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SPJ Convention Sessions to Focus on Media Coverage of Sept. 11 Terrorist Attacks


Monday Oct. 1, 2001

News editors, Business editors, Feature editors,
Photo editors, Assignment desks

Al Cross, SPJ President-Elect, 502/648-8433 or
James L. Gray, SPJ and SDX Foundation Executive Director, 317/927-8000 or

– Seven sessions at the Oct. 4-6 SPJ National Convention will discuss the practical and ethical issues surrounding media coverage of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington,D.C.

In the wake of these tragic events, the Society restructured several of the convention’s professional development sessions to discuss responsible and compassionate media coverage.

“The biggest story of our time is posing special challenges for journalists, and we need to discuss how we are facing those challenges,” said SPJ President-Elect Al Cross, political columnist for The Courier-Journal in Louisville. Cross will become SPJ president Oct. 6.

Session topics on the tragedy will focus on the use of still and motion photography, intimate storytelling and freedom of information.

“SPJ’s annual convention is one of our most important teaching and learning environments,” said SPJ Executive Director Jim Gray. “Because our programming is flexible, we can provide working journalists with the tools they need to do their jobs better.”

In addition, journalists covering events at the World Trade Center and the nation’s capital on Tuesday, Sept. 11, will share first-hand accounts of how their experiences changed their professional and personal lives. The session will also include discussion of the possible effect of anti-terrorism actions on newsgathering.

Jim Plante, a past national SPJ president and chief of the Public Information Office of the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, was among those at Ground Zero in New York on Sept. 11. He will participate in the Saturday, Oct. 6, panel discussion, “How Trauma Changes the Story – and the Journalist.”

“I didn’t even have to process my thoughts; I just knew it was a terrorist attack. This was no accident,” Plante wrote in an account of his experience at Ground Zero on Sept. 11. “I wondered how the hell they had gotten something that big all the way to New York undetected. … It happened so suddenly.”

SPJ convention sessions that will feature discussions on the tragic events of Sept. 11 are as follows:


2:15 – 3:15 p.m.
Revised Session
The Care and Handling of Controversial PicturesLocation: Glendale Meeting Room
Description: When terrorists attack media centers such as New York and Washington, D.C., the quality of the photographic report is extremely high, and the volume is huge. The decisions affecting picture selection and play become as complex as the report is large. What is the historic photo that will become an icon of the event? What about the graphic pictures? Are scenes of people jumping from buildings too insensitive for a grieving nation to see? If so, how do you convey the immensity of the casualties? If not, how do you play the graphic pictures? How do you handle reader reaction to those decisions? Did television coverage affect news judgment of still photography? If so, why? If not, why not? These are a sampling of questions the panel will address.
Moderator: Scott Sines, Managing Editor, Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash.
Panelists: Patty Reksten, Director of Photography, The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.; Brian Storm, Multimedia Director,, Redmond, Wash.

3:30 – 4:30 p.m.
Revised Session
FOI and the Public EyeLocation: Glendale Meeting Room
Description: In light of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, journalists in America will face new challenges in accessing government information. The federal government might institute harsher penalties for the release of classified information, and agencies might restrict certain information in the name of security. Military coverage also might be tightly controlled. President Bush has said that covert actions might remain secret, even when successful. Media organizations (including SPJ) have been working to address possible assaults on FOI. In this panel, SPJ FOI Committee Chair Ian Marquand will lead a discussion of potential dangers and responses. In addition, panelists will share new FOI resources to help journalists learn about access at the state and federal level.
Moderator: Ian Marquand, SPJ FOI Committee Chairman, Special Projects Coordinator, KPAX-TV, Missoula, Mont.
Panelists: Bill Chamberlin, Director, Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, Gainesville, Fla.; Dave Bahr, FOI Advocates, Bahr & Stotter Law Offices, P.C., Eugene, Ore.


10:30 – 11:45 a.m.
Revised Session
Intimate Storytelling
Location: Lakehills Meeting Room
Description: Television News Center President Herb Brubaker will discuss how reporters told the stories of the lives affected by the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., He will be reviewing the tapes and scripts of these television reports in this session.
Moderator: Lori Matsukawa, Anchor, KING-TV, Seattle.
Presenter: Herb Brubaker, co-founder, Television News Center, Rockville, Md.

3:15 – 4:15 p.m.
(Formerly, Life on the Religion Beat: Covering the Fusion of Faith, Politics, and Spirituality.)
Revised Session
The Role of Religion Reporting After the Terrorist Attacks
Location: Lakehills Meeting Room
Description: Religion emerged as a dominant theme in the aftermath of the events on Sept. 11. Reporters throughout the country sought to explain Islam and the country’s multifaith spiritual fabric. Religion reporters also wrote about misconceptions and prejudice and told the story of Americans grieving at religious services nationwide. In this workshop, leading newspaper religion reporters and other experts will examine the coverage of religion following the attacks.
Moderator: Patricia O’ Connell Killen, Professor of American Religious History, Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, Wash.
Panelists: Teresa Watanabe, Religion Writer, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, Calif.; Steve Maynard, Religion, Ethics and Values Reporter, The News Tribune, Tacoma, Wash.; Sally Macdonald, Free-lance Journalist, Seattle; John McCoy, Manager-International Media Relations, World vision, Federal Way, Wash.

4:30 – 5:30 p.m.
New Session
Covering Disasters
Location: King County East – Sahalee, Glendale, Overlake Meeting Rooms
Description: Sept. 11, 2001, was undoubtedly the biggest news day in any journalist’s life. The media did an extraordinary job in extraordinary times. When there is “real news,” it’s clear the media shines. Television and radio calmly told a story without spreading fear, and newspapers, news magazines and Internet sites provided detailed explanations and context. Come hear stories of journalists on the frontline, how they got the story and how they got it published. And, let’s look ahead to the implications for newsgathering as America moves to a war footing.
Moderator: Alicia C. Shepard, Senior Writer, American Journalism Review, Arlington, Va.
Panelists: Marty Wolk, Business Reporter, MSNBC, Redmond, Wash.; Paul McMasters, First Amendment Ombudsman, Freedom Forum, Arlington, VA.; Steve Yoder, Bureau Chief, The Wall Street Journal, San Francisco, Calif.; Drex Heikes, Executive Editor, Los Angeles Times Magazine, Los Angeles, Calif.


9 – 10:15 a.m.
New Session
Behind the Scenes of “Local News”
Location: Glendale Meeting Room
Description: “Local News is an unprecedented, five-part documentary series that depicts one television station’s efforts to lift its news ratings out of third place – while simultaneously improving its journalistic standards. A surprisingly uncensored, behind-the-scenes look at WCNC-TV, Charlotte, North Carolina’s NBC affiliate, the series follows the daily drama of reporters, news managers and community members struggling to find a better way for local TV to impart the news. In the process, it creates a portrait of sincerity and hard work in an ongoing tug of war with commercial mandates – a contest in which there are few clear villains and many victims.” – An excerpt from the official PBS description of the series, “Local News.”
Presenter: Cal Skaggs, President, Lumiere Productions, New York, NY.

10:30 – 11:30 a.m.
Revised Session
How Trauma Changes the Story – and the Journalist
Location: Lakehills Meeting Room
Description: Trauma impacts everyone at the scene of a tragedy, from victims to journalists. University of Washington acting students bring the scene to life and panelists offer tips on how journalists can care for themselves and colleagues in a violent situation. Jim Plante, past national president of SPJ and a former reporter, producer and network news executive, was in the middle of Ground Zero at New York’s World Trade Center at 8:28 a.m. on Sept. 11. Plante, chief of the Public Information Office of the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, was attending the National association of Business Economist’s annual meeting. Hear his perspective of the events that transpired, both as a trained journalist and a victim.
Panelists: Roger Simpson, Director, The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, University of Washington, Seattle, Wash.; Migael Scherer, Director, The Dart Award for Reporting on Victims of Violence, University of Washington, Seattle, Wash.; Jim Plante, Chief of the Public Information Office of the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Washington, D.C.

The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. The organization is the nation’s largest and most broad-based journalism organization, dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.


MEDIA PASSES: Media passes for events at the Oct. 4-6 2001 SPJ National Convention may be obtained at the convention's onsite SPJ Office at the DoubleTree Hotel – Bellevue, 300 112th Ave., S.E., Bellevue, Wash.

For more information or to obtain a media pass, contact Sarah A. Shrode, SPJ Director of Communications, at or at the convention's onsite SPJ Office.

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