It is an amazing, exciting time to be a journalist.
I know, I know. That statement runs contrary to the sentiment in the industry. Harbingers of doom are everywhere, and this time of change and renewal in our profession is instead being cast as one of despair instead of opportunity.
Despite the changes, the needs of journalism, journalists and the public we serve are not changing. Journalists still need the support and resources to fight the good fight. The Society of Professional Journalists is fighting that good fight on behalf of journalists every day.
Journalism is at its most basic about two things: service and sacrifice. Journalism at its best is a public service to one’s community and our country. Journalism and journalists exist first and foremost to question our governments and to tell our audience what is being done in their names as taxpayers and citizens while they raise their families, run their businesses and make a life.
We serve our neighbors, our communities and our country.
Journalists, perhaps more so than any other professionals, actively participate in our democracy. Our positions are not elected, but our work to hold government accountable is every bit as important to the health of the nation as the work of any elected official or bureaucrat.
Listen to these words that you have heard before. Listen to their simple demand of you:
Seek truth and report it
Our work is a noble act of patriotism. It is a calling. To practice this kind of service requires personal sacrifice.
We are much like school teachers, police officers or nurses. We are never going to get rich practicing our profession, but the reward is in our service to others. We work long hours for little pay, missing time with families and friends. We do all of this because we care.
We also make personal sacrifices beyond money and time to offer this form of service to the world. Good journalists bear witness to the tragedies of this world, sift through the detritus and the heartache and tell the stories of life and death in all their complexity, horror and beauty. And that is a role few others in our society fill. Our world needs that truth.
Despite this sacrifice and service, there is an assault on press freedoms in America and on the First Amendment itself. The players are different, but the nature of the conflict is not new.
Journalists in jail cells is a future this country must reject, one we must help the American people realize is disaster and folly for the republic. That is where the Society of Professional Journalists can and will make its stand.
The coming year in SPJ will be about this good fight.
l Our efforts to see a Federal Shield law passed will be accelerated, with national leaders and volunteers advocating for it loudly, making the point that America should not be the kind of country that jails the press. We have already seen a great victory as the bill was passed out of the U.S. House of Representatives.
l As set forth in the Society’s new strategic plan, we will begin the process of changing the American people’s minds about the value and ethics of journalism, beginning with the new Citizens Journalism Academy that will take the message of ethical journalism to the people.
l We will begin spreading SPJ’s reach by launching the SPJ 50 Project, which will make sure there is a professional chapter for each of the 50 states. Currently 11 states don’t have a professional chapter.
l And we will make the SPJ tent much bigger, broadening our definitions of inclusivity and diversity by reaching out to bloggers, social media practitioners, online journalists and minority journalists more than ever before.
This year will be a great year for journalism and for SPJ. I look forward to seeing you in my travels as president. I also look forward to working beside you as we fight that good fight.