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SPJ honors professional chapter excellence


For Immediate Release

Lauren Rochester, Awards Coordinator, (317) 927-8000 ext. 210, lrochester@spj.org
Scott Leadingham, Communications Coordinator, (317) 927-8000, ext. 211, sleadingham@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists is pleased to honor the Western Washington and Southwest Missouri Pro Chapters as the 2007-2008 SPJ Chapters of the Year.

Each year, the Society honors six chapters for their work. Two chapters, one large (75 or more members) and one small (less than 75 members), are then named as Chapters of the Year. The awards salute chapters for overall excellence in supporting the Society’s missions, members and the profession.

In the fall of 2007, the Western Washington Pro Chapter held its second year of the Continuing Education Series by offering eight-weeks of classes aimed at online editing, Photoshop, creating sound files for the Web and other topics to make area journalists more tech savvy. The Continuing Education Series brought 26 new members to the chapter. The chapter hosted many other programs over the year that focused on ethics, FOI, diversity and freelancing. Western Washington Pro awarded four scholarships to local journalism students and also helped fund student chapter activities and attended SPJ student functions to provide support. The chapter’s Web site was used to communicate a variety of information to visitors and was updated frequently as the needs of the chapter members and journalism community changed.

The Southwest Missouri Pro Chapter held social gatherings in September, October and November to recruit new members and focused on increased programming in 2007 to help local journalists improve their skill sets. The chapter hosted a program on diversity featuring Vietnamese-American Betty Nguyen, who anchors the weekend morning news on CNN. Members conducted a Sunshine Law Audit in Greene and Christian County seeking copies of Sunshine Law Policies from various government boards and councils. The results of the chapter’s effort were printed and the policies posted online. The chapter focused on young journalists by hosting one of SPJ’s local High School Essay Contests.

SPJ would also like to give special recognition to the Cincinnati Pro Chapter for its activities over the past year. The chapter was in a unique position because it began 2007 as one of SPJ’s small chapters with 50 members and ended the year as a large chapter, with close to 100 members. Recruitment activities included: personal calls and e-mails to current and prospective members, personal contact with those who had let their membership lapse, the elimination of chapter dues to make SPJ more affordable in tough economic times and more pertinent programming that was pitched to the journalism community at large.

All chapters honored are: Large — Western Washington Pro, St. Louis Pro and Cincinnati Pro. Small — the Southwest Missouri Pro, Utah Headliners Chapter and East Tennessee Pro.

Annually, SPJ also recognizes chapters for outstanding work during the previous year in five key areas: First Amendment and Freedom of Information activity; campus relations and scholarship; activities promoting diversity among journalists; professional development and continuing-education programs; and chapter communications. Awards are given for each category to one large (75 or more members) and one small (fewer than 75 members) professional chapter.

The large chapter honoree for First Amendment and FOI activities is the Minnesota Pro Chapter. In 2007, the chapter held several events aimed at reaching out to and training ethnic media or media that cover minority populations. One such program was a seminar on training ethnic media on the intricacies of searching public documents and creating stories that are document driven. This underscored the importance of journalists using FOI initiatives to strengthen the validity of published articles.

Receiving the small chapter honor is the Utah Headliners Chapter, which held several FOI-related activities during the year and was influential in the publication of the “Utah Open Government Guide” from the state’s attorney general. With the leadership of chapter FOIA chairwoman Linda Petersen, the Headliners took drastic steps to show the need for open government and worked to sponsor activities such as Sunshine Week. Other efforts included several public forums with the League of Women Voters that featured SPJ members speaking about the importance of openness in government.

In the Campus Relations and Scholarship Activity category, the St. Louis Pro Chapter is recognized for advocacy on behalf of a student publication, University News, at St. Louis University. The newspaper and its student adviser faced university administration attempts to control content because the former was critical of the school. The chapter also formed a journalism “SWAT” team to assist students with questions about newsgathering, industry ethics and portfolio building. Furthermore, the chapter raised $1,500 to support the Journalism Foundation, which funds local students studying journalism.

The small chapter honoree for Campus Relations is the Bluegrass Pro Chapter, based in Kentucky. Along with student SPJ groups at the University of Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky University, the chapter hosted a dinner and speech about the future of newspapers by Lexington Herald-Leader editor Linda Austin. The chapter also received a grant and sponsored, along with the EKU campus SPJ chapter, a workshop titled “Maintaining Independence When Covering Local Sports,” which was held on EKU’s campus. The Bluegrass members also sponsored two $1,000 scholarships through the production and sale of its Kentucky Media Guide.

For the Diversity category, the Greater Los Angeles Chapter is the large chapter honoree. The chapter sponsored two notable diversity-centered programs in 2007. First, several dozen members heard photojournalists Armondo Arorizo and Emilio Flores speak about covering major immigrant marches in Los Angeles. The event was co-sponsored by the local chapter of the California Chicano News Media Association. Second, the chapter held a “Science Reporting Seminar” at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication. Co-sponsored by New America Media and SoundVision Productions, the event sought to improve both the quality and amount of science reporting in ethnic communities.

The small chapter honoree for diversity is the East Tennessee Pro Chapter for its concerted effort to market the SPJ High School Essay Contest to schools with high percentages of minorities. The chapter targeted the minority populations by soliciting the help of non-journalists working in the area of diversity, one from Oak Ridge National Laboratories’ Office of Diversity, and the other a school outreach advisor for SECME, a nonprofit organization that helps minority educational efforts. The chapter also sponsored a workshop on newsroom leadership, which, among other skills, featured a section on generational diversity.

Aside from its recognition for diversity initiatives, the Greater Los Angeles Chapter is also the honoree for large chapter Professional Development efforts. In 2007, the chapter sponsored a number of development programs for its members, one of which sought to enhance new media training through a workshop titled “How to Beat the Blogging Blues.” Other training included a daylong seminar titled “When Disaster Strikes,” which featured several breakout sessions and training that explored the intertwined roles of the media and relief organizations. The chapter also trained freelance journalists and helped them increase their publication chances and improve their ability to effectively manage their careers.

Because of several poignant and meaningful events, the Northwest Arkansas Chapter is the small chapter honoree for Professional Development. The group held an event with Joe Adams, a nationally recognized and awarded editorial writer for The Florida Times-Union. Adams trained journalists on FOI requests and Sunshine Laws. Other programs included two workshops from St. Petersburg Times features writer Lane Degregory that gave reporters the inside scoop on writing tips that editors won’t share and how to make an otherwise dry profile piece capture the attention of readers.

The Western Washington Pro Chapter, which is also the national large chapter of the year, is recognized for its communication efforts. The chapter created an opt-in e-mail communication and newsletter system. With tracking software, the group was able to see the reach and effectiveness of its communications efforts and adjust accordingly. The chapter also made a concerted effort to maintain an up-to-date Web site with increased functionality that exceeded that of many other chapter sites. Additionally, the president’s recognition that board members and contest judges need personal, hand-written thank you notes was a nice reminder that in an age of increasingly less personal communication, some familiar traditions remain.

Last, the Utah Headliners Chapter is the honoree for small chapter communications. Aside from active use of e-mail distribution lists, the chapter communicated very effectively though its blog, utahspj.blogspot.com. http://www.utahspj.blogspot.com
The group used the blog to post a number of time-sensitive items, from journalism job announcements to research requests from students. Furthermore, the group utilized a “volunteer bank, which encouraged members and nonmembers alike to support the chapter’s activities. This was successful in that it fostered participation from members and engaged people who wanted to support SPJ but were otherwise not able to serve in leadership capacities.

Winners were determined by SPJ volunteers who oversee chapter involvement, using filed annual reports as a guide. This year’s awards will be presented on Sept. 6 at a dinner during the 2008 SPJ Convention & National Journalism Conference at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta.

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 on SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.

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