Name-change update: Process ongoing

In Anaheim last fall, the SPJ delegates instructed the board to discuss the ramifications of changing our name to the Society for Professional Journalism. Here is an update of where we’ve been and where we are going:

  • Last fall I appointed a 10-member task force, led by former SPJ President John Ensslin, to gather member feedback and provide recommendations to the Executive Committee. They conducted surveys and focus groups, and solicited email comments.
  • John provided the task force report on Jan. 7 and the Executive Committee looked at it on Jan. 18. You can read the report, which starts on page 18. Basically, the task force didn’t find strong support for a name change, particularly among long-time members (see Romenesko, too). The Executive Committee forwarded the report to the full board. In the meantime this year, the task force will be looking at ways of how SPJ can better serve under-30 members and provide specific suggestions this summer.
  • Members can continue to talk about the issue. As more information/arguments circulate then the discussion will likely evolve. For example, following my November/December Quill column on the subject I had some members let me know that they initially opposed the idea but now think it’s worth talking about. Region 3 Director Michael Koretzky, who proposed the resolution in Anaheim, continues to blog about the topic.
  • The SPJ Board will discuss the issue at its meeting April 26. The board can choose to make a recommendation to the delegates, or do nothing. I imagine there will be some healthy debate, including talk about the future of SPJ and what we can do to strengthen the organization and journalism.
  • More discussion will likely ensue, and it is possible someone will bring it up at the national convention in September in Nashville. I have no idea what the delegates will do, if anything. It’s their call. Maybe they will vote on a resolution. Regardless, the talk could continue for years.
  • In the meantime, we will continue to work on what we need to do: get communities going to increase member networking capabilities, fight for a federal shield law and on behalf of journalists, increase training opportunities, improve SPJ’s communications, update the code of ethics, foster collaborations with other journalism organizations, and continue doing great work in diversity, FOI, ethics and other core issues. That’s what we do!



Raise the shield! Contact your U.S. senator today!

We’ve never been closer to getting a federal shield law to protect journalists from abusive government power. But we all must act now or we will lose the opportunity.

Go to and get your senators’ phone numbers and email. Call them and ask the senator or a staffer if the senator would vote in favor of S.987 the Free Flow of Information Act. Note the person you talk to and what they say, including why they wouldn’t if they plan on voting no. Then fill out the form on the SPJ website to report your findings.

We are compiling this whip count to get a sense for the level of support. This will make a difference in whether the bill is put up for a vote on the Senate floor. A lot of work has gone on behind the scenes to craft a compromise bill. It isn’t perfect – it’s not what everyone likes. But I believe, as do most media law scholars, that it will do more good than harm. (See

Let’s finish this by Valentine’s Day. Charge!!!!!!


Yee-haw! Lots of news from Nashville

This past weekend the SPJ Executive Committee met in Nashville, the site of the fall national convention, to work through a variety of issues that could affect SPJ long-term. Feel free to check out the meeting, which was streamed live, at, as well as supporting documents, including my president’s report, at Here’s a recap:

  • Ethics Code. The update to the Code of Ethics is on schedule. We hope to have a proposal for members to discuss at their regional conferences in the spring, then for delegates to consider at the national convention in Nashville in September. Thanks to Kevin Smith and the Ethics Committee for their continued work on this.
  • Name Change. The Name Change Task Force provided its report and recommended no change. The executive committee is forwarding that information to the full board to discuss at its April meeting, as directed by the delegates. In the meantime, the task force has taken up a new mission – to examine how to better serve members under 30. Specific recommendations will be provided to the Executive Committee by its summer meeting in June.
  • Shield Law. I let the committee know that we are poised and ready to help promote the federal shield law this spring if it goes to a vote in the U.S. Senate. Stay tuned!
  • Freelance Community. The Freelance Committee is close to morphing into a new community within the next few months. Once its web materials are ready to go we’ll promote the awesome opportunities for networking by our freelance members.
  • Auto Dues. Director Joe Skeel said the auto payment system for annual dues should be easily available online by this spring. We need to upgrade the server to make that happen. In the meantime, members can call SPJ headquarters to sign up if they wish. I am paying my dues, as well as tax-deductible contributions to SDX, monthly out of my credit card and it’s great!
  • Website. Look for improvements to the Website during the next few months. Some changes will make it easier for members, and prospective members, to find information. Ultimately, a significant redesign should help. Thanks to president-elect Dana Neuts for taking the lead on this, with SPJ online guru Billy O’Keefe.
  • Grants. One SDX grant proposal came to the committee, regarding Zombie Stories, from Region 3 Director Michael Koretzky. The committee unanimously recommended the SDX Foundation approve the $3,000 request to spread this reporting education via zombies throughout the nation.
  • Stipends. The committee unanimously approved a recommendation to the full board to adjust travel stipends for officers and regional directors. The committee felt that stipends should help defray costs for required travel, and that the board should come up with a process so board members who exceed their stipends can apply for relief if there is unused stipend funds available at the end of the year.
  • Membership. We are working hard to improve membership. For example, the executive committee thought it might make sense for regional directors to focus more on serving individual members in their regions than on chapters, since SPJ has a full-time staff member dedicated to developing chapters. Given half of SPJ members aren’t affiliated with chapters, this could help membership without detracting from chapter services. We are committed to helping chapters succeed. Also, SPJ hired a college student to call people whose memberships lapsed. Early indication appears that the student could conservatively retain 100-200 members a year, which has the potential to stabilize membership numbers. Of course, we continue to work on quality training and other services so people feel their membership is valuable.
  • Openness. I asked the executive director to find out what our lawyers suggest for recording executive committee and board meetings. SPJ policy dating back to the 1990s says meetings shall not be recorded, but I disagree with that. Currently we stream them online and leave them posted on YouTube for some time, but eventually remove them. I feel we should stream them live and archive them forever so members can see them anytime. I think that is important for governance and historical records preservation. What do we have to hide?
  • Executive session. Speaking of hiding, there are appropriate times to have executive session meetings in secret, as we allow in open meeting laws (SPJ isn’t subject to open meeting laws but we try to follow the spirit of them, since we are always hounding public officials to operate openly). We went into executive session to discuss personnel (talk about nominees for officer positions) and to discuss strategic planning for the future of the organization. I will provide a summary in the next month or two for the full board so we can move the discussions forward. Here’s a preview:
    • Advocacy/communications. I believe SPJ should take a stronger role in advocating for journalism, including lobbying in Congress and legislatures. We are very strong financially, with a healthy rainy-day fund, and we might be able to hire a full-time communications director to improve communications to members, prospective members, the public, and policy makers. This is exciting. I’m hopeful we will be able to hire someone this spring. I also would like to create an endowed fund to ensure fighting for journalists’ rights forever. Read my next Quill column next month about this!
    • Organizational management. SPJ has fostered amazing partnerships with other journalism groups, including IRE, NAHJ and RTDNA. We have an incredible staff that can handle membership paperwork, conference planning, and other technical work that financially hobbles smaller organizations. Our ability to take on those kinds of jobs, at a reasonable rate, has helped other organizations thrive while bringing in tens of thousands of dollars to help our own members. We will be talking about how we can continue building each other up because when we do we help all journalists. This is a philosophical shift – rather than feeling like we have to compete against each other for members, let’s talk about how we can all work together to foster journalism and grow. We’ve seen some great win-win collaborations that have helped other organizations and SPJ at the same time. More to come!

Live from home: Streaming federal trials (finally!)

Kudos to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for deciding to stream big federal trials live on the Internet beginning next week, the first federal court to do so.

It’s about time! You can watch Congress on C-SPAN and most city council meetings on public access cable, but the courts have been squeamish about airing their proceedings live for the public. I suppose they got gun shy following the O.J. Simpson trial in 1995. (By the way, for a good journalist’s guide to covering federal courts, check this out from the Ninth Circuit, or dozens of guides from Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press).

kozinski_thumbChief Judge Alex Kozinski, I applaud you, and stay strong even if you run into a situation where it is uncomfortable to be seen by millions. You can handle the Lance Ito heat.

This is particularly timely when the White House is under fire for controlling visual images of the president – telling photographers they can’t take pictures of the president in meetings with important people and then releasing official White House photos of the events. Mr. President, tear down that visual wall!




Urghhhhhhhh: innovation, brain good

NEW ORLEANS – Journalism is NOT dead. It’s un-dead.

And not in the rotting kind of way. I mean it will never die, because people will always need information about their communities and world – gathered, vetted and delivered by credible and ethical wordsmiths.


And you should see me with makeup…

About 75 college journalism students had the chance to practice those skills at an innovative event created by SPJ Region 3 Director Michael Koretzky and former national SPJ board member Gideon Grudo. They called it Zombie Stories, and I had the honor to witness it Saturday in New Orleans with my own decaying eyes.

The students, donning special white T-shirts, interviewed local zombies. If the students asked good questions then their brains were spared. If not, the zombies splashed blood on their shirts. The best questions were judged and winners honored.

Koretzky had me done up zombie-style to serve, and it was a hoot. Nobody asked “How do you feel?” which is good because I was, well, a zombie. Some asked how I came to be a zombie and, of course, I had to say it evolved gradually as a corporate newsroom manager. A lot of students seem fixated on how zombies have sex, and all I could say is there is a lot of moaning and groaning involved.

I was thoroughly impressed with the students and the programming. Koretzky has helped create other amazing activities, such as Will Write for Food. We need this kind of bright thinking more than ever in journalism, particularly with the fracturing of journalism organizations, such as College Media Association and Associated Collegiate Press.

More on that later this week, and how we as journalism groups should seek more collaborations, not separations.


How do you define ‘journalist’? Focus on social role

What the heck is a “journalist,” anyway?

We’ve grappled with that question for centuries, and it’s even more pressing given the pending federal shield law and changing nature of media.

Two academics took a crack at it by examining the definitions of ‘journalist’ in state shield laws and trade organization membership rules, including SPJ’s rules. Their research was published Monday in the N.Y.U. Journal of Legislation and Public Policy.

The conclusion? It’s a sticky mess.

Jonathan Peters and Edson C. Tandoc, Jr., culled through a variety of sources to boil down the most common definition of journalist (p. 61): “A journalist is someone employed to regularly engage in gathering, processing, and disseminating (activities) news and information (output) to serve the public interest (social role).”

Peters and Tandoc rightly noted there are problems with how that definition has evolved, particularly when we talk about employment – that the person’s primary source of livelihood comes from journalistic activities. That excludes a lot of people who commit acts of journalism on their own time for the good of the public, or freelancers who might work a non-journalistic job to pay the bills.

Even SPJ’s bylaws definition of a professional membership is “Those who are… principally engaged… in directing the editorial policy or editing and preparing news and editorial content of independent news media products… students engaged in the study of these skills, and journalism educators.” That doesn’t necessarily mean “employed,” but it does rule out a lot of people who are doing professional journalism.

I just had a student tell me he was offered a job at a TV station for $8 an hour. If he takes it he’ll probably have to work another job, and under the employment definition wouldn’t be considered a journalist. That’s not right.

The two researchers agree that a better definition needs to be created.

Personally, I think we should lose the “principally employed” and “regularly engage” elements and focus on what journalism is really about: providing people the information they need to self-govern (Kovach and Rosenstiel’s definition).

The bottom line is journalism is about making the world a better place. It’s a social role, whether you get paid to do it or do it for love. Whether you do it 60 hours a week, or five hours a week. A journalist is independent, loyal to the citizen, verifies and informs.

That’s what matters – not what is listed on a W-2 form.



The SPJ brand: Sizzling or fizzling?

This past weekend I had the honor of visiting the Fort Worth, Texas, SPJ chapter, checking out the Stockyards, eating cowboy cuisine with Eddye Gallagher, Kim Pewitt-Jones, Rebecca Aguilar and others, and receiving a branding iron as a memento.

I flew coach to Fort Worth on Saturday to visit the SPJ chapter. I think it was more cramped than this coach parked in the Stockyards.

I flew coach to Fort Worth, Texas, on Saturday to visit the SPJ chapter. I think the plane was more cramped and uncomfortable than this coach parked in the Stockyards.

You gotta  love Texas, one of the world’s greatest nation-states. Now, I don’t plan to brand anything with my iron, but I know ranchers rely on a strong label to distinguish their cattle from their neighbors’ cattle.

So what distinguishes SPJ from our neighboring journalism organizations? What is OUR brand?

We are going to figure that out. Brian Eckert, former Region 2 director, will lead a group this year to examine the communications and brand of SPJ, to see how people view the organization and whether we are missing out on prospective members. In a related effort, former SPJ president John Ensslin will lead a task force to discuss the pros and cons of changing the name to the Society for Professional Journalism, as requested by the delegates at the national convention in August.

Both efforts will require us to ask ourselves some tough questions. Who are we and who do we want to be?

Journalism is evolving, and SPJ has always evolved. After all, we are no longer the college fraternity we started as, and we have continued to change to reflect the needs of society and journalism. There were times when we haven’t changed very fast (e.g., first women admitted to the society in 1969. Really?!?). We must stay relevant and flexible, yet remain firm in our convictions for ethics, diversity, freedom of information and helping journalists do their jobs better.

I welcome this discussion, and I hope it is followed by action that is meaningful, concrete and constructive. As we get started I will post more information about how you can get involved.

It will take all of us to forge this SPJ brand!




4 out of 5 media law experts: ‘Yes’ on federal shield law

I’ve been reading the coverage/analysis of the proposed federal shield law, the Free Flow of Information Act, and it reminds me a little of global warming.

Remember for decades how journalists framed global warming, providing “fair and balanced” coverage by giving equal weight to scientists who said there’s a lot of evidence it is occurring, and to those few scientists who said it isn’t? That left citizens confused, shrugging their shoulders and feeling unmoved to change behavior.

We are doing it again with the shield law, as we’ve done before. And I’m concerned. Journalism – and citizens – will lose if members of Congress do not understand that the current legislation should be passed. No confusion about it.

Now, I appreciate healthy debate. It’s imperative we seek truth and report it. And clearly the law isn’t everything journalists would want – just like any legislation there is compromise involved. I acknowledge concerns raised by TechDirt, The Nation, and US News (my quotes included), and the point intimated by Eric Newton that criticism is to be welcomed. I get that.

But sometimes you just gotta go into that booth and pull the lever. Yes or no. That’s what Congress will have to do this fall. Should they vote yes or no? While I research and teach freedom of information as an academic, I know enough to know that there are other people who know far more than me.  So I sought out five people who are truly experts on shield laws. These people have devoted much of their lives to understanding the history, law, implications and nuances of reporter’s privilege. There are few people in the WORLD better versed and knowledgeable on the subject than these five.

I sent each an email and asked: Would the proposed federal shield law, if passed, overall, be a benefit to journalists? Yes or no?

  • RonNell Andersen Jones, law professor at Brigham Young University who has conducted extensive surveys of journalists about local and federal subpoenas: “Yes”
  • Anthony Fargo, media law professor at Indiana University who has published legal research regarding reporter’s privilege: “Yes”
  • Lucy Dalglish, journalism dean of the University of Maryland and former director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press who worked for years defending journalists against federal subpoenas: “Yes”
  • Clay Calvert, University of Florida media law professor, media law textbook author, and one of the most prolific, respected and cited legal scholars in the field: “Yes”
  • Jane Kirtley, longtime media law scholar at the University of Minnesota and former RCFP director: “No”

Of course, being academics, they couldn’t restrain themselves to a yes or no, and they expanded their answers. Jane Kirtley, for example, explained that the current bill would not provide sufficient protection in national security leak investigations, and that we are unlikely to get an opportunity to amend a problematic law any time in the foreseeable future. RonNell Andersen Jones mirrored a lot of thinking by writing, “It’s better than a kick in the teeth.” Lucy Dalglish pointed out its tangible benefits, some explained Sept. 29 by David Carr from The New York Times, and the success we’ve seen with shield laws at the state level.

So not to squelch debate, because we should still talk about the law and question it (that’s what journalists do!). But when it comes down to it, each member of Congress needs to make that single determination, yes or no.

So I offer to you, members of Congress, plain and simple without distraction, rhetoric or padding, that 4 out of 5 media law experts recommend passing the Free Flow of Information Act of 2013.

It took decades of debate for Americans to realize climate change is happening, is important, and needs immediate attention. Let’s not wait that long on the shield law. Pass it.


Ring around the Hosey – circling the wagons and waiting for appeal

Joseph Hosey has a breather. At least for now.

Last week the reporter would have faced a $1,000 fine, $300 per day and perhaps jail until he coughed up his sources regarding a murder trial he is covering. On Friday, Judge Gerald Kinney agreed to a stay while Hosey appeals the contempt of court ruling.

That means Hosey will wait while his case is reviewed by the Illinois Court of Appeals, maybe a few months or so. No fines or jail until the matter is settled.

Fortunately, Hosey has legal counsel and a load of supporters behind him, from the SPJ Chicago Headline Club, to SPJ Florida, to SPJ national, all willing to provide financial support, amicus briefs, and whatever else is necessary to achieve justice.

We’ve suggested to Hosey that he apply for help from SPJ’s Legal Defense Fund but so far he hasn’t needed it. We’ve also offered to parachute in and create a media blitz to raise attention, like we did in Utah with the 2011 Black Hole Award presented to the Legislature and governor. We don’t want our efforts to backfire – each case is different – so we are taking Hosey’s lead and stand ready to help when he asks.

I ask that you do the same. Stand up for journalism, speak out, support LDF, and help SPJ hold the line on the First Amendment!



‘Covered Journalists’: Federal shield law language a good compromise

How in the world do you define a journalist?

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee attempted to do it in 837 words. It’s an ambitious task, and I’m not really comfortable defining “covered journalist,” but in the big scheme of things the definition could be a lot worse.

Today the federal shield law bill (Free Flow of Information Act of 2013, S. 987) passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee, 13-5, and it included amended language defining who is entitled to reporter’s privilege. The definition is really broad, as it should be. It includes college journalists, freelancers, bloggers (particularly those with traditional legacy media experience in the past 20 years), anyone working for a “news website” and just about anyone else gathering information and disseminating it for the public good. It specifically excludes terrorists and there is language that would exclude groups like Wikileaks.

And it has a safety valve: If there is disagreement a judge can decide.

This is a lot better than what was previously proposed, which made it sound like a journalist is someone with a “press” hat, notepad and pen, works for a newspaper and yells across rooms, “Hildy, get me that copy, now!” Journalism is a little more nuanced today.

But the gist is still the same: To collect and disseminate information so the people can self-govern. This shield law would help protect that mission. I personally thank Sens. Dianne Feinstein, Dick Durbin, Patrick Leahy and Chuck Schumer for working out a compromise.

Stay tuned at the SPJ Shield Law page as we follow the details, figure out who will support it and who will oppose it, and let you know how you can have your say!





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