From the President
While we can’t look ahead five, ten or twenty years to see what the future looks like for the Society of Professional Journalists, I’m confident it will be bigger and stronger than ever. Why? Because I’ve seen the next generation of professionals coming out of dozens of SPJ student chapters around the country.
The Society of Professional Journalists is a strong organization in part because of our chapters, where local journalists often turn for support when challenged, attacked or even put in danger doing their jobs. Here are just a few examples of how our chapter leaders have stepped in to defend and protect journalists.
Since becoming president of the Society of Professional Journalists, I’ve constantly talked about #SPJStrong. We are a strong organization in part because we have two communities that bring journalists together for a common cause. If you’re a freelancer looking to expand your network, find a job lead or join a supportive group, all you have to do is turn to the SPJ Freelance Community.
SPJ professional and student chapters are the backbone of our organization. Often the “boots on the ground” for our local journalists, student journalists and journalism educators, they play a big part in the strength of SPJ. That’s why I’m devoting my Quill columns to our chapters, whether they are standing up for the rights of journalists, raising scholarship money or giving students a place to grow their network on campus.
I’ve done a lot of listening in my year as national president of the Society of Professional Journalists. The best membership organizations are built around listening. I think back now to the first moments of my term, when I gave an inaugural speech in shorts and a jacket from my bedroom, my youngest daughter lying on the floor outside my closed door, listening.
Remember your first nerve-racking interview as a student journalist? Remember the thrill of finishing your first story and having it actually be in the world? Remember reaching out to pros for advice while in college, not knowing if they’d talk to you, then hearing they gladly would?
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I had to cancel a half-dozen eagerly anticipated trips I’d planned as incoming Society of Professional Journalists president. I had booked flights to Hawaii, Minnesota, Utah, Illinois, Indiana and Washington, D.C. — three for regional SPJ conferences and three others for leadership training, a board meeting and our Sigma Delta Chi Awards.
It was 229 years ago, on Dec. 15, 1791, that this nation adopted the 45 words of the First Amendment. And that set the foundation for everything our free press has done since. On that same date, in 1971, my parents welcomed me into the world and named me after Henry David Thoreau — and set the foundation for everything I’ve done since.
September 4th, 2020 • Featured, Quill Blog, Quill Archives, From the President
From the President: Putting SPJ Fellows at the forefront
Throughout its 111 years of history, SPJ has created innumerable cherished traditions. Among them is the Fellows of the Society program, launched in 1948. In those 72 years the Society has named 214 fellows. Last year, at our annual fall convention, we honored Maria Ressa of Rappler, and retired Associated Press staffers Terry Anderson and Nick Ut, plus Jamal Khashoggi of The Washington Post posthumously.
June 22nd, 2020 • Quill Archives, From the President
From the President: Journalism, now more than ever
Of late, my T-shirt drawer bulges with pro-press slogans: Democracy Dies in Darkness, #Not the Enemy, I Back the First Amendment, America Needs Journalists and Journalism Matters Now More Than Ever. I’m thinking I’ll need a post-COVID-19 addition that reads: Yes, You Should Major in Journalism.
As my year as SPJ president approached, I put “fight fake news” on my to-do list. I’ll respond to every nasty slam, every spurious tweet, every “enemy of the people” put-down with a counter-tweet of my own, I thought. A few tweets in – with low-impact “No, you are incorrect, Mr.
December 20th, 2019 • Featured, From the President
From the President: Women have long been a force at SPJ
Since the days of Nellie Bly – and likely before – women have been a force in journalism. They lead newsrooms. They win Pulitzer Prizes. They fill pages and screens with high-quality, can’t-miss coverage. And in my world – journalism higher ed – they fill far more classroom seats than their male counterparts.
One hundred ten years ago, 10 young men dressed in black and white ceremoniously entered the chapel at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind. and pledged their faith to the power of journalism. Their youthful idealism gave rise to the Society of Professional Journalists.
In 2016, the world woke up to the reality that freedom of expression itself had been weaponized. The enemies of strong democratic values had learned a new trick. They had turned the power of self-expression on social media platforms — which only five years earlier had helped unleash the natural desire for self-determination in the Arab Spring — into a cloaking device that allowed them to wage a surreptitious influence campaign.
Barton Keyes personifies the ideal insurance claims adjuster in the classic, and must-see, film noir “Double Indemnity.” Although he’s neither a journalist nor a real person, the character portrayed by the inimitable Edward G. Robinson is worth emulating. What truly sets him apart is the Little Man who dwells in the pit of his stomach.
PARIS — More than an ocean separates the United States from France. The contradictory world views of their leaders veered sharply into focus on the centennial of World War I. Hours after making the now famous Armistice Day pronouncement beneath the Arc de Triomphe that “patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism,” President Emmanuel Macron of France introduced an event launching a global initiative for freedom of information and democracy.
March 19th, 2018 • From the President
To regain trust, journalists should tell our own story
How can the media rebuild public trust? That’s a question journalists have grappled with for decades. But now it’s more important than ever to examine the causes of and possible solutions to this vexing problem. The good news is that most people value accurate, well-told news stories.
“Seek truth and report it.” What a challenge those five words have proved to be. Figures in government at all levels are making it harder to find, let alone report, the truth. And elected officials have found it easy to scream “Fake news!”
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.
Public information officers at federal agencies have become gatekeepers and minders of federal employees, preventing journalists from doing their job and getting past a carefully controlled message from on high. That’s one of the things that Josh Earnest, President Barack Obama’s press secretary, heard Dec.
Good news on campus, for once. After all, student journalists have been having a rough stretch. But before the good, here’s the bad (and the ugly). As was big news in the news cycle (and on Twitter) for a week in November, at the University of Missouri a professor sought to shut down press coverage during high-profile protests by calling for “some muscle” to remove a student who identified himself as a journalist.
The Freedom of Information Act will mark its 50th anniversary next summer. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the bill, passed unanimously by both houses of Congress, on July 4, 1966, amid much fanfare. Leaders of Sigma Delta Chi, the predecessor of SPJ, had worked Capitol Hill for 10 years to get a federal open records bill passed.
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.
You know the sad saga of now-suspended “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams, but it’s worth re-telling and remembering to drive home the lesson. In February, Williams was caught in a lie — a very public one resulting in a six-month suspension without pay.
I am Charlie, and I am proud to be a journalist. The Jan. 7 attack on Charlie Hebdo in France was brutal and tragic, highlighting the very real dangers of press freedom. Twelve people – journalists and police officers – lost their lives.
Last year SPJ added communities to its list of membership offerings, giving members new ways to connect with and learn from each other. To date, we have three — freelance, digital and international journalism — all of which are active and serving SPJ members in new ways.
On the heels of a busy 2013-14 led by SPJ President Dave Cuillier, I am honored and eager to serve SPJ during the next year, continuing his good work and embarking on new projects and initiatives to better serve journalists. While journalists continue to face daunting challenges, including fighting for press freedom, facing arrest and even death in extreme cases, there is much SPJ can do to support journalists and our industry.
The future of SPJ, journalism and even democracy rest squarely on two people’s shoulders: Joe and Chris. That’s a huge burden, I know, and it might seem a little melodramatic, but it’s true. I’m talking about two people who really keep our organization moving: SPJ Executive Director Joe Skeel and Sigma Delta Chi Foundation Director Chris Vachon.
Now, more than ever, every journalist should have a “Plan B.” Journalism is not dead or dying, and there are amazing opportunities out there; but clearly the industry is a little more fluid today than it used to be. It’s crucial to develop a network to spring to a new opportunity if the need comes up.
I remember vividly a conversation I had about 10 years ago with Patrick Lee Plaisance, a former journalist and current media ethics scholar at Colorado State University. I asked him why he chose to focus his teaching and research — his life’s work — on ethics.
When I talk about freedom of information laws to students, pros or civic groups, I always ask if they can guess the first country to create a public records law. Most say England, Canada or the United States. They are usually surprised when they hear the answer: China.
The time is right for us to take a hard look at who we want to be and adapt to the changing journalism environment. We’ve done it before, which is why we remain the largest journalism organization in the United States.