There’s no debate

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In SPJ, every vote really counts.


You can win a national SPJ office by just a handful of the few hundred ballots cast online, because most of SPJ’s 7,200 members don’t vote.

The ones who do must decide by reading vague statements or contacting the candidates themselves. SPJ doesn’t host any debates, online or in person.

So as a public service, I posed three crazy questions to four candidates — the only ones in major contested races. Rebecca Baker and Jason Parsley are running for secretary-treasurer, while Bill McCloskey and Alex Veeneman are running for at-large director.

Skip to their answers by clicking here and avoid my screed below.

I asked the candidates about recent SPJ controversies. Of course, I started these controversies, so I probably care about them more than you do. Still, there’s illumination in their answers that transcend the topics.

For example…

  • Incumbents can be more daring than challengers. Baker is a current board member who’s willing to reform SPJ more than Veeneman, who’s running for the first time. In fact, Veeneman’s positions mirror those of incumbent McCloskey, which makes me wonder: Why vote for a new boss if he’ll be the same as the old boss?
  • How you say No is revealing. Baker and Parsley answer with scrutiny and nuance, McCloskey and Veeneman not so much. When you say “no,” it helps to offer counterproposals. New ideas excite voters. No ideas excite no one.
  • The most intriguing response is the last one. Veeneman doesn’t answer the question. Instead, he attacks the messenger — odd for a journalist. If you’re going to do that, also be a journalist and report. Because I’ve already done exactly what Veeneman asks. I told him as much and offered him a chance to rewrite his answer — because I’m not at all offended. (How hypocritical would that be?) Alas, he never replied.*

Finally, lest anyone accuse me of leveling personal attacks (which seems silly, but an SPJ president once accused me of libeling SPJ)…

I disagree with Bill McCloskey on most major issues facing SPJ, yet he’s one of my favorite fellow board members, and a man I deeply respect.

I mean, who wants to serve on a board of like-minded people? Where’s the fun in that? Plus, I’ve been known to be wrong once or twice. (Well, maybe just once…)

Still, I wish McCloskey (and Veeneman) would show a little more verve in their analysis of SPJ’s condition. Being conservative doesn’t mean being calcified. SPJ is still shedding members at a rate of a couple hundred per year since McCloskey and I first got on the board in 2008. “Stay the course” isn’t working.

Thus endeth the sermon for today. Here are the candidates’ answers, uncut and unedited…


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Rebecca Baker (secretary-treasurer) — I’ve been a vocal supporter of the name change since it was first proposed nearly two years ago. I think renaming SPJ is an important step to show that we are truly an inclusive organization for journalists of all stripes and that we hold “professional journalism” at the core of our mission. Other journalism groups, such as RTDNA, have changed their names to reflect the changing landscape of the business, and I believe we should do the same.

As for expanding SPJ from a “trade organization” to an “advocacy group,” I believe SPJ has shown itself to be an advocacy organization in many ways, such as lobbying for a federal shield law and, on a local level, sending letters to state lawmakers opposing open records restrictions and other measures that limit the free flow of information. I think SPJ can be both a trade group for members that offers networking, training, and career advice as well as advocates for the First Amendment and a free press.


Jason Parsley (secretary-treasurer) — I believe in the movement behind the name change and I would vote in favor of it. But I don’t believe that will solve the larger problem, which is SPJ’s culture. SPJ can be an advocacy group without changing its name, while changing the name won’t turn us into an advocacy group. The name change itself is not the solution to the problem. It’s more important to elect new leaders that have different perspectives. If we continue to elect the same people again and again we will get the same results over and over again.


Bill McCloskey (at-large director) — There is no need to rename SPJ. A poll of the members shows there is little interest in such a change. SPJ is an advocacy group. Stepping up our advocacy and making it more effective has been a goal of the current board and we a slowly moving towards meting that goal.


Alex Veeneman (at-large director) — No, SPJ should not be renamed the Society for Professional Journalism. SPJ is already involved in advocacy. Journalism is not a trade. It is a profession (and hopefully a calling). Example.


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Rebecca Baker (secretary-treasurer) — I believe the delegate system needs to be revised to reflect the 41 percent of SPJ members who do not belong to a particular chapter. I am a member of an SPJ membership task force that is tackling this very issue. The task force has just received the results of a survey of unaffiliated members about what, if any, changes to the delegate system should be taken and soon will be discussing what actions to take in light of those results. In my view, SPJ can either scrap the entire system and allow the member-elected Board of Directors to make all decisions for the organization, or expand the delegate system so unaffiliated members in each region have representation on the convention floor with chapter delegates. Whether either of these options—or a different one entirely—is chosen, I’m sure there will be an extensive discussion about it on a national level.


Jason Parsley (secretary-treasurer) — Yes and no. I believe all members should have an opportunity to vote on major decisions like the name change and the code of ethics. But I don’t know if every decision needs a full vote. Engaging the average SPJ member can be difficult. For instance in the last election only about 8 percent of members voted. That is an abysmal number. Having said that it is unacceptable that the voting period is only open from Friday to Sunday. SPJ’s leadership must do more to involve its members, including extending the online voting period. I don’t believe this would even be an issue if SPJ leaders listened more to members’ concerns, suggestions, ideas, desires, needs etc. So the larger issue here is electing leaders that will listen with an open mind and take suggestions, even ones they don’t like, into consideration.


Bill McCloskey (at-large director) — No. The delegate system is the only efficient way to have issues thoughtfully considered and arguments made in support and against proposals. Many chapters study the issues before the convention and send their delegates to convention with instructions on how to vote.


Alex Veeneman (at-large director) — While I believe it would be a good thing for everyone to be involved and to vote, it is not realistic. Just as in any electoral process, only a minority of members will vote.


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Rebecca Baker (secretary-treasurer) — To be honest, I don’t have a particularly strong opinion on this issue. I think SPJ board members have the freedom to recommend committee chairs or voice opposition if a chosen committee chair is unqualified or problematic in some way. However, if there was a strong push from the board to take the reigns on this issue, I would not oppose it.


Jason Parsley (secretary-treasurer) — The president should have the power to appoint them, but they should be confirmed by the full board.


Bill McCloskey (at-large director) — I believe it is a president’s prerogative to select those who will help him or her handle the governance of the Society. The current president decided to ask the board to approve her selections, which it did with no debate.


Alex Veeneman (at-large director) — As a sitting director running unopposed for re-election, if this issue concerns you, why haven’t you addressed the entire Board?


* Veeneman says he did indeed send an updated reply. I didn’t get it, but I believe him. See his comment below.



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