As far as e-mails go, this one didn’t have any indications it would be any different than the rest. Most of my e-mails are from people within SPJ who want to communicate information or ask questions.
As I read this e-mail in response to a Quill column, I gathered a sense of despair about the state of this profession brought on by personal events. But reading further, this retired journalist righted his ship of thinking and talked about the hope he held for our future, as he drew his career to a close.
“Your article helped me make peace with the trauma I suffered and the jobs I had to resign because I would not retreat from ethical and professional standards. … I see a glimmer of hope,” he said.
Those words, from that lone e-mail among the thousands I received, mean a great deal to me. For what is a leader if not someone who must instill hope in people at a time when crisis affronts us? With that simple sentence, much of the harshness and criticism I sometimes get about SPJ was washed away. For a journalist stepping aside after a full career as a professional and an educator to find comfort in what I said, but more importantly in what SPJ does, makes the work of the past 13 months all the more rewarding.
Being president of SPJ wasn’t more work than I could handle. It wasn’t more attention than I could endure. It wasn’t more criticism than I could bear. It wasn’t even more difficult to navigate given the current state of affairs within our profession. And maybe that’s because it was profoundly enlightening to me on professional and personal levels upon seeing the quality of work and level of commitment within our organization by so many dedicated and well-intended individuals, from the board to the staff to the volunteers at the grassroots.
Let me say this about SPJ from my position in the highest chair: For all of the mission statements we give great attention to, for all of the grand inspiration we draw from our heritage, and for all of the principles we hold dear and stand behind in unwavering support, none of that matters much without people who make those words come alive and transform our ideals into action. That, to me, is the beauty and strength of the Society of Professional Journalists. One member, one committee, one chapter, one board with one calling, to do what we have to do every day to protect and improve journalism. It’s 8,000 voices who bring life to our organization and make sure what we do is relevant not only to journalists but to the public.
This is an experience I will never forget. Years from now, I most certainly will relive these events over and over, good ones and bad, and I will take ownership of each and cherish it. From interviewing candidates for the executive director’s position in Indianapolis to racing to Capitol Hill with a handful of letters to senators promoting a shield law, it has been challenging. From receptions in Dallas and Denver in October and Future of Journalism conferences in November, December and March, it has been fun and educational. From spring conferences and meet-and-greets in Cleveland, San Francisco and Los Angeles, it has been delightful being on the ground at the local level sharing your concerns and rewarding your accomplishments. From board meetings in Indianapolis, Albuquerque and New Orleans and training sessions in St. Petersburg, it has been productive and demanding. And from the 2009 convention in Indianapolis to 2010 convention in Las Vegas, it has been one of the most memorable and cherished honors I could have in a lifetime to serve as your president. Thank you.
As I close out my term and finish my last column as your president, I hope I have served the Society and you well. I hope I have instilled hope in you with my words and deeds, as you have done for me. I hope you will continue to commit yourself to SPJ’s missions and projects. I hope we mentor the young journalists while respecting the wisdom of our senior members. I hope word of our successes continues to spread and we welcome more members. I hope we remain vigilant to our promise to improve on what we have worked so hard to obtain and protect those values we cherish. And I hope we chart a new and bold course for our future.
Give yourselves a pat on the back. Give your support to the new leaders, from our president Hagit Limor to the wide-eyed college student who takes on that first leadership challenge for her chapter.
In the end it will always be the people of SPJ who give us purpose.
Thank you for helping me learn that lesson.
Kevin Smith served as the 2009-10 SPJ president and is currently chairman of the Ethics Committee. He is a journalism instructor at James Madison University, having spent 20 years as a newspaper reporter and editor. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.