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SPJ informal group to meet during EIJ19; local chapters may sign letter to board

The following is from Jonathan Make of the DC Pro Chapter, who has spearheaded the formation and development of an informal group of SPJ local chapters and regional leadership. The group has been acting on behalf of members who are concerned about board transparency, processes and other issues.

An informal group of local chapters will meet in person for the first time at the Excellence in Journalism national convention in San Antonio. The group will gather between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Thursday September 5.

All SPJ members and particularly local chapter leaders are invited to meet members of this informal group that has pressed the national board on transparency and process issues. The meeting will be held in Lone Star A room, on the 2nd floor of the Grand Hyatt. See more information at

For the first half of this gathering, we will briefly introduce ourselves and have an opportunity to discuss ongoing issues such as the board elections and the national strategic plan. For the second half, beginning at 7:30 p.m., we are inviting members of the national board and of headquarters staff to discuss any issues they would like to present to us.

Our group of local chapter leaders, a regional leader, and other active SPJ members has asked the national board to issue announcements during business hours and to make sure that all members are invited well beforehand to board meetings, among other issues. You can read more about this here and here.

The group also is interested in possibly asking the national board and SPJ headquarters to make some changes to how people sign up for SPJ. Longtime tech issues and lack of database interoperability and/or other problems have often made confusing the process for people to find/join their local chapter when they are starting or renewing a membership.

The good news is that staff and the board are aware of this. And they may fix all of it it and may have fixed some of it.

The group has drafted a letter to the national board. If local chapters are interested in this issue and would like to sign on, please contact Make at or Region 8 Coordinator Kathryn Jones at

Here’s the language for the proposed letter:

Dear national SPJ board,

Our informal group of local chapter leaders and others request that the national organization fix as soon as possible and in a complete manner the database problems that make it more challenging for local chapters to attract and retain members. As we are all well aware, chapters rely upon annual dues to fund the programming, advocacy, education and other efforts that they conduct throughout the year.

However, for the last several years, it has not always been clear on the SPJ website which chapter one should join and how to do so at the time of paying national dues. Given that the SPJ web portal is the primary way that the 6000 members of the organization can join their local chapter, it is crucial that this be fixed.

We ask that when someone joins SPJ or renews their membership, the default be that they also join the local chapter in the area of their residence as reflected in their mailing address ZIP Code. By this being the default, we believe that this will make it more likely that national members will also be members of their local chapters. It would still be optional whether someone needs to join, but it would be set to default to join. We also ask that this apply to multi-year memberships.

We greatly appreciate that headquarters staff as well as some members of the national board may also support what we seek. And we likewise appreciate that efforts have been undertaken towards the goals that we share regarding this issue. We understand that when the national organization moves to a new database/CRM/CMS, it is possible that these goals will be able to be achieved.

We ask that any database or other product or service that the organization moves to be guaranteed to provide this functionality. This will help ensure the continued health of local chapters, participation in them, and ultimately, local member voting on local board elections.


SPJ search committee hears comments about exec director search; membership discounts to be explored

In case you didn’t get a chance to participate in today’s SPJ national executive committee meeting, here’s a recap.

The committee gave its approval for SPJ’s membership committee to explore launching a membership drive during the first part of August aimed at attracting new members. The drive tentatively will go from Aug. 1 to 15. New members will be able to join at a discounted rate.

What that exact rate will be for professionals and students will be decided by the membership committee headed by Colin DeVries (I’m also on the committee). Also yet to be determined is whether the discount would apply only to new members or to renewing members as well.

The Red River Report will post that information as it becomes available.

Hagit Limor, the search committee head, today also announced a timetable for choosing a new national executive director to replace Alison Bethel McKenzie, who resigned in April.

The search consultant, Talbott Talent, is in the process of compiling a survey that will be distributed to the SPJ staff later this month. Any member who wants to contribute suggestions about the desirable qualities in a new ED also may do so.

Talbott will present to the committee its findings about what members and staff want in a new ED by the end of July. The committee will complete a position profile by Aug. 2.

Recruiting for the position will begin Aug. 6. Anyone who is interested in applying may submit a cover letter and resume to Suggestions for candidates may be sent to the same email address.

Talbott then will begin actively recruiting candidates. A recommendation to the board is due no later than Oct. 18. Ideally, the new ED would begin work a month after accepting the position.

As for the cost of using Talbott Talent in the search, the committee said SPJ’s contract with the firm “expressly forbids that disclosure” because it is “proprietary information from a private company.”

More than 40 people listened to the public comment portion of the meeting, either on the Zoom app or by phone. Each speaker was allotted two minutes to speak, although that time limit was not announced ahead of time.

Hazel Becker with the SPJ DC Pro Chapter told the committee she is looking for two qualities in an ED: “Somebody who really knows journalism and not just an experienced association director,” and someone who is strong enough to stand up “when a board goes rogue,” as has happened in the past.

Other participants expressed concern about the confidentiality agreement with Talbott Talent over the cost of its consulting services.

“We owe the members to be fully transparent,” Forrest Gossett said. “You are managing their resources.”

Jonathan Make, also with the DC Chapter and the leader of an ad hoc group of concerned chapter presidents and SPJ members pushing for more transparency (I’m involved in the group as an individual), read a list of suggestions about the next ED:

  • Someone committed to journalism and who puts the practice of journalism above their own self-interest. While fundraising ability is great, that should be entirely secondary. Journalism and leadership should come first.
  • Someone who has a track record as a manager. And beyond that, shows leadership. A servant-leader. A consensus builder and seeker.
  • Someone who is committed to transparency, even when the news is bad; especially when the news is bad.
  • Someone who wants to do this for the long term; defined as at least five years.
  • Someone who does not abuse alcohol or drugs, had not ever been accused of sexual harassment or who places inappropriate demands on staff or volunteers.

Veteran TV reporter and Region 8 member Rebecca Aguilar, chair of SPJ’s Diversity Committee, said it is “crucial” for members to show respect to the SPJ leadership even when disagreeing over issues. She cited a video posted by board member Michael Koretzky – a snippet of a committee meeting – in which he used incendiary words to describe SPJ President Alex Tarquinio’s handling of the meeting.

Aguilar said such “drama” and “derogatory name calling” was inappropriate and hurts SPJ’s image and ability to recruit new members.

SPJ exec committee meets Saturday to discuss search for new exec director; give your ideas and input during public comment period

SPJ’s executive committee will meet this Saturday, July 13, and begin in executive session to discuss the search for a new executive director.

A public comment period will follow at noon Eastern Daylight Time. Use this link to participate in the virtual meeting, which will be conducted using the Zoom app. You must download the app first to be able to join the meeting.

You also can dial in to the meeting at 646-558-8656 (U.S.) or 720-707-2699. The webinar ID number is 977 410 138.

SPJ has been without an executive director since late April when Alison Bethel McKenzie resigned. SPJ has hired a headhunting consultant, Talbott Talent, and formed the executive committee to help with the search.

President Alex Tarquinio also appointed a Long-term Strategic Task Force, which includes Region 8’s Yvette Walker of the University of Oklahoma, to manage a survey that will go to SPJ members. See the president’s last blog post about the search status at

At first, the executive committee was going to allot SPJ members only half an hour to weigh in with their comments this Saturday. After an ad hoc group of chapters protested, the national leadership has agreed to give members more time to offer suggestions and ideas about what they want to see in a new executive director.

SPJ DC past President Jonathan Make in recent months helped “spearhead a group of local leaders and chapters that is seeking from the SPJ board maximum transparency and collaboration with membership,” as he put it. The group includes several chapters and individual members from SPJ Region 8.

If you have any questions or concerns, please email Region 8 Coodinator Kathryn Jones at

SPJ Region 8 launches freelance network

Freelancers, unite.

Whether you freelance out of choice, to keep working after a layoff or to reinvent yourself, SPJ can help you get discovered by editors and connect with other freelancers. Just sign up for the new Region 8 Freelance Network.

Some years ago a group of independent journalists affiliated with the Association for Women Journalists created a freelance network in Dallas-Fort Worth that was quite successful. We met for lunch each month, discussed opportunities and challenges, shared industry news and enjoyed a sense of camaraderie.

We also referred assignments to each other. If an editor needed a specific person for an assignment and contacted a freelance journalist who wasn’t available or interested, that journalist could refer someone in the network for the job. Some people got magazine assignments that way; one person even got a book deal.

We’d like to reprise the network under the auspices of SPJ Region 8 and expand it all over Texas and Oklahoma. During the Region 8 conference in March, several people indicated interest in joining a network. As a member of SPJ, you can join for no additional cost, of course.

The network will evolve over time, but the first step will be to compile a list of freelance journalists (writers, graphic artists, videographers, photographers), their contact information, skills and kinds of assignments desired. We’ll create our own regional freelance directory and message list. The more people who sign up, the more we can help each other.

Members of the network also can share information about publications looking for freelancers, specific assignments up for grabs, tips and helpful articles. We’re up for suggestions about the best way to do that — perhaps a Slack group or a closed Facebook group.

Freelancers represent SPJ’s largest community, so resources already are available at the national level. Check out the SPJ website’s page “SPJ Freelance Community” at, as well as the Freelance Community Facebook group. The blog “The Independent Journalist” also covers topics of interest to freelancers.

The SPJ Freelance Community’s guide to freelance writing is available online, as well as a calendar of events and on-demand sessions on freelancing and personal branding. You also can create an entry in the national SPJ Freelance Directory to connect with editors and network with other freelancers.

To join the SPJ Region 8 Freelancers Group, contact longtime freelancer and Region 8 Coordinator Kathryn Jones at We welcome any suggestions as we get this network started.

More transparency demanded, leadership questioned after SPJ board conference call

A SPJ national board meeting on June 1 became contentious during a discussion about appointing a committee to conduct a search for a new national executive director. Afterward, board member Michael Koretzky called for the president’s impeachment on his blog.

The SPJ D.C. Pro Chapter led an ad hoc group to write a letter to the national board calling for transparency throughout the process of selecting an executive director, but not for impeachment of President J. Alex Tarquinio. The letter also expressed concern that the board meeting was not conducted in “a collegial, collaborative or open way.”

Here’s the link to the letter:

SPJ Local Leaders Tell National Board of Transparency, Leadership Concerns

Alison Bethel McKenzie resigned as SPJ executive director in late April. The SPJ website posted a brief, unattributed statement that did not explain the circumstances of her resignation. Tarquinio later posted about the resignation on her blog, but some chapters — including some in Region 8 — did not think SPJ members were told about the resignation with the transparency that is a key principle of SPJ”s own code of ethics.

Tarquinio yesterday posted on her blog about the board’s approval of an executive director transition plan: 

Meanwhile, the Columbia Journalism Review has posted an article about the controversy that includes a video clip from the board meeting:

The Red River Report will post more details as they become available.

Early registration open for EIJ19 in San Antonio

ABC NEWS – John Quinones

Early registration is open for the annual Excellence in Journalism national SPJ convention, to be held this year in our Region 8, San Antonio, from Sept. 5 to 7. The convention hotel is the Grand Hyatt downtown.

EIJ19 workshops and breakout sessions are posted at They include sessions on becoming a better data sleuth, telling climate stories, minimizing harm while reporting on suicide, freelancing and grants, staying safe when covering natural disasters and civic unrest, managing newsroom stress and trauma, and much more.

One of the sessions spotlights a development from our own Region 8 — how NPR and public radio stations in Texas are building a prototype “regional news hub” with the “Texas Standard” news program and other collaborations. The session is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 6, from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m.

ABC News anchor and San Antonio native John Quiñones will receive this year’s RTDNA John F. Hogan Award on Friday, Sept. 6, during a “super session.” A reception will follow. Tickets to the event cost $45.

Other highlights include two excursions, a 35-minute boat tour of the Riverwalk and a tour of the Alamo. The boat tour begins Thursday, Sept. 5, at 10 a.m. and costs $5. The Alamo tour is the same day from 10 to 11 a.m. and costs $20.

Purchase tickets for the special events and register at Early registration ends June 27.

Chapter annual reports due May 24

The SPJ national office has been sending out email reminders that annual reports for all SPJ pro and student chapters are due May 24.

You can access the annual report form on the SPJ website:

Some chapter presidents and treasurers have asked about the new SPJ financial regulations that were approved last year and why additional reporting is required.

Unfortunately, there have been several cases – including one involving a region director and others involving pro chapters – of unauthorized fund withdrawals from SPJ accounts and/or admitted embezzling.

These cases of misappropriation of funds prompted the national board to adopt the new rules for regional accounts to “further enhance the organization’s accountability measures.” That’s the reason for the additional financial reporting.

I’ve received emails from some chapter treasurers about the required list of income and expenses. This doesn’t have to be tediously detailed since chapter checking account statements will show a lot of this information. A simple format for income might include membership dues, fundraiser proceeds, donations and a total; expenses might include office supplies, catering fees for dinner meetings, printing costs, etc. and a total.

We journalists sometimes procrastinate, but this isn’t a report that can be done at the last minute. So please don’t wait until the day before the deadline to review the form. You also may not be aware that SPJ now requires three members to do a financial audit. That will take some time. So if you haven’t started the annual report, start now.

Advisers to student chapters, please make sure someone in the chapter knows about the report deadline since it’s coming after the end of most spring semesters.

These reports can be a pain, but preparing them can be helpful because you can see what your chapter accomplished during the year and any areas you want to strengthen. It also can help you plan for the year ahead.

If you have questions or concerns, please let me know at or call or text me at 254/974-0326. If I don’t know the answer — and I may not since I’m new — I’ll find someone who can answer it for you. Thanks!

SPJ board promises more transparency after SA, other chapters protest handling of exec director resignation

All 450 members on SPJ Region 8’s membership roll should have received an email from me  the day before the SPJ national board met on Monday, May 6, to discuss next steps after Alison Bethel McKenzie resigned as executive director. (If you didn’t receive it, please let me know at; some member emails bounced back.)

I apologize for not giving members and chapter leaders more time to comment, but I did not learn of the resignation directly from the national office. I found out when a regional director emailed the other regional directors and coordinators with the news.

You may have missed the original two-sentence announcement of Bethel McKenzie’s resignation on the SPJ website:

Many members also didn’t see SPJ President Alex Tarquinio’s post about Bethel McKenzie’s departure on her blog:

The national office’s handling of the resignation prompted the Washington, D.C., Pro Chapter to draft a letter criticizing the board for lack of transparency. Other SPJ chapters– including the San Antonio Pro Chapter — also signed the letter.

I heard from two other Region 8 members who wanted their names included on the letter — John Brewer, president and publisher of The Examiner in Hugo, Oklahoma, and Wayne DeSmoot, an attorney and journalist in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. I also signed as an individual since I didn’t have time to poll the entire region. You can read the letter here:

My reason for joining the protest boiled down to this: how can SPJ members expect to hold others accountable if our own professional organization is not fully transparent? That violates SPJ’s own Code of Ethics. We are supposed to be examples and practice what we preach.

During the board meeting, Tarquinio pledged that the national office would do a better job of keeping members informed. Here’s the D.C. Pro Chapter’s summary of the meeting:

The search is on now for a new executive director. We’ll post updates on the Red River Report as they become available.

Welcome to Region 8’s first blog!

We hope the Red River Report will become a valuable resource for keeping our vast Oklahoma-Texas region informed about what chapters are doing, what we can learn from each other, professional development opportunities, and ways we can mentor students and keep our profession growing and viable at a time when it’s under attack from so many directions – financial, societal and political.

It’s been a busy spring with judging for the Mark of Excellence student journalism awards and preparations for the annual Region 8 conference held March 22-23 at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas. The regional conference drew about 100 professionals and student journalists from Oklahoma and Texas. The informative sessions, lively panel discussions and an inspiring keynote address by Beth Frerking, vertical editor of The Dallas Morning News, connected those attending with a sense of camaraderie and a feeling that, yes, we are engaged in work that matters to our communities and to the world. And, of course, it’s so exciting to see enthusiastic student journalists recognized for doing outstanding work.

A giant THANK YOU to the 23 journalists and journalism educators who judged MOE categories for Region 12, which encompasses Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee. (Out of fairness, we don’t judge entries from our own region.) Those who graciously gave of their time were Robert Barowski, Lorynne Benavides, Bob Booth, Linda Campbell, Quanecia Fraser, Ashley Ford, Eddye Gallagher, Saul Garza, Lee Goddard, Robert Hart, Ashley Inge, Kathryn Jones, Dan Malone, Susan McFarland, Lance McFarlin, Forrest Murphy, Gayle Reaves, Katelyn Rivera, Jason Sickles, Travis Smith, Arynn Tomson, Chris Whitley and Kirk Wise.

Texas State University has volunteered to host the 2020 regional conference in San Marcos. Due to conflicts with other journalism-related conferences, it will be held a bit later than usual. Tentative dates right now are April 24-25. Check out the Red River Report for updates.

Scroll down to find important news about our national organization and regional chapters. Several deadlines are coming up: each chapter must file an annual report by May 24. See the separate post for more information about that. Also, apply for SPJ chapter grants by July 15 at

Pro or student chapters can apply for grants of up to $500 “for innovative programs and events that help build membership.” See more about the criteria and application process at the link above.

Please email news about your chapter to me at New positions, events of interest, awards, available internships, job opportunities – we’re interested in them all!

Is there a journalism-related issue you’re passionate about? Or something that happened professionally that you want others to know about? Write about it. We’d love to run “guest columns” by members on a range of topics of interest to the regional membership. We’re aiming to update the blog the first week of each month, so please send submissions by the end of the previous month.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for reporting. We’re all in this together. Journalism matters.



Kathryn Jones

Region 8 coordinator

Freelance writer, author and journalism instructor



SPJ board to hold meeting on executive director resignation

I did not want or expect this to be the topic of the first blog post of the new Region 8 Red River Report, but as journalists we know that our best-laid plans often get derailed by breaking news.

By now you should have heard by email from me or from your chapter presidents that Alison Bethel McKenzie last week resigned as executive director of SPJ. The national board will hold an electronic meeting today at 3 p.m. Eastern time at SPJ headquarters in Indianapolis to talk about the next steps.

Here is a link to the agenda and the call-in info:

There will be a public comment period. But the main topic on the agenda will be discussed in executive session.

This is what SPJ President Alex Tarquinio posted:

The SPJ Washington, D.C., Pro Chapter has prepared a letter to be presented to the board. It criticizes SPJ’s handling of news about Bethel McKenzie’s resignation. Region 8’s San Antonio Pro Chapter is among other SPJ chapters signing the letter.

“SPJ’s leaders made no initial effort to inform members about this sudden and still unexplained resignation, beyond a short and unpublicized posting on,” SA Pro
Chapter President Michael Drudge said. “A few days later, SPJ President Alex Tarquinio issued a blog post but details were scant.”
I will post a recap of the meeting for those who cannot call in today and listen.
–Kathryn Jones, Region 8 Coordinator


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