Home > SPJ News > SPJ President Hagit Limor’s installation speech

SPJ News
Latest SPJ News | RSS

SPJ President Hagit Limor’s installation speech


For Immediate Release:

Hagit Limor, SPJ President, (513) 852-4012, hlimor@spj.org
Andrew M. Scott, SPJ Communications Coordinator, (317) 927-8000 ext. 215, ascott@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS - The Society of Professional Journalists recently installed its 2010-11 president, Hagit Limor, an investigative reporter for WCPO-TV in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Her induction took place on Tuesday, Oct. 5, the final night of the 2010 SPJ Convention & National Journalism Conference.

Below is the speech Limor delivered at the installation and awards banquet:

It's hard to follow up after an evening that recognized such luminaries in our organization. I'm humbled to stand here, yet looking forward to a year of service to all of you and to the calling we've chosen.

Thank you to my family, friends and colleagues who've entrusted your faith in me:

My husband Jeff, who allows me the time to devote to SPJ and who picks up the slack with our 5-year-old, Jake.

My parents Lea and Menachem Limor, sister, brother and other family and family friends who've made the trip.

My company, E.W. Scripps, for recognizing the value of time spent fighting for journalism. And all of you who have served as my mentors, guides and friends.

We're all here for a reason. Some people say we are born on a path to our destiny; Some say we make that path. Either way, we all have been drawn to this room, at this moment, by a common denominator. We believe. We believe we have a mission -- not just a right, but a duty -- to ensure journalism remains a watchdog -- with teeth, not just bark. We believe in the Fourth Estate, as the only check and balance that can preserve our democracy. We're not fighting for jobs. We're fighting for our way of life. We believe.

We believe this even as others have lost faith in journalism as a credible, respectable institution.

It's beyond the way we're portrayed in movies and on tv shows, shown violating every part of the Ethics Code true journalists hold so dear. It's beyond polls that show people trust journalists the same as they trust lawyers, which is to say, not so much. There's been a blurring in public perception for quite some time between infotainment - tabloid magazines and shows - versus mainstream media. But it's grown astronomically with "opinion-tv" networks and blogs, some credible, some not, all lumped together in the public eye.

Here's one example:

I get all kinds of industry news and tips sent my way but several weeks ago I got one that stood out. It was a news release for a new website called parishiltoncocaine.com. Sort of fitting to be talking about it here in Vegas a month after Paris Hilton "grabbed someone else's purse by mistake". All this comes from police public records, in case you missed it. The heiress and her boyfriend were driving in his car on the Strip just down the block from here when a police officer noticed smoke and the smell of marijuana emanating from said vehicle. He arrested Paris and her boyfriend, who ran the Wynn casino, and at the jail Paris was trying to fix her lips - because isn't THAT a priority when police are questioning you - when a vial of cocaine spilled out of the purse. Never has the quest for lip balm cost so much.

So now this man in Oregon decided he'd had enough. Here's the news release I got: Dateline: Portland. "Repeated criminal acts committed by the heiress Paris Hilton have recently required me to fight back online against a clear and present danger to our peace and dignity. ParisHiltonCocaine.com lets users publish anything they want... knowing they will not be censored... because I have more important things to do than babysit people on the internet," says George O'Brien, the creator of the site.

He goes on to say: "It's an unrestricted forum... A site that required just the re-copying of pre-built code already deployed elsewhere... to create a public service to last a lifetime."

Just recopy the pre-built code. Welcome to the World of Publishing 2010. Is it journalism? There are people in this room who will argue both sides of that question. But it's part of the landscape that we tread at this time in journalistic history... And yet, we believe.

We believe even in the face of tyranny.
(Outgoing president) Kevin (Smith) and I just got back from a trip to Qatar, a neighbor of Saudi Arabia, to inaugurate our first international student chapter at Northwestern University's campus there. To call it eye-opening would minimize the experience, but what I took away most hits home to all of us in this room. The 55 budding journalists who just joined our ranks are embracing a career that in many of their countries requires pure bravery. There is no free press. Yet, they're studying journalism and producing it. I saw stories behind the veil, literally and figuratively. They've found the liberating power of truth. They have the chance to change their countries in profound ways, the way journalism helped shape our country centuries ago.

When was the last time you felt such passion, such endless possibility? Such danger? It made me feel like reaching back to that fluttering feeling in my gut the first time I wrote a story that made for change in my community, nothing like the change these students may provoke, but still, an impact, however small, however fleeting. That's why we got in this business. That's why we fight through the Legal Defense Fund, the Freedom of Information Committee and Government Relations Committee.

We're under attack, from the smallest communities to our federal government. Getting information is getting tougher, with illegal denials of public records and decreasing access to public officials.

FOI Committee chair David Cuillier travelled 32 states in 45 days preaching the Gospel of Access to all who would listen, but also listening to more than 1,000 journalists and citizens interested in getting public information to the public. He concluded:

"Law enforcement has gone too far: In town after town one theme emerged consistently – police agencies have steadily become more and more secretive over the past 20 years. We have the equivalent of secret police in towns throughout the nation – where nothing is available until it hits the courts, or unless a PIO wants to divulge information. Even jail logs are kept secret and scanner frequencies encrypted."

That's just the police. Try getting access to government officials. Often, it's only on their terms, unless you want to ambush. You shouldn't have to; they're public officials.

Then there are the courts increasingly ruling to deny records open in the past. The Legal Defense Fund Committee deals with challenges that sometimes leave us scratching our heads, "How could any judge have said no?" Two cases just in the past few weeks:

A West Virginia court had ruled that signatures for a voter referendum would not be considered public documents under the state’s freedom of information laws. Thankfully the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals over-ruled the decision, but only after a significant delay to the paper. Delays can make issues moot.

Another case: the LDF Committee signed to support the Maryland NAACP in a request any reporter could have made, for access to a police investigation into racial profiling allegations. The Maryland state police said no, that the complaints were "personnel records", even 'though they had no details about the trooper's private life, only how he acted on duty engaged in public service. An appeals court overturned; now the Maryland Supreme Court gets to decide.

We have to fight back, to win not only public perception but judicial respect. That's why this next year we'll push to expand access training to the tens of thousands of journalists across the United States who, as Dave Cuillier says, don't even know SPJ exists. They work at weeklies and small dailies. We want to reach new journalists too. And high school journalism students. We want to launch a campaign called "Take Back Our Police" to expose the secrecy and teach how to combat it, and perhaps start a new "Black Hole" award - the opposite of our "Sunshine Award" - to highlight the worst of open government.

I know one man sitting in this room who's lived through the opposite of open government, a victim of one of the greatest censoring acts of all time. How do you kill six million people and no one knows for 7 years, between 1938 and 1945? The press was silenced until American and other troops revealed to the public what governments already knew. The troops saw the concentration camps, and told their families and friends. My father survived Buchenwald. The majority of his family - my family - did not survive. We're talking about a man whose education stopped with the Nazi invasion when he was only eight, yet whom I grew up watching devour newspapers front to back every day, and he could do it in six languages. Ask him why we have to fight for press rights, for access to government officials and records, for the right to visualize what some want to hide.

That's why we believe.

We believe even in the face of the most difficult times.

I don't need to start reciting the numbers. Well, maybe a few, for some of the "great unwashed" in this room. We lost 12,000 journalism jobs since January 2007, according to Columbia Journalism Review. Newspapers, magazines gone. The share of those watching network nightly news has dropped by about half since the early '90s. Fewer reporters travel with the president. Newsholes have shrunk. All these reflect pure budget issues that lead to journalistic dilemmas.

The academics in the room have faced challenges to the curriculum. Colorado University-Boulder just announced it's going to discontinue its School of Journalism and Mass Communication. It's not that there aren't students. It's that the school instead will build an Information and Communication Technology school. I hope they remember to put the journalism back in. Around the country, many companies also are focusing on the technology - not what it transmits, not the people who transmit it.

Yet all around us a new journalism is emerging, some in mainstream newsrooms, some in new ventures open to new audiences. Jobs are being created. Just Thursday, EW Scripps announced a new Scripps Fellows program. They're hiring 40 young journalists across the country. The same day, the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity announced a new website to provide news from the nation's state capitols, filling a void as newspapers have cut statehouse bureaus.

While most media outlets have restructured their newsrooms toward the futures they foresee, startup news sites are booming. Some involve "pro-am" journalism, where professionals work with citizen journalists. Michael Gartner, former Wall Street Journal Page One editor says, "It's not death; it's transformation of distribution." But someone still needs to gather the news.

Why? Because the truth is that 81 percent of Americans say they follow the news "some, most or all of the time" according to the latest study from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. While many are shifting more resources to their unprinted versions, one of my favorite lines on the fate of newspapers comes from Nick Clooney, George's dad. Nick is a former anchor in Cincinnati, still lives in our region, and he comes to some of our local SPJ chapter events. He says people still want the printed word because "I hear you can get sex online too, but I prefer it the old fashioned way."

This is a time of great change but great possibility. It's an exciting time, not one to be feared. It's a time to try every idea and be given a chance to do so, and be given the chance to discard what doesn't work.

We're part of something that's bigger than any of us, but depends on all of us.

That's why we need SPJ more than ever, to fight for a shield law no matter the frustrating process, to fight the judges who want to send us to jail if we don't reveal whistleblowers. We need SPJ to advocate but also to serve - and that starts with our membership.

We've stabilized, up to 8,250 members from a low of 7,500 in January of this year. Our Membership Committee will be working with the Freelance Committee to target new members by offering them services they need, including training modules like "How to start a business" and "How to deal with accounting and benefits" in addition to the journalistic modules we offer. The Membership Committee also will target student members to convert them to pro members after graduation.

We also are going to target new journalists, be they bloggers, aggregators, neighborhood content-providers. Everyone can upload by netbook or cell phone these days. We want to bring them into the fold of good professional and ethical standards. We will teach them while they teach us some new tricks and together raise the bar. They're communicating to audiences we've missed. This is good for journalism, and it builds our organization.

Some of our other committees also will be servicing members. The Awards & Honors Committee will develop "Local Contest Central," to help local chapters start or improve their contests and teach them how to take those contests online.

The Bylaws Committee will bring to the board an issue batted around for years, whether to convert delegate voting at convention to one-person-one vote for all SPJ members online.

The Diversity Committee is going to work on updating the Rainbow Sourcebook. The most recent studies show the overall percentage of minorities in newsrooms has fallen in this recession.

The Ethics Committee is going to take its discussions public more often, issuing statements and position papers to help veterans and the new journalists joining our ranks. They're also going to develop a website aimed at bloggers and internet journalists, offering training and advice. Gen J also is looking at new live, interactive training for young journalists. Journalism Ed is looking to service our professor members, posting sample syllabi and other useful information accessible to members only.

I've already talked about Government Relations, LDF and FOI. In light of our first international chapter in Qatar, the International Committee is going to look at other new chapters beyond our borders. And we're going to push to highlight our support for our journalistic brethren in Latin America, who face threats from organized crime and are paying with their lives.

Through it all of course we'll continue the workshops the Professional Development Committee has managed, while the committee also looks to ramp up training on our site.

You'll note two committees absent this year: "Future of the Media" and "Public Outreach."

First for "Future of the Media". I eliminated the committee because we're not talking about the future any more. It's here. I expect every committee to be dealing this year with what we called "future of the media" last year. I have to say, how many "Future of the Media" conferences did you attend? I stopped counting. I don't know what I learned because there is no one answer.

As for "Public Outreach," in the absence of funding the committee asked to take a break, but truly, everything FOI, Ethics, Government Relations and many of our committees do impacts outreach. In addition, I'm making it my mission this year to travel across the nation and speak to as many groups as I can about why what we do matters so essentially, why if ever there was a need for the Fourth Estate as a watchdog, this is it.

Politicians, bankers, big business, they're just loving not having to answer to print versions of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Rocky Mountain News or the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, or the seriously retrenched overseas news bureaus, or the disappearing local investigative units.

If Bernie Madoff got away with what he did while we were watching, what's going to happen if we're not?

When you're looking toward an undefined future you can act like you have nothing to lose. But in fact we have everything to lose. We have the bedrock of our democracy at stake. We have future generations depending on us to remind them why they need factual, balanced information. I want my son to grow up watching me devouring news, like I watched my father and mother. I want him to care about his own community and the world at large. Only then might he and his peers care enough to prevent the worst of what can happen when no one is watching. My father's experience led to the words "Never again." Only we watchdogs can prevent the worst of history from rising anew.

We need to seize back the mission, because we believe.

Join SPJ
Join SPJWhy join?