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.

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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.

John

The right balance on dues

For a membership organization, increasing dues is rarely easy.

Last year, SPJ raised its dues a little more than 4 percent, effective Jan. 1 of this year. For pro members, the annual membership fee increased from $72 to $75.

Under Article 13 of SPJ’s bylaws, the board of directors can approve an increase of 5 percent. Any proposal for a larger increase must go to the convention delegates.

A proposes dues increase wasn’t the most controversial issue at last year’s national convention, but there was some opposition. I remember some Connecticut Pro members speaking against it.

To me, the increase sounded reasonable. Here is the justification SPJ headquarters gave to members:

What was the reason?
Costs of nearly everything SPJ does have climbed since the last dues increase 10 years ago. Failing to keep pace could force the organization into a much more aggressive dues increase down the road. Furthermore, dues revenue is the easiest to predict – making it the least “volatile” revenue stream SPJ currently has. This is important in budgeting from year to year, and also in long-term planning (10 to 15 years down the line) for SPJ’s long-term stability and financial health.

The last change in dues, HQ said, was a $2 increase in 2002.

I am on the board of another journalism organization, the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors. (I am a former weekly newspaper editor.) ISWNE’s board had a similar discussion at our annual conference this summer. Dues had been at the same level – $50 – for many years. We realized we would have a new expense for insurance coverage.

The ISWNE board talked about a few possibilities and settled on a $10 increase for the coming year. The membership approved it.

I don’t support raising dues every few years just for the sake of doing it. But freezing dues for a long time at one level, as SPJ HQ noted, could lead to a large increase at some point.

I’d like to hear from opponents of the dues increase. What would you have done differently?

Fair use: a quick quiz

This news is several months old, but I noticed only the other day that SPJ agreed to work with the Center for Social Media and the Washington College of Law’s Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property “on creating a set of principles on journalistic application of fair use.”

Many journalists don’t realize how important fair use is in their work and journalism as a whole.

Try the short quiz. Notice the question on whether it’s OK to post a full newspaper story on a blog. Does it matter if you, posting the newspaper’s work, are a commercial enterprise?

The Center for Social Media already has released a report called “Copyright, Free Speech, and the Public’s Right to Know: How Journalists Think About Fair Use.” The report can be found at http://www.centerforsocialmedia.org/journalism. Click on the PDF link at the bottom of the page.

 

A super super conference?

In a story posted Monday about the National Association of Hispanic Journalists overturning a ban on social media reporting at board meetings, I noticed an interesting nugget that ties in to the Society of Professional Journalists.

The story says NAHJ “plans to explore holding its 2013 convention in Anaheim, Calif., in conjunction with the already-scheduled joint meeting of the Radio Television Digital News Association and the Society of Professional Journalists, perhaps adding CCNMA: Latino Journalists of California.”

Excellence in Journalism 2012, scheduled for Sept. 20 to 22 in Fort Lauderdale, will mark the second straight year SPJ and the Radio Television Digital News Association have held a joint national conference. I thought last year’s conference in New Orleans was a success.

If NAHJ joins SPJ and RTDNA, are we on a path toward one giant, supreme journalism conference?

There’s probably a tipping point where too large of a gathering no longer makes sense and loses the individual flavor specialized associations want.

But conferences are expensive. If we can share the costs, perhaps we can keep registration fees down and offer more programs.

Enshrined while alive

If you’re Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer, do you still want the Joe Paterno Award, as best college football coach in the country?

Not so much. Beamer decided to put it in a drawer, out of sight.

This angle in the Penn State story made me think about SPJ’s controversial decision to stop giving a Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award because of comments she made about Israel and Zionists. (To be clear, I am not comparing Thomas’s comments to Paterno’s apparent dereliction of moral duty.)

A group of SPJers tried to revive the Thomas award, but a majority of delegates at last year’s national convention rejected the proposed reinstatement.

I was part of that group trying for reinstatment, and believe it was wrong for a journalism group – committed to and respecting of free speech – to get rid of a lifetime achievement award solely because of comments the namesake made while she was a columnist and later a private citizen.

But I’m not mentioning the Paterno Award and the Thomas Award here to dredge up that debate (which had passionate, well-meaning people on both sides).

Instead, amid the Penn State scandal, I am reminded of an important issue: naming awards, buildings and so on after living people. We have no guarantees they won’t sully their names later in life, and where does that leave us?

I wrote about this in a column for the September/October 2010 Quill, before Thomas made the second round of comments, which led to the end of the award named after her.

I asked: “Should awards (or anything else of note) be named after people?” Also: “Consider the Postal Service, which says: ‘No living person shall be honored by portrayal on U.S. postage.'”

I suggest that SPJ consider the same approach as the Postal Service – before there is a next time.