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SPJ honors Betsy F. Ashton with 2007 Wells Memorial Key Award
Contact: Beth King, Communications Manager, (317) 507-8911
Washington, D.C. -- The Society of Professional Journalists, one of the nation’s largest and most broad-based journalism-advocacy organizations, is pleased to honor New York Deadline Club member and former Sigma Delta Chi Foundation Vice President Betsy F. Ashton with the 2007 Wells Memorial Key award. Given annually, the award is the Society’s highest honor.
Ashton joined the Washington, D.C. Pro chapter in April 1975, not long after women were admitted into the Society. She was then an on-air reporter, and in 1976, a weekend anchor at WJLA-TV Channel 7, the ABC affiliate in Washington. For the Washington, D.C. Pro chapter, Ashton’s first board position was membership chairwoman. In this position, she designed and ran a major drive that tripled the membership and started her track to becoming the first female president of the chapter.
In the fall of 1982, CBS lured Ashton to New York where she became a consumer reporter for WCBS-TV, Channel 2, and three months later, consumer reporter for the CBS Morning News as well. Although she kept her national membership, the long days made it nearly impossible to connect with the New York chapter until 1990 when she retired from daily journalism. Despite her retirement, Ashton remained a journalism stalwart, creating documentary projects for New York public television.
Since 1990, Ashton’s accomplishments as an SPJ chapter leader have included Awards Chairwoman, Vice President and two terms as President for the New York Deadline Club. Additionally, she has and continues to emcee the annual Deadline Club Awards Dinner and the chapter’s Hall of Fame Awards. Beyond her board roles, Ashton was responsible for creating the Deadline Club Foundation, and she made arrangements for the club to share office space and have reciprocity at the National Arts Club, which remains the chapter’s home today.
From 1995 to 2007, Ashton served on the board of the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation, where she served on the nominations, development and finance committees and worked to recruit other board members.
Having a love for original programming, Ashton seized an opportunity to roast 60 Minutes Executive Producer Don Hewitt during the 1997 SPJ Convention & National Journalism Conference in Denver. Within 36 hours, Ashton called everyone at 60 Minutes, secured videotape from the talent and then scripted and emceed a successful program.
“Betsy is a pleasure to work with,” wrote SPJ Ethics Committee Member Jerry Dunklee in his nomination letter. “She has brought life to so many SPJ events. She’s always positive, creative and upbeat. We can be a bit bland sometimes, and her spirit infuses what we do with a joy that others respond to.”
In 2003, Ashton helped launch SPJ’s annual yearbook, The Journalist, which continues to draw by-lines from some of the field’s most prominent news reporters. One year later, she co-chaired the 2004 SPJ Convention & National Journalism Conference in New York and worked with a committee of volunteers to design a newsroom training program.
In 2006, Ashton served on the Campaign for Ethical Journalism committee where she successfully worked with Walter Cronkite to record a 30-second public service announcement that can be heard at www.spj.org/ethics.asp.
“The strength of Betsy’s personality shines through her commitment to SPJ and the SDX Foundation,” said Carl Corry, past Region 1 director in his nomination letter. “She has been a guiding force to generations of SPJ members, mentoring countless young journalists and inspiring many.”
Ashton was nominated by Region 1 Director Carolyn James and 15 SPJ members, all who have served as local and/or national SPJ officers and who recognize her outstanding commitment to furthering journalism and her abilities to get a job done effectively.
“Betsy, a veteran New York newswoman and documentarian, is the Deadline Club’s biggest superstar,” wrote David Joachim, a past president of the New York Deadline Club in his nomination letter. “She seems to know everyone who is anyone in the media capital. When we need a big name to headline an event, she consults her vast Rolodex to find the perfect speaker and uses her unique charm to get a yes. Her passion for SPJ is infectious.”
The Wells Memorial Key is given to a member for outstanding service to the Society during the preceding year or over a period of years. The SPJ executive committee selects all recipients; nominations are open.
The Wells Key was first presented in 1913. The award was named in honor of Chester B. Wells, Sigma Delta Chi’s second national president. Wells died in office in 1913 at the age of 26. Wells’ brief time in office was marked by an inspiring dedication to the work and ideals of Sigma Delta Chi, and after his death, members decided to award a jeweled key each year in his memory to a member who had performed meritorious service to the Society.
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. For more information about SPJ, visit www.spj.org.