This is my final column for this magazine and the final opportunity I have to thank its readers — mostly SPJ members — for the opportunity to serve as president of this great organization.
When I started in SPJ, I never dreamed I would be its national president. I never imagined I would be its public face and voice and never thought it would put me in a position to demonstrate skills I never realized I had.
The organization is big and strong. It pushed forward while the news business was rattled with budget reductions and job losses. The cuts were real. They hit close to home, and they hit SPJ. At one point, four committee chairmen or vice chairmen had lost their jobs. The newspaper at which I work had layoffs in December and two rounds of furloughs.
Through all this, as president of the nation’s most broad-based journalism organization, I somehow became a national expert on the struggles of the news business. When I was asked to speak to groups, it was about this. When a reporter called with questions, many times it was about the woes of the news business. It would have been the last thing I thought I would know much about or would have much interest in discussing.
While the news business struggles outside of SPJ, the organization was going through a tough time. Its executive director was sick.
SPJ pushed forward when it lost its beloved executive director, Terry Harper. He died in June after an almost two-year battle with brain cancer. It was a devastating loss for his family, his friends and SPJ. Terry came to SPJ in 2002 when the organization was not strong. He improved its management, stabilized its finances and built back its reputation and standing as the leading journalism association in the country.
He was a great leader, a great storyteller, and even though he was not a journalist, he was a skilled writer, as many who read his blog probably discovered.
The fact that we can move forward even though he is gone is a tribute to how he rebuilt and stabilized the organization. We will never forget Terry, and we are working to pay him a lasting tribute in a more visible way. We are raising money for the Terry Harper Memorial Fund and plan to announce at the convention what we will do with the funds.
This organization has done a lot in the past year. It is because of you, the many volunteers who comprise SPJ. The bill to pass a federal shield law was progressing and had a shot at passage as I wrote this in late June.
We spoke out on many topics. We demanded that American journalists who were jailed in Iran and North Korea be freed. We demanded that public records be open and that we stand firm with a strong First Amendment.
We decided to pursue a joint convention with the Radio-Television News Directors Association in 2011. It is a move that should produce more training and cost savings for journalists.
Our committees quietly functioned, often meeting by teleconference or e-mail, doing the daily business of SPJ. One committee that you will hear a lot from is our executive director search committee, which might have the most important job of all. They have been asked to find the person who will lead SPJ for years to come. The eight people on the committee are dedicated and hardworking SPJ volunteers. The group will eventually make a recommendation to the full board.
It has been a great pleasure to serve as the president of this organization. It was an opportunity of a lifetime, one I took seriously, and I worked hard daily to uphold the missions and standards that SPJ members expect.
But the work in the organization really gets done at the chapter level. That’s where the programs happen, where the awards ceremonies are conducted, where the local First Amendment fights take place. This is the value of SPJ, and the programs cannot happen without the hard work of each of you at the local level. Thank you for your service to SPJ, and thank you for allowing me the great honor of being your leader.