The first thing you’ll notice about this 100-year issue of the “magazine for journalists” is a rather muted tone. Rather than filling the pages with remembrances of how great people think Quill is, we thought it best to stick to the mission: giving journalists educational resources to help them do their jobs better.
And the wiser use of space is in turn asking you how we can be better.
Plus, we’ve traveled this commemorative road before — three short years ago. It was in 2009 that the Society of Professional Journalists celebrated its own centennial. On April 17 of that year, members gathered in the small college town of Greencastle, Ind., where SPJ was founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi — an honorary fraternity — at DePauw University. It was, indeed, 100 years to the day of the organization’s founding, in the same room — Meharry Hall — in which 10 founders took the original oath of induction.
To mark that centennial year, SPJ and Quill produced a commemorative issue of the magazine (March 2009) and a special history book celebrating the SPJ and Sigma Delta Chi legacy of improving and protecting journalism.
It seemed a little much, and far too soon, to produce a comparable effort for Quill’s 100th year of publication.
But, a little history never hurt anyone.
In 100 years this magazine has gone through many versions of design, thickness, mission and editorial focus. Though our archive doesn’t include the first copy of Quill (tracking that is like finding a rare albino elephant), it does include early enough copies from the first several years to gauge how Quill began and understand what it has become.
As organizations are eager to do, Sigma Delta Chi began its own publication in 1912. The content of Quill (at that time officially “The Quill,” and it remained so until 1992) reflected what SDX was: a fraternal organization for students preparing for journalism careers (read: “newspapering”).
In a nod to Quill’s stature within the organization, its production is specifically outlined in the SPJ bylaws, which require it be published “at least” six times per year. To help that, Sigma Delta Chi leadership set up the Quill Endowment Fund in 1923. It remains in use today.
The development of Sigma Delta Chi as an organization — one that eventually morphed into the modern-day professional association of SPJ — contributed to how Quill changed over the decades. For many years it was billed as “the magazine for journalists” or some derivation of the line. At points in the 1950s and 1960s, its content seemed more academic journal than magazine for working professionals on daily deadline. Actually, the first full-time editor, Clarence Schlaver, didn’t come along until 1961, the year that brought us Columbia Journalism Review.
Today, Quill’s challenge is to reflect the broad base of what SPJ is: a professional association that seeks to help journalists advance their skills and advocate for the betterment of the profession. To that end, it is part educational resource, part member newsletter, part journalism industry rag.
What Quill and SPJ must do is keep up with the demands of its readership, primarily members — mostly working journalists, students and journalism educators. In 2007, then-editor Joe Skeel (now SPJ’s executive director) introduced Digital Quill. The e-magazine version offered a robust reading experience for those who wanted an alternative to print.
Now, five years later, we still gladly offer Digital Quill to all subscribers. Student SPJ members automatically receive just the e-magazine version, with the option to opt-in for the print issue at no extra cost. And we archive Quill content on the SPJ website.
Indeed, there is much more Quill can and needs to be other than a bi-monthly magazine available in print, digital and limited Web form. There’s an old joke about SPJ that longer-time members may have heard — that membership means getting “Quill and a bill.”
That isn’t the sole value of SPJ, but the point here is not to espouse the numerous membership benefits. Quill is just one component of what SPJ represents as a leading training resource for journalists.
But that component needs to be as leading-edge and up-to-speed with the changes in the journalism industry that have been discussed (almost ad nauseum by now) in these pages.
This year — Quill’s 100th — marks what should be a turning point in how Quill serves members and readers. We’re in the process of expanding website content beyond what it is and undertaking a larger redesign. Quill should be more than a strict publication or magazine. It can and should be a very effective part of the SPJ arsenal used to train and educate journalists working in all media at all points in their careers.
What we need is feedback and input from you. Please contact us to offer any thoughts you have on how Quill can help you become a better journalist — no matter the platform in which it’s presented.
Scott Leadingham is editor of Quill. Reach him at