From the President
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.
These are exciting times for journalism, and a bit unnerving. But journalism is NOT dead or dying; it’s evolving. Journalism matters. I’m glad SPJ can play a role, and during this next year I will need your help. During my speech at EIJ13 in Anaheim, Calif.,
Note: This is the final column by 2012-13 SPJ President Sonny Albarado, whose term ended in late August. The president’s column for 2013-14 President Dave Cuiller will begin with the September/October issue. I almost quit SPJ about 18 years ago. I had noticed with disappointment that few journalists in the Society were with big news organizations, had names recognizable from bylines in major newspapers or on network television, or were in higher management positions.
Other than approving Legal Defense Fund grants for three free-press freedom fighters, the most important thing the SPJ board did at its April 20 spring meeting was adopt a new Openness and Accountability Best Practices Guide. You’d be forgiven for wondering why the directors of a journalism organization found it necessary, even important, to craft a set of guidelines for itself and its local chapters.
On March 13, a member of Vice President Joe Biden’s press office staff demanded that a student journalist delete photos he had taken during a university-sponsored event featuring Biden. “It’s clear from the circumstance that the journalist did nothing wrong,” Philip Merrill College of Journalism Dean Lucy Dalglish is quoted in a Capital News Service story about the incident.
“Journalists and newsrooms should seek truth and report it.” That’s the first sentence from “Guidance for Journalists on Expressing Personal Opinions,” a set of recommendations for staff members at Digital First Media. A group of Digital First Media journalists has been working on guidelines for opinion journalism within the company, and this essay, posted in mid-December, is the second in a series of best-practices reports the committee has produced.
The end of a printed Newsweek does not herald the imminent end of print journalism. That seems obvious to me, but you’d never guess that from all the handwringing in mid-October when the magazine’s editor, Tina Brown, announced that Newsweek would cease publication at the end of 2012 and become digital-only as Newsweek Global.