Clint Brewer, executive editor of The City Paper in Nashville Tenn., was sworn in as SPJ’s president during the 2007 SPJ Convention & National Journalism Conference in Washington, D.C. A graduate of the University of Tennessee, he was awarded the SPJ Sunshine Award in 1992 for his part in a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education seeking college crime reports. He’s been a member of SPJ for more than a dozen years. Prior to joining The City Paper, he worked at a handful of newspapers in Central Tennessee and bought his own newspaper, the Mt. Juliet News, at the age of 29. He spoke with Quill magazine shortly after his inauguration about his hopes for SPJ, his desire for the public to better understand
journalism, and why he’s obsessed with bow ties.
Q: What have you done so far as president?
I’ve only been president for two weeks, but I’ve answered media questions, taken calls and made public comments on the shield law. We were one of two media associations quoted in the AP story about the shield law passing in the House. I was also on Air America.
I’m taking calls and trying to get our point across on the shield law. I’m also filling committee chair positions and helping as the volunteer leader. We have a full-time staff and executive director, so my role is not to run the day-to-day operations, but to be the daily face and spokesman and steer the larger agenda.
Q: Why did you decide to run for president?
I ran at the Chicago (2006) convention. The year prior to that, I saw everything going on in journalism with the advent of online journalism, social networking and everything going on with newspapers. Some of those fights we needed to fight and win, and I felt like the organization could do that and I could help lead.
I never liked the fact that I went to all these national conventions and there were very few, if any, contested races. That’s not a good exchange of ideas. It seemed like there was one very small group who decided who was going to lead, and that’s not healthy.
People should have to compete for these positions. So I ran based on my own merits and was narrowly elected president-elect.
Q: How do you make time for your SPJ duties?
I’ve always made time for SPJ; just sort of work it in. I’ve got a job and I’ve got family, and that’s very demanding. I’ve got a wife, two children and one on the way. SPJ is volunteer work; some days it comes first, and some days it comes second.
I’ve never slept much anyway ever since we had our first child. I got used to three to four hours of sleep six years ago, and I’ve never recovered much from that.
Q: Are you hopeful about the federal shield law? How can SPJ use it to promote the organization?
I’m looking forward to getting that shield law passed. I’m looking forward to making SPJ more inclusive to different kinds of journalists, freelancers and bloggers who are actually practicing journalism. We need to be reaching out more to minority journalists.
We have a lot to offer to all journalists. I’m just looking forward to broadening our base, winning the good fight and being a good, positive spokesman for the organization and profession.
Q: What is it like being the spokesman for this organization? Are you comfortable with that role?
I’ve done a lot of what you’d call political punditry on TV and radio, so I’m pretty comfortable with being asked questions in live settings. I’ll tell you, what’s odd is lobbying Congress. It’s something willingly I want to do, but it’s not something that comes naturally. It’s something we have to do because we’ve reached a critical mass.
It’s not a typical role for a journalist, but these are not typical times. We’re under a heightened attack the likes of which we’ve not seen in some time, so it’s necessary.
Q: How can SPJ educate the public about what journalists do?
I think we need to go out into the world, city by city. Through public outreach they can understand what we do. We need to encourage newspapers, TV, radio, all journalists to talk in their own community. That’s gotta be something we do.
We’ve already been in discussions with (USA Today editor) Ken Paulson and his Liberty Tree project. We’ve got a number of things in the works.
Q: Where would you like to see SPJ by the end of your term?
I hope it will have a higher national profile with journalists and the public. I hope it will have a higher profile in Washington with members of Congress. I’d like to see more chapters in states where we don’t currently have any. I hope we’ll have positive traction in membership.
Q: What is the state of our industry? What about the naysayers who are predicting the demise of newspapers?
We should be incredibly encouraged. Change is inevitable, regardless of what line of work you’re in. Journalism is not dying; it’s changing. It’s moving online. It’s becoming more democratic.
You no longer need a printing press to reach thousands of people. You just need an Internet connection and a blog account. I think some of the businesses that made their money with journalism products need to move a little faster to capture new delivery methods.
Q: What about the rush to put content online?
That’s the way it’s done now. There’s got to be a balance between immediately and the tried-and-true practices of if you are not sure about something, you shouldn’t publish.
Get it first and get it right have always been the push-pull of the profession. Except now it’s a whole lot easier to get it first, and with that extra speed we have to be that much more sure.
Q: One final question: What’s with your ubiquitous bow ties?
I just like them. That’s how I roll. I probably have about 20 regular ties, but I don’t wear them anymore.