Posts Tagged ‘Washington’


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.

From the annual reports (pro)

Three of the pro chapters in Region 2 submitted annual reports this year. Here are some highlights from their reports:

Maryland

• The top program of the year was a collaboration with the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association and the Salisbury University campus chapter: a program called “Can reporters balance activism and objectivity?”

• Chapter President Jennifer Brannock Cox was part of that panel, as well as one on President Donald Trump and the media. She gave a presentation on mobile apps at the Region 2 conference at Elon University in North Carolina.

• The chapter spoke out forcefully against the mayor of Baltimore’s decision to ban a radio reporter (and the chapter’s vice president at the time) from her weekly press briefing. Brannock Cox helped promote press freedom issues in Annapolis at the start of the the state legislature’s session.

Virginia

• The chapter in 2016 launched a program to match college students and early-career journalists to more experienced professionals. The chapter expects to expand the program.

• A trivia night mixer included the SPJ chapter and the Hampton Roads chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.

• The chapter gives scholarships to college journalists to attend the annual Excellence in Journalism conference.

Washington, D.C.

• The chapter held panel discussions on coverage of D.C. regional news, election coverage, police cameras, and solutions for the newsroom.

• #HomelessNewsBlitz was a chapter effort spearheaded by board member Eric Falquero, the editor in chief of Street Sense, a street paper. Local journalists gathered to report stories for an issue of the paper.

• The chapter hosted 18 journalists from Shanghai, China, for a lunch meeting.

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.

Thoughts on revamping the SPJ board

The SPJ board of directors is considering a plan to change the board’s makeup.

The plan has four parts.
One is to reduce the number of SPJ regions from 12 to 9. As proposed, this would be the new map: https://spjrefresh.com/motions
North Carolina would be removed from Region 2.
West Virginia and Kentucky would be added to Region 2.

The proposal was pitched by Region 3 Director Michael Koretzky. He explained it at https://spjrefresh.com/regions.

*****

The national board held an electronic meeting about the proposal on May 9.
Some considerations:
• geography: How does this affect the ability of a regional director (RD) to represent chapters and work with them? How does this affect regional conferences and travel plans, particularly for students?
• board structure: Should board members represent regions or be elected at large? Currently, there are 12 directors by region. Two pros, two campus chapter advisers and two student members are elected at large. The full board is listed at http://www.spj.org/spjboard.asp.
• benefits: Will this change be useful?

The board decided not to take any action during that meeting and instead solicit more public feedback.

SPJ President Paul Fletcher posted a summary of the proposal a few weeks ago and got several responses. His post is at: http://blogs.spjnetwork.org/president/2016/05/11/spj-considers-reduction-in-size-of-board.

This proposal would not require a bylaws change and can be approved by the board.
Koretzky sees a window of opportunity, since there are no declared candidates yet for the three RD positions that would be contracted.

The board will meet again electronically on Monday, May 23, at 1 p.m.
I will post a summary of the meeting.

*****

I see merit in the concept of contraction. Twenty-three people is a large number for a board in which all members are active.
I’m less enthused about the proposed boundaries. Kentucky and Washington, D.C., for example, are pretty far apart to be grouped together. But, regions in the west already are quite large.

No grouping that we choose will be perfect. Also, RDs don’t need to worry much anymore about traveling throughout the region (except for the regional conference). Electronic communication and participation should be sufficient.

*****

On the “useful” question, Koretzky cited four benefits:
1) A smaller board would be more “nimble.”
2) We have trouble finding candidates for regional director.
3) Fewer regions could lead to more contested races.
4) Cost savings.

My thoughts:

1) Skeptics on the board have focused on this point the most. How is it more “nimble” to have 19 people gather for a meeting (in person or electronically) than 23?
Fewer people can have more efficient discussions and debates (but that’s no guarantee). In a smaller group, it’s more likely that everyone’s voice is heard. A big factor is who is running the meeting and allowing or cutting off debate.
For electronic meetings — which are becoming more frequent for the board — the number of people participating matters even more. We are using a video conferencing system called Zoom that includes a chat function, which helps. Still, there are some people (like me) who participate by phone because these electronic meetings always are in the middle of the work day. Twenty-three board members, plus headquarters staff, on a conference call is clunky. It’s hard to get around that, though, unless we drop down to single digits.

There other considerations, too, for how large a board should be. More on that below.

2) This is mostly true. RD races are usually uncontested. Often, an RD who is completing a term recruits a replacement to take over.
There are exceptions, though, especially when RD seats become vacant. During my time on the board, the last five times an RD seat was vacated in the middle of a term, there were multiple people interested and the board had to choose.
I don’t know why there is more interest in those cases. Maybe we get the word out better for vacancies than scheduled elections. Maybe people are more willing to fill out a term than make a two-year commitment.

3) This might be true. If we have six states from which to draw candidates in a region instead of five, common sense says a larger candidate pool is more likely — but we can’t be sure.
On the other hand, if the new RD territory seems unmanageable under the proposed changes, we could get fewer candidates.

4) The cost savings is legitimate. RDs are entitled to a $1,500 stipend to cover travel costs. Nine stipends instead of 12 would be less money.
Some of that savings would boost stipends for RDs. That’s appealing for RDs who rely on the stipend and could lead to more RD candidates, as described above. The rest of the savings would help chapters with programming. That’s useful, too.

*****

Last week, I was curious about what guidance was out there on the topic of nonprofit board size.
I looked at three websites with pieces on this topic.
All agreed that 23 is a large number for a nonprofit board, unless spots are designated for people with fundraising connections. (That’s not a factor for the SPJ national board.)
These pieces suggested the mid-teens as a maximum, depending on the size of the organization and the work of the board.

Here are links and excerpts from what I read:

1. Nonprofit Law Blog

http://www.nonprofitlawblog.com/number-of-directors-whats-the-best-practice

“Maximum number of directors.  Setting a maximum number of directors is a trickier issue and one not appropriate for legislation.  If all of your directors are each meeting their fiduciary duties and providing value to the organization, there may be no need to reduce their number based on some arbitrary best practice maximum.  On the other hand, from a practical perspective, if an organization has so many directors that individual directors reasonably believe that they do not have the opportunity to meaningfully participate in discussions, deliberations, and decision-making, the organization has too many directors.

“The Panel on the Nonprofit Sector notes that ‘[a]lthough a larger board may ensure a wide range of perspectives and expertise, a very large board may become unwieldy and end up delegating too much responsibility to an executive committee or permitting a small group of board members to exercise substantial control.’ Inactive directors, more interested in affiliation than governance, may get a free ride from the active participation of a core group, but this is not an ideal situation. Note that very large boards played a major part in the recent high profile governance problems of organizations like the American Red Cross, United Way, and Nature Conservancy.”

A report from the Council on Foundations, At Issue: What is the Best Size for Your Board? (January 2006), details some of the advantages and disadvantages of large boards.
Advantages:
•    Large numbers allow for more opportunities for diversity and inclusiveness.
•    More seats allow for for inclusion of legal and financial advisors, community leaders and funding area experts.
•    Work can be shared among the group; more people are available to serve on committees.
•    Fundraising may be easier because there are more people on the board with more connections.
•    More board members helps maintain institutional memory in times of leadership change.
Disadvantages:
•    Members may feel less individual responsibility and less ownership of the work.
•    Large groups may hinder communication and interactive discussion.
•    Cliques or core groups may form, deteriorating board cohesion.
•    Some voices may not be heard.
•    Bigger boards may not be able to engage all members, which can lead to apathy and loss of interest.
•    Meetings are more difficult to schedule; more staff time is needed to coordinate board functions.

2. This is from The Nonprofit Consultant Blog:

http://nonprofitconsultant.blogspot.com/2010/06/how-many-board-members.html

“The generally accepted number for most small- to mid-sized nonprofits is 9-14 members. Any fewer and you will burn out your members quickly with multiple duties, have difficulty making a quorum when even a couple of people are ill or out-of-town, and you will fail to build in new leadership development into your regular board activities. Many more than that and meetings can get bogged down in side conversations, factionalization, and members will begin to feel that they’re no longer contributing or making a difference.”

3. This was the third piece I read:

http://www.bridgespan.org/Publications-and-Tools/Nonprofit-Boards/Nonprofit-Boards-101/Size-of-Board.aspx#.VzVEPxUrKi5

The Bridgespan Group
Average board sizes
Remember that every board is different. Average figures only reflect what exists, not a recommended norm. Newly-formed boards often start cautiously with a small number of members, and expand as the organization gets more established and the programs and services diversify. It is common to encounter large boards in older, more institutionalized organizations where a principal role of the board members tends to be fundraising. Small community-based nonprofits are often governed by a few devoted volunteers. A recent BoardSource survey found that, among those nonprofits who responded, the average size of the board is 16, the median 15.
Regulation of size in the bylaws
Normally the size of the board is determined in the bylaws of the organization. It is wise to set a guideline within a certain range, not an exact number, so that an unforeseen situation does not force the board to contradict its bylaws. Term limits and constant recruitment secure a continuous balance. Some boards find it important to have an uneven number of members to avoid a tie vote. This, however, can be managed by the chair who can either abstain from voting or cast a determining vote to break a tie.
Resizing
Structural factors, including size, can have consequences on the board’s efficiency. Down-sizing or increasing the size may eliminate some road blocks, but the board’s core problem may lie elsewhere. Before restructuring the board, it may be wise to search elsewhere for reasons of malfunction. Is there a lack of commitment or lack of leadership? Involving outsiders in committees, task forces or advisory groups is another way to benefit from skills and perspectives without actually changing the board’s size. Executive committees may also facilitate the functioning of a larger board.

*****

I’d also like SPJ to think more broadly, beyond optimal numbers and geographical boundaries.
I see an opportunity in this analysis for what could be two meaningful changes.

First, SPJ should consider a representational model that the Radio Television Digital News Association uses. RTDNA’s board includes ex officio members from other journalism organizations:
• National Association of Black Journalists
• National Association of Hispanic Journalists
• Native American Journalists Association
• National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association
• Asian American Journalists Association
• UNITY: Journalists for Diversity
• Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication

Which, of course, means more board slots. I count 33 members for RTDNA.

I thought NABJ, NAHJ, NAJA, NLGJA and AAJA would be good candidates for representation on the SPJ board.
I contacted those organizations to ask for their thoughts, and only heard from two (NAHJ and AAJA). Neither was excited about the idea.

To have this type of cross-organization representation would require a more radical change to the current SPJ board structure.

How about:
• 4 officers (president, president-elect, secretary-treasurer, vice president for campus chapter affairs)
• 2 students
• 1 campus adviser at large
• 5 ex officio members from the journalism organizations above
• 5 pro members elected at large

That’s a total of 17.

That leads to the second meaningful change: Removing regional directors from the board.
Currently, RDs have a dual role — overseeing a region and serving on the board.
As an RD, I can attest that both roles require time and attention. I’d rather see one person in one role and a second person in the other role.
I can’t recall any topic in which “the Northeast” might feel one way and “the Midwest” another, so there is no need for regional representation in this way on national issues.
Board members should be elected for their abilities to manage an organization, think creatively, look to the future, etc. The RD role is beside the point for all of that.

This would create the most upheaval and the most questions.
Would the current RDs try to remain on the board or stick to overseeing their local chapters?
Would there be a need for more stipend money for more people (at-large directors, plus RDs)?
Would someone be interested in just the RD part of the job and give up the board representation part?

All of the above needs more discussion. That’s OK, though. A fuller analysis of board structure and function is fine, since we’re going down that path.

Feedback on any of the above is welcome, by email or through a post on this page.

-Andy Schotz, Region 2 director, LawnGyland@aol.com

Annual report tidbits (campus edition)

Wednesday afternoon, I posted highlights of the interesting and impressive things that SPJ’s pro chapters in Region 2 did in the past journo-fiscal year. Those details came from the annual reports that chapters were required to submit several weeks ago.

Now, the campus chapters. There are details I picked out from the eight campus chapter reports turned in this year.

Elon University: The chapter participated in the “Race and the Modern Newsroom” program with the North Carolina Pro chapter, talking about race relations and diversity. It worked with the North Carolina Sunshine Center on a discussion of open records requests and laws. Other programs were with the author of a book about SEAL Team 6, a former Associated Press who was featured in the book “Boys on the Bus,” and a panel knowledgeable about freelancing.

George Mason University: This chapter went dormant several years ago, but a core group has done a great job of reviving it. Its programs included a session on digitizing a resume, two separate media panel discussions, a talk by a former USA Today editor, and a tour of the NBC station in D.C. Its idea of fundraising with a contest to guess how many jelly beans was different. I liked the idea of creating a 30-second video to promote the journalism program and the SPJ chapter, a supplement to several recruiting efforts it had.

Georgetown University: The chapter, only four years old, has grown strong. It hosted and did most of the work on the 2014 Region 2 conference and is the host chapter for a journalism job fair with five other organizations, including the Washington, D.C., Pro SPJ chapter. Other activities were a “Powerful Women in the Media” program that built off the Netflix series “House of Cards” and volunteer work with the Washington Association of Black Journalists’ annual Urban Journalism Workshop for high school students. An FOI program had a clever addition: an FOI quiz for anyone on campus who was interested.

 High Point University: The First Amendment Free Food Festival — a fun, thought-provoking event that has been held on numerous campuses — drew the biggest crowd of any High Point U. chapter program did this year. Students get a free meal in exchange for giving up their First Amendment rights. In other programs, a TV investigative reporter talked about trying to get information that other people are trying to hide, Time Warner Cable staff showed their 24/7/365 news operation, and a newspaper publisher and reporter led a discussion on the use of anonymous sources.

Salisbury University: The chapter has been so successful in raising money, it sent 12 students to the 2014 Region 2 conference at Georgetown University. Working with local restaurants that donate 10 to 20 percent of sales during a certain period, the chapter raises $120 to $200 at a time. The money also supports workshops the chapter has done on video journalism, photojournalism, interviewing and other topics. The chapter also raised $300 for the American Cancer Society through Relay for Life.

 University of Maryland: The list of activities on the annual report was long. The chapter is good at outreach, through a fall “welcome back barbecue” for the journalism school and exam goodie baskets, which are a fundraiser, too. The chapter — which hosted the 2015 Region 2 conference — is the only one in the region with programs in FOI (a Region 2 conference session), ethics (a session on the First Amendment and free speech), diversity (a talk by the Washington Post’s first black female reporter) and service (two blood drives). There was a debate watching party, a resume workshop and some journalism field trips, too.

Virginia Commonwealth University: VCU’s chapter organized a panel discussion on diversity in the media, helped organize a ceremony to celebrate the changing of the journalism school’s name and hosted a “journalism and a movie” evening. The chapter was part of several broader programs, such as a student organization fair and a media center mixer. The most unusual activity (and probably the most fun) was a “Battle of the Masses” dodgeball competition with other mass communications groups.

Western Carolina University: Chapter members opened their workshops to the entire communications department, including one on building a multimedia portfolio and another (that was held three times) on verification on social media. On the social front, the chapter jointly held a Christmas social with two other groups and organized a bowling night. To celebrate Constitution Day in September, chapter members created a Free Speech Wall on campus. The chapter raised about $120 through a bake sale.

I found these reports enlightening and inspiring. A great deal of work and thought went into creating many worthwhile professional development and social events, including several things that I never would have thought of. Well done, Region 2.

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.

As Buzzfeed might say: 23 things from the SPJ board packet for this weekend

Items in the packet for Saturday’s SPJ national board meeting include (watch from home via livestream starting at 9 a.m.; the pages note where to find the item in the packet):

1 – There will be five Ted Scripps Leadership Institute sessions in SPJ’s next fiscal year (p. 24). The places and dates haven’t been announced yet, other than: Region 10 in July, Region 5 in August and Region 6 in November.

2 – SPJ expects to have a $1.2 million budget for the coming year (p. 25).

3 – There are four new chapters seeking to be chartered, including American University in Bulgaria (p. 36). Only one chapter is being considered for inactivation (the number might grow when this year’s annual reports come in – or don’t come in).

4 – At least 14 people have committed to run for positions on the national board – including two for secretary/treasurer (p. 37). A few others who are considering running are named here, too. [Editor’s note: I am planning to run for re-election as Region 2 director. If anyone who would like to run for that or any other national SPJ position, contact Nominations Committee Chairman Sonny Albarado at salbarado@spj.org.]

5 – The Sigma Delta Chi Foundation had $12.3 million in holdings as of Jan. 31, 2015 (p. 38). Also, SPJ and SDX are working on a transition of a new division of duties and responsibilities.

6 – Did you know SPJ is helping to manage other journalism associations? Read the list. (p. 42) SPJ Executive Director Joe Skeel says this “further cement[s] SPJ’s role in the journalism landscape: to be the ‘umbrella’ organization that helps other groups better reach their mission.”

7 – SPJ and other journalism organizations are talking about ways to make it easy for people to join multiple groups at once (p. 43).

8 – The next SPJ JournCamp – a day of professional training – will be June 13 in New York City (p. 45). Other cities being considered: San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Houston or Dallas, New Orleans and Boston.

9 – “Since September, SPJ has distributed 48 news releases and statements…. The topics that have garnered the most traditional and social media attention are SPJ’s statement on the Charlie Hebdo attack; our statement and other Tweets regarding the FOI Improvement Act; our statement regarding the Columbia Journalism Review’s Rolling Stone report; and our statements regarding Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s attempt at creating a state-run news service.” (p. 46)

10 – For the first time, SPJ collaborated with several other journalism organizations in judging SPJ’s New America Award. Our partners included: the Asian American Journalists Association, Radio Television Digital News Association, the National Association of Black Journalists, the Native American Journalists Association and National Association of Hispanic Journalists (p. 48).

11 – There will be a stronger effort this year to train delegates to the national convention, so they’re familiar with procedures and protocol (p. 50).

12 – Why is the national convention in September every year? It’s complicated – but not mandatory (p. 51).

13 – The post-graduate membership rate is available for three years. There is talk of extending it to four (p. 54).

14 – SPJ now has five communities, which are groups related by a common thread, other than geography (p. 56).

15 – When should SPJ issue a statement about the death of a journalist? (p. 59)

16 – About 41 percent of SPJ’s members do not belong to a chapter (including 38 percent in Region 2), which means they aren’t represented by a delegate on business matters at the national convention. A group is going to look at ways of giving that 41 percent representation. Again, it’s complex and there are no easy answers (p. 62).

17 – The pro/student membership breakdown for Region 2 is 597 pro (78 percent) and 172 student (22 percent). The largest chapter in the region is Washington, D.C., Pro, with 146 members (p. 67).

18 – The method for deciding on SPJ awards (Distinguished Teaching, Ethics, Fellows of the Society, and others) might change this year (p. 76).

19 – The SPJ Awards and Honors Committee studied whether any SDX awards given to NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams should be revoked, in light of his six-month suspension (p. 103)

20 – The SPJ Diversity Committee is working on a way to pay tribute to former SPJ President Reggie Stuart through a minority management training program (p. 111).

21 – The SPJ Ethics Committee and the International Community have worked together to translate the new SPJ Code of Ethics into several foreign languages (p. 112).

22 – Since November, the SPJ Legal Defense Fund Committee has considered six cases of legal action, but didn’t award any grants (p. 121).

23 – The SPJ Student Community is gathering information and feedback about internships, which are becoming rarer because of concerns about labor law (p. 123).

 

 

 

 

 

Ethics code highlights: So, what changed?

Maybe the updated SPJ Ethics Code is no longer a front-burner issue six weeks after it was approved (Sept. 6, by a voice vote). But I think it’s still worth highlighting what was changed.

My past posts showing proposed changes to the code, draft by draft, line by line, and my thoughts on them, might have been too busy and overwhelming for the average person. For example, this.

Some people followed along intently with as much wonkiness as I had, but at this year’s convention in Nashville, more people wanted something more boiled down and digestible.

With that in mind, here are several of the most noticeable differences in the new version:

• The preamble was reworked, but the different wording doesn’t have any substantially different ideas.

• In a few places, “journalists” has been replaced by “journalism.” Presumably, the idea is to include anyone who practices journalism — which is more important than trying to define journalists.

• A new line: (Each line in the code is prefaced with “Journalists should”) “Take responsibility for their work.” You could call this “the anti-Judith Miller” line. Miller, formerly of The New York Times, once said: “W.M.D. – I got it totally wrong. The analysts, the experts and the journalists who covered them – we were all wrong. If your sources are wrong, you are wrong. I did the best job that I could.”

• A new line: “Remember that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.” This is worth emphasizing and absorbing. Too often, I’ve heard, “It’s no big deal. It’s for the web. We’ll fix it later.”

• An enhanced standard, added: “Reserve anonymity for sources who may face danger, retribution or other harm, and have information that cannot be obtained elsewhere. Explain why anonymity was granted.” This is a commonly used test for granting anonymity, but is frequently ignored in Washington, D.C., where anonymity is an overused crutch. [Note: Steve Buttry argues, correctly, that sources are “confidential,” not “anonymous,” when we know their names but shield their identities.]

• Examples deleted: “Avoid stereotyping. Journalists should examine the ways their values and experiences may shape their reporting.” The code used to say “Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.” The argument for the cut was: Why the need for examples? And what if something is left out? I think the examples spark an inner review that can be illuminating. Prompts help us see stereotyping we didn’t realize we were doing.

• A watering down: The old code said: “Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or content.” The new code says: “Label advocacy and commentary.” The new, weaker language is hazier and less meaningful.

• A simple, concise, powerful addition: “Never plagiarize” is now followed by “Always attribute.”

• A smart addition: “Recognize that legal access to information differs from an ethical justification to publish or broadcast.”

• An even smarter addition: “Consider the long-term implications of the extended reach and permanence of publication. Provide updated and more complete information as appropriate.” Many newspapers print lists of arrests, and don’t have initiative, time or staff to follow up on adjudications. In the age of the Internet search engine, this presents a huge ethical problem.

• An excellent, more forceful rewording: Old – “avoid bidding for news.” New – “do not pay for access to news.” TV networks run roughshod over ethics by paying sources, then rationalizing it as “licensing fees” – which, coincidentally, always come with exclusive interviews. Under the old wording, this was acceptable, as long there was no competitor trying to pay that same source.

• An expanded heading, recognizing an important concept: Old – “Be Accountable.” New – “Be Accountable and Transparent.”

• Stronger language on corrections: From “Admit mistakes and correct them promptly” to “Acknowledge mistakes and correct them promptly and prominently. Explain corrections and clarifications carefully and clearly.” A cryptic correction buried in the back of the paper isn’t enough.

***

What’s not in the new code:

• Linking: It’s something I hadn’t thought about until I read Buttry’s convincing argument. He writes: “It’s the best way to attribute in digital content. It provides depth and context. A culture of linking is a strong measure to help prevent plagiarism and fabrication.” In Nashville, the arguments against linking were peculiar. One journalist talked about working in a dangerous setting, where she could be punished for showing where she got information. Others balked at forcing journalists to link. Actually, no one would be forced to do anything – the code is almost entirely “Journalists should…” Add “whenever possible or practical,” if tempering it makes you more comfortable.

• Suicide coverage. The Ethics Committee proposed: “Be cautious about reporting suicides that do not involve a public person or a public place.” I spoke out strongly against this reference when I read it. First, it singles out suicide, rather than calling for care in reporting on any death. Second, the subtext is that suicide remains a taboo topic to be avoided whenever possible. This is an outdated way of thinking, perpetuating the myth of stigma attached to suicide. Actually, suicide is a serious mental health problem that should be covered as much as possible, remaining sensitive while covering a person’s life and death. Finally, there was an unintended meaning as it was written: Private suicides require caution, but public suicides do not. The SPJ national board agreed it should be removed. After further objections in Nashville, it was cut before the code reached delegates for a final vote.

• Anonymous online comments: This is a particular peeve of mine, and I figured that, as part of the code update, it was worth trying to get SPJ to be a leader in ethical thinking. Anonymous online comments too often are corrosive and harmful to an atmosphere of thoughtful, civil debate. They turn the ethics of responsible comment (letters to the editor are edited in advance for libel; identities are almost always required and confirmed) on their head. So, I proposed adding: “Encourage a civil exchange of public opinions. Recognize the potential harm of allowing anonymous online comments.” There was some support within the national board and even more in Nashville, but unresolvable dissent on what to target and how to say it. I didn’t pursue the matter further before convention delegates, which might have prolonged debate. Maybe I’ll try again in the future.

***

Epilogue: It was particularly interesting to look back on the start and end of the code update process. A year ago (and even before that), some people clamored that the code – last updated in 1996 – was woefully out of date, largely because it didn’t address the new phenomenon of social media.

I was skeptical at the time about the need for any update, but especially one based on that reasoning. I thought the code’s principles of ethical decision-making work fine on any platform. Information’s distribution channels didn’t matter; the ethics that went into gathering, compiling and presenting the information did.

Still, the code update process moved ahead.

But, go figure. There’s one more thing missing from the new code: Any reference to social media.

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.

Celebrating ‘Tinker v. Des Moines School District’

If you’re a First Amendment fan (a given) and you’re in the Washington, D.C., area, you’ll want to be at the U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 6 at 6 p.m.

That’s when the Tinker Tour rolls through the District.

Mary Beth Tinker was 13 years old in 1965 when she and some other young students in Des Moines, Iowa, wore armbands to school as a silent statement about the Vietnam War. Administrators tried to force the students to remove the armbands, which led to a challenge in the court system. Ultimately, in 1969, the Supreme Court ruled that the armbands were free speech; the students won.

This fall, Tinker and attorney Mike Hiestand – who won SPJ’s First Amendment Award in 2012 – have been criss-crossing the country to talk about free speech and a free press.

The tour is supported by the Student Press Law Center.

The Nov. 6 event will be part of the United States Supreme Court Historical Society’s Leon Silverman Lecture Series.

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