10 SPJ recommendations, plus 10 more

Earlier this month, I posted an item looking back at 10 ideas SPJ President John Ensslin proposed when he was running for secretary-treasurer three years ago. I asked Ensslin if he could report on which ideas succeeded.

A few days later, he obliged. It turned out, though, that Ensslin came up with 20 SPJ ideas as part of his campaign that year. (The campaign flier I had saved listed 10.)

Here is Ensslin’s blog post recalling his “20 Ideas in 20 Days.”

By his count, the scorecard at this point is:

  • 8 ideas that worked, in full or part.
  • 8 ideas that failed or proved impractical.
  • 4 ideas that are still a work in progress.

It’s good for voters at any level to look back at what their elected leaders pledge. I applaud Ensslin for his willingness to do so.

Although I try to follow SPJ issues, several items on Ensslin’s list were new to me.

Here are a few examples of what he wanted SPJ to do, with his recap of what happened:

11.  Line up a journalism-themed movie premiere as SDX or LDF fundraiser. Over the last few years, there have been several popular feature films about journalists: George Clooney’s Murrow-biopic “Good Night and Good Luck” or Angelina Jolie’s “A Mighty Heart” about Daniel and Marianne Pearl. The next time such a movie comes down the pike, let’s approach the film makers about staging a benefit premiere in a city of their choice.

  • This idea failed, but not for lack of trying. I tried to convince the makers of “The Bang Bang Club,” a film on photojournalists covering the fall of apartheid in South Africa. But we couldn’t reach an agreement. I haven’t given up on this idea either and will keep an eye out for any new journalism movies.”

14. Explore finding a service that would enable all regions and local chapters to convert their journalism contests to an online entry system. Currently, regions and chapters are being approached individually by such vendors. By aggregating our buying power, we could get a much more advantageous deal.

  • This idea morphed into marketing SPJ’s own awards platform, which we were able to sell to a few chapters and journalism organizations. This is still a work in progress.

18.  Survey new members on what led them to join. In recent years, we’ve done some careful research on why people drop out of SPJ and who they are. But we’ve not devoted as much attention to where our new members are coming from. What specific things convinced them to join. The more we know about this the better we’ll get at recruitment.

  • This idea worked. I did my own email survey of new members who joined SPJ this spring. The results made it clear that we enjoyed a spike of new members who joined to get the member rate in our Mark of Excellence journalism contest.

In review: how others campaigned

Yesterday, I posted a list of 10 ideas John Ensslin proposed for SPJ while he was running for national secretary-treasurer three years ago.

Ensslin, whose term as president will end during this year’s national convention, told me he soon will post an update on this blog, explaining whether those ideas succeeded, failed or somewhere in between.

I was not trying to single out Ensslin, who I think did well to present a clear, straightforward platform of specific ideas.

Earlier today, I found some other candidate campaign material from recent years. Consider this a random sample.

Ron Sylvester, candidate for … his palm card doesn’t say, but I recall that he ran for president-elect. His palm card has slogans referring to history (noting that his father was a proud SPJ member) and the future (such as covering a murder trial live on Twitter – Sylvester became well known for his tweeting in courtrooms).

Dave Aeikens, candidate for secretary-treasurer: He had a glossy, professional-looking campaign card with slogans on the front (“I Like Aeik” and “Experienced Leadership, Proven Results”)  and detailed résumés of his SPJ and work experience on the back.

Clint Brewer, candidate for president-elect: His campaign card was smaller than Aeikens’, but used similar phrases (“Proven Leadership,” “Proven Experience”). Along with a brief bio, Brewer offered five ideas for SPJ’s future:

          1. “a strong effective internal communications program” for chapters and SPJ’s headquarters

          2. “SPJ 50,” an effort to start professional SPJ chapters in the 13 states that had none

          3. “a new Marketing and Branding Campaign,” with help from “a nationally recognized marketing firm”

          4. “a Chapter Service Center in the national headquarters” to help local chapters in various ways

          5. “a Common Sense Approach to Regions,” with funding for the regional director system

Joe Wessels, candidate for secretary-treasurer: In the form of a “coupon good for SPJ change,” he pledged to:

1. Increase membership through “relationships and outreach with journalists not currently a part of SPJ”

2. Keep SPJ members “informed about their society through e-mail, Web site announcements and good, old-fashioned face-to-face check-ins”

3. Make SPJ “a more front-loaded organization” and proactive through “creative partnerships, a community re-branding effort and focusing on what is possible for an alternate SPJ future the members want.”

Holly Edgell, candidate for campus adviser at large: Her campaign card listed a brief bio and a quote: “It is important to expose students to the wealth of resources SPJ has to offer, from FOI to the First Amendment issues that uniquely affect college journalists. SPJ’s campus chapters form a vital component of the organization. Student members bring enthusiasm, talent, and fresh thinking to SPJ and allow the organization to remain vibrant and relevant.”

Holly Edgell, now a candidate for Region 7 Director: Her bio is slightly larger this time. She also presented seven goals for the region:

1. “Encourage more broadcasters and new media professionals to join SPJ”

2. “Work on bringing more diversity to SPJ membership”

3. “Lay groundwork for a pro-chapter in Omaha”

4. “Have a stellar regional conference”

5. “Organize an awesome Mark of Excellence competition”

6. “Start an e-newsletter to connect members”

7. “Foster greater cooperation among campus and pro chapters”

Bruce Cadwallader, candidate for president-elect: His campaign flyer is a seven-item platform (actually, with more than seven specific ideas):

1. Introduce a cash-incentive program for current members to recruit new members. Promote One Member, One Vote for the election of national officers

2. Set dues at $40 for new members for three years. New members will be assigned to the closest chapter and pay $10 in dues, then may change to another chapter once at no cost

3. Make Quill a digital publication. Hire an advertising/communications employee at SPJ’s headquarters.

4. “Make our lawyers in Washington more accountable and urge credible journalists to participate with Capitol Hill testimony to pass a federal shield law.”

5. Finalize and promote plans for SPJ’s centennial celebration in 2009.

6. Meet with an engineer and raise money to install a handicapped-accessible lift at SPJ’s headquarters, so the building can be used for training and activities.

7. “Insist that future conventions are not always in ‘destination cities’ that are too expensive for the average member.”

Hagit Limor, candidate for secretary-treasurer: Her campaign flyer is a bio listing her work, education, honors, awards and activities, with a statement of why she is running: “Our profession faces a seismic shift. Every week we’re hearing about major job cuts at newspapers and broadcast properties. At the same time, more jobs are being created on the web.

“I represent someone with experience in all the media above. I believe the future growth of our organization lies in recruiting journalists migrating to new forms of media and re-training all of us so we can remain relevant in this brave, new world. But as we do so, it is incumbent that we ensure through our organization that we help all who call themselves journalists live up to our honorable code of ethics.

“In the past year, I’ve doubled the membership of our local chapter and reinvigorated it. I believe I can bring that energy along with new ideas to the national level. As a former print reporter, I feel the pain of my friends in these challenging times. As a broadcaster, I represent a viewpoint currently missing on our national board. And as a web producer, I believe I can add to the direction our current leadership has defined as our future.

“I would appreciate your support and welcome all ideas to hlimor@wcpo.com.”


A postscript: Cadwallader, with the most detailed campaign platform of this random bunch, lost to Brewer in the 2006 election for president-elect, which is usually an uncontested race.

In review: a candidate’s platform

Candidates for SPJ offices should be specific in what they want to accomplish or have accomplished.

This doesn’t happen much. A lot of the campaign talk I’ve heard from SPJ candidates over the years has been broad, aspirational and a little vague – let’s increase programming, enhance training, continue SPJ’s advocacy.

Would anyone disagree?

A few weeks ago on this blog, I mentioned an idea from Meagan McGinnes, a candidate for student representative on the SPJ board. She suggested that SPJ require a student chapter to hold at least one event per year in conjunction with the nearest pro chapter. I don’t know if that can or should be mandatory, but I like the spirit of the idea and will encourage my own chapter – Washington, D.C., Pro – to pursue it in the future.

Three conventions ago, John Ensslin proposed “Ten ideas to move SPJ forward” as he ran for secretary-treasurer.

I didn’t realize I had held onto his one-page platform for so long until I found it recently. It’s appropriate to look at it again now, as Ensslin nears the end of his presidency.

I am listing the items below, just as Ensslin wrote them. He has agreed to reply to this post with a progress report.

I know #8 has been accomplished.

I don’t think #9 has, but I can’t prove or disprove it where I am. An Executive Committee member attends almost every Washington, D.C., Pro chapter meeting, but that’s only because Bill McCloskey is on both the Executive Committee and the D.C. Pro board.

Reviewing candidates’ promises and pledges after they’ve held office should be a standard practice – although I’m not saying we must hold Ensslin personally accountable for everything on his list that wasn’t enacted.

I don’t remember if Ensslin made a similar list for his presidential term. If he did, maybe he can share that here, too.



John Ensslin’s “Ten ideas to move SPJ forward”:

1. Quarterly national board meetings. Two in person, two by phone. More democracy, not less.

2. Start/revive chapters with workshops. Use programs such as Tom Hallman’s Narrative Writing Workshops as kindling for reviving chapters.

3. Peg conference cost to membership dues. Draw in new members by making the price of the regional conferences equal to one year’s dues.

4. Better communication through shared bulk e-mail. Share use of iContact, Constant Contact or a similar bulk e-mail service so chapters can communicate better.

5. National programming czar. Appoint a national programming chair to help pro and student chapters stage programs.

6. Online auction. Do an online auction in advance of the national convention to raise additional money for LDF.

7. Film premiere fundraiser. Line up a journalism-themed movie premiere as an SDX or LDF fundraiser.

8. Honor our volunteers. Volunteers are the glue that holds SPJ together. Honor their service with a volunteer-of-the-month award.

9. Listening tour. Executive committee members, where invited, listen in on local chapter meetings by phone.

10. Sponsor international journalists. Invite foreign journalists from the Alfred Friendly Press Fellowship to SPJ regional conferences.

The president’s take

This is SPJ President John Ensslin’s explanation of why Region 3 Director Michael Koretzky was asked to remove a blog post about a University of Georgia student press issue. And this is the letter Ensslin wrote to the student newspaper board expressing SPJ’s concerns.

As I suspected, there was a misunderstanding between Ensslin and Koretzky about the purpose of a fact-finding trip Koretzky arranged to gather information about the University of Georgia dispute. Koretzky said he told Ensslin about the trip as a courtesy. Ensslin said he was counting on Koretzky to report back to him so SPJ could formulate an official statement and didn’t like that Koretzky posted something on his own first.

Both approaches in this case have merit (quick and punchy; deliberate and thorough), but Koretzky is right that it’s strange for SPJ to be silent on a controversy as it’s unfolding, then issue a statement a few days after it was resolved.

I don’t think reaction and commentary needed to be either/or.

I go back to a central point in the dispute: whether Koretzky’s post could be interpreted as representing SPJ as a whole. I didn’t read it that way. But, by all means, add a “This is one person’s opinion” disclaimer, if it would help.

A contrast in styles

A battle over prior review and editorial freedom at The Red & Black, an independent school newspaper at the University of Georgia, apparently has ended.

A separate conflict within SPJ that developed along the way still lingers.

Michael Koretzky, SPJ’s director for Region 3, which includes Georgia, sent Katherine Tippins, a journalist, to the University of Georgia last week to investigate what was happening and report back. Koretzky posted and commented on her findings.

According to Koretzky, SPJ President John Ensslin, who knew about Tippins’ trip, asked him to take the blog post down. Koretzky protested on his Region 3 blog and his personal blog.

I wondered if there had been a misunderstanding between them about whether Tippins was an emissary for SPJ as a whole or for Koretzky as the regional director.


This is actually my third attempt to comment on this conflict on my blog. My second try was Tuesday morning, but I waited so I could hear Ensslin’s side. I’m glad I did. He emailed it to me Tuesday night; it’s posted below.

As I suspected, Koretzky and Ensslin had different expectations.

Koretzky says he arranged the trip and mentioned it as a courtesy to Ensslin, who seemed to approve.

Ensslin wanted a thorough investigation and a reasoned response from SPJ as a whole. He thought Koretzky agreed on that plan.

Koretzky didn’t. He told me he would have “politely declined” and found someone else to help if the plan was to wait for an SPJ statement at some unknown future date.
I read Koretzky’s post before he shifted it to his personal blog. It was blunt and lively, as is his style. I interpreted the comments to be his own, and not presented as an official SPJ position. I saw nothing wrong with it, but knew it would make some people bristle.
As a journalist whose career started at an independent college newspaper, I was interested in what unfolded in Georgia. Koretzky’s post, based on Tippins’ research, helped me understand the dynamics, even though it came with a point of view.

I wondered: What freedoms and boundaries do regional directors have?

They are elected by a small percentage of the members of their region – whoever attends the regional meetings at the national convention. For Region 2, that might mean maybe 30 people deciding an RD on behalf of at least several hundred. (This year’s switch to One Member, One Vote will improve that process.)

As members of the national board, RDs are sometimes placed on committees or assigned tasks. That might mean reporting to the president, as Koretzky quoted Ensslin saying in their exchange.

It’s worth noting that Koretzky and Tippins acted quickly, something SPJ – anchored by volunteers with busy lives – doesn’t always do. (I include myself in that category).
The need for speed has long been debated in SPJ. I heard that criticism when I was chairman of the SPJ Ethics Committee. We were an opinionated, deliberative bunch. Some critics saw us as talking too much among ourselves and not enough to the outside world.
During my time on the committee, an SPJ officer once urged us to get comments out quickly on journalism ethics issues, so SPJ could be part of the “news cycle.”
But, some committee members, including me, were skeptical and didn’t want to make the obvious scold, over and over, just for the sake of it. We hoped to craft something insightful, to further a public discussion.
Sometimes, we did well, shining light and reason on poor ethics. Other times, we’d end up talking among ourselves too much.
Creating an Ethics Committee blog was helpful. It allowed us (frequently me) to post whatever story of the day and add a quick comment. Maybe that was the middle ground we needed.
Which brings me back to Koretzky and Ensslin. This conflict illustrates different styles. Neither is necessarily wrong. (As an aside, I like and respect both men. I think we all attended the Ted Scripps Leadership Institute together.)
Allowing Koretzky to comment, of course, didn’t preclude SPJ from issuing an official statement, as well.
Ensslin told me that statement will go out today (Wednesday). I suspect that Koretzky will question the point – the Red & Black mess already has been sorted out.

This is the email Ensslin sent me Tuesday night:

Hi Andy,
Here’s a bit more about what happened:

This is a case where I felt it was important for SPJ to speak with one voice when addressing a troubling incident.

My practice as SPJ president has been to do a fair amount of due diligence and fact gathering before writing a letter that states the Society’s concerns or outrage on any particular issue.

Call me old school, but it’s no different that when I write a story for The Record. I interview as many of the stakeholders as possible and then write the story.

This is not a new practice with me. It’s been a tradition among previous SPJ presidents as well.

Often I rely upon our chapter leaders or regional directors to assist me in this fact-finding process.

So for example, when a Temple University photojournalism student was arrested this spring while taking pictures for a class assignment, I consulted both with Luther Turmelle and the president of the SPJ Philadelphia chapter president before writing a letter of protest to the police commissioner.

In the Georgia case, I turned to Michael as Region 3 director and Neil Ralston, our VP for campus chapter affairs for their guidance.

Unfortunately, either Michael  misunderstood his role or I failed to clearly communicate it to him. Rather than report back to me with his findings, he chose to post both them to his regional director blog.

This presented two problems. First, Michael already has come under criticism for not attempting to at least interview some of the stakeholders in this case before reaching his conclusions.

Second, by posting them to an SPJ hosted blog, it would be easy for readers to mistake Michael’s opinions as a statement of SPJ’s position in the matter.

For those reasons, I asked him to take down the blog post, which he did, albeit under protest.

I don’t necessarily disagree with any of Michael’s findings. But I did feel the need to ask some additional questions before delivering an opinion that will be SPJ’s position in this matter.

I have crafted an SPJ response to this case, which will be going out tomorrow.


UPDATE to Endorsements, Inc.

SPJ President John Ensslin emailed me yesterday to clarify his position on the limits for current national board members in connection with candidate campaigns.

Newly written campaign guidelines say “5. Current national SPJ board members should remain neutral in all elections.”

During Saturday’s SPJ Executive Committee meeting in Washington, D.C., I asked if there were more specific guidelines, such as whether and how board members could “friend,” “like” or “follow” candidates on social media.

Ensslin told me there were not, that the guidelines were purposely left broad.

But he realized later that he and I were talking about two different things. Here’s what he wrote yesterday in an email, which he gave me permission to post:

“Andy I misunderstood you when we were talking Saturday.
I thought you were referring to your Facebook page, not your campaign’s Facebook page.
Sorry for the misunderstanding, but I could see where some would think that friending a campaign page would amount to an endorsement.
So my advice to board members would be to refrain from doing so.
Being a friend on a personal Facebook page, however does not seem like a problem.
Again, sorry for the misunderstanding.
I agree with this sentiment. I’m usually outnumbered when this conversation comes up in the context of journalists connecting with sources, but I consider the word “friend” on Facebook to be just as it sounds – or carrying that perception, at least – and I don’t “friend” people I cover.
But, as I pointed out in my previous post about this, SPJ has created election guidelines (“should” vs. “shall”), not rules, so board members may do as they see fit.
During a brief email thread about this among national board members yesterday, no one objected to board members following candidates on Twitter. “Following” was not seen as an endorsement.