A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

2009 Convention News

By Quill

Harper honored with Wells Memorial Key

SPJ bestowed its highest honor, the Wells Memorial Key, on Terry Harper during the President’s Installation Banquet on the closing night of the 2009 SPJ Convention and National Journalism Conference. Harper, who died June 2, 2009, received the award posthumously for his seven-year role as SPJ’s executive director. Coming to the organization after a series of short-term executives, Harper is credited with restoring SPJ’s finances and expanding professional development and diversity programs.

“He guided us out of that financial spiral,” 2008-09 SPJ President Dave Aeikens said. “He survived and thrived through a tumultuous time and brought stability that no other executive director in the modern era has equaled.”

Harper’s wife, Lee Ann, and sons, Dale and Jace, were present at the banquet to accept the award on his behalf. For more on Harper and a remembrance to him, click here.

Presentation of the Wells Key began in 1913 with the Society’s first president, Laurence Sloan. The award is named for Chester Wells, who died in 1913 during his presidency. Read more about the award and a list of all honorees by clicking here.

Sessions outline moving from newsroom to classroom

Even as they received advice for moving from the newsroom to the classroom at the 2009 Convention, a new study suggests journalists may have an even harder time making that happen.

Often, professional journalists begin teaching part-time or as adjunct faculty. But the latest data on journalism faculty hiring show the number of those positions continued to decline in 2008 — 4,979, down from 5,341 a year earlier.

The only positive news in the journalism faculty hiring picture in the 2008 Annual Survey of Journalism and Mass Communication Enrollments was the fact that full-time faculty hiring increased slightly, even though 40 percent of J-schools were under some type of hiring freeze. The survey was released by the University of Georgia’s James Cox Center for Mass Communication Training and Research.

The new data on journalism faculty hiring came out just three weeks before two sessions focused on making the transition from full-time journalism to academe were held at the 2009 Convention.

For more on these sessions and the full story, click here.

Legal Defense Fund receives cash and pledges through fundraiser

Attendees of the 2009 Convention had to worry not only about oversleeping and missing sessions, they had one other worry: going to jail.

SPJ’s Legal Defense Fund was the center of the Convention’s Jail-n-Bail fundraiser. People paid $5 to file charges, such as dangling participles in public and improperly inverting a pyramid, against another attendee. A sheriff then arrested the person and brought the offender to jail. The convict spent the next hour raising $100 bond to be released, either by soliciting cash donations from passers-by or calling and texting friends and colleagues to collect pledges.

Ron Sylvester, who gained notoriety as one of the first journalists to use Twitter to report the proceedings of a federal criminal trial, used the microblogging site to collect over $100 in pledges in under 30 minutes.

The event raised over $4,300, primarily cash, for the Legal Defense Fund. SPJ’s Long Island chapter gave $500, the largest single donation. Former president Dave Carlson was the jailbird who raised the most money, collecting over $250 in cash and pledges.

Student journalists honored, hear keynote from Roxana Saberi

Student journalists working in print, broadcast and online media were recognized at the Mark of Excellence Awards Luncheon during the 2009 Convention. The ceremony was the culmination of the annual awards contest, which recognizes collegiate journalism published or broadcast during the preceding calendar year.

Freelance journalist Roxana Saberi headlined the event and delivered the keynote address. Saberi gained worldwide attention after being detained in Iran for more than three months and convicted of espionage. She had been in Iran working on a master’s degree and reporting for outlets such as the BBC, NPR and Fox News. An Iranian appeals court overturned her eight-year sentence in May.

Saberi opened her speech by thanking SPJ for its advocacy during her incarceration.

“Without this kind of support from [SPJ] and other journalists and nonjournalists around the world, it’s very likely that I might still be behind bars today,” she said.

Though the audience included journalists and instructors of all ages, Saberi directed her comments primarily toward students, encouraging them to always remember the ideals upon which objective reporting is based.

“Never in our history have we needed good journalists more than now,” she warned. “In this day of declining readership and viewership … more than ever we need to provide reporting, which is the art of verification. Do not lose heart when you hear about dying newspapers or failing TV stations. We are in an age of reinvention, and journalism will survive because it is so needed.”

Audio of Saberi’s speech, and other convention sessions, is available to SPJ members at spj.org/c-recap09.asp.

Mark of Excellence Awards are given in 39 categories. After judging in each of SPJ’s 12 regions, one national winner and two national finalists are chosen for each category. Click here for a list of all national MOE winners.