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2002 SPJ National Convention: Give Your Reporters More Resources, Tools, Connections

From the April Issue of SPJ Report


By Frank Perkins

Dear Editor:

Before you reject out of hand your reporter’s request for the company to pay for his or her attendance at the Sept. 12-14 SPJ National Convention in Fort Worth, Texas, think a minute.

A rejection this year could put you and your organization further behind in the ever changing methods for covering and reporting breaking news in a landscape that changed dramatically when hijacked American airliners crashed into the World Trade Center towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

Have no doubts about it – the tragic events of “9-11-2001” forced a sea of change on how American journalists will practice their profession. The changes are basic, ranging from Journalism 101 things such as how to do effective basic reporting amid horrifying scenes of death and chaos and navigating past increasingly numerous and difficult official blockades to information “in the interest of national security.”

“The 9-11 story is one that taxed the abilities of journalists, both individually and collectively,” said Mike Blackman, former executive editor of the Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram and an SPJ member for some 30 years. “First-hand accounts from those who were there covering that tragedy will make attending the upcoming national convention more educational and enlightening than ever.

“It has been my experience in attending SPJ nationals that everyone learns a great amount simply from visiting with other reporters who have ‘been there and done that’ from the various panels featuring the top names in the profession, passing along instantly usable information,” Blackman added. “It is worth the money to send folks to this year’s national.”

Roy Eaton, publisher of the Wise County Messenger in Decatur, Texas, just a few miles from Fort Worth, considers underwriting staff attendance at professional meetings like SPJ’s national convention vital to small media outlets, such as his 8,000-subscriber newspaper, as well as the huge conglomerates.

“I always pay to send my reporters and graphics people to every professional meeting I can because coverage has changed so much from the ‘good ol’ days’ when all you needed was a notebook, a handful of sources and a desire,” he said.

“My people can easily handle the everyday nuts-and-bolts stories, but now I want them to know how to use the computer-aided coverage and cybernet research tools now available out there. I want them to learn how to use all the tools to handle complicated stories confidently and accurately,” Eaton continued. “One of the best ways I know of to learn those things is at meetings like the upcoming SPJ national and talking with other reporters also attending who use those tools day in and day out.”

Another believer in sending staff to SPJ nationals is Jack Tinsley, a former executive director for the Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram and now a consultant with the Knight Ridder paper. He was the Star-Telegram’s lead reporter on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas in 1963.

“I have attended many, many professional meetings, and I got something from every one,” Tinsley said. “I always felt I benefited from every session I attended because I was exposed to new methods and procedures that would help me inform my readers more effectively and efficiently.

“Sending reporters to meetings such as SPJ national convention is a good use of newsroom money,” he said.

So there you have it, Editor. Think about which reporters you would like to send to Fort Worth on Sept. 12-14 for the 2002 SPJ National Convention. Then call Accounting and tell them to cut the check.

Your readers will thank you for it.

Frank Perkins is a retired assistant state editor from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and writes a weekly column on military matters for the paper. He graduated from Texas Christian University in 1958 with a bachelor’s of arts in journalism and was editor of The Skiff, the TCU student newspaper. Perkins has worked in print, radio and television news and is a former SPJ national Region 8 director and past president of the Fort Worth SPJ Professional Chapter.


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