Note: John Ensslin was the 2011-12 national SPJ president. His term ended during the 2012 Excellence in Journalism conference, Sept. 20-22.
Dear Fellow SPJ Members,
I want to tell you what an honor and a privilege it has been to serve as your president.
The time went by quickly, but when I look back at all we did, I consider it a very fulfilling and productive 12 months.
When I took the oath of office in New Orleans and started my term, I described it not as my year, but as our year. And what a year it was. Take a moment to consider all that we’ve done.
This was the year when we rose to the challenge of journalists from nine different cities being arrested and detained simply for doing their job while covering various “Occupy” demonstrations.
This was the year when we embraced technology in a way we had never done before. As a result we’ve produced our first two webinars, held our first virtual board meetings and conducted 12 virtual town hall meetings in every SPJ region via an online platform.
This was the year we became landlords, and thanks in large part to Executive Director Joe Skeel’s efforts, we found a new and steady source of revenue by leasing out unused space on the second floor of our Indianapolis headquarters.
It was the year when every member will have the opportunity to cast a vote in elections for national officers.
And this is the year we started a significant conversation about expanding SPJ’s recruiting efforts to include journalists from outside the U.S.
My one disappointment this year has been membership. We tried hard and experimented with some new strategies. But as I write this column, our membership numbers are tracking just slightly ahead of last year. I had hoped to do better.
However, I’m convinced that we’ve laid the groundwork for future growth by crafting a proposal to revive institutional memberships for newsrooms and by upgrading our membership database so members someday soon will be able to have their dues deducted from their credit or debit card.
When I think back on the past year, though, it’s not the policy initiatives or technology that I remember most.
What I’ll remember most are some very vivid SPJ moments.
Moments like the night I got to meet three of my journalism heroes — Carl Kassel, Brian Lamb and Sander Vanocur — all in one night at the DC Pro Hall of Fame banquet.
Moments like the time I talked by phone to a freelance journalist who was grateful for SPJ’s help in securing a Legal Defense Fund grant that helped pay for a lawyer. Charges against the freelancer were eventually dropped in a ridiculous case in which he was charged with misconduct while covering an Occupy demonstration in lower Manhattan.
And it was moments like the spring day when I walked up a dusty street in Silverton, a mountain town in southwest Colorado, to dedicate a plaque honoring the town’s pioneering paper as a historic site in journalism. I was deeply moved when the mayor and a crowd of residents turned out, but a local brass band also came to celebrate the occasion.
At a time when so many news outlets are struggling to find their economic footing, it did my heart good to visit a community that simply refused to let their local paper die.
We still face many challenges. The steps SPJ took this year to make better use of technology were just a small down payment on what we’ll need to do in the future. There is so much more we need to do to remain viable and relevant.
We need to make SPJ the go-to organization for learning the new tools of the journalism trade. And we need to make full use of those tools.
We still live in a time when almost all of us know of colleagues — some SPJ members reading this now — who were tossed out of work by the continuing upheavals in our industry.
But we’re heading into the next year in good shape, both in terms of our budget and our leadership. I know Sonny Albarado is going to make a great president.
And if I’ve learned anything this year, it is how smart and resourceful and resilient our Society can be.
All of this gives me hope that whatever the future may bring, SPJ will be standing tall for journalism and journalists everywhere.
Thanks so much for the opportunity to serve as your president. I look forward to finding new ways of serving you and SPJ.