As EIJ15 draws closer, I am reflecting on the year behind me. It sounds more like lyrics to a Billy Joel song than a year as SPJ president: FBI, Ferguson, Charlie Hebdo, ISIS, the U.S. Forest Service, Brian Williams, Rolling Stone, Hillary Clinton and Indiana’s RFRA. These are just a few of the headlines SPJ has faced this year, along with countless violations of journalism ethics, journalists’ rights, FOIA and open government.
While the issues we faced didn’t surprise me, the vast amount of work involved in leading SPJ did. It was a 24-7 job much of the time, with neither the news nor industry challenges taking a holiday. My work and personal lives frequently came second to SPJ, but as those who served before me know, that was a choice I made when I ran for office.
Despite the requirements of the job, I don’t regret a minute of it, not even the hard leadership lessons I learned along the way. It was all worthwhile because we moved the ball forward.
Here are some of our accomplishments from the past year:
• SPJ spoke out on FOI violations, supporting journalists and media organizations as they fought for access to publish records. Under the guidance of FOI Committee chair and immediate past president Dave Cuillier, the committee urged senators to pass revisions to the FOI bill, applauded cities like Tupelo, Miss., for complying with public records laws, and spoke against cities like McKinney, Texas, for its outrageous $79,000 bill to Gawker for public records.
• The FOI Committee awarded the U.S. Forest Service a Black Hole Award for interfering with the public flow of information. And with support from the Society’s Legal Defense Fund, we helped a student editor at Otterbein University win her lawsuit against the campus police department. That ended up setting a precedent in Ohio when the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that private college police departments are subject to the state’s Public Records Act.
• SPJ opposed secret execution bills in Ohio and Virginia and will follow suit in other states that seek to suppress execution records. SPJ issued statements about the EPA’s muzzling of national scientists and the violent Charlie Hebdo attack, and we sent letters calling for the reinstatement of student media advisers wrongly ousted.
• We supported The Associated Press in its lawsuit against the State Department to release Hillary Clinton’s emails, and we spoke out on religious freedom laws in Indiana and Louisiana, ethical lapses in Rolling Stone’s reporting of a rape case, the FBI’s impersonation of a reporter, and the outrageous arrests of journalists in Ferguson, Mo. We partnered with the Student Press Law Center, the National Press Photographers Association, the National Freedom of Information Coalition and other organizations on various issues throughout the year.
• From an internal perspective, SPJ delegates passed the revised Code of Ethics in September, and our Ethics Committee and communications team have been working to spread the revised Code across the country. The Code is now available in five languages, with two more pending approval, and supplemental materials have been posted to SPJ.org to help journalists and the public better understand how the Code can be applied.
• With inspiration and support from our Diversity and Membership committees, SPJ has put an increased emphasis on diversity this year. With funding from the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation, the Diversity Committee established the Reginald Stuart Fellowship Program to sponsor a Stuart Fellow through the Executive Leadership Program of the Asian American Journalists Association.
• The committees also partnered on a successful #SPJ4ALL campaign in May created by membership chair Robyn Sekula to remind our members that SPJ is an inclusive organization. Additional initiatives are underway to provide SPJ with an ongoing awareness and conversation about diversity to ensure that the voices of journalists from a variety of backgrounds are heard.
• The Journalism Education Committee published its book, “Still Captive?” about the challenges of high school journalism, and it is working on a mentor database that will debut at EIJ15.
• President-elect Paul Fletcher is leading a task force to study membership representation to find out why 41 percent of our members are not affiliated with a chapter and to brainstorm ways to provide those members with representation at convention.
• Secretary-Treasurer Lynn Walsh has formed a study group to explore the possibility of creating an “SPJ supporter” membership category to allow non-journalists the opportunity to support our mission.
• We now have five strong SPJ communities — Freelance, Digital, International, Student and Generation J — to support our members in exciting ways. The self-governed communities choose their own leadership, project and tools with support from the SPJ board, staff and community coordinator Alex Veeneman.
In this space I can’t possibly list all of the wonderful progress SPJ has made as an organization this year, but I can tell you how proud I am to be a part of it. I have had the privilege of working with a hard-working staff and dedicated volunteers without whom none of this would be possible. When it is time to pass the reins to president-elect Paul Fletcher in September, it will be hard to let go — but you’ll be in good hands. I can’t wait to see what we achieve in the years ahead!
~ Dana Neuts