Note: Sonny Albarado is the 2012-13 national SPJ president. He took office on Sept. 22 during the Excellence in Journalism conference.
Looking on the past year as president-elect, I see two glasses — one half-empty, the other half-full.
The half-empty glass shows that I failed to achieve some of the pledges I made to convention delegates when I sought their votes in New Orleans a year ago.
The half-full glass contains examples of the personal goals I met and tasks I accomplished as President John Ensslin’s designated hitter on crises that developed during the year.
A year ago, I told the convention that one of my goals as president-elect would be to focus on not just ending the slippage in our membership numbers but growing our ranks.
I can’t claim to have personally done a lot to fulfill that goal — although I did make some calls to lapsed members in an effort to get them to rejoin as part of a membership drive created by Ensslin and Membership Committee Chairwoman Holly Edgell. And in September, Edgell’s committee embarked on a new membership drive dubbed E1R1, or each one, recruit one.
Any newly recruited member or renewed lapsed member will make that effort a success, I believe.
Our membership numbers continue to hover at about 8,000, so you might say the glass is also half-full.
Also in the half-full glass is my pledge to work with national SPJ board and staff to find ways to expand our professional development offerings and to use those programs to build SPJ’s brand recognition to attract and keep members.
Executive Director Joe Skeel, Associate Director Chris Vachon and the staff made this goal easy to achieve because Joe has a vision for what SPJ can and should do as it transforms itself into a 21st-century, digitally oriented organization that not only serves individual journalists but the cause of independent journalism worldwide.
I can’t take credit for one of the changes Skeel is trying to make, but I heartily approve and hope the SPJ board will fully support it. That change is to our highly successful Ted Scripps Leadership Institute, which has brought about 50 SPJ chapter leaders to Indianapolis each summer for more than a decade to be trained in how to lead a volunteer organization.
Because the venue SPJ uses to hold the institute is closing, Skeel, Vachon and Tara Puckey — our new staff chapter coordinator — asked not just whether the institute should keep going but how it might be improved.
Their proposal: take leadership training to the chapters. They’ve asked the board to approve the change, and they’re asking the Scripps Howard Foundation to continue providing the $50,000 a year in grant money to make it happen.
If the proposal succeeds in getting board approval and continued funding, the future of SPJ’s local and national leadership should be assured for a generation or more.
In the past year, SPJ also has expanded its professional development offerings. A cadre of Freedom of Information activists, including national secretary-treasurer Dave Cuillier, broadened the reach of Cuillier’s brainchild, Access Across America. Our online library of on-demand training videos keeps growing, and our in-newsroom training continues to be sought after.
In the coming year, I will work with Skeel and the staff to strengthen and expand our training offerings and chapter programming ideas because I agree with him and Region 3 Director Michael Koretzky.
It might surprise you to know that Skeel and Koretzky agree on this: Programming attracts members.
But Koretzky’s view that SPJ needs to “do more” goes beyond training sessions or topical programming.
He and others I’ve heard from in recent weeks believe SPJ needs to improve its response time when threats to journalism and journalists pop up, which they seem to do more and more frequently
Many of you reading this likely heard of what happened in mid-August at The Red and Black, the independent student newspaper at the University of Georgia. If not, the essence is this: Student editors walked off the job on a Friday evening to protest what they believed was increasingly heavy-handed efforts at editorial control by the professional staff and the paper’s governing board.
The walkout lit up the Twittersphere and the rest of the journalism world online. At Ensslin’s request, Koretzky went on a fact-finding mission. Then, without reporting his findings to Ensslin, Koretzky posted them, along with his opinions, on the Region 3 SPJ-hosted blog.
The point, though, is that we heard from SPJ members who agreed that our organization lost ground by not tweeting, posting or otherwise commenting on the Red and Black situation more quickly.
They fault SPJ for not having a nimble social media policy.
So, I’ll promise you the same thing I promised Koretzky: We’ll work on improving our response time to journalism flare-ups. And we’ll tweak our approach to social media.
Ultimately, I believe SPJ will “do more” and grow stronger.