Familiar faces, farmland and hometown pride are just a few benefits of a rural community. These are some of the reasons Ryan Ottney still lives in his childhood town of New Boston, Ohio. It’s where he grew up with Grandpa Mayor, stirring it up Saturday nights at Hickie’s Hamburger Inn and big timing at Buster’s Bi-Lo.
The downside of living this quaint life, however, was that those long country roads separated Ottney from SPJ.
So he dedicated himself to bringing SPJ to his neck of the woods.
“As soon as I joined SPJ, I began looking for chapters to join, but there were none that didn’t involve a two-hour drive,” Ottney said. “I’m no fan of road trips. So I did the only thing I could and started one myself.”
Ottney, 29, is a 2006 graduate of Shawnee State University. He has a bachelor’s degree in English and a minor in journalism.
Rich talent and deep roots have led him to gigs with The Huntington Herald-Dispatch, The Associated Press, The Shawnee Chronicle and several Web sites.
As a published comic book writer, the owner of a small public relations group called Rosetta Communications and a working journalist for the Portsmouth Daily Times, Ottney is working hard to recruit members and promote the Southern Ohio chapter.
“SPJ is a great way to get together and share ideas that are important to a free media and those important to your region,” he said.
The Central Ohio Professional chapter has pledged to assist the group with programming, membership recruitment and other resources.
“One really has to credit Ryan for taking on the task of organizing a chapter in a rural area,” said Brian Ball, Central Ohio Professional chapter board member and a reporter for Business First Newspaper in Portsmouth, Ohio. “I expect this effort to succeed in large part due to Ryan’s enthusiasm and perhaps even establish a model for journalists to follow in other regions.”
Crossing state lines and ruling regional restrictions, the Southern Ohio chapter will benefit 16 counties in all, including some in West Virginia and Kentucky.
“This chapter tries to be different in its willingness to break the rules as an effort to bring the most to its members,” Ottney said.
But being different goes beyond state borders. Ottney is opening the professional chapter to student journalists, as well.
“I think it would be extremely invaluable to students to be intermixed with professionals who can give them a real world look at the industry,” he said. “For professionals, it keeps them fresh and lets some of that young enthusiasm rub off on them so they never become too jaded by what they do.”
The journalism faculty of Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio, recently endorsed the new chapter, allowing students to gain a better understanding of ethics, diversity and the free flow of information.
“The SPJ mission is right in line with what I hope all of my students make a part of them,” said Terry Hapney, Shawnee State faculty member. “I am looking forward to my students having the opportunity to be part of such an excellent organization. It will serve them well.”
Ottney said the Shawnee State faculty is excited to incorporate this chapter into the college and provide students the opportunity to get involved with SPJ, including Generation J, Quill, the job bank and upcoming programs.
“I appreciate Ryan working hard to make a Southern Ohio chapter of SPJ a reality,” Hapney said. “I hope future graduates of our program will follow in his footsteps. We all need to do our part, as Ryan is doing, to promote a free press and the highest of ethics.”
In addition to local assistance, SPJ Membership Coordinator Wendy Hoke, Region 4 Director Kevin Smith and SPJ National Public Outreach Committee member Bill Perry also have joined in support of the Southern Ohio chapter.
The first official meeting will be hosted by Shawnee State University, featuring local, state and national speakers.
Ottney is confident that in two years, the chapter will be strong, reputable and consistently growing.
“I want to build something that can survive well after I’m gone,” he said.
Currently, the Southern Ohio chapter is working to gain official status from the SPJ board of directors at the SPJ National Convention in Washington D.C., Oct. 4-7.
If you’re interested in becoming a member or willing to help develop the Southern Ohio chapter, please contact Ottney at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the chapter’s Web site at www.spj.org/southernohio.
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