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Veteran journalist Rod Hicks named SPJ’s first Journalist on Call


Alison Bethel McKenzie, SPJ Executive Director, 317-927-8000, abmckenzie@spj.org
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Director of Communications and Marketing, 317-361-4134, jroyer@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – In an effort to address the issue of dwindling trust in the media, the Society of Professional Journalists has named veteran journalist Rod Hicks as its first Journalist on Call.

SPJ’s Journalist on Call is a unique, three-year position, developed and funded by the
Sigma Delta Chi Foundation, which supports the educational mission of SPJ.

Hicks, a native of Birmingham, Alabama, has experience at numerous news organizations across the country. Most recently, he served as an editor for The Associated Press at its Philadelphia-based East Regional Desk, which manages news coverage in 10 states. In this role, he worked on several major national stories including the Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut, the Boston Marathon bombing and the sexual assault trials of Bill Cosby.

“We had many outstanding candidates for this position. Rod’s experience, enthusiasm and ability to communicate with people from all walks of life make him perfect for this role,” said Alison Bethel McKenzie, SPJ executive director. “He brings an abundance of great ideas to the table, and we are eager for him to begin this important work.”

Hicks will serve as something of an ombudsman, helping journalists understand why the public doesn’t trust them and what they can do to re-earn more trust. He will also spend time with the general public, local officials and community groups to explain the important role ethical journalism plays in society. A great deal of the focus will center on how the media and public can work together in crisis situations. He will begin July 16.

“We live in a time when distrust of the press is at alarming levels. Democracy depends on civic engagement, and civic engagement should be built on a foundation of truth. We need someone to help calm the waters, build bridges and be a resource to both public and news media. Rod is the right person to do this," said SDX Foundation President Robert Leger.

Hicks previously held editing positions at newspapers in New Jersey, Alabama, Michigan and Missouri. He managed the St. Louis Post-Dispatch news operation at night, making key decisions on how stories were shaped and presented and ensuring they adhered to high journalistic standards. He was working the night a gunman entered a suburban city council meeting and killed the mayor, two council members, a police officer and two other people. The coverage was a finalist for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News.

Before that, he managed the 30-person staff of editors, reporters and support personnel spread across seven offices as suburban editor for The Detroit News. He also led the development and launch of 13 targeted community newspapers for The News.

"We are at a critical time in our democracy — a time when citizens more than ever need to understand the need for an aggressive free press. I will work to help them understand why this is so vital to every individual in our country," Hicks said.

Hicks also has experience in the classroom. He taught introductory and advanced journalism classes for four years at Talladega College, an HBCU in Alabama, and twice served as a visiting professor at the University of Alabama. More recently, he developed and taught a two-day business writing class for NASA employees at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Hicks led the planning and execution of three successful conventions for the National Association of Black Journalists — in Philadelphia in 2011, New Orleans in 2012 and Minneapolis in 2015.

“This position – and Rod’s expertise – are needed to help the public understand the role of a free press in a democracy, and I’m confident his work will make a difference for journalism and society,” said SPJ National President Rebecca Baker.

Hicks holds a master’s degree in newspaper management from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from the University of Alabama. While at Northwestern, he worked briefly as a Washington correspondent for The Herald-Sun in Durham, North Carolina, and spent three months working at the European headquarters of Time magazine in London, England.

SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to informing citizens; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and fights to protect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. Support excellent journalism and fight for your right to know. Become a member, give to the Legal Defense Fund, or give to the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation.

The Sigma Delta Chi Foundation is a public foundation dedicated to ensuring that those who carry on the tradition of a free press are prepared for the challenge. The SDX Foundation supports educational and professional needs of journalists and journalism students. Support excellent journalism and fight for your right to know. Give to the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation.


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