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SPJ Region 8 Virtual Conference schedule, April 9

Please plan to attend the SPJ Region 8 Virtual Conference on Saturday, April 9. We wanted to make this as easy and convenient as possible after another year of so many challenges, so registration is free. All you have to do is email Kathryn Jones, regional coordinator, at with the names, titles (if applicable) and email addresses of those attending. They will receive the Zoom link by email.

This year’s conference will focus on three areas of great interest and relevance to the Region 8 journalism community: increasing challenges to a free student press; coverage of indigenous people; and the rise of nonprofit journalism.

The conference schedule follows. Please email Kathryn with any questions. We look forward to seeing you soon!


11-11:15 a.m. Welcome

Short update on what’s happening in the region by Kathryn Jones, Region 8 coordinator.

11:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m. New Challenges to a Free Student Press

Speakers: Myranda Campanella, editor of The Battalion at Texas A&M University, and Doug Pils, general manager of student media, discuss on the latest developments at A&M, whose president wanted to end The Battlion’s print edition and faced an outcry from students and journalists. Dan Malone, veteran journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner, retired assistant professor of journalism at Tarleton State University and a board member of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, will speak about the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, lawsuit accusing Tarleton of withholding public information about its attempt to censor the student-run Texan News Service and take over its editorial independence. Chris Whitley, director of student publications at Tarrant County College and president of the College Media Association, will give the national overview of free press challenges to student journalists and advisers and how to address them.

12:15-12:30 p.m. Break

12:30-1:30 p.m. Keynote Address

Speaker: Dianna Hunt, senior editor at Indian Country Today and a veteran reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The Dallas Morning News and Houston Chronicle, will give the keynote address on the state of journalism in Native American communities.

1:30-2 p.m. Mark of Excellence Awards

Winners and finalists of the prestigious student journalism awards will be announced. Certificates will be mailed to winners and finalists.

2-3 p.m. Nonprofit Journalism Takes Off in Texas

Speaker: Q&A with Chris Cobler, publisher and CEO of the nonprofit Fort Worth Report and former publisher and editor of The Victoria Advocate, will discuss the successes and challenges of the digital news organization’s first year.

Transparency bills on the move in the Texas Legislature

I’m sharing the following column by Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, about the transparency bills making their way through the Texas Legislature.

Kelley says: “Feel free to publish and edit as you see fit or use it as background for your own columns or news stories as we reach a crucial stretch of the legislative session. Please contact me with any questions.” She can be reached at 512-377-1575 (office) or 512-914-9222 (cell), or at


By Kelley Shannon

Transparency bills are moving forward in the Texas Legislature with bipartisan support to promote open government and correct public information access problems that arose amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

With about five weeks left in the legislative session, here’s a status report on bills backed by the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, the Texas Press Association, the Texas Association of Broadcasters and other members of the Transparent and Accountable Government Coalition:

Texas Open Meeting Act improvements

House Bill 2683 by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, won unanimous approval in the Texas House of Representatives. It addresses online meetings allowed under the Texas Open Meetings Act. Though the virtual meetings provision of the law worked well for many governments during the pandemic, in some cases rules for public comment were unfairly imposed and telephone call-in lines were not provided to accommodate those without Internet. HB 2683 corrects those problems. It now moves to the Senate.

Texas Public Information Act compliance

House Bill 1416 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, received approval in the House State Affairs Committee. The legislation defines business days under the Public Information Act to ensure timely responses to public records requests. Throughout the pandemic, a number of government offices have not responded to requestors, citing the physical closure of their offices or because they were operating on a “skeleton crew” with staffers working remotely. However, many records today are available electronically, meaning they likely can be accessed remotely. The bill next moves to the full House.

House Bill 3627 by Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, clarifies existing law pertaining to “catastrophe notices” that governments can file to briefly suspend TPIA responses during a disaster. This legislation adds specifics to the law to prevent abuse. It was approved by the House State Affairs Committee and is now moving to the full House. Senate Bill 1225 by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, is the identical bill in the Senate and recently had a public hearing in the Senate Business and Commerce Committee.

House Bill 3015 by Rep. Ana Hernandez, D-Houston, won approval in the House State Affairs Committee and is heading to the full House. Enforcement measures in the bill require governments to respond to public records requestors even if no responsive documents are found so that requestors remain informed. It also calls for additional training if public officials aren’t following the public information law.

Nursing home pandemic transparency

Senate Bill 930 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, won passage in the Senate and is now in a House committee. Zaffirini’s bill, including a key provision added from similar legislation by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, ensures nursing home residents and their loved ones can get the information they need about communicable disease outbreaks such as COVID-19. A House version of the bill, HB 3306, by Rep. Mayes Middleton, R-Wallisville, was approved in committee and is headed to the full House.

Other information access measures
House Bill 3535
by Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, which won approval in the House State Affairs Committee and now heads to the full House, reopens access to dates of birth in public records. Birthdates help ensure accuracy and aid citizens vetting a candidate for office; journalists identifying a person in a crime report; and banks, car loan companies, credit report firms and employers relying on public record background checks to conduct business.

House Bill 1810 by Capriglione was approved by the House State Affairs Committee and is headed to the full House. It provides access to searchable-sortable records, meaning that when government information is stored in spreadsheets or other electronic formats that can be searched and sorted a requestor has the right to ask for and obtain the records in that format.

A little more than a month remains for lawmakers to act, so it’s time for open government supporters across Texas to let legislators know they support these proposals. Let’s remind our elected officials how crucial transparency is to government accountability, and that’s important to us all.

Kelley Shannon is executive director of the non-profit Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. For more information go to


Vote electronically for SPJ board and regional coordinators during EIJ 2020

The race for the White House isn’t the only election drawing national attention. The Society of Professional Journalists this month elects a new slate of board members and regional coordinators to lead the torch-bearer of journalistic excellence and freedom into the next year.

SPJ members will elect national and regional leaders during the annual Excellence in Journalism national convention, which this year will be held online from Sept. 12 to 13. Chapter delegates once elected officers and board members, but now ALL members can cast their votes using an online voting system.

The SPJ national headquarters has been sending emails to members directing them to candidate information on the SPJ “Election Central” page. Connect and learn more about candidates in the Meet the Candidates section.

Some of the candidates also have posted profiles and Q-and-As on blogs, their own websites or social media pages.

Look for an email from about the elections. Voting opens at noon Easter time Sept. 11 and closes at noon Eastern time Sept. 13. Results will be announced at the conclusion of EIJ on Sept. 13 at 4:45 p.m. Eastern time. 

Make sure your email address is current to receive the voting instructions and electronic ballots. If you have a new email address, please contact Matthew Kent, SPJ national program coordinator, at, so you’ll be sure to get your electronic ballot.

If you don’t receive a ballot for some reason, check your spam folders. Still not there? Email and provide your name, email address and SPJ member number. 

Once cast, all votes are final and cannot be changed. 


Chapter leaders sign letter of protest about lack of transparency in ED selection process

Presidents and members of SPJ chapters have signed a letter protesting a lack of transparency in the way the national board selected a new executive director. SPJ announced on Nov. 8 that John Shertzer will be the organization’s next ED.

I have signed that letter as an individual. Chapters in Texas and Oklahoma are welcome to join in signing the letter if their boards decide to do so. If interested, contact Jonathan Make at

Following is the letter and the names of members who have signed so far.


SPJ board of directors: 

The SPJ members and leaders below wish to express their deep concern about the selection process for our next executive director, the third in less than three years.

Specifically, we’re troubled that the board rescinded (in an unannounced vote) its previous decision to consider three candidates for this vital position. Instead, the board reviewed only a single candidate. This also happened in 2018. The result was a disastrous tenure, and SPJ bought out the contract it negotiated only months earlier.

We also voice our support for directors Lauren Bartlett and Mike Reilley, the only two members who voted against this last-minute change of policy – which, it should be remembered, was the board’s reaction to our previous concern about the one-candidate process.

We’re equally disturbed that Bartlett and Reilley voiced their opposition and the rest of the board engaged in no debate. Instead, they simply voted 7-2 to negotiate a contract with the only candidate they met. This smacks of ramrodding.

Finally, we demand an explanation for the comments by search committee chair Hagit Limor, who insisted – despite much evidence to the contrary – that the board was flouting industry standards by seeking to interview multiple candidates. Limor also refused Bartlett and Reilley’s request to even know the name of the second-ranked candidate. This is a complete betrayal of the assurances this group was given that this would be a transparent process.

As SPJ members, we vote for the board, which represents our interests and is legally charged with a fiduciary responsibility to the organization. For those directors to be refused information by an unelected search committee chair is deeply troubling – and perhaps a sign of bigger problems than just a constrained executive director search.

We hope to hear from you soon, in the same timely and open-minded fashion with which you’ve responded in the past year. We all love SPJ, and if we can agree to move in the same direction, we can restore the organization to its past glory.


The Chicago Headline Club

The SPJ Florida Pro Chapter

Jonathan Make, SPJ D.C. Pro Chapter

Kathryn Jones, Region 8 Coordinator

Elle Toussi, International Community Chair

Kathleen M. Burns, DC Pro Chapter

Kathryn Foxhall, DC Pro Chapter

Celia Wexler, DC Pro Chapter

Kenneth Jost, DC Pro Chapter

Jennifer Karchmer, Western Washington Pro

Forrest Gossett, former Region 7 director, life member

Oregon Territory Chapter

Louisiana Pro Chapter:

Sergy Odiduro, Louisiana Pro Chapter president

Robert Buckman, Louisiana Pro Chapter vice president

Freda Yarbrough Dunne, Louisiana Pro Chapter board member

Tracy Standley, Louisiana Pro Chapter board member

San Antonio Pro Chapter

Kaitlin Gillespie, Western Washington Pro Chapter president


John Shertzer hired as SPJ executive director

Below is the announcement SPJ’s national headquarters released about the selection of a new executive director.

Society of Professional Journalists hires John Shertzer as executive director


Patricia Gallagher Newberry, SPJ National President, 513-702-4065,
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Director of Communications and Marketing, 317-361-4134,

INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalistsannounces today that experienced nonprofit leader John Shertzer is its new executive director.

“SPJ is excited to welcome John and looks forward to introducing him to our members,” said SPJ National President Patricia Gallagher Newberry. “His stated goal is to establish SPJ as the ‘preeminent and most influential journalism organization in the U.S.’ – an aspiration shared by SPJ leadership. His deep experience with associations that serve members, and his strong record in working with younger people, make him the right executive director for what SPJ needs right now.”

Shertzer will serve as executive director of SPJ and its nonprofit educational arm, the SPJ Foundation. Shertzer most recently served as founding executive director of the Mayor’s Youth Leadership Council in Indianapolis, where he was tapped by Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett to envision, build, secure funding and launch the MYLC, a student advisory board to the mayor, funded by the Lilly Endowment.

“The mission of SPJ to perpetuate a free press has never been more important. I am excited to work with our staff and boards to strengthen and support our membership in service to that high purpose,” Shertzer said. “SPJ is a historic and influential organization. I hope to be the kind of leader who can honor its past, while preparing it for an exciting and consequential future.”

Before creating MYLC, Shertzer spent seven years as the chief programs officer at Kiwanis International, and executive director of Kiwanis Youth Programs, Inc., a subsidiary that housed Kiwanis’ membership programs for youth and young adults. In those roles he led Key Club International, one of the largest youth service organizations in the world.

Shertzer is an established thought leader on organizational development and leadership, providing training and education to dozens of nonprofit and collegiate organizations all over the world including charitable organizations, arts organizations, membership chapters and trade associations.

He also held a senior role with the North American Interfraternity Conference, serving the needs of undergraduate members, alumni members and professional association staff and board members. His experience also includes positions at Leadership Ventures in Indianapolis, University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland, and Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.

Hagit Limor, chair of the seven-member search committee that recommended Shertzer, said, “The executive search committee laser-focused on finding an executive director who can take a strong leadership role to tackle the challenges the Society and industry face into the next decade. John shared new ideas and a mastery of the issues in play, along with a management style we are confident will work well with our staff, boards and members.”

Shertzer earned a master’s degree in higher education from Iowa State and a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He participates in many volunteer and professional activities and has published a book and several articles about leadership.

Shertzer succeeds Alison Bethel McKenzie, who resigned from the position in April. He is expected to join the staff at SPJ headquarters in Indianapolis on Dec. 2.

SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to informing citizens; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and fights to protect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. Support excellent journalism and fight for your right to know. Become a membergive to the Legal Defense Fund or give to the SPJ Foundation.



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.


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