The Society of Professional Journalists needs leaders.
We need committed leaders who want to plant the flag of quality, ethical journalism.
We need courageous leaders not afraid to speak out and help influence the national dialogue.
We need you right now.
It is spring, and in the world of SPJ that means our thoughts at the national and local levels turn to the leadership of the Society. The Ted Scripps Leadership Conference has become our annual hallmark event in Indianapolis to help train and identify new leaders of the Society.
The conference always comes as national officers are beginning to cull the slate for the upcoming national convention and our elections for the SPJ Board of Directors.
I want to ask our members to consider giving of their time, energy and talent to become leaders in SPJ. It is demanding and rewarding. It is also something to take very seriously. The health of journalism is inherent to the health of the American democracy. As SPJ leaders, you are asking to become stewards of our profession.
The health of SPJ as an organization is terrific. As an SPJ leader, you would have a great deal to care for. We remain the largest diverse media association in the country with a solid, growing membership when other journalism organizations are shrinking. Our organization is the gold standard for other journalism organizations in terms of our reach, professional development and grassroots network. Our leadership is vibrant and our organization is financially strong.
Yet, journalism and journalists are going through one of the more interesting transitional periods in the country’s history. Harbingers of doom and voices of hope alternately abound about the future of journalism. Really, these mixed signals are nothing more than symptoms of change in our larger society. And, as we all know, change is inevitable.
What has not changed is the need to preserve and protect journalism.
Hostile judges and government officials at every level of power threaten press freedoms somewhere in this country on a daily basis.
Journalists in this brave new world of the Internet have new and untested questions about best practices and ethics.
As the country grows more diverse, journalists need more so than ever to understand different cultures and to have the skills to cover minority communities.
SPJ is here to help, and, as a leader of SPJ, you are responsible for helping preserve and protect the profession. One well-known member of our organization likes to say that SPJ is like going to church for journalists. This is where you find affirmation.
The stakes are high for journalism and journalists right now.
National leaders for the Society have also been on the front lines, publicly standing against actions by courts and other authorities nationwide that threaten press freedoms and journalists.
SPJ is at the forefront of the fight to see a federal shield law passed. From national cases such as the struggles of Toni Locy to regional conflicts in places from Minnesota to New Mexico, SPJ is speaking up for journalists and shining a light on abuses of power.
Through your leadership role in SPJ, you are accepting the responsibility to take up these kinds of fights. And as government at every level becomes more emboldened to challenge press freedoms, we must become that much more ardent in our defense.
Our ethics code remains the standard for an industry that is in somewhat of an ethical dilemma. Through the ethical lapses of some of our nation’s largest journalism organizations, SPJ has led the debate on the future ethical practices of our profession, drawing national attention to the issue through the work of our Ethics Committee.
SPJ also remains one of the lone voices championing the issue of diversity in telling the news and in staffing our newsrooms. A covenant with UNITY furthers that mission and sustains it, as does our work nationally on the issue of diversity through resources such as the Rainbow Sourcebook.
There are a lot of selfish reasons to join SPJ and seek a leadership post nationally or in your home chapter. SPJ is great for your career. You can demonstrate your leadership skills. You can grow professionally. You can better yourself through all that SPJ has to offer.
But leadership is also about giving something back. That is what SPJ is about. This is volunteerism and service to your profession and by extension to your community. Through your efforts in local chapters, stirring dialogue and helping other journalists keep the faith and perform their jobs in an ethical, professional manner, you are giving back.
Editor’s note: Portions of this column first appeared in Clint Brewer’s speech at the Ted Scripps Leadership Institute.