My year as president of the Society of Professional Journalists has been one of the most rewarding and enriching duties of my life. The hard work and passion of our volunteers is a joy to witness. The determined nature and excellence of the journalists we serve is inspiring.
The 11 months since being sworn in during the Washington D.C. convention have been quite a ride, bouncing from coast to coast and all points in between. I want to share with you some things I have learned and observed about journalism in today’s world and the role SPJ can play to continue to protect our profession.
The first thing all journalists need to accept and embrace is that the business models for our profession are changing at a rapid pace. This is not just in the world of daily newspapers, but also for broadcasters. Online journalists, too, see the fabric of their work life and professional responsibilities change almost weekly at times.
Changing business models means not only a shift in the ways our companies try to make money, but also how we are expected to deliver the news to serve these new models. The move to the World Wide Web by newspapers and broadcast outlets is a simple one to understand for most companies in that it reaches a much larger potential audience with a fraction of the costs of traditional delivery mechanisms.
What does this business buzzword barrage mean for working journalists?
There is little choice ahead of us but to embrace these changes and to become better journalists in the process. We need to determine how to continue to do probing, important, public service and watchdog reporting through the new media instead of fighting the fact that it is “not the way we have always done it.” We need to learn to break stories in the mediums readers and viewers expect these days, not just in the formats we are accustomed to.
Journalists also need to understand that governments at every level are not getting friendlier to the notion of a free press. They are becoming less accommodating.
I often get questions from younger journalists and students about the national fight for a free press, the federal shield law and freedom of information battles. Most of those questions seem to carry the premise that at some point there will be a time when we have officially “won” the fight.
In truth, the fight for a free press never ends. In some ways, it is getting more difficult, and the trouble is coming at the local level. Government entities from the U.S. Department of Justice all the way down to the smallest board of alderman are becoming more draconian and intransigent about the tenets of a free press.
We have to steel ourselves for this fight and buoy and maintain our passion for preserving a free press, fighting for the First Amendment and an open government. We are fighting a good fight that is a series of battles, not a war with an end or a race with a finish line.
Finally, I have also learned that journalists and journalism are not going to be served or aided by people sitting comfortably on the sidelines. With these different pressures closing in on our profession, it is no longer enough just to do one’s job and keep one’s head down.
Journalists and journalism would be better served by us looking past cutbacks and newsroom layoffs. We need to consider the possibilities of becoming the next generation of newsrooms entrepreneurs, publishers and moguls. Journalists need to take the future of their profession into their own hands rather than waiting for others to seize upon the next winning formula.
We also must forge ahead with our advocacy efforts in Washington, D.C., and state capitols everywhere, recognizing that if we do not speak up for our own profession and ideals, no one will. Leadership in SPJ at either the local or national level is a terrific way to pick up that challenge.
It has been one of the greatest honors of my professional life serving the Society of Professional Journalists over the past year. Our organization is fit and growing in a time when the industry is struggling. We are prepared and ready for the challenges ahead.
Thank you for allowing me to serve you.