Posts Tagged ‘Openness and Accountability Best Practices Guide’


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.

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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