In April 1909, 10 students at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., decided they wanted to start a new fraternity. This one was for journalists: Sigma Delta Chi. One hundred years later, that fraternity, which evolved into the journalism advocacy group known as the Society of Professional Journalists, is still going strong.
In 1913, the Wells Memorial Key was created, named after a former president who died in office. It’s the highest honor a member can receive. The first ethics code was adopted in 1926. It’s been changed several times since then, but it is still a landmark for this organization.
The first headquarters opened in 1928 in Chicago. The first SDX awards were given out in 1935, and Sigma Delta Chi moved from a fraternity to a professional organization in 1960. In 1973, the name became Society of Professional Journalists, Sigma Delta Chi, and in 1988 we became just SPJ. In 1969, women were admitted for the first time. Two years later, the first female board member was elected.
We in SPJ have been anticipating our 100th year for some time, and we plan to celebrate for much of the year. In January, SPJ leaders and members gathered in Milwaukee to kick off the centennial celebration at the Milwaukee Press Club. Started in 1885, it is the longest continuing Press Club in the United States and was the recipient of an SPJ Historic Site in Journalism plaque.
Milwaukee is a city with solid SPJ credentials. It was among the first five professional chapters that joined SDX in 1921. The chapter evolved from alumni of the Marquette University chapter. The city has been host to at least two national conventions and has provided at least two national presidents. One, Jean Otto, became the organization’s first female president in 1979.
SPJ members and supporters are invited to Greencastle on April 17 as we celebrate the day SPJ started and recognize the great events that happened in the 100 years since. We hope as many of you as possible will try to get to DePauw that day. If you can’t, we hope your chapter can plan an event for April 17 to mark the 100th anniversary. It can center on the great things that have happened with your local chapter.
SPJ staff are looking into whether the events in Greencastle can be Webcast so local chapters can watch and the national event can supplement the local events. Each chapter should have received a letter that includes suggestions about how to recognize the centennial locally.
For those who can make it to Greencastle, we will have a program to start the day that will discuss SPJ and journalism. A ceremony commemorating the founding of the Society will follow. We will break for a special dinner and then complete our evening with remarks from Jane Pauley, an Indiana native and former NBC journalist.
I will fly to Los Angeles in May to help that great chapter celebrate its 75th anniversary.
The centennial events continue the rest of the year. We will meet in Minnesota, in my home state, in June to recognize a pioneering TV station with a Historic Site in Journalism plaque. KSTP-TV and its parent company, Hubbard Broadcasting, have been longtime supporters of SPJ, and the TV and radio stations owned by the Hubbard family pioneered many of the concepts we today take for granted in television news.
And, of course, there are big plans in the works for the 2009 SPJ Convention & Journalism Conference. We will return to Indianapolis, the site of our national headquarters and just 45 minutes from DePauw, the birthplace of SPJ. The conventions marking the 50th and 75th years of the organization were also in Indianapolis.
The committee planning the convention has been working hard. It met in Milwaukee to determine what professional development programs to include and what speakers to invite. The group is also working on what events to include that honor SPJ’s first 100 years—and the many people who made us what we are today.
It should be a great 100th year and an outstanding convention.
I look forward to seeing you.