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SPJ announces 2019 Pro Chapters of the Year

This year’s winners are the Press Club of Long Island, the Chicago Headline Club, Florida Pro Chapter and the Arkansas Pro Chapter

Matthew Kent, Program Coordinator, 317-920-4788, mkent@spj.org
Zoë Berg, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317-920-4785, zberg@spj.org

SAN ANTONIO – The Society of Professional Journalists annually honors select professional chapters for their commitment to SPJ’s mission and the journalism profession. This year chapters stood out for creativity in programming, advocacy efforts and connecting both professional and student members.

Typically, one large chapter winner and one small chapter winner is chosen, however this year there was a three-way tie for Large Chapter of the Year. The Large Chapter of the Year award is open to chapters with 75 or more members, while the Small Chapter of the Year award is open to chapters with fewer than 75 members.

Large Chapter of the Year

Three SPJ chapters share the award this year — the Press Club of Long Island, the Chicago Headline Club and Florida Pro.

SPJ’s regional directors and regional coordinators who selected the award winning chapters, took the unusual step of honoring three chapters this year. All had an excellent year and were worth recognizing for their effective and innovative programming.

The Press Club of Long Island explored the public’s perception of news media and issued statements supporting journalism, including showing support for the five employees killed at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis. It took an unusual approach to raising money for the Committee to Protect Journalists — a poetry reading at the birthplace of journalist-poet Walt Whitman.

PCLI reached the public through screenings of a series of journalism films and with a Freedom of Information forum that included school district administrators and police officers.

Its connection to college and high school students remained strong, largely through summer journalism institutes, one of which focused on low-income communities.

The Chicago Headline Club hosted FOIAFest, a daylong exploration of various open-records issues, with experts, advice and data-crunching workshops. These features made it a statewide draw.

The chapter was strong in advocacy, through public statements and by monitoring legislation, and in ethics with its longstanding popular resource, the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists. Some questions from the AdviceLine are shared online as case studies.

It held useful sessions on learning “pivot tables” (a form of filtering and sorting data), improving coverage of climate change, strengthening coverage of immigrant communities and safeguarding sensitive data.

The Florida Pro Chapter stood out for its creativity and understanding of how to meaningfully connect with people. It took to the road with its Fake News Game Show, teaching non-journalists how news is gathered and presented. Another clever activity was the chapter’s version of speed Scrabble, F***k Words With Friends, showing what it’s like to think on a tight deadline.

Judges also liked the chapter’s Sunshine Seminars, at five sites across the state, and mock press conference, in which MBA students were given roles to carry out on a corporate board facing a crisis. There was a press scrum of journalists, plus a PR professional secretly embedded in the group.

The Florida Chapter has established good ties with student journalists and organizations, hosting and participating in sessions at conferences in its state and in New York. For the first time, it even worked with elementary school journalists.

Small Chapter of the Year

This year’s winner of Small Chapter of the Year, for the second year in a row, is Arkansas Pro. It is receiving the award for the second year in a row.

Not long after the Capital Gazette newsroom shootings, the Arkansas chapter explored what it was like to report in the face of tragedy. A former TV anchor recalled her colleagues having to go on the air to report the news of their friend’s homicide. Other participants also told compelling stories. The chapter sold T-shirts to raise $500 for a fund to help the Capital Gazette.

Three public participation events focused on immigration coverage, police and the press and FOI.

One of the most fun events was called “Get the Scoop … and Check the Facts,” a traveling ice cream social. With actual ice cream scoops to give away, the series visited several college campuses and covered topics such as cultivating sources.

During Sunshine Week, one of the chapter’s FOIA blitz events was a FOI trivia game over pizza and beer. The chapter is helping to pay the cost of printing a state FOI handbook and is active in a state FOIA network.

The chapter’s social calendar also included an ugly sweater mingling event and a membership meeting at a pie shop.

The judging panel also praised the Small Chapter of the Year runner-up, St. Louis Pro.

Some of its highlights for the year were Facebook training (despite a snowstorm), “J-School in a Day” for students and a First Amendment Free Food Festival. It established good ties with other nearby journalism groups as well.

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 SPJ Foundation.


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