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SPJ names new executive director to lead society: Dennis Norris brings ‘experience, energy, enthusiasm’, search chair says

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The Society of Professional Journalists today named Dennis M. Norris, development director for a suburban school district and manager of a nonprofit education foundation near Indianapolis, to the position of Executive Director, effective May 26.

Norris, 39, will direct the Society’s headquarters staff, develop annual budgets to support its conferences, programs and other professional and campus activities, and will expand and accelerate fundraising to assure the Society of a financially secure future.

He replaces Greg Christopher, who resigned in October to join Purdue University’s athletic department as a fundraiser.

SPJ President Fred Brown said SPJ has “the greatest confidence” that Norris will be able to continue building on the “sound financial footing” established during Christopher’s tenure. “Dennis Norris has the combination of qualities we all had hoped to find,” Brown said.

President elect Wendy S. Myers, a member of the Search Committee that recommended Norris, said: “With his proven fund raising experience, Dennis will bring new opportunities to SPJ. His expertise will help us introduce new professional development programs and initiatives to assist working journalists.

“Dennis also shares SPJ’s passion for the First Amendment and access issues,” she added. “Under his leadership, SPJ will continue its advocacy role and look for more ways to help working journalists.”

Norris was selected after a six month search conducted by a committee appointed last year and headed by Immediate Past President Steve Geimann. The committee met in December, February and April, for formal interviews and conducted numerous telephone interviews with potential candidates.

“This was an exhaustive process in which every committee member played a key role,” Geimann said. “Dennis’s experience, energy, enthusiasm and his success in building an endowment at the school district make him ideally suited to keep SPJ financially healthy and secure. I look forward to working with him as SPJ enters a new century.”

Norris, a native of Indiana, is director of development and public relations for the Metropolitan School District of Perry Township, an Indianapolis suburb, and is executive director of the District’s Education Foundation, a 501(c)(3) entity similar to the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation. In both jobs, Norris has directed fundraising efforts and current projects, building endowments to support activities of the school district administration and individual schools in the district.

Prior to joining the school district, Norris worked as a San Francisco police officer, assigned to various stations in the city, where he worked on gang and drug issues, and also spent some time fielding and referring media calls in the department’s Operations Center. He also spent three years in the U.S. Coast Guard, assigned to New Orleans.

Norris attended city College of San Francisco, the University of California Berkeley, where he received a bachelor's degree with honors, and is currently pursuing a master's degree in philanthropic studies at Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI).

“I’m pleased to be a part of such a historic and dynamic organization, and I look forward to doing my part in support of professional journalism,” Norris said. “As SPJ/SDX moves into a new era, I intend to work proactively towards increasing the membership and providing solid financial footing as we look to the next decade and the society’s centennial.”

The Search Committee chaired by Geimann included Myers, editor, Veterinary Economics magazine; At Large Director Ray Marcano, metro editor, Dayton Daily News; 1995-96 President G. Kelly Hawes, managing editor, The Galveston County (Tex.) Daily News; University of Maryland journalism professor Maurine Beasley; and SDX Foundation Treasurer Howard Dubin, chairman and CEO, Manufacturer’s News Inc. Brown served ex officio and attended all the interview sessions.

“These volunteers served our Society well, asking tough questions of all the finalists, thoroughly debating the experience and skills of all the candidates,” Geimann said. “Throughout the whole process, the Committee looked for the best candidate for the job, and I’m confident we’ve found that in Dennis.”

Brown expressed “personal gratitude” to the SPJ headquarters staff, especially acting executive director Maggie Balough, Quill editor; Communications Director Julie Grimes and Finance Director Barbara Bryan who helped maintain the Society’s activities while the search was in progress. “They have performed outstandingly well under some very difficult conditions,” Brown said.

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