The Society of Professional Journalists is an amazing organization that accomplishes more in a year than many members — even most, I daresay — realize. Serving as national president, as I have since August 2006, would bring you up to speed in a hurry.
Questions for the Society of Professional Journalists’ national president often come hard and fast. They are in e-mail and on voicemail. They are in letters sent to my office. They are posted on my blog. And they fill conference rooms as I stand at lecterns across the nation.
It’s tough to overstate the importance of separating newsrooms from the business offices surrounding them. Surely, I don’t need to elaborate here why the folks in ad sales, marketing and the offices of the publisher or station owner shouldn’t have a modicum of input about story selection and coverage.
Here’s what’s really sorry about journalism these days: the number of journalists who do little or nothing to improve and protect it. Showing up for work every day, breaking the occasional big story and filing a freedom-of-information request every few years doesn’t make you a stalwart of the First Amendment.
Ten years ago, I was a higher-education reporter for Tribune Media Services in Chicago. I just had been tapped to build and supervise a national network of college-student journalists who would generate content for what was then the nation’s largest and oldest college news service.
Let’s just say I wasn’t too pleased to find out that the recently elected president of my homeowners association in Denver is a lawyer who works for a firm that represents the developer of my neighborhood. How did I learn this?
Work with me, people. Work with me. And think big. SPJ’s Web site holds so many exciting possibilities. If you haven’t taken it for a spin lately, please do. The site is key to spreading the Society’s ideals and to making SPJ members feel more connected to this great organization.
Being national president of SPJ is one cool gig if for no other reason than the opportunities it affords to see many of the nation’s newsrooms and to meet and correspond with journalists of all backgrounds. Journalists greet me as an instant confidante.
By the time you read this, SPJ’s executive committee and a select group of national leaders and headquarters staff should have convened in Denver to begin crafting a strategic plan aimed at steering the Society deftly into what is an exciting — but uncertain — time for American journalism.
I’m a big believer that journalists must do more for the improvement and protection of journalism than what it takes for them to collect their paychecks. That, in part, is why I am a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.
Sure, it would be fun to wax serious about industry issues in this, my first Quill column as president of the Society of Professional Journalists. But I’ve got something far less highbrow — and yet far more vital to the Society’s future — on my mind: membership.
As I write this, Vanessa Leggett is spending her 49th day in a Houston jail – making her the longest-jailed journalist in American history for refusing to disclose confidential sources. And here’s the real kicker: many folks reading that opening line are more offended that I referred to Leggett as a journalist than they are by the U.S.