Better than you

SPJ Florida is the best chapter in the country – this year and this decade.

Today, SPJ Florida won Large Chapter of the Year for the sixth time between 2010 and 2020. SPJ doesn’t keep very good track of these things, but that’s got to be a record.

So does this: Previously, the chapter never won once.

No one knows when SPJ Florida started, but it was before I was born in 1965. A retired Miami Herald copyeditor once told me as much.

That year, John “Hop” Hopkins recalled going to a Miami bar for monthly meetings. This was four years before SPJ allowed women to join. So Hop said – without apparent irony or self-awareness – that some members kept up their dues so they’d have a legit excuse for not rushing home to the wife after a hard day in the newsroom.

That must’ve been back when America was great.

After five decades, warring came before winning.

In 2009, I led a bloodless coup that replaced all the old-timers (including Hop) with a board of mostly twentysomethings. I was elected president.

While I followed SPJ bylaws – and if you know anything about SPJ leaders, they simply adore bylaws – the old board lost their minds. “There have been 12 letters of complaint about the election lodged with the National President,” a South Florida weekly reported.

To appease their bloodlust, I offered to resign as president as long as the newcomers could stay. They accepted, satisfied they’d taken something from me, just as I’d taken something from them.

But that was always the plan, because I knew those old-timers would be furious: I was cutting them off from their “monthly meetings,” which were really just an excuse to rotate among nice restaurants and charge SPJ for their dinners.

Sadly, that’s still common today outside of Florida. In fact, I’d say most SPJ chapters eat more than they accomplish.

The youth movement moved fast.

Despite predictions of doom – several old board members said their young replacements lacked “real world experience” – things started happening right away.

Only a few months later, they won Chapter of the Year for the first time ever. They kept winning, too…

  • 2010
  • 2014
  • 2016*
  • 2017
  • 2019*
  • 2020

…and in case you’re wondering, the asterisks indicate when SPJ Florida shared the award with chapters that did much less.

Why? Because a majority of the SPJ leaders who choose Chapter of the Year said they “felt bad” for the other chapters and didn’t want them to get discouraged because “Florida wins so much.”

I suggested participation trophies instead, but everyone thought I was joking. I really wasn’t. I was joking when I suggested an SPJ Most Chapter Meals Eaten award. Alas, neither idea went anywhere.

So why does SPJ Florida keep winning?

You’d think a bunch of scheming whippersnappers who seized control by running as a youthful slate of candidates would irk SPJ’s establishment. And they certainly did.

(My favorite protest came during the bitterly contested election itself, which was held in a South Florida wine bar. One of the oldest board members drunkenly insisted he should be reelected because, “I took a bullet in the knee in Korea!”)

I’m usually unimpressed with awards, and the very few I’ve won are in the closet in my spare room. But I love when SPJ Florida wins Chapter of the Year because I know how much it pains some SPJ leaders to smile and hand a plaque to a bunch of young upstarts.

So why do they keep winning? Simple. They do stuff. A lot of stuff. And not just panel discussions and webinars. In fact, SPJ Florida has learned something most other chapters haven’t: Talking is good, doing is better.

So just in the past year, they’ve…

…and that’s not nearly a complete list.

I don’t know if SPJ Florida will rack up another decade like the one that just ended. But I do know this: They’ve stayed young, so maybe. Only one board member is over 40, and most are under 30. They’re also SPJ’s most diverse chapter board, featuring only one straight white men like me.

(The smartest move I ever made was getting out of their way, and each subsequent generation of chapter leaders has done the same damn thing.)

I actually hope SPJ Florida never wins another Chapter of the Year award – because every other chapter copies them and kicks their ass.

So here’s to more youth coups.

Editor’s note: Wonder if I’m hurting SPJ Florida’s chances for future awards by what I’ve written here? Don’t worry. SPJ leaders don’t read SPJ blogs. So they’ll never see this post. Not even if you send them a link. Go ahead. I dare you.


Chicken Salad

$20 for 20 minutes?

Attention college newspapers, here’s a blunt bargain: Make a $20 donation to the College Media Association and watch your content get torched for 20 minutes. Don’t like what you see? Get your money back.

Decimate to educate

For more than a decade, I’ve visited student newsrooms and destroyed their print and online editions. I’ve rewritten and redesigned everything on the page – but not to convince students to do things my way. I’m demonstrating they have the freedom to do things their way.

Conventional warfare

I feature those before-and-after pages in a session I give at college media conventions, called Chicken Salad (because a journalist’s job is to make chicken salad out of chicken shit). It’s often the best-attended and highest-rated session, according to the conventions’ own stats.

That’s not because I’m God’s gift to journalism. It’s because I don’t tell students what to do. I simply show them all the options they can choose from – many that never occurred to them.

Cash for clash

In fact, if students publicly dispute my creations, I hand them money. After all, journalism isn’t accounting. There’s more than one right answer.

I once revamped a front page as if I were a pissed-off 16-year-old emo rocker. When I did the same thing by pretending the Soviet Union had won the Cold War, one student reviewed my session like this…

That does not help us in the slightest. That’s not the real world. It would’ve been much better if he had actually shown us something we could use at our own newspaper.

…but that’s the whole point. I don’t want to show you what to do. I don’t want to tell you what to do. I want you to consider all the things you can do.

Chicken Salad: Virtual Brutality

So here’s the deal…

Fill out a brief form by hitting the button below. We’ll discuss what you desire in your newspaper, either print or online or both. Then I’ll whip up some quick examples, from elegant to emo, from sensible to Soviet.

Meanwhile, you’ll make a $20 donation to the College Media Association – a worthy organization of advisers and professors – and a few days later, we’ll collaborate on Zoom.

I won’t talk for more than 20 minutes, promise. (College students have enough old people lecturing them every day.) I’ll stick around till all questions are answered. But if it feels like you wasted half an hour, I’ll reimburse you the 20 bucks.

So you literally have nothing to lose.



You’re reading this because you’re mad

3 things you can do – and 1 you shouldn’t

You hate SPJ’s decision to keep Fox News as a sponsor of the Excellence in Journalism convention next month in San Antonio. You want to do something about it. Here are your options…

1. Vote the bums out

SPJ’s board of directors decided to keep Fox News, but you don’t need to keep them. SPJ elections are Sept 5-7. Since fewer than 1,000 SPJers fill out their electronic ballots, your vote really does count.

Here’s a list of this year’s candidates, which includes their contact information. Ask if the candidates agree with your position on, well, anything. (On the issue of convention sponsorship, some SPJers are also mad that Sinclair and the Koch Foundation have been sponsors.)

Tell the candidates your vote depends on their answers. Mobilize other SPJers to support the candidates you like. Wield democracy.

2. Make a run for it

If this (or any) issue bugs the hell out of you, stop complaining and start campaigning. You can declare your candidacy for the SPJ board up until the morning of Aug. 31. Here’s how.

If you click the list of candidates I mentioned earlier, you’ll see unopposed races for president-elect and secretary-treasurer. So just by declaring for either of those offices, you can create debate.

3. Delegate the issue

If the board of directors are SPJ’s executive branch, the delegates are SPJ’s legislative branch. In fact, SPJ’s bylaws call the delegates “the supreme legislative body of the organization.”

That means the board must do what the delegates decide. Here are the resolutions from last year’s EIJ, so you can see how they’re written. (Think back to your high school Student Council, and you’ll have some idea.)

If you’re a chapter or regional delegate, you’ll can speak at the convention and urge your fellow delegates to vote for a particular resolution. Better still, you don’t need to be a delegate – or even attend EIJ – to submit a resolution.

If you want to know more, read I’m a Delegate at SPJ. Now What?! – it’s the best explanation of an admittedly arcane system.

Want to submit a resolution? Email Resolutions Committee chair Michael Savino at

What NOT to do

Over the weekend, the dedicated and hardworking chair of SPJ’s Membership Committee led an email discussion on this very topic. I’m a member of that committee, so Colin DeVries asked me…

You, as a board member, don’t seem to be taking a position aligned with the majority of the people I’ve spoke with so far.

…and he’s right.

SPJ has nearly 6,000 members. I’ve chatted with maybe 60 about this particular issue. (That’s 1 percent, for you hardcore journalists out there.) About a quarter of those staunchly side with DeVries. A quarter don’t. Another quarter are waiting to hear more. And the final quarter don’t care.

Not what I’d call consensus.

SPJ leaders will heed the majority’s will. But if that majority doesn’t use the tactics I’ve cited, we’ll never jell. While you have every right to…

  • take to social media and skewer SPJ
  • write angry group emails to the board and each other
  • announce you won’t renew your membership

…none of that will compel the change you seek. SPJ’s rules are built for dissenters to win – if you put in just a little work.

Full disclosure

As SPJ’s senior board member, I support keeping Fox News as a sponsor. Here are my reasons. But I could easily be persuaded to ban all sponsorships – if all SPJers are aware of the consequences.

Banning sponsorships means a much smaller convention in much smaller cities. Think of sponsorships like newspaper ads – those ads pay for the paper, not the subscription fees. Likewise, registration fees don’t come close to covering the cost of a convention.

What I can’t support: Trying to parse which sponsors are palatable from year to year. That way madness lies. Someone will always hate something, and we’ll burn many calories and kilobytes trying to appease everyone.

That said, a majority of SPJers can overrule me. Will they? We’ll find out in a few days.


Why does SPJ act like the enemy?

“We as members spend much time fighting for access,” one frustrated SPJer wrote me and my fellow SPJ leaders last week. “We should lead by example.”

The past couple years, SPJ’s example has been the Trump administration.

When our members want to know what SPJ is doing and spending, at first we ignore them. If they don’t go away, we get passive-aggressive: We apologize but say we’re busy doing important stuff.

If that doesn’t stand them down, we cite flimsy legal reasons no one – not even us – really believes. Finally, we promise to be more transparent next time. Except the next time, it starts all over again.

This year alone, we’ve held meetings without posting agendas. We’ve had “technical issues” on conference calls that cut off open forums. We’ve made late-night announcements of embarrassing news. We’ve gone into “executive session” to discuss things privately that should’ve been done publicly.

We’ve lied about how convention sponsorships work, we’ve blamed staff for chapters not getting money they’re owed, and we’ve refused to release public information until the law absolutely requires us to.

Basically, we’ve mastered the tactics of shady government leaders we lament in our own coverage.

Angry at the irony

“Tell members the full story. Own the actions,” SPJer Forrest Gossett wrote the board on Friday. “I would be willing to venture that most members will appreciate full disclosure.”

If I could put Forrest’s words on a T-shirt – and I’ve designed two SPJ shirts so far – I’d silk-screen one for each of my fellow board members.

Alas, attire won’t matter. Only this will: a transparency pledge that each candidate signs, with the promise to resign if they don’t live up to its terms.

Click that link to read my draft of such a pledge. If you’re interested in editing it or writing one of your own, email me. Let’s do this thing.

If you’re marveling at the irony that a journalism organization run by journalists wants to keep secrets from their dues-paying journalist-members, here’s how that happened…

The psychology of SPJ secrecy

Over the past few years, my fellow regional director Andy Schotz and I have spent much blood and treasure crusading for SPJ transparency. To name-check other directors who have fought this same losing battle: Sue Kopen-Katcef, Lauren Bartlett, and Mike Reilley.

Other directors have supported openness, if not on the front lines, then near it: Mike Savino, Kelly Kissel, and Joe Radske. And in fact, few others have opposed transparency, even if they haven’t exactly rushed to the ramparts.

So you might be thinking, “Hell, that’s most of the board. Why isn’t SPJ already more transparent?”

Blame the officers. That’s the president, president-elect, and treasurer.

Over the past couple years, we’ve had presidents who presided over very bad news – plummeting membership and deficit spending. They want to burnish their reputations, not tarnish them. So spin became more crucial than candor.

The president-elects don’t argue with the PR-tense presidents because they are, and I’m quoting one of them here, “waiting my turn.” They fret about setting a trend: What if, when my time comes, my president-elect argues with me?

Next up are the treasurers. They’re planning to run for president-elect, so they do nothing and say little. Why alienate voters by taking a stand? Best to speak up on mundane issues and appear active and engaged.

Since these three officers set the agenda and guide the board, it takes an open revolt to let the sunshine in. And there’s a price to be paid for leading an uprising. When those three officers don’t like you, they can really mess you up.

The limits of the system

Since SPJ’s bottom line isn’t getting better any time soon – because those officers never consider bold initiatives, lest they fail and jeopardize their eventual Wells Key – nothing will change. Unless SPJ voters change it.

That means voting for candidates who do more than just say they’ll be transparent. It means making them sign a pledge and sticking to it. If they break that pledge, we ensure they never get elected to another SPJ post.

Here’s my draft of a transparency pledge. I’d love to hear your edits and ideas.


I love SPJ.

I love it for an ugly reason: I crave money. And my cravings aren’t cheap.

Over the last dozen years, I’ve blown $70,000 of SPJ’s cash, much of it on weird journalism programs…

These programs have one thing in common: None are lectures or panel discussions. You actually do something, instead of just listening to someone.

I’m feeling especially amorous right now. SPJ recently funded three new participatory programs, all from different parts of the same organization. Click the ugly logos below to learn more or sign up…

Paper Money

The bullet: A nationally renowned advertising expert will visit up to 10 struggling college newspapers. Apply now through June 25 for free hands-dirty instruction this fall.

The battle: Why would the nation’s largest journalism organization fund sales training? Because SPJ knows without paid ads, there’s no free press. This country already has enough news deserts. We don’t need them spreading to college campuses.

The bill: $2,500 from the SPJ Foundation, with matching money from Flytedesk, a college media ad agency.

PRESS the Flesh

The bullet: This fall, SPJ past president (and current ethics chair) Lynn Walsh leads college journalists to Capitol Hill, where they’ll lobby Congress on free-press issues – with the help of a professional DC lobbying firm.

The battle: SPJ and other free-press advocates have had dismal luck lobbying lawmakers. (Federal shield law, anyone?) So we’ve hired grizzled lobbyists to train fresh-faced young people. Maybe our luck will change.

The bill: $1,500 from SPJ’s Legal Defense Fund, with in-kind support from ACP, CMA, FIRE, and SPLC – the first time all these groups have worked together.

News Swap

The bullet: Readers and sources take over a college newspaper, publishing their own special summer issue. They’ll become the editors – and the editors will become their reporters.

The battle: Media literacy is crucial but dull. What if we can teach about a free press by giving one away? If this debut works, we’ll spread the concept nationwide. (Last time that happened, it was called Muslimedia, and the SPJ Foundation paid us to host it in California, Illinois, Iowa, New York, and Oklahoma.)

The bill: $500 from SPJ Florida and $600 from SPJ Region 3.

Don’t listen!

Confucius didn’t really say this, but someone smart did…

I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.

That should be posted on the website of every journalism school and media organization, like the warning labels on opioid bottles: “May cause addiction.”

Done right, journalism should be habit-forming. Alas…

J-schools and groups like SPJ teach pithy reporting and riveting writing, because we know our readers and viewers are busy people – yet we do so through boring lectures and meandering panel discussions.

Journalists do shit for a living. Why must they listen to so much shit in school? What if journalism was taught like it’s made? What would that look like?

It might look like these programs I’ve just described. That’s why I love SPJ. It spends money so you can learn by getting off your ass, instead of sitting on it.

If you’re curious about any of these programs, want to help, or simply want to steal the idea(s) for yourself while getting free money, hit me up.

How to give kids a free hit of journalism

Journalism is like crystal meth: If you want repeat customers, hook ’em young.

That’s happening right now in Vero Beach, Florida.

A retiree named Thomas Hardy runs an after-school program called the Glendale Young Authors’ Club. Hardy launched it with a half-dozen fourth- and fifth-graders and the enthusiastic support of the principal at Glendale Elementary School.

Weirdly and nobly, Hardy isn’t a journalist. He owned a software company before retiring to sleepy Vero Beach (population: 20,000). This Atlantic coastal town is 90 minutes north of Trump’s Mar-A-Lago and two hours south of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

When the local newspaper shriveled up and died, Hardy launched his own novice effort, called Vero Communique. But he knew enough to join SPJ and write on the about page, “We endorse the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists” and link to it. (Personal aside: I wish some pro news outlets cared as much about the code as Hardy does.)

Hardy didn’t stop there, concluding the best way to keep journalism from perishing is to teach young people why it’s so damned important. When he launched the after-school program, he contacted SPJ looking for help.

SPJ Florida paid for a visit from Wesley Wright, a former higher-ed reporter for the Virginia Gazette who later covered education for Chalkbeat in Denver before heading back to college, where he’s pursuing a master’s in education policy – because he wants to change education in this country, not just cover it.

Below is Wright’s report. My personal hope is that SPJ can help Hardy and Wright duplicate this program elsewhere. If you’re similarly interested, email me.

Publish or perish

by Wesley Wright

Media literacy has become as important as ever in the digital age, where so many companies and interests are competing for consumers’ eyes.

One Vero Beach man is using his own money (along with $700 in donations) to give elementary schoolers in Indian River a head start on how to become informed about issues they see in the world and in their community.

Thomas Hardy has spent four hours each week in helping preside over the Glendale Youth Authors’ Magazine. Since October, Hardy has walked the children through everything from reputed reporters of yesteryear to the way in which reporters approach an interview.

“What I’m concerned with is helping the kids learn how to be informed and inquisitive,” he said. “It’s this day and time, learning how to be research subjects on your own is especially key, and it is a skill they will use for the rest of their lives.”

County school board member Tiffany Justice was one of several who hope Hardy give the basic tenets of his program over to a larger organization, like the Boys and Girls Club or Gifford Youth Action Center.

Many more students may be interested in a program like this, she said, but lack of transportation to Glendale or Internet access at home could mean some students forego the opportunity.

“What you’re looking for is an organization that has more resources,” she said. “Not only would you not have to do all the work, you’d also be opening this type of program up to children who otherwise might not access to it.”

Fourth-grade math and science teacher Zac Trahan allows Hardy to use his classroom for the purposes of the magazine.

“It has helped their writing for sure,” he said. “What it really has done is compel them to take the rest of their subjects that much more seriously, and it has made them curious.”

“We enjoy it, ” said Emma Cahill, who has been in the program since it began. (That’s her sitting at the computer in the photo atop this post.) Their next issue, she said, will be centered around the reasons that local beaches closed during to the rampant growth of red tide recently.

Justice, the school board member, applauded Hardy for his initiative in starting the program, which she called astute way of getting children to think critically about the world as their place in it.

Two of the six students currently involved in the program enter sixth grade next year. Hardy hopes he can drum up enough interest in the program to keep it afloat for years to come.

“There is a wealth of retired reporters here and others who would love to help you,” Justice said.

Asshole update

The racist won.

Well, to be precise, everyone but the racist won.

White supremacist Richard Spencer will speak at the University of Florida, says First Amendment attorney Gary Edinger. As I wrote three days ago, that was in doubt and almost in court.

Edinger represents Carmen Padgett, who’s essentially Spencer’s agent. Last night, Edinger sent me a statement he’s released publicly…

It appears that a resolution can be reached and that litigation will not be necessary. Mr. Padgett has received assurances that Mr. Spencer’s speaking engagement will go forward on a different date, but most likely in the same venue: the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on campus. We have not yet established a new date or terms for the speech.

Edinger blames Hurricane Irma for “the slow pace of our discussions.” But he’s meeting with UF officials by phone this morning “at which time we hope to announce firm details.”

A hurricane and a racist. Not your typical news day.


  • Richard Spencer and his agent won’t extract a cash settlement from another public university, as they did from Auburn in May.
  • Sometime soon, Spencer will speak on a college campus where he’s not wanted.
  • He’ll be met by protesters expressing their Constitutional rights.

The system works. Too bad we can’t negotiate with hurricanes the same way.

Assholes have rights

I stand with this racist.

If you’re a patriotic American, so should you.

Meet Richard Spencer, one of the nation’s best known white supremacists. Actually, he’s most famous for getting the crap kicked out of him.

In Charlottesville last month, the 29-year-old Montanan got pepper-sprayed — and then taunted by the likes of the Washingtonian, which ran this headline: “Stop What You’re Doing and Enjoy These Photos of Richard Spencer Crying.”

Back in January, Spencer got punched in the face at an Inauguration Day rally in DC. Maybe you saw it…

…because it has more than 3 million views and inspired dozens of mocking memes.

Now Spencer wants to speak at the University of Florida, my alma mater. (Is it still my alma mater if I got expelled?) After three weeks of trying, he still hasn’t secured a date. So there might be a lawsuit.

It’s like this…

  • A 23-year-old Georgia State University student named Cameron Padgett is acting as Spencer’s agent, booking him on a national college speaking tour.
  • In the aftermath of Charlottesville, the University of Florida denied Padgett’s request to bring Spencer to campus, citing “serious concerns for safety.”
  • Padgett hired Gary Edinger, a Gainesville First Amendment attorney, to either secure Sept. 12 as a speaking engagement or sue the school.

Padgett has sued before and won. In May, Auburn settled for $29,000 after the public university tried to deny Spencer’s appearance there.

If he sues again, I’ll help.

And I’ll ask for SPJ’s help, too.

Padgett signed a “facility rental contract” for Spencer to speak at the Phillips Center, pictured above. I can’t imagine a racist filling all those seats, but I suspect that’s not the goal.

I beleve Padgett wants to get denied. Why? The math…

  1. If Spencer speaks without getting hassled, he won’t draw 20 people. His real audience isn’t his meager supporters, it’s his copious opponents.
  2. Padgett’s contract with the University of Florida will cost him $6,000 for rent and security. When Auburn refused and later relented, Padgett was paid nearly $30,000.

…which means he could easily be more profiteer than white supremacist.

Thus, helping Padgett get permission for Spencer to speak on campus isn’t just morally correct, it bleeds both crowds and cash from two assholes.

We all have the right to be wrong.

When Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos were similarly denied campus speaking engagements earlier this year, I was stunned by SPJ’s silence.

Journalists know better than most: If the government can mute free speech because of “safety concerns,” two things surely follow…

  1. Protesters will realize threats of violence – or actual violence – are the best way to silence their opponents. Mob rule will overwhelm democratic debate.
  2. Governments will be tempted to cite “public safety” when they just don’t want to deal with the public – or the press.

Alas, I couldn’t do much about Coulter and Yiannopoulos. SPJ’s arcane rules dictate I represent only Region 3 – Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.

Well, Spencer is in my territory now. And this weekend is SPJ’s annual convention. So I’ve contacted Padgett’s attorney, and I’ve submitted the resolution below, which attendees at the convention will vote on.

I’ve also asked SPJ’s Florida chapter to set aside money from its Legal Defense Fund – and notify the University of Florida that Spencer has at least one ally who’s not an asshole.

RESOLUTION: Supporting free speech even when it’s offensive – because the alternative is so much worse

Submitted by: Region 3 director Michael Koretzky

WHEREAS one of SPJ’s six missions is, “The Society must maintain constant vigilance in protection of First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and of the press;”

WHEREAS in 2003, SPJ’s Quill magazine declared, “All free-speech cases affect journalism;”

WHEREAS in 1998, SPJ called a Constitutional amendment banning flag-burning “a threat to freedom of speech;”

WHEREAS in 2010, SPJ decried a California law restricting violent video games by saying, “the Court should not eliminate First Amendment protection for violent speech” because of “the negative implications of a violent speech exception for journalists;”

WHEREAS white supremacist Richard Spencer speaking at the University of Florida, a public institution, is no more or less egregious than the cases stated above;

WHEREAS SPJ knows that once free speech is restricted for one group, journalists aren’t far behind;

WHEREAS SPJ also knows when “safety concerns” are allowed to routinely squelch offensive speech, it’s not long before those same concerns will be used to prevent publication of information that offends those in power;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that SPJ urges the University of Florida and all public institutions of higher learning to uphold their Constitutional responsibilities and educational missions, no matter how unpleasant that might be – whether it’s hosting Richard Cross, Ann Coulter, Milo Yiannopoulos, or whatever asshole comes next.


Quill magazine cover with image of women jogging, shot from behind

Is this magazine cover sexist?

When I was first asked that question Saturday, I said, No, but it’s stupid.

The cover story in SPJ’s bimonthly magazine is about journalism training, and the cover photo is a lame stock image chosen by a lazy editor – who quit his job a few weeks ago and obviously didn’t give a damn.

Then I saw this…

…and I thought, Sure, it sucks, but “not appropriate”?

Then SPJ member Marie Baca wrote this, in which she said…

I have a feeling that some of you think I am blowing this out of proportion, but I also have a feeling that some of you know that I’m not. Maybe some of you have had some of the same experiences that I’ve had in the journalism industry. You know, the ones that aren’t something worth filing a sexual harassment or discrimination lawsuit over, but the ones that very quietly tell you that you maybe you don’t deserve the same respect or opportunities as your older, whiter, male-r colleagues.

…and I thought, Damn, but does SPJ really look that bad?

Over the weekend, my fellow SPJ board members emailed (too) casually about this. Without asking us, SPJ posted this reply…

…and I thought, That’s not the way to handle this – no ifs, ands, or buts.

This is what irks me most about SPJ. We run from the Big Questions. We don’t like to admit we’re wrong, which means we never learn.

I admit it right now: I was wrong, but I’m glad I was. I learned something this weekend. When was the last weekend you learned anything?

I learn best when I say yeah, but and the reply kicks my ass. I emailed Baca yesterday, copped to changing my mind, and asked her some questions. Her answers were enlightening and depressing.

Asked and answered

Marie C. BacaI’ve edited Baca’s comments because they were long – but not boring or rambling. 

Q. How would you rate SPJ’s handling of this? 

I would characterize SPJ’s handling of this issue as “horrendous.”

Any organization that represents an industry like journalism, one that has a long history of discrimination, has the duty to treat accusations of sexism with great seriousness. It was clear from the initial response I received from the SPJ Twitter account – a non-apology if I’ve ever seen one – that this was not going to happen.

Q. How could we do better next time? (Because I won’t be surprised if there’s a next time.)

Before SPJ said anything, on social media or otherwise, the following things should have happened:

• Interviews should have been conducted with the people involved with the cover photo decision as well as the two people who complained.

• The directors in charge of diversity as well as the ethics panel should have been asked to review the complaint and the comments from Quill staff against SPJ discrimination policies and issued a recommendation.

• The board should have discussed the issue in light of the aforementioned information and recommendations.

Then, and only then, should any sort of statement be offered on behalf of SPJ.

Q. Has anyone personally reached out to you yet?

I just got off the phone with president Lynn Walsh, and it is difficult to describe the enormity of my disappointment in our conversation.

Lynn seemed both irritated and defensive. She acknowledged the photo was irrelevant for a journalism publication, but said she did not find it sexist or inappropriate.

She insisted that SPJ had already issued an appropriate response via Twitter and said the organization did not plan to investigate the issue further or issue any statement on behalf of the organization.

Q. Some SPJers think this is no big deal. What would you tell them?

To those who say this is no big deal, I say this:

Why have I received hundreds of social media comments from both male and female journalists expressing their disgust at the photo?

Why did it spur a discussion among my colleagues about the countless instances of sexism they’ve experienced over the years in all sorts of different journalism organizations?

Why was the knee-jerk reaction of the SPJ to defend the photo as opposed to taking more than a few hours to discuss the complaint?

And finally, why are we as journalists willing to call out others in positions of authority on their overt and less-overt acts of discrimination, but so unwilling to turn the looking glass on ourselves?

The real damage

Honestly, I think Baca is angry out of proportion. At this point – and I could be wrong again – I’d conclude: The photo is sexist, but it’s a misdemeanor, not a high crime. 

Still, I wonder how much of Baca’s outrage is due to SPJ’s terse and timid response. It reminds me of the old journalism expression, “It’s not the crime, it’s the coverup.”

It’s not the sexism, it’s the silence.

You know what the real tragedy is? Excellent journalists like Marie Baca won’t ever run for SPJ’s board of directors. And she is excellent. I looked her up.

Baca is versatile enough to report deeply about “forced pooling” in shale drilling for ProPublica and then turn around and write this for The Wall Street Journal: “Near Lake Tahoe There’s a Bear So Tough, Bullets Bounce Off His Head.”

She’s the kind of journalist we need running SPJ. But I wonder if she’ll even renew her SPJ membership when the next bill arrives.

The real problem

Without violating any confidences, I can tell you this…

Some of my fellow board members don’t think this even deserves a discussion. There was a lot of, “I would hate to see this incident detract from the important work we have to do.”

Thing is, we don’t have a lot of work more important than this. SPJ’s board tends to obsess over “chapter financial report requirements” and “election of unaffiliated delegates” – which actually means little to SPJ, even less to me, and nothing to you.

Meanwhile, Baca and dozens of other journalists are publicly questioning a public SPJ decision. Even if you don’t mind the cover image, you can acknowledge an image problem.

It’s not going away either, because Baca isn’t backing down…

I will continue to demand that SPJ investigate the cover photo situation, acknowledge the sexism inherent therein, come up with a plan to prevent this from happening in the future, and issue a public statement describing all of these things.

Want to know the weirdest part? Six men sit on SPJ’s board of directors – along with 14 women, which includes the current president and the next one.

So if Baca isn’t fighting The Man. She’s fighting The Woman.

SPJ Diversity chair Dori Zinn, a friend of mine, opined last night. Read her here. I kind of doubt SPJ will tweet about either of our posts today.


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