Posts Tagged ‘SPJ’

BRANDED: How young journos can make a name for themselves

Let’s be honest, I’m not great at branding myself in the journalism world, and if we run the stats I am probably not qualified to write a post about it. But, I am really good at regurgitating other people’s thoughts, so I went to someone with more experience, credentials, knowledge and really just someone who knows a lot more about branding than me — Robin J. Phillips.

Robin J Phillips











Robin J. Phillips

My Twitter followers: 356 (mostly pity follows)

Robin’s Twitter followers: 3,736 (probably all legitimate) 

I had the opportunity to talk with her at Excellence in Journalism 2014 in Nashville, when she was a speaker for the Branding for Journalists breakout session. Phillips just so happens to be the digital director for the Reynolds Center for Business Journalism and a journalism professor at the Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University, so who more fitting to give all of us up-and-coming journos a branding lesson than Ms. Journo Branding herself?

Want more tips, tricks and advice on breaking into journalism as a young journo? Join SPJ’s  #youngjournojobs Twitter chat at 2 p.m. ET on Sept. 30 with Kenna Griffin, assistant professor of Mass Communications at Oklahoma City University. In the meantime, check out her awesome website with loads of young journo helpful tools.

Now back to branding with Phillips:

Q: What are the top five things a young journalist who is trying to brand themselves must do?

  1. Get your own domain name. Register a Dot Com name that is as close to your real name as you can get.
  2. Even if you aren’t working as a journalist yet, get moving. Create a blog on a topic you’re passionate about and be creative. While you’re waiting to work as a journalist, be a journalist – write, report, take photos, make videos, show what you can do.
  3. Join journalism organizations where you can find training and begin to network with other journalists: There is a group or two for everyone like SPJ, NAHJ, NABJ, AAJA, NLGJA, NAJA, AWSM, JAWS, RTDNA, ONA, #wjchat.  If you don’t know what those are, go look them up, follow them on Twitter.
  4. Spend time every once in a while taking a look at the bios you have for all the social and online platforms you belong to. If you joined Polyvore or Pinterest as a kid and haven’t been back in a while, take a look at the photo and bio you have there and update them. You don’t necessarily want to kill the under-used sites, but it’s a good idea to make sure that if someone finds you there, they are seeing what you want them to see.
  5. Have fun. Social media and sharing things on the web is all about relationships. It’s time-consuming, but should not be a big chore. If you’re having fun – in a healthy, safe, professional way – then people will pick up on that and want to “hang out” with you.

Q: What is the worst mistake you see young journalists make in the name of branding? 

Trying to be something you aren’t. It’s important to be yourself. Figure out who you are, what you want to do and keep that in mind.  Life is too short to pretend you’re something else. That doesn’t mean you should stay the same always. Figure out your goals and make sure that everything you do to present yourself in a professional way is consistent with those goals.

For example, if you want to be an investigative reporter specializing in healthcare (could happen!), then follow healthcare reporters on Twitter and Facebook. Read everything you can about your subject and share the good stuff. Comment once in a while about what you are reading or watching – your opinion is as valid as anyone else’s about what is good and interesting.

Q: What are three incorrect stereotypes about journalist’s branding themselves?

  • People sometimes think Branding is being fake. See my answer above. Don’t be fake. Branding is actually being very real – true to yourself and true to others.
  • Some journalists think Branding is a sell-out and that your work should stand for itself.  Not true. There is too much news and information out there these days.  It’s OK for you to give your work a little push. Share it.
  • Journalists, who often are basically shy, can be critical about Branding because it feels like bragging. So what’s the matter with that? You don’t want to be obnoxious, but if you’ve done something new, interesting, smart, go ahead and blow your own horn. If you don’t tell people (prospective employers, for example), they may never know. That doesn’t mean Tweet each story you write 5 times a day. Just like any other relationship, share your successes, but don’t be obnoxious.

Q: What phone app can you not live without? 

Flickr. I love photos. My camera – HTC One – has a great camera so I take a lot of photos. I try to quickly kill the poor ones and upload high-resolution versions of the good ones to Flickr where I can keep them for later or share them with family and friends.

Q: If you could only use one social media outlet to brand yourself as a journalist, what would you choose and why?

It’s got to be Twitter. Twitter is great for journalists because it is so easy to find people interested in the same topics you are. A local journalist might have more luck on Facebook, but that gets too mixed up with personal and professional contacts. Twitter is a good place to establish your voice.

Q: If a young journalist was trying to better their personal brand and could only revamp three things, what would you suggest they focus on?

  • Review your bios.
  • Think hard about your true goals – what do you want to do, how to you want to spend your time.
  • Then start to think of yourself as a professional. Social media can feel personal and intimate, but don’t lose site of the fact that you are representing yourself as a young professional at all times. That gives you both power and responsibility. Use them wisely.

Q: Who are some examples of good journalists who are great at branding themselves?

Sarah Lane

Andrew Nusca

Afrah Nasser

Marcia Pledger

Carmen Drahl

Sonari R Glinton

Ivan Moreno

Personal Branding for Journalists slides in full.

Q: Do you think branding has become a completely digital game, or are there still tangible techniques outside of the online sphere young journos should be aware of?

Oh, in-person, real-life friendships and contacts are invaluable. After all, that’s what life is about. As you establish yourself in your field, you’ll find that relationships you make online go only so far. If you find a source online, you need to treat that person with suspicion, perhaps not quoting them at all until you’ve met in person, and certainly until you’ve talked on the phone. As far as friends and mentors and colleagues you meet online, you’ll find that you get a lot out of relationships that are only digital. But, when possible, turn those into real-life relationships.

Attend journalism conventions when you can and set up in-person meetings. If you’re on vacation to a new city, ask an online connection to meet for coffee or see if you can stop by their office. You’ll both know a lot more about each other because you’ve been following each other online. Go the local journalism organization’s meet-ups. Or organize one yourself. I once had a dozen people meet in a local bar to “attend” #wjchat on a Wednesday night. We were talking to people around the world on Twitter, but it was fun to be with ‘real’ local folks at the same time. This goes back to No. 5 above.  Sometimes it’s just more FUN in real life.

Taylor Carlier Headshot

Taylor Carlier. Photo credit: Matt Thomas

Taylor Carlier is the communications coordinator at the Society of Professional Journalists. She is a 2014 Purdue University graduate of Mass Communication: Journalism and previously was the special projects editor at The Exponent. She can be reached at or interact on Twitter: @Taylorcarlier.

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.

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.

Messy SCOTUS coverage is damaging for media

Today, I am disappointed in journalism.

Not everyone botched the announcement of the Supreme Court’s Affordable Care Act ruling, but plenty of trusted media outlets did a disservice to their audiences by prioritizing speed instead of accuracy.

Like half a million others, I turned to SCOTUSblog at 10 a.m. today, toggling between that and my Twitter feed. At 10:08, the explosion began: The Associated Press said the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act. CNN said it was ruled unconstitutional. The Daily Beast said it was struck down at 10:08 but retweeted The AP at 10:09. Confused, I went back to SCOTUSblog to read their measured reports.

twitter feed

My Twitter feed in the seconds following the ruling announcement.

From the SPJ Code of Ethics: “Journalists should test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error.”

Many of the erroneous tweets and headlines have disappeared from their primary sources, though those blunders live on, thanks to screen shots and the copy-paste function. But the confusion was costly from a future credibility standpoint. The networks and publications that got it right should take note of the ridicule and criticism raining down on their Twitter-happy peers.

Most of my frustration came from seeing the incorrect reports retweeted. As the minutes after the announcement passed, I continued to read posts of misguided happiness and anger, all because a friend of a follower of a follower of a news organization perpetuated the seemingly reliable information.

(Jeff Sonderman of Poynter has a good roundup of and reaction to the inaccurate reports/tweets.)

The social media response to the blunders proves that people would rather get correct information as it becomes available, rather than quickly receive an imperfect report. The point of engaging with a news outlet is to stay informed.

I don’t want to have to congratulate the journalists who waited to verify the ruling to publish the result. They just did their jobs correctly, which I expect of them. I am disappointed that this expectation was not met by others.

The winner in this brawl to break news is SCOTUSblog — it’s a non-traditional outlet started by law professionals, and they presented reliable coverage of the complicated ruling. By 10:22, they had 866,000 people tracking their live blog.

But for the millions who referenced Twitter, breaking news alerts, live TV and 24-hour-news-cycle websites, the day was one of defeat. Regardless of one’s opinion on the legislation, news consumers were exposed to a slew of unreliable reports before being corrected.

I hope health care isn’t the only industry that sees reform after today’s ruling.

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

Explaining the process behind retirement of Helen Thomas Award

From Joe Skeel, SPJ Executive Director:

When a news organization presents a controversial story, it often shares with its audience a behind-the-scenes look at the decision-making process. This isn’t done in an attempt to persuade the audience to agree with the decision. The goal is to provide the audience with all the facts so that an informed opinion can be reached.

Today, as Executive Director of SPJ, I’d like to do the same.

Most of you probably know by now that the board of directors voted to retire the Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement on Jan. 14. What I present below is the timeline and process that led to that decision. Please keep in mind: I am an employee of SPJ. I do not sit on the board of directors or have a vote. My job is to simply carry out the wishes of the board. In short, I have no personal stake in the decision regarding the award.  I am not Jewish. I am not Arab. When it comes to an unbiased party in this process, I think I’m as close as you can get.

Whether you agree or disagree with the decision, I ask that you take the time to read this entire post so that you may educate yourself on the complexities surrounding this incredibly difficult decision. Only then do I think you will have a true understanding of how gut-wrenching this was for all the leaders that volunteer on behalf of you and SPJ.


In May 2010, Helen Thomas was asked by a rabbi conducting interviews at the Jewish Heritage Celebration at the White House:

Rabbi: Any comments on Israel?

Thomas: Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.

Rabbi: Ohh, any better comments?

Thomas: Remember, these people are occupied and it’s their land. It’s not Germany, it’s not Poland.

Rabbi: So where should they go, what should they do?

Thomas: Go home.

Rabbi: Where’s home?

Thomas: Poland, Germany.

Rabbi: So you’re saying Jews should go back to Poland and Germany?

Thomas: And America and everywhere else.

Here’s a link to the video:

Many felt she was ambushed with the questions. At that time, SPJ was contacted by media outlets to get its position on her comments. Reporters also wanted to know if those comments would have any bearing on SPJ’s award that is given in her name.

Then-president Kevin Smith told reporters that he would take the question regarding the award to the executive committee, which was scheduled to meet in July. During that meeting, the executive committee felt the comments were a one-time slip-up that was a result of a questionable interview tactic. No motion was ever made to remove her name from the award, so the committee (and therefore SPJ) took no action. The award remained unchanged. SPJ’s position, and what Smith told reporters, was that her remarks were insensitive and didn’t fall in line with SPJ’s commitment to diversity. But, she was asked her opinion, and she has every right to give it. SPJ didn’t feel that this temporary lapse in judgment warranted any changes to the award. Plus, she later apologized.

When President Smith first shared with the media that he was taking this topic to the executive committee, there was very little if any real backlash or outcry from our membership or the general public. THIS IS A VERY IMPORTANT FACT TO THIS STORY. REMEMBER IT.

Fast forward to December. During a prepared speech at the “Images and Perceptions of Arab Americans” conference in Dearborn, Mich., the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News quoted Thomas as saying, “Congress, the White House and Hollywood, Wall Street are owned by the Zionists. No question.”

Almost immediately, a handful of leaders within SPJ began discussing her comments. Media members began calling and by the next day or two, SPJ received a letter from the Anti-Defamation League. At this point, SPJ leaders had not decided to take the concern to the executive committee. Once the letter from the ADL became public, as a result of being distributed to media outlets, those supporting Thomas began to voice their concerns.

Still, when asked SPJ’s position on the matter by media members, new president Hagit Limor (who began her presidency in October 2010) replied that SPJ’s leadership discussed her comments in July and felt it was a one-time slip up, and that the award remained intact. Clearly, that answer wouldn’t suffice because the notion that this was a one-time misstep was no longer valid. Members of the media continued to reach out in an effort to find out what SPJ was going to do given Ms. Thomas’ most recent comments.

President Limor wanted to make sure that the comments she shared reflected the Society’s position, not her opinion. At that point, she asked for my recommendation on how to proceed.

I recommended that we revisit the topic with the executive committee, which was meeting in less than a month on January 8. Two other board members recommended the same. My rationale: I’m a creature of habit. And this is the same process we followed after Ms. Thomas’ comments in May. My thinking was simple: The committee could revisit the topic and determine if their collective feeling had changed. Regardless of any action (or non-action) we would have a unified SPJ position for President Limor to use when asked about the award.

As word spread that the executive committee would be discussing the topic, to see if its collective feeling had changed, members (including board of directors members not on the executive committee) and the general public became even more vocal. What ensued was the notion that the executive committee was going to decide whether or not to strip Ms. Thomas’ name from the award. For the following month, SPJ headquarters, President Limor and various board members received an onslaught of phone calls and e-mails. We heard from those supporting Ms. Thomas’ free speech rights and those who believed her comments were bigoted and that SPJ was anti-Semitic if it continued to carry an award with her name. These comments, from both positions, came from inside and out of SPJ.

Note: As I sit here today, I’m still not sure why the outcry of the second executive committee meeting came about. It didn’t create a blip before the first meeting in July. I suspect it had a little to do with the fact that Hagit Limor is Jewish. And I suspect that many felt she was pushing a personal agenda. This, of course, is nonsense. And I’ll explain that later. I also suspect that because this was the second time Ms. Thomas made her remarks in the span of six months, those supporting her felt that SPJ leadership may have lost its patience. As those voices grew louder, so did the voices wanting her name removed.

In the end, forced to deal with the derailing cacophony, the executive committee had no choice but to make a decision. Anything less would prolong the onslaught of divisive behavior inside SPJ. With spring conferences just around the corner, it was important that SPJ try to return the focus to things that unite it and keep it running: professional development, networking, recognizing outstanding journalism through its awards programs, setting a budget for the coming fiscal year, etc., etc.

The committee’s job: Decide if SPJ would rather be viewed as a hater of free speech or a bigoted, anti-Semitic organization, judging by the tone of the feedback received on either side leading up to the meeting.


In an effort to get as much input as possible, President Limor reached out to former presidents. Current board members weighed in. She compiled a sampling of the countless e-mails she and I received from members, former leaders, current leaders and the public. She did more to seek outside input than any president in my six years at SPJ. Each committee member received the compilation. However, the sentiments shared in the packet were not new to committee members. Everyone was fully aware of the differing opinions out there.

As the committee members began to talk, they all shared their concerns about the issues of free speech and SPJ’s commitment to diversity. It was apparent that there was no use in trying to agree on which one was more important. It’s like asking which of your two children you love more. It debated SPJ’s Code of Ethics: Minimize Harm. Act Independently.

The group, agreeing that concerns from both sides were understandable and valid, discussed the original intent of the award: to honor someone for his or her lifetime body of work and commitment to journalism. Some in the group questioned if future winners would refuse the award. Some said the winner should be allowed to decide if they want it. Some questioned the point of even having an award if a winner had to decide between being honored and any potential backlash. Their position: having to make that decision is no honor at all.

At that point, another idea was raised. What if SPJ retired the award and left the history intact? If the original point of giving the award is lost in this controversy year after year, why even give out an award? Ms. Thomas’ name could remain on the award she received in 2000 and the subsequent recipients would be unaffected.

Still, one of the concerns from some board members was that this important decision shouldn’t be made by just the seven people on the executive committee. Several regional directors had asked that this decision be brought to the full board of directors for consideration.

So, in an effort to reach a compromise between those who believe Ms. Thomas name shouldn’t be stripped from the award, and in an effort to display its commitment to diversity, the executive committee voted to send a recommendation to the full board that the award be retired. The motion also stated a conference call of the full board would be held within 10 days to vote on the recommendation. That motion passed 6-1. This, the committee felt, would allow SPJ to move forward and focus on the other important work that SPJ does. Even though the executive committee could have made a final decision on its own, it preferred to heed the call of SPJ’s regional directors and allow the full board a voice. It would now be up to the 23 elected leaders to decide.

Note: Since this controversy restarted in December, President Limor has been accused of pushing her personal agenda. The assumption here is that because she is Jewish, she was working to remove Ms. Thomas’ name from the award. I’m here to tell you that is inaccurate and, frankly, insulting to her integrity and that of SPJ’s leaders who are involved in the process. President Limor kept her comments on this subject to herself. Since taking office in October, she has responded to reporters with SPJ’s position: that Ms. Thomas’ remarks were insensitive, but the award continued to carry her name. She hoped to get the executive committee’s position so she could answer appropriately when asked. During the executive committee meeting, she remained silent in the discussion until the final motion was brought to the table. At that point, she supported the motion – viewed as a compromise by those in the room – with the idea that this would allow SPJ to move on. Those who wanted Ms. Thomas’ name stripped from the award didn’t get their wish. Those who wanted the award to continue in Ms. Thomas’ name didn’t get their wish. This was a lose-lose situation, and she – along with the rest of the committee – recognized that. But, they felt, this was a compromise.


In an effort to put this controversy behind SPJ as quickly as possible, and to stick with the 10 days the motion called for, President Limor scheduled the telephone conference of the board of directors for Jan. 14 – six days following the executive committee. Some people have questioned why a decision of this magnitude had to be made so fast. Why couldn’t it wait until the annual spring board meeting in April? The executive committee felt it was important to come to a conclusion on this matter for a few reasons.

SPJ typically begins marketing annual award nominations in January. This, of course, couldn’t be done with its future still in limbo. In addition, those following this story were waiting for a resolution, although that was a minor influence in the decision, I suspect. Plus, the spring board meeting always has a full agenda, including the adoption of the yearly budget. And, as stated before, the desire was to have this controversial storm well behind us by the time spring conferences rolled around in late March and early April.

As the call started, President Limor asked a member of the executive committee to share the rationale behind its recommendation. It was presented very matter-of-factly: The committee felt this was a compromise between those asking to protect her free speech by keeping her name on the award and those asking for SPJ to strip her name off the honor. Was it a perfect solution? No. The committee knew the outcome was a lose-lose situation. But it felt this was the best way to move forward.

After the explanation, President Limor called for a motion from the floor. At that moment, two people spoke simultaneously. Both had motions to offer. President Limor called on the executive committee member making the motion to retire the award. A second was made and “discussion” ensued.

Because this was a conference call, President Limor gave each board member three minutes to share his or her opinion. Many chose not to speak. At one point, a substitute motion was made and seconded then discussion continued around the virtual table. According to procedural rules, the substitute motion took precedent.

After discussion, the substitute motion – “to continue presentation of the Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement but to make a statement saying the award is for her decades of journalism service and indicating the board does not endorse her statement about Israel” – was considered. The result: 14 against, 7 in favor.

At that point, a motion was made by a board member to “call the question.”  Doing so would put an end to discussion or other motions until the original motion (to retire the award) was considered.  The board voted, 14-7, to call the motion for a vote. The board then voted on whether or not to retire the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award. Again, 14 for retirement, 7 against.

Following that vote, another motion was made that the board “recommend to future boards that SPJ never again offer a lifetime achievement award.” That motion failed, also two-thirds to one-third.

Note: Since that conference call, I have seen claims that “parliamentary tactics” were used to push this vote through the board conference call. Having listened in on the call and taking notes, my opinion is that the order of the motions, votes, etc., did not matter. No matter how you sliced it, two-thirds of those on the call supported the executive committee’s recommendation to retire the award – and they were going to vote that way.


Some people within SPJ don’t agree with the decision. That’s to be expected. When you get 8,000 people in a room, not everyone is going to agree. Fortunately for them, they have the ability to request a vote on the convention floor through the delegate system. That’s the beauty of SPJ’s democracy. The members truly are the keepers of the organization.

From SPJ’s bylaws:


Section One. The convention shall be the supreme legislative body of the organization. It shall be held at least biennially at a time and place designated by the board of directors.

Section Two. The convention shall be composed of delegates or representatives from each chapter, the national officers and the national board of directors.

SPJ’s next convention will be the joint SPJ/RTDNA conference in New Orleans, Sept. 25-28.

At that point, if SPJ’s membership decides the Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement should be reinstated, then that’s what will happen. No member of the board or executive committee has ever said otherwise. It’s the process our organization embraces.

And if you, as a member, feel strongly that it should be reinstated, then you should work with members who agree with your position.

But as we all move forward, I simply ask that you please understand the impossible decision your elected leaders were asked to make – even if you disagree with the final vote.

Note: As I read the attacks and innuendo that are migrating through Facebook and the Internet about this issue, I have come to feel bad for every single leader that was asked to make this decision. Some are calling them “cowards” who have bowed to outside pressure. They are being painted as leaders who don’t support SPJ’s mission of free speech or as misguided folks who don’t realize the impact of this decision. I sat in those rooms and on that call through this entire process. Trust me when I tell you that this no-win decision was made with the utmost concern and care for SPJ and its members. Many hands were wringed and foreheads rubbed over the past few months as this topic was discussed. For anyone to imply otherwise of this group of leaders is disingenuous and uninformed. They should be admired, not condemned.

Worse yet, I fear that fewer people will be willing to stand up in the future and lead this great organization. When you look at what has transpired over the past few months, who could blame them? The reward for these 23 volunteers has been ridicule and insults. Unfortunately, much of that has come from within SPJ’s family.

Correction [1/25/2011  12:18 p.m. ET ]: This post has been updated to correct spelling/word-usage errors of “Ms.” and “persuade.”

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.

Can you really engage a community by telling them to “follow” and “like” you?

Sometimes the most obvious answers are the hardest to find – or at least require an “aha!” moment before they’re revealed.

That happened yesterday as I was writing an e-mail message to Quill subscribers and SPJ members about the new digital e-magazine version being available.

At the end I initially wrote: “Follow us on Twitter and Facebook,” giving links to SPJ’s accounts on those networks.

I’ve been thinking a lot about “community engagement” lately, no doubt fueled by following numerous community engagement managers and social media editors on Twitter. (Steve Buttry and Craig Kanalley to name just two.)

It struck me there: What about true community engagement is embedded in terms like “follow us” and “like us”? In short: nothing. I can’t think of a time I’ve felt deeply connected to or an equal part of a group by being told to “follow” or “like” something else.

So, I changed the construction in the e-mail to:

If you’re so inclined, join Quill and SPJ in discussing and reviewing journalism news and conversations on Twitter and Facebook.

If news outlets really are becoming greater partners with their audiences – if community engagement isn’t just the buzzword of the year (which I don’t believe it is) – then perhaps it’s time to re-examine how to interact with community members on the most basic level. Sure, having tweetups and hosting live-chats are essential and incredibly rewarding. But what message are you sending by telling audiences that they’re “followers” and that THEY should “like” YOU?

News and information sharing is a team effort. It takes a village to raise a child, we’re told. And it takes a collaborative community joining together to report, share and discuss the stories that are important to them.

Scott Leadingham is editor of Quill magazine. If you’re so inclined, you can join him in discussing, sharing and commenting on journalism and media issues on Twitter: @scottleadingham.

Why journalism should and should not copy bicycling culture

Posted by Scott Leadingham

Hang on for a moment while I invoke two strange bedfellows – comedian Bill Hicks, who built his routine on smoking, and bicyclists – in writing about what journalists should do better.

Bill Hicks, who died in 1994 of pancreatic cancer, was nothing if not passionate. His rants and stage presence are famous among stand-up comedians. He’s particularly well-known for his stance on smoking, or, more accurately, on why non-smokers made him so angry. In one bit he polls the audience and asks who smokes and who doesn’t. When the non-smokers voice their presence in laudatory, enthusiastic tones, he calls them a bunch of “self-righteous slugs.” (Warning: his language is rather “colorful.” Don’t watch if you object to such language.)


“I’d quit smoking if I didn’t think I’d become one of you,” he says in the bit.

That line reminds me of my interest in biking (the kind with carb-loading and spandex, not chaps and Sturgis).

I’d become a hardcore bicyclist if it weren’t for hardcore bicyclists. In fact, I remarked to a friend recently that “the worst part about biking culture is biking culture.”

Forgive the gross generalization, but it’s been my experience that bicycling breeds an upper-crust crowd comparable to the snottiest fox-hunting, caviar-eating, polo-playing societal elitists out there. Go into any bicycle shop (not big box retailer) and ask about the lubrication benefits of using WD-40 on your chain.

“Eh. That’s a cleaner, not a lubricant. Don’t EVER use it to lube a chain!” is a likely response. “Here’s our selection of specialized lubricants – $10 per three oz. bottle.”

This notion of superiority, the kind coming from people on bikes that cost more than my car, keeps me away from becoming fully immersed and involved in biking culture.

Transfer that to journalism.

It’s not a new sentiment to say there’s a certain amount of arrogance in the profession. One doesn’t lead to the other, of course, but perhaps it’s more apparent in an industry that sees its practitioners’ names, faces and voices constantly before the public. As Linda Thomas aptly noted in a recent Quill piece on journalists to follow: “ … having the title of journalist doesn’t make you more interesting or important than anyone else.”

If there’s a lesson to be learned in this era of “citizen journalism” and CNN iReports, it’s that acts of journalism can come from any source and any moment. And now comes the obligatory invocation of informative video and messages disseminating from Iran in 2009 from “ordinary people” and not journalists. As my boss often says: Great journalism happens everywhere. I’ll add my own addendum: And by those who didn’t mean for it to happen.

So that’s what journalists should avoid in the bicycling culture – the notion that anyone is better for any reason, primarily based on the quality and price tag attached to one’s equipment and training.


Call it a “God smack” or cruel irony or karma or whatever, but I recently found myself needing help from the very people I’d previously scorned: hardcore bikers.

Two days after remarking that the biking culture was the worst part of biking, I committed the cardinal sin of long-distance riding: no spare inner tube in case of a flat. Six miles from home, and no nearby bike shop open at the time, I began the long walk of shame down the bicycle friendly paved trail through Indianapolis. Nearly every biker I’d deem “hardcore” stopped to help or inquired of my situation. These were the type wearing team riding jerseys and specialty bike shoes more expensive than my monthly rent. One guy, who it turned out worked at the kind of bike store I avoid, offered to change my tire on the spot with his spare tube.

I denied all help, however, reasoning that I needed to learn my lesson, even if that meant walking well into the darkness of a muggy summer night. It occurred to me later that no “casual” biker – of which I saw at least 30 – offered assistance or even moral support. Nothing so much as an “are you okay, dude?” from the people in cotton t-shirts riding mountain bikes.

Perhaps that’s because they, like me, had no spare parts to offer. They, like me, weren’t prepared (another cardinal sin broken, this time from my Eagle Scout training).

Whatever the reason, I knew immediately that the “hardcore bikers” that I so passionately didn’t want to become were exactly the right model for journalists.

It’s that kind of willing-to-help attitude that more experienced journalists (the type winning Pulitzers and Sigma Delta Chi Awards) need to selflessly pass on to a new generation of reporters. Instead of getting locked into the box of “how can I turn this award-winning project into a best-selling book” (not that there’s anything wrong with that) perhaps the first thought should be “how can a younger journalist benefit from my experience?” The book deals and fellowships will fall into place. Heck, some news outlets are still lucky enough to have staff coordinate such opportunities for their high-profile journalists.

But the mentoring opportunities, such as SPJ’s program, for some strange reason aren’t as sought after as a Pulitzer or Peabody nomination. It’s not because there’s no one out there seeking help. Just take a look down the hall from your office. There’s a young reporter out there, perhaps limping along, waiting for you to put air in his tires. Stop and help. Don’t just blow smoke in his face as you walk (or ride) by.

Scott Leadingham is editor of SPJ’s Quill magazine. He quit smoking on December 31, 2009 and to his knowledge has not become one of “those” non-smokers. Twitter: @scottleadingham.


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