SPJ board voted in favor of a motion to support the concept of the position. There were two votes against – from Koretzky and At-Large Director Bill McCloskey.

• The board went into executive session to discuss recommendations for this year’s Fellows of the Society.

• In his president’s report, Fletcher talked about efforts to improve the federal Freedom of Information Act, a new SPJ “choose your own adventure” SPJ program, and a meeting at the White House with Press Secretary Josh Earnest on concerns about limitations on gathering information from government officials.

Fletcher said the resolutions process will be different this year. Resolutions Committee Chairman Sonny Albarado will put out a call on May 1 for resolutions to be submitted before the national convention, so there’s more time to draft them and SPJ members to review them.

• Fletcher talked about the newest — and possibly youngest — SPJ member: 9-year-old Hilde Kate Lysiak of Pennsylvania. Hilde got national publicity for her dogged reporting for the newspaper she publishes, including a scoop she got about a homicide. The SPJ board chipped in to give Hilde a four-year SPJ membership.

• The board approved a $1,202,230 budget for fiscal year 2017 expenses, up about 1.2 percent from $1,187,905 in the current fiscal year. In a memo, Executive Director Joe Skeel called it “the most aggressive” SPJ budget he has prepared. “In the past, I only included revenue I was confident we would get,” he wrote. “This year, we are going to have to work hard to hit those projections.”

The budget includes $20,000 in new revenue for association management, which is the work SPJ does to help other journalism organizations operate. Usually, the budget includes merit-based raises of up to 4 percent, but this year, that was cut to 3 percent. Skeel noted that SPJ has about $600,000 in unrestricted cash reserves.

For a look at the full budget and the rest of the board meeting packet, go to https://www.spj.org/board-meeting.asp.

• The board approved three new SPJ student chapters — Samford University in Alabama, the University of Chicago, and Utah Valley University.

• We had a lengthy debate about a proposal for a new level of SPJ membership. It was proposed as “associate,” but it might be called “supporter” or something else (since there already is an “associate” membership category). These would be people who support journalism, but aren’t doing journalism. They would pay $20 a year to show their support, without getting the benefits of membership.

I cast one of the two votes against the proposal. I agree with the concept, but I had concerns about the possible confusion of creating a category that seems to duplicate something that already exists. Still, I look forward to seeing how this is carried out and how much outside financial support we get.

• There was another long debate about a recent membership drive by the SPJ Florida chapter. Chapter leaders used an “opt out” drive to sign up new members, particularly those who belong to Florida’s two other pro chapters, which are mostly inactive. This practice diverged from the philosophy at the national level, which was to stop assigning members to chapters based on geography, not on whether they asked to belong. For the Florida membership drive, if the person opened the email and didn’t write back with a refusal, he or she was signed up for the chapter.

I had another objection, too. I am strongly against anything “opt out,” in which someone has to expressly say no to avoid being enrolled in a group or added to a list. I don’t understand how “opt in,” in which a person is only enrolled or added by making a request, is insufficient. SPJ Florida is an excellent chapter and doesn’t charge dues. My objection was philosophical, and had nothing to do with the efforts or work of the chapter.

I made a motion that SPJ, at the national or local level, never use “opt out” marketing. Secretary-Treasurer Rebecca Baker seconded my motion, then withdrew her second, so the motion died.

• The board approved a recommendation by a task force that studied how to fix a gap in representation. About 41 percent of SPJ members do not belong to a chapter, so they don’t have delegates representing them on business matters at national conventions. The task force considered a few options, and settled on one — having an at-large delegate system. Unaffiliated members would choose delegates to represent them.

This is more complicated than the “one member, one vote” system that allows every member to vote electronically in national SPJ elections, but I don’t see another way. It’s impractical to have remote electronic voting on matters (such as a new SPJ Code of Ethics) that can and will be amended on the floor. We haven’t come up with a practical way to have national votes after a proposal has changed.

Three national board members voted against the at-large delegate proposal: President-Elect Lynn Walsh, Region 9 Director Tom Johnson, and Koretzky.

• In a related discussion, the board approved a protocol for making sure that convention delegates know they can call for a referendum. This topic was part of the review done by the 41 percent task force (on which I served). There was some concern that even though a referendum is allowed under SPJ’s bylaws, delegates have been told in the past that they could not call for a referendum. The 41 percent task force asked for a specific reference to a referendum in SPJ’s bylaws. The national board, however, rejected that idea and instead called for a specific reference in the instructions read aloud to delegates at the business session. I was the only board member to vote no on this idea, preferring to have the bylaws change.

Sigma Delta Chi Foundation board

• One noteworthy item on the agenda when the SDX board met the next day was whether to accept a $26,273 donation from Stephen Glass, a serial fabricator while working at the New Republic and other publications. Glass, who is trying to receive a law license in California, sent money back to publications he harmed. One of those publications folded, so Glass sent money to the SDX Foundation instead.

After an excellent, stimulating debate (one of the best I’ve heard in my SPJ time), the board decided to reject the money and return it to Glass, as it explained in this letter.

Hey ’19

The SPJ national board voted electronically on Dec. 22 to hold SPJ’s 2019 national convention in San Antonio.

There are a variety of reasons why this is a good thing, including a favorable bid on hotel rooms and convention space and a sensible rotation among regions of the country. The SPJ headquarters staff is very good at scouting convention sites and at running the conventions.

The Excellence in Journalism convention schedule for the next four years will be New Orleans in 2016, Anaheim in 2017, Baltimore in 2018 and now San Antonio in 2019.

The 2019 conference dates will be Sept. 5 to 7.

This brings up the annual dilemma about the best time of year to hold the national conference. Early September isn’t a great time for college students to break away from school, but there are many other factors (including cost) that sometimes necessitate picking that week.

As a side note, SPJ still needs to do better about sharing the news about votes taken by the board as they happen and letting members know in advance that the board is considering taking an action such as this. I generally try to post news about electronic meetings such as this one in advance, but didn’t this time.

I believe the board and HQ staff should publicize every meeting, even if there’s no practical way for the public to sit in on the meeting.

The following section is part of the Openness and Accountability Best Practices that SPJ encourages chapters to follow. The national board should try to follow them, too, and generally does — but not always.

  • Meetings

    SPJ meetings at the local and national level should follow the spirit of state sunshine laws (for a good description of open meeting law elements, see www.rcfp.org/ogg). Leaders should:

    — Post meeting time, date, and place information in advance for members, prospective members, and the public, on a website, Facebook page, email or other accessible venue.

    — Include action/discussion items in meeting agendas to increase meeting attendance and attract potential new members. Members should contact the president at least two days in advance of the meeting if they would like to request a topic for the agenda.

    — Allow anyone from the membership or public to observe meetings. Provide an open comment period to let people chime in.

    — 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.

    — Make meetings accessible, both physically and electronically. Meetings should be held where people are welcome to attend and can easily access. Consider GoToMeeting or other electronic means of broadcasting meetings and allowing participation for those cannot get to the meeting, but are interested in what happens.

    — Account for circumstances where private discussion among leaders is necessary, similar to state open meeting laws. For example, typical exemptions that might allow meeting in “executive session” include considering/debating the qualifications of new leader appointees, rent negotiations for space, pending/potential litigation, etc. If board members do discuss matters in executive session, they should come out and make any decisions and votes publicly.

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