Wow! My first column as president of the Society of Professional Journalists.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous and a lot excited. But mostly I am grateful and honored to serve you and have an opportunity to be a representative voice for journalists.
I caught the journalism bug in high school. I signed up for a journalism elective at the Catholic school I attended in Columbus, Ohio, and had no idea what I would be doing. At the time I was probably more interested in taking photos and arranging the layout of the print pages than the reporting itself.
But I stuck with it and eventually became co-editor with another classmate. I would work on the paper, layout, photos and stories any chance I could get. I even had the adviser write notes so I could skip study hall and work on the paper. But it wasn’t until I worked on a particular story that I fully understood and came to truly love being a journalist.
It was my senior year and time for yet another pep rally. My school was a quintessential Ohio football school. Sports were a big deal!
The event was pitched as a “fall sports rally.” Football, obviously, but this also meant it was a time to celebrate other sports like cross country. As the date of the pep rally loomed closer, it was announced that it was going to be canceled. The pep rally was scheduled close to when the football team played a big rival. It could be too distracting for the team, we were told.
The announcement brought some disappointment among students, one in particular who voiced concern in class. He was on the cross country team and wanted to celebrate and be recognized. But with the pep rally canceled, he wouldn’t have the opportunity.
I thought he brought up an interesting point. I interviewed him. Then I interviewed the football coach. Next thing you knew, the pep rally was rescheduled. The cross country team and all fall sport athletes were given an opportunity to be recognized.
I don’t remember if my story had even published before this happened or if it was out of date by the time it hit the presses. I also can’t say whether my story was the reason it was rescheduled. But there was something about the process and the way the events unfolded that made me realize journalists can make a difference. And I wanted to make a difference.
I like to think that is what I have been able to do, like all of you, serving your communities with story after story. I look at being SPJ president the same way. This is my opportunity to serve the journalism community and help make a difference inside and outside of SPJ.
Journalism isn’t changing. It has changed. The ability to make a difference as a journalist hasn’t changed, though. I would argue there is even more opportunity now to raise awareness and help a community with the power of social media and the internet.
SPJ has the power and potential to make a difference, too. I hope to lead you and help make that happen this year.
You may see some non-traditional proposals this year or see news about SPJ reaching out to non-journalism organizations. My hope is that by thinking differently we can introduce the values of what SPJ stands for to new audiences that are interested or already practicing journalism online. These could be bloggers, YouTube broadcasters, etc.
I want to see SPJ continue to be relevant within the journalism community. I also would love to see the organization widen its reach to educate the public on what ethical journalism is while helping to bring the public and journalists together, instead of further apart.
It won’t be easy, but I think SPJ has the history, success record and most importantly the people in place to make it happen.
I encourage you to reach out to me with ideas and bring issues to my attention that you think SPJ should know about. I also challenge you to think how you, as a member, a journalist or a supporter, can help further ethical journalism, government transparency and diversity.
Lynn Walsh is 2016-17 national SPJ president. She leads the NBC7 Investigates team in San Diego. She loves holding the powerful accountable and spends more time than she would like fighting for access to public information. Connect on Twitter: @LWalsh. Email
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