SPJ in 2017: The Year in Review

It’s been quite a year for journalism. In 2017, journalists have been arrested, threatened and bullied. They’ve been harassed by sources – and each other. But more than anything, 2017 has been a year when journalists have proven they will continue to do their jobs no matter the obstacles they face.

That’s why SPJ has been hard at work fighting for journalists everywhere, but much of our work is done behind the scenes.

In 2017, SPJ has continued strong advocacy work in fighting for journalists’ rights; recognized amazing works of journalism with our Sigma Delta Chi Awards, Mark of Excellence Awards and many others; launched an Inauguration Day membership drive and continued to partner and support other journalism organizations.

Here are some of our highlights:

ADVOCACY

We signed onto at least 17 court briefs whose cases would have major effects on journalism this year. We wrote and signed onto a plethora of letters in support of issues that would affect free press, ethical journalism, net neutrality and more. We also committed thousands of dollars from the SPJ Legal Defense Fund this year to journalists facing legal issues.

SPJ spearheaded a letter, signed by 70 journalism and open government organizations, to President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence requesting a meeting about government transparency. The groups seek to build on the meeting SPJ led in December 2015 with the Obama administration. To date, however, the Trump administration has not responded.

In February, SPJ – along with Committee to Protect Journalists, Native American Journalists Association, National Press Photographers Association and Online News Association – sent a letter to officials in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, to allow journalists to cover the events at Standing Rock safely.

After speaking out against a judge’s actions regarding “prior restraint” in December 2016, SPJ’s Legal Defense Fund Committee granted Isaac Avilucea, a reporter for the (Trenton, New Jersey) Trentonian, $5,000 in March to help with his legal fees. Avilucea obtained a confidential child custody report from the child’s mother. Without giving notice to the newspaper or Avilucea, a New Jersey judge issued an emergency order prohibiting him and the newspaper from publishing information obtained from the complaint. Avilucea won his case in March.

SPJ had its biggest and best Ethics Week in April – with the help of some friends in New York City, we displayed the Code of Ethics on billboards in Times Square. We also had our very first Day of Giving, where we raised $22,025.

Dan Heyman, a West Virginia Public News Service journalist, was arrested in May for questioning Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and White House adviser Kellyanne Conway. SPJ urged West Virginia officials to drop the charges. SPJ’s Legal Defense Fund Committee later granted Heyman’s lawyer, Tim DiPiero, $5,000 to cover his fees. DiPiero, along with the law firm of Wilmer Hale, which worked on a pro bono basis, was instrumental in securing a complete and unconditional dismissal of the charges.

In June, SPJ headquarters staffers and leaders met with lawmakers in Washington, D.C., to discuss the importance of journalism and explain what organizations like SPJ do to help the industry. We also joined a group of press freedom groups in filing a formal complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics asking that Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) be disciplined after his assault charge for allegedly “body-slamming” a reporter for The Guardian.

SPJ and 32 other journalism and open government organizations sent a letter in July to Sen. John Thune (R-SD) and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) urging the Senate Commerce Committee to hold a hearing on the state of media in the United States.

Throughout the year, SPJ Ethics Committee Chairman Andrew Seaman shared his thoughts on ethical journalism and the SPJ Code of Ethics, via the Code Words blog. He wrote about journalists speaking out against discrimination; the reasons why journalists are not the dishonest enemies of America like POTUS says; how to cover natural disasters and the situation in Puerto Rico; why journalism organizations and institutions should be held accountable and more.

SPJ joined Committee to Protect Journalists, Freedom of the Press Foundation and 17 other press freedom organizations to launch the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. We also launched a website to continue fighting restrictions on information from Public Information Officers.

SPJ raised more than $10,000 for Giving News Day in support of the Legal Defense Fund, the First Amendment Forever Fund, the President’s Club and the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation.

SPJ spoke out against the secretive new owners of LA Weekly and, most recently, compiled and released a list of resources for journalists combating sexual harassment in the newsroom.

AWARDS

SPJ received more than 3,500 entries for the Mark of Excellence collegiate awards. There were 51 national winners across 12 regions. This year, SPJ also introduced a new videography category for the 2017 awards.

SPJ had more than 1,300 entries for the Sigma Delta Chi awards for professional journalists, with 86 national winners. These awards recognize the best of the best in journalism, which truly makes a difference in people’s lives.

Bruce Sanford, longtime SPJ attorney and First Amendment advocate, was given the highest SPJ honor – the Wells Memorial Key. Jerry Seib, Lawrence Pintak and Stephen Shepard were named Fellows of the Society for their extraordinary contributions to journalism. Rochelle Riley was given the $75,000 Pulliam Fellowship in Editorial Writing. Riley plans to spend the next year studying the effect of trauma and a toxic environment on children’s learning.

Ohio University was named the best SPJ campus chapter, and the Press Club of Long Island, Florida Pro Chapter and Cincinnati Pro Chapter were named the best professional chapters of SPJ.

MEMBERSHIP

SPJ gained 219 members in response to an Inauguration Day special membership promotion for professional members. Thanks to the “Fight Back” campaign, we’re trending up in membership compared to this time last year, finally reversing a multi-year decline.

EXCELLENCE IN JOURNALISM 2017

More than 1,800 people attended this year’s journalism conference in Anaheim, California. At EIJ17, more than $5,500 was raised for the Legal Defense Fund through the LDF auction, and #EIJ17 was tweeted more than 11,600 times during the three-day conference.

JOURNALISM SUPPORT

SPJ’s partnerships with other journalism organizations also grew in 2017. Now, SPJ provides association management services such as bookkeeping, communications and conference planning to the American Copy Editors Society, Journalism and Women Symposium, National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Society of Environmental Journalists and Radio Television Digital News Association, to name a few. Our work with the “boring office stuff” allows them to focus heavily on their mission, which continues to improve journalism across the board.

SPJ regularly partners with more than 100 other journalism and open government organizations across the country on letters, statements, court briefs, etc. We couldn’t do what we do without them.

We know 2018 will bring more challenges for all of us to fight for the First Amendment, freedom of the press and journalists everywhere. It will also bring more opportunities to share with the public who we are, what we do and how and why we do it.

From all of us at SPJ to all of you, best wishes for a happy, healthy and productive 2018.

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