Archive for the ‘SPJ HQ’ Category

Notes on the news, Twitter and public hunger for accuracy

There was a lot of bad.

The bombings — tragic.
A city gripped by fearful uncertainty — terrible.
News media spewing inaccurate information — beyond disappointing.

Much has already been said about the journalism mistakes: the impact on the industry, the misuse of social media and what to consider the next time big news breaks.

Among those valuable takeaways, it’s important to highlight news consumers’ reactions to media blunders.

More than ever, they’re not having it.

That’s my unscientific observation. In my year with SPJ, I’ve monitored the social media reactions to the SCOTUS ruling on the Affordable Care Act, the theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., damage caused by superstorm Sandy, the Newtown, Conn., school shooting and now the Boston Marathon bombings and the manhunt that followed. (There was the U.S. Presidential election, but that went smoothly. Did I miss anything? Probably.)

As big breaking-news events occurred, news consumers became increasingly intolerant of inaccurate reporting. Via Twitter, Facebook and Reddit, they ask for verification and urge news deliverers to exercise patience and ethical judgements.

Setting aside the inaccuracies churned out on those same platforms, it’s wonderful to see a hunger for quality journalism. Plenty of journalists got it right, but the ones that didn’t must take note of their audiences’ reactions. People want — they demand — informative, accurate reports.

Give the people what they want.


FYI, the SPJ Code of Ethics is a great reference »

Christine DiGangi is the communications coordinator at SPJ headquarters. She graduated from DePauw University and has worked in journalism and communications. Connect with Christine through email,, or Twitter,@cdigang.

Clever responses to my communications blunder

I send a lot of emails — THOUSANDS of emails — for SPJ. Last Thursday morning, I sent one to every member of the organization. After pressing send, I turned to my to-do list and planned the rest of my workday.

Then I saw this on Twitter:

the start of a long day

You're one of nearly 8,000, in fact.


Right you are, Carl. I went into the contact list and saw that each email address lined up with an unrelated name. I sent 7,331 incorrectly addressed emails.

All I could do was correct the mistake and let it serve as a reminder to triple check everything I send out — the revered double-check had failed me this time.

I expected to lose part of my day to addressing the problem. I did. But I didn’t expect to spend much of the afternoon laughing.

Thank you, journalists, for your persistent sense of humor.

In exchange for your patience and wit, I give you:

The Top 5 Responses to My Stupid Mistake (and the subsequent correction email)

5. “I liked being ‘Dave’ for a day.” — Peggy

4. “I was all set to climb up on you with both feet about the ‘Donald’ thing. Trump, maybe or Donald Duck, even … then you corrected your mistake.” — Janet

3. “I considered making a smart aleck reply, but figured it would have to take its place in a long line.”

2. “I’ve been called a lot of things worse than ‘Jennifer’ in my years as a community newspaper editor.” — Gary
(Three others also said they have been called worse. Journalism!)

And the winner, by far:

1. “Thanks for the invitation, but my name isn’t ‘Mary.’ : -)”
[I replied to this man —Mark — with an apology]
“No big deal, Christine. I guess I’m still a little sensitive about the fact that, back in ancient times, my local newspaper used to publish the list of school classes for fall, and they almost always ID’d me as ‘Mary.’ Humiliating experience for a 6-year old boy.”
[Additional apology sent]
“Thank you. Gotta run. Appointment with my therapist.”

And that, I believe, is called a Silver Lining.

But really, I’m lucky to have experienced little backlash. Regardless — lesson learned.


BONUS: How the foolishness unfolded on Twitter:


Christine DiGangi is the communications coordinator at SPJ headquarters. She graduated from DePauw University and has worked in journalism and communications. Connect with Christine through email,, or Twitter, @cdigang.

Chat tonight: Manti Te’o and journalism’s history with hoaxes

Failure. Disappointing. Sloppy. People had a lot to say about the role of journalism in the Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax, and much of the commentary assailed the media.

The criticism has merit, but in the weeks since the scandal unfolded, the more bizarre and complex the details have become. The media cannot be wholly blamed for or excused from the mishap, and all that mess is meaningful to journalism and its mission to report the truth.

Instead of compiling an expert-laden media analysis, SPJ wants to talk to you about it. An issue of this magnitude deserves wide discussion, which is why SPJ will participate in tonight’s #muckedup chat about the media’s tangled history with hoaxes.

Join us tonight at 8 EST for the chat hosted by Adam Popescu (@adampopescu) for Muck Rack. The more SPJ members we can include in this conversation, the better — the topic means a lot to the growth of journalism.

Follow the #muckedup hashtag to participate, and we (@spj_tweets) will see you there.


Christine DiGangi is the communications coordinator at SPJ headquarters. She graduated from DePauw University and has worked in journalism and communications. Connect with Christine through email,, or Twitter, @cdigang.

Nov. 6: A journalism case study

On Election Day, I sat as a spectator in the arena of journalism, eager to watch unprecedented news coverage unfold. “The first social election,” some called it.

I knew I wouldn’t catch everything, and I certainly didn’t, but my goal on Nov. 6 was to document the election from journalists’ perspectives. My observations are just that — trends I saw among hours of online coverage, which I consumed from one tiny computer monitor with one set of eyes. Given my resources, there’s nothing scientific in my analysis. Nonetheless, I think it has value.

My method: Monitor journalists’ and news outlets’ Twitter feeds, Facebook posts and Instagram activity; check related RSS feeds; repeatedly expand the sample size by exploring others’ Twitter lists, seeking impressionable accounts through Topsy and Hashtracking and browsing news sites to identify election reporters; finally, Storify as much as possible.

After less than an hour of this, I formed four sections within SPJ’s Storify “Journalists on Election Day”: “resources and tips,” “status updates,” “election coverage” and “just for fun.” Nearly everything I collected fit one of these categories, though some could have gone in more than one. It’s amazing what people can fit into a post of 140 or fewer characters.

Twitter was my most plentiful resource. I collected information from more than 180 accounts and learned a lot from the posts I read.

On perhaps the greatest day for civic duty in the U.S., journalists provided a variety of public services. They posted photos of polling places, sent updates of wait times in voting lines, posted links to voting resources and giving citizens multiple ways to access election results. I saw a great effort from journalists to communicate with their audiences.

In terms of election coverage, journalism impressively embraced interactive graphics and (gasp) math. In the four newsrooms I’ve worked, in the scores of conversations I’ve had with reporters, I’ve heard few kind words for math. (And I majored in English writing, so I’m guilty of cringing at math, too.)

“I do words, not numbers.”

“Well, I’m bad at math, so I chose writing.”

You’ve heard it, I’ve heard it (I’ve said it), but that doesn’t mean journalists don’t understand the importance of math — there are plenty of journalists who like math, even love it. But after Election Day, its significance has never seemed clearer. I won’t rehash the commentary from dozens of articles on Nate Silver, but if the emergence of data journalism hasn’t motivated reporters and editors to prioritize data literacy, Election 2012 should.

Ethical debates have gained momentum as a result of the election and use of social media. Instagram use among journalists has great advantages in serving consumers, and it also encourages impressive citizen journalism. The New York Times boasted an impressive collection of readers’ Instagrams on Election Day, too. But the use of Instagram’s editing features and its impact on photojournalism remains a debated ethical issue.

Even ethical topics with deep history, like whether journalists should vote, sparked fervent interactions on social media. It’s more than just voting, though, as journalists frequently take to the Internet with their political commentary and opinions.

Speaking of commentary: The “just for fun” and “status updates” segments of the Storify are, at least from my perspective, highly entertaining. Among the more serious messages like those urging others to vote and describing polling-place atmosphere, you can find many a funny message about caffeine, pizza and the inevitable system failures before a deadline.

As election returns poured in, I scaled back my rate of aggregation, first because this expected coverage didn’t add much value to the Storify and second because I could hardly keep up. What I noticed was an increase in care and accurate reporting from other breaking news that has emerged on Twitter (Hurricane Sandy, the SCOTUS decision on the Affordable Care Act). Perhaps this is indicative of a maturing digital media.

Despite the limits of my journo-tracking, this sample displayed many trends in breaking-news coverage, and I hope news organizations reflect on Election 2012 as they consider how to best deliver journalism amid industry and technology advances. Major news events double as learning opportunities, and journalists need to capitalize on them, specifically this one.


Journalists: What did you learn on Election Day? How will this year’s election coverage impact your approach to planning, reporting and editing? If you wish to weigh in, please engage with this discussion on our Facebook page, or send me an email. I may quote you in a future blog post.

Christine DiGangi is the communications coordinator at SPJ headquarters. She graduated from DePauw University and has worked in journalism and communications. Connect with Christine through email,, or Twitter, @cdigang.

HOORAY FOR US! SPJ reached 9,000 Twitter ‘followers’! (Why we or you shouldn’t care)

Yesterday SPJ reached 9,000 “followers” on Twitter. (And there’s a reason “followers” is in quotes. Hang on for that.)

A nice amount, sure, considering it’s roughly the number of members SPJ had for much of the past 10 years. (Membership is closer to 8,000 now.)

It’s also, as it happens, completely arbitrary. I don’t care about it, and it’s kind of my job to care.

Don’t get me wrong: SPJ is always striving to broaden its audience in all media – whether that audience is composed of members, other journalists, or just interested citizens and organizations. And, of course, we do hope people will continually seek information and training from SPJ – through Twitter or whatever means.

But focusing on pure numbers is odd, distracting and silly. It’s a fool’s errand to use “follower” and “like” counts as true metrics of an organization’s (news outlet or otherwise) reach, influence or value. Klout score be damned.

I admit to writing a somewhat snarky tweet to mark our 9,000th “follower”:

The intended lesson was twofold:

1) An obsession with attracting more “followers” (and related verbiage for Facebook and other social platforms) is overblown and overdone – by news outlets and individuals.

2) “Followers” is a condescending, obtuse term (unfortunately the default word used by Twitter).

The subsequent tweet (less snarky, I hope) was this:


The link in that tweet led to a December 2010 post titled “Can you really engage a community by telling them to ‘follow’ and ‘like’ you?”

A set-up question, for sure. The presupposed answer: No, absolutely not.

If SPJ had an official social media policy, that would be it. (Along with the simple yet critical “Don’t be stupid” advice others have recommended as the guiding light for social media usage at news organizations.)

If not our official policy, it’s a cornerstone philosophy.

Also a part of that philosophy: Don’t use social media “engagement” in a veiled attempt to boost your counts on Twitter, Facebook or the like.

I won’t drag anyone or any outlet through the mud, but you’ve likely seen the appeals. Something to the tune of: “PLEASE HELP US REACH 10,000 FOLLOWERS. WE’RE ALMOST THERE! AND DON’T FORGET TO ‘LIKE’ US ON FACEBOOK.”

Two observations:
1) Preach to the choir much?

2) Get over yourself.

Take a moment to answer this: If you beg people to interact with or pay attention to you, is that an even relationship? Have you truly built a community?

Without an engaged community, how much value does your message really have?

Answer: Zero.

Now that’s a number you should take to heart.

Note: Thanks to Joe Skeel and Abby Henkel for input on this post.

Scott Leadingham is editor of SPJ’s Quill magazine. Interact with him on Twitter: @scottleadingham.

Musician turned nonprofiteer delivers the SPJ dish

Hi there. I think it’s about time I introduce myself. I’m Abby Henkel, the communications coordinator here at SPJ HQ. Maybe you have read some of the newsletters, tweets and press releases I have written, raising important questions in your mind, such as, “What’s for dinner?”

I can’t answer that — though I suggest something with kale — but I can tell you a little about what it’s been like as an outsider to journalism working for journalists far and wide.

Hailing from Indianapolis with a BA in music from Earlham College (rah rah, Hustlin’ Quakers!) and an MA in Arts Administration from Indiana University, I wasn’t the most likely candidate for this position. However, I was interested in SPJ because I studied non-profits, I wanted more communications experience from an organization that knows how to communicate, and I have a deep interest in news and the people who bring it to me.

I think most non-profit employees and volunteers get into the sector because they want to support a cause that speaks to them. So here I am, back in Indianapolis and writing communications for the 8,000 members of SPJ and all of our adoring fans.

What I planned to get out of my year at SPJ — this position is a one-year, paid internship-type gig — was a greater understanding of how to create effective non-profit communications and marketing. Yes, I’ve done a lot of that.

Truly, though, what’s been the biggest change for me is that after nearly five months at HQ and one huge convention in New Orleans, my appreciation for journalists and the hurdles they face every day has grown significantly. I knew that most reporters work long hours for little recognition and even less pay (kindred spirits with musicians!), but now I think I can appreciate the risks they take every day.

I’m not just talking about the threats to their life and freedom of the press at home and abroad. I never thought about what kind of personal sacrifices reporters and their families must make just to uncover the truth and share it with a knowledge-hungry public. As I begin to settle down in my own life, I realize that every hour I spend on my work or volunteerism is an hour less with the people I care about most. Reporters make this sacrifice at a young age, understanding in journalism school that they will spend their lives working for the common good but must accept the toll it will take on the family and friends who also depend on them. It’s worth the sacrifice, but it’s not easy.

It’s also not easy to write for 8,000 journalists who have mastered grammar, AP style and the elusive skill of succinct writing. But it’s good for me, and I hope I’m good for the members of SPJ. I look forward to the rest of my time here and the chance to have a positive effect on the people who probably don’t realize how much they’ve already done for me.

– Abby Henkel

Abby Henkel is SPJ’s communications coordinator and a 2011 graduate of Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs master’s program. Reach her at

A glance at SPJ’s new Facebook pictures/promos

Facebook released new designs for its fan pages two weeks ago to offer improved engagement with fans, feature photos and provide better analytics for page administrators. We’ve used the upgrades one week later to have a little fun while initiating a new promotional branding idea for the SPJ page.

(Hat tip to Vadim Lavrusik for a helpful Mashable piece about what the new pages mean for owners and users.)

This new idea involves converting the photos displayed on our Facebook page into promotional space to showcase various SPJ programs. The first series includes SPJ’s major communications vehicles so we can help our members and those who engage with us on Facebook (“Likers”?) stay connected with what we’re doing. Each photo includes a brief description of that topic with additional links for more information.

The idea behind this is to highlight other programs provided by SPJ each month, including those for ethics, professional development and freedom of information-related issues. Here is a sneak peek at our FOI pictures:

Coming up with the ideas for this little experiment was fun. After receiving an enthusiastic approval to pursue it from Communications Director and Quill Editor Scott Leadingham, I spent the following weekend developing different concept ideas for how to use the space. The two prototypes used for further expansion include the “Five-for-Five” series listed above and the “Windowpane” series that would conceptually use all five spaces to create one larger image. SPJ’s graphic designer, Tony Peterson, then worked to create the final versions for each series.

When it came time to test our first promotion with the “Windowpane” series, the results were disheartening. We quickly realized that even though page owners have control over what images are displayed on their wall, they do not have control over any consistent ordering of the photos. This is due to a randomization setting Facebook added to the fan page layout versus the average profile page.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t show you what those design series would have looked like. Here is a glimpse at the final concept we had in mind for two different promotions:

Even though we weren’t able to use this technique, it was still vindicating to know the “Five-for-Five” series was invulnerable to the picture randomization setting.

Want to know more about the conversations, limitations and promises this new branding approach is shaping? See my personal blog on who else is experimenting with the new layout.

Andrew M. Scott (@PRMillennial) is the communications coordinator for SPJ Headquarters. He is a graduate of the University of Mississippi and an SPJ member since 2008.

The Gift of SPJ

As the Christmas weekend draws near, I can’t help but reflect on this time last year. As a senior at my university, I still had one final semester to survive, and average college tenure does not come with a lot of extra money at hand. So rather than asking my parents for an iPod or designer clothes last Christmas, I asked them for a renewal check to continue my membership with SPJ.

Why? Because I could see the greater value in the professional resources and opportunities SPJ could provide me. As the student chapter president at Ole Miss, the experiences I gained allowed me to not only further enhance my writing skills, but also my leadership, research, graphic design and organization skills. I would need all of these attributes for my future career in public relations and media work.

But all the accomplishments during my collegiate career were minor in comparison for the plans SPJ still had in store for me. Within a month of graduating with my bachelor’s degree last May, I received a dream job offer as the Society’s communications coordinator, a post-graduate internship for media, marketing and public relations efforts.

My job has helped me strengthen my writing, marketing, social media and media relations techniques in both broad and specific ways where average internships are often very limited. I’ve discovered fun, innovative ways to expand my creative skills. SPJ has also introduced me to the wonderful culture that is Indianapolis and allowed me to travel to Las Vegas for the 2010 Convention and National Journalism Conference.

Today, I know of May 2010 journalism and PR graduates who have not found a job. Because of that, I feel blessed and I hope you take away this one lesson: We make our own opportunities in life, and when we believe in them, they often have a way of taking us further than we truly imagined. SPJ is doing that for me.

It’s been an incredible honor to serve the 8,000-strong membership of SPJ over the past few months. Thank you, members and fellow journalists, for all you do for SPJ, the profession and the public interest. Have a happy and safe holiday season.

Where will your SPJ membership take you this year?

Andrew M. Scott is the communications coordinator for SPJ Headquarters. He has been an SPJ member since 2008. Get to know Andrew more on Twitter: @PRMillennial.

Getting lost in Indy and a roadmap for new college chapters

It has been a full week here in Indianapolis, and I have already gotten lost a handful of times in the city. Instead of viewing it as an adventure, I start to sweat and irrationally think that I’m never going to make it home. Might as well call my folks, say some dramatic last words and then park my car somewhere in the void. Maybe it would be best that from here on out, if I’m going to explore a new town, I better pack a few boxes of Cheez-Its, a First Aid kit and flare gun.

Now that I’m at SPJ Headquarters, I have to admit that one of the things I’ve wanted to do after college is help students set up campus chapters, a process that may seem like an intimidating, winding road. However, Headquarters staff members are like the GPS of the organization: they can lead you down the right path (sometimes with an overdone British accent).

Right now, there are 129 campus chapters in SPJ, but there’s always room for more. A friend of mine over at the University of North Florida is in the process of beginning a chapter, and she is currently looking for an adviser. She’s got spunk and initiative, which is something that SPJ needs to continue thriving.

Don’t have an SPJ chapter on your campus? Start one. You have Headquarters backing you 100 percent (the people over here don’t bite), and the start-up process is going to quadruple your leadership skills. If you join this national organization as someone who had the drive to start up their college chapter, can you imagine how many professional contacts you’re going to make while in school? Don’t pass up that opportunity.

Here’s how to start:

1)      Let SPJ Headquarters know you’ve made the decision to start a chapter by calling 317-927-8000. You can start a chapter if you’re at a two-year or four-year university or college that has a school or department of journalism or that offers courses in journalism. At least 10 students need to back you up.

2)      Seek out professional SPJ members near you, whether they’re faculty or in a local Pro SPJ chapter. They’ll help you out and offer guidance.

3)      You have to send in some paperwork to Headquarters in order to become a provisional campus chapter, which means you have a year to work toward becoming a “formally recognized” SPJ chapter.

To look at the details on how to start up a campus chapter, visit the SPJ site. It includes paperwork information, programming ideas and tips on how to set up the chapter framework. If you have any questions about anything, call us at Headquarters at 317-927-8000.

Or e-mail me for campus chapter tips at I was an officer in the University of Florida chapter for four years, which included being president for two. I helped lead an almost dormant chapter to becoming the 2009 Outstanding Campus Chapter of the Year. Revving up a chapter is a lot of work, but we certainly had fun with all our programming.

I assure you, we’re not going to let you get lost in the process. So set aside that emergency box of Cheez-Its and flare gun, and start up your chapter this summer.

Coming soon: When to throw out a stale chapter and bake a new one

April Dudash is the summer 2010 Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern and does the bidding of SPJ Headquarters. She graduated from the University of Florida in May and has been an SPJ member since 2006.

Call SPJ if you have questions

I shared the following story with my colleagues and one of them thought I should share it with all of you (see Scott Leadingham):

Over Easter weekend, I met my parents in Washington, D.C. to take a walk beneath the cherry blossoms. We joined the 100,000-plus admirers of the blooms and braved the crowded metro to see some sites that we’d never visited before. I’ve lived in D.C. and visited as a tourist many times, but what I love most about the city is that there’s always something unfamiliar or new to explore. In addition to the Blossom Festival, Lincoln’s summer cottage and Hotel George’s Bistro-Bis, the Newseum was high on our priority list.

While all of our destinations on that trip’s agenda were fantastic, the Newseum was divine. My parents and I spent an entire afternoon systematically moving from one exhibit to the next, completely enthralled with the Pulitzer Prize Photographs Gallery; the exposed pieces of the Berlin Wall, one of which you could touch;   the moving display of the coverage of 9/11; and the recreation of Tim Russert’s office. We could have spent all day opening the drawers of preserved pages from over 30,000 historic newspapers. I found the memorial to all journalists who were killed while doing their job particularly emotional. So emotional, in fact, that I could not form words to describe how I felt standing beneath the glass panels that paid tribute to the men and women who gave their lives in the name of getting a story to the public.

When we went to sleep that night, I, and my unfortunate roommates, my parents, found out just how much I had been affected by the Newseum. I awoke my parents by loudly declaring:


According to my mother, I repeated these four words with gumption before taking a breath and starting again. My poor startled parents said they stared at me in the darkness as I rallied unseen supporters for FOI and open government, wondering if I was OK or if the Newseum and my internship with SPJ truly had infiltrated my dreams. Then they got their answer….

“Tell them to call SPJ if they have any questions,” I said resolutely. Shortly thereafter, I was silent.

Of all places to get on my soapbox about the importance of transparency, I should be doing it in D.C.

Too bad I was doing it in my sleep.

But I am very happy that I asked whoever was listening – in my dream or in the adjacent hotel rooms – that they could call SPJ if they needed any additional information. I hope you tell your journalism friends, preferably the real ones, to call SPJ, too.


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