The SPJ president-elect spends one year waiting for the night he or she receives the gavel and assumes the role to lead the nation’s largest and most broad-based journalism association. Kevin Z. Smith, SPJ president for 2009-10, did anything but wait. A devoted, longtime SPJ member, Smith dove into his pending presidential responsibilities headfirst to take on the evolving industry and, most crucially, to help SPJ members evolve with it. At the President’s Installation Banquet during the 2009 SPJ Convention & National Journalism Conference, Smith challenged every SPJ member to get involved and invest his or her time, talent and energy into continuing the Society’s critical mission for another 100 years.
“We are at the cusp of the next century of this organization,” Smith said in his inaugural speech. “I have tremendous feelings, and very excited feelings to see young faces in the crowd — they are the leadership for the next years and the next decades. And it is also exciting to see the people who laid the groundwork.”
In the wake of newspaper closures and rapid news updates online, journalists struggle to maintain their jobs and the skills to stay abreast of changing technology and a changing society, if not one step ahead. Smith has worked in the industry for more than 20 years and has a unique educator’s view from his seat at Fairmont State University, where he is an assistant professor of journalism. His past gave him the foresight to create a group of members who will assess the industry and how SPJ can be a part of related discussions and actions. The group is called The Future of Journalism Task Force.
“What’s happening within our profession with the loss of jobs and the shrinking of particularly the industry is the primary responsibility for us to address this year. There’s no doubt about it, it is our top priority,” Smith said.
Smith and immediate past president Dave Aeikens started the task force to determine how the Society will assist journalists now and in the future as the profession changes. The committee of SPJ members, who practice journalism in all media, has been entrusted with the responsibility of examining the future of journalism to consider the pressing issues that most strongly affect journalists and how SPJ can address and face them. Smith’s response to the dire times is to act — aggressively.
Two of his strongest goals outside of the task force are to bolster membership and to encourage every member to increase his or her involvement. To do both, Smith will ensure that every part of SPJ makes membership with the Society a journalist’s smartest investment. He reached out to journalists all over the world, but most specifically to SPJ members. Smith encouraged members to think about how they can help and to ask themselves, “Why am I in this organization? What does it mean to me?” Since 1978, when he joined SPJ, Smith has been asking himself those exact questions. Since becoming a member, he has served in several leadership capacities. In 1988, he joined the ethics committee and served as chairman from 1994-96, during which time SPJ updated the ethics code to the current version. He also contributed as a writer, assisting with the content of two editions of the SPJ ethics book, “Doing Ethics in Journalism.” For five years, Smith served as the Society’s Sunshine Chair, and in 1997, he sat on the national board as a campus adviser at-large. His dedication to SPJ and its members stems from his love for the profession, a passion he discovered at an early age.
“I consider myself one of the fortunate people; I knew what I wanted to do when I took my first journalism class my sophomore year of high school,” Smith said.
As president, Smith plans to observe, act and, most importantly, stay passionate. Teaching a full course load at FSU, he wants to make SPJ a driving force that helps journalists no matter where they are in their careers. And under his leadership, he hopes SPJ will forge into the next 100 years at the forefront of change.