Archive for the ‘inside baseball’ Category


In defense of old farts

I hate my own kind.


In SPJ, I get along best with the youngest members – and the oldest. But I can’t stand many who are my age. And I’m pretty sure they can’t stand me.

I turned 49 last month. and many SPJ leaders are within a decade of me. Problem is, many people my age have embraced the worst traits of those slightly younger and older than us.

Like the most self-satisfied thirtysomethings, we think we have it all figured out. Like the most reactionary retirees, we believe the best way to save the future is to double down on the past.

A middling middle age

I serve on SPJ’s board of directors, and here’s the weird thing…

Each individual is fairly cool. But put us all together, and we’re less than the sum of our parts. We don’t accomplish very much.

My working hypothesis is that we’re all roughly the same age, except for the student members (who, with a few notable exceptions, do nothing but eat their stipends).

I think most of us feel the vague pressure of middle age not to screw anything up, and we’re way past the risk-taking days of our youth. So we spackle SPJ’s corners while the foundation crumbles.

The oldest and the best

A couple board meetings ago, a former SPJ president named Dave Carlson asked for permission to speak, and he delivered an impassioned plea for us to do something big and bold to reverse our membership slide. (We’re losing about 200 members a year.)

We listened, but we didn’t do anything. No discussion, no motions, no votes.

Carlson sits on the Sigma Delta Chi board, which is the autonomous fundraising and grant-giving wing of SPJ. Many SDX board members are former presidents and board members. They remind me of former college newspaper editors.

If you ever served as editor of your college newspaper, and if you ever visited the newsroom a few years later, you probably watched the staff with a wry smile. All those editors, designers, photographers, and reporters scurrying about. Wasting calories on tiny details. Not contemplating the big decisions because they think they’ll always be there to make them later.

You might have even told them something. Like, “Hey, don’t worry about that crap. Think big. Years from now, you won’t give a damn how the folios looked, or whether that eight-inch story on page 12 clearly explained the Student Senate’s vote on Homecoming funding.”

Sometimes, it seems SDX board members feel the same way when they visit SPJ board meetings. A few always stroll in late, quietly pour a cup of coffee, grab a a danish (yes, board members receive free unhealthy noshes), and sit in the back. Every so often, as we get mired in some procedural discussion about annual report requirements or chapter ranking systems, I see them they lean towards each other and whisper.

Then I watch as they sit back with wry smiles.

Looking backward to move forward

Journalism has survived a mediapocalypse over the past decade, yet SPJ itself has changed oh-so-little. How can we represent an industry that’s rapidly evolving when we refuse to?

Here’s a prediction I’m gonna hate being right about…

SPJ keeps doing nothing until my generation of board members fades away, replaced by a younger and angrier one. These desperate newcomers ignore all advice from SPJ’s past leaders – because, honestly, where did that get us? – and lurch from one rookie mistake to another. They screw up SPJ in the opposite way, by attempting everything at once instead of nothing at all.

Some SPJ leaders probably believe I’d love to see such anarchy. They’re wrong. Before I make any proposal, I talk to SPJ old farts I respect – Steve Geimman, Bill McCloskey, Mac McKerral, and the aforementioned Dave Carlson, just to name a few of my favorites.

I have no interest in repeating old mistakes, and these guys (and sadly, they’re all white guys) know SPJ’s history because they lived it. For every crazy idea I’ve put forth, I’ve scotched twice as many because of their sage advice.

They’re like those old college editors. And I’m glad they stick around for warm coffee and cold danish.

SPJ’s future rests in their wrinkled hands – if we don’t screw up the present.

Gen J’s extreme makeover

Corny but also the least offensive...

This is how I spent my Monday night.


Yesterday, SPJ’s Generation J committee started soliciting logos that, you know, capture its essence. Here are the details.


Cynical perhaps...
So what’s the essence of Gen J?


Not a clue. It’s a committee of under-30 pro journalists who struggle mightily to represent that schizophrenic demographic – too old to care about college, not old enough to care about 401(k)s.


Reminds me of Boy's Life magazine, which really means I'm old...
I’ve attended Gen J committee meetings before.


All I’ve really learned is that they call themselves Gen J, instead of Generation J. The rest of the meetings involve cultural references I can’t grasp. But they’re ambitious.

They’ve hosted some of the edgier sessions at SPJ conventions, and they update their SPJ blog several times a month – which is the most out of all 24 (yup, count ’em) blogs that SPJ keeps alive, although not exactly kicking.


My favorite, obviously...

Think you can design a better logo than me?


If so, you win a free year of SPJ membership. But I like my chances. Especially with this last one – I hear the ’70s are in again, and spanking never goes out of style. Or am I wrong about that last part?

The contest ends March 1. Here are those contest details one more time.


SPJ’s inside baseball: a hit!

Star ranking systems.

Annual report requirements.

Inactive chapters vs. deactivated chapters.

If you don’t know what any of this means, you haven’t served on SPJ’s national board of directors. I have – twice. And even with a year in between my terms, these same boring topics have been discussed to death both times.

SPJ is obsessed with its own inside baseball. I realize every organization – especially one as large and as old (and yes, as lovable) as SPJ – needs to handle its mundane logistics. But SPJ tends to debate this stuff without truly resolving it.

It’s no one’s fault, really. It just sorta happens with a 23-member board. But now I can proudly report: One officer is fixing one problem, and that might show SPJ how to hit others out of the park.


The pros and contests

If you’ve ever organized an SPJ chapter’s contest, you know the agony of buying the easiest/cheapest software and recruiting the fastest/bestest judges. But SPJ’s secretary-treasurer has devised a way to lessen the pain.

Dana Neuts personally interviewed executives at three companies that sell software for contests. She tried to negotiate package deals, which didn’t work this year but might next. (I don’t know Neuts very well, but she strikes me as stubborn in all the right ways.)

More importantly – and more successfully – she’s created a centralized, organized system for finding contest judges. The old way was for each chapter hosting a contest to beg other chapters to swap entries – because you certainly can’t judge your own stuff.

But that led to all kinds of disasters. I’m the past president of SPJ South Florida, and I remember a few years ago when some other chapters judged nothing we sent them. And they wouldn’t return our calls or emails, either. (No names, but you know who you are.)

If you’ve suffered through the same thing, join Neuts for a free webinar at noon EST on Thursday, Dec. 20. She’ll explain how the judging swap works, give you a plain-English rundown of the software that’s out there, and answer your contest-related questions.


Neuts is nuts

So why am I shilling for Neuts? Because I’m helping her any way I can and she wants. I like Neuts for two reasons…

First, she doesn’t just ponder problems, she attacks them.

Second, we got in a big fight a few months ago.

Neuts was upset about my coverage of this summer’s controversy at the University of Georgia student newspaper. She publicly accused me of insulting SPJ’s president. (Peruse the post under this one to see what I mean.)

So we talked, found common ground on some stuff, agreed to disagree on other stuff, and kept working on her contest plans.

(Even after the blog posts about him, that SPJ president showed up at an annual program I help organize called Will Write For Food – and he worked his ass off.)

To me, those are the ingredients SPJ should be cooking with – strong arguments, thick skins, and real work. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: There’s nothing more hypocritical than a thin-skinned journalist. So Neuts and the SPJ president she accused me of disrespecting are currently the two SPJ leaders I respect the most.

Whether that’s philosophically consistent or psychologically unhinged, I leave it for you to decide.


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