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SPJ honors professional chapter excellence


For Immediate Release:

Lauren Rochester, Awards Coordinator, (317) 927-8000 ext. 210, lrochester@spj.org
Karen Grabowski, Communications Coordinator, (317) 927-8000 ext. 210, kgrabowski@spj.org


INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists announces its annual honors for professional chapters.

Each year, the national organization honors two chapters, one large (75 or more members) and one small (fewer than 75 members), as overall chapters of the year. Up to six, three large and three small, chapters can be selected for recognition in this category.

SPJ also recognizes one large and one small chapter for outstanding work during the previous year in five key areas: First Amendment and Freedom of Information activity; activities promoting diversity among journalists; campus relations and scholarship; professional development and continuing education; and chapter communication. These recognitions are known as Circle of Excellence awards.

Chapters of the Year

The large Chapter of the Year is the Western Washington Pro Chapter and the small Chapter of the Year is the Utah Headliners. The other two chapters recognized in this category for their outstanding work in 2008 are the Chicago Headline Club and the Press Club of Long Island.

Large Chapter

This is the third year in a row that the Western Washington Pro chapter has won Chapter of the Year. The chapter continues to build on its success and reputation as one of the busiest in the nation. An ambitious group, the chapter’s goal for the past year was to focus on supporting its local student chapters and to provide them with funding, support and membership opportunities, which they succeeded in doing. The chapter also succeeded in conducting several programs like their Continuing Education series, a Town Hall Ethics program funded by a Sigma Delta Chi Foundation grant, and a silent auction and raffle for student scholarships. Another chapter strength was that the group improved communications with members and nonmembers, an initiative 2008-09 president Dana Neuts specifically wanted to develop.

Small Chapter

The small Chapter of the Year, Utah Headliners, is recognized for standing up for the public’s right to know, building a cohesive chapter through excellent communication, providing relevant and timely discussions and excelling in its programming efforts. Last year, the chapter hosted NPR/Fox News analyst Juan Williams for a Diversity Program with the Weber State University student chapter. The chapter’s members were also involved in several Freedom of Information initiatives, sponsored an ethics seminar, assisted in a Freedom of Information Audit of online Utah state government records and volunteered at numerous journalism events over the year.

Circle of Excellence

Annually, SPJ recognizes chapters for outstanding work during the preceding year in five areas:

— First Amendment and Freedom of Information activity
— Activities promoting diversity among journalists
— Campus relations and scholarship activities
— Professional development and continuing-education programs
— Chapter communications

Awards are given for each category to one large (75 or more members) and one small (fewer than 75 members) professional chapter.

First Amendment/Freedom of Information

The large chapter honoree for First Amendment and FOI activities is the Chicago Headline Club, which hosted its seventh annual First Amendment Forum in October. The topic of the event was “What do journalists want the next U.S. president and administration to do to insure a free news media?” and several panelists, including the Illinois First Amendment Center and local experts in FOI issues, attended. The chapter also assisted journalist Mike Anzaldi who was charged with resisting and obstructing a police officer. Thanks in part to the chapter’s efforts, Anzaldi was absolved of any wrong-doing.

Receiving the small chapter honor for the second consecutive year is the Utah Headliners chapter. In addition to being involved in several Freedom of Information initiatives, the chapter fought for open government at the Utah State Legislature. Its involvement – and specifically that of the chapter’s Freedom of Information chairwoman, Linda Petersen – significantly influenced the Utah government to find a middle ground solution to a proposed law that would have wiped out the balancing test that balances the people’s right to know with the right of privacy. The chapter also worked with The Utah Foundation for Open Government to produce and distribute a video on the importance of open government and democracy to high school students and co-sponsored a Sunshine Week webcast on open government.


For the Diversity category, the Western Washington chapter is the large chapter honoree. There is no small chapter honoree this year. Two board members from the chapter, Sandy Frost and Manny Frishberg, are putting together an early fall program that includes sessions on diversity. The chapter continues to maintain an online diversity resource guide that was developed last year. The guide, a resource for journalism organizations and journalists, is available to all.

Campus Relations and Scholarship Activity

The Western Washington chapter is also honored in the Campus Relations and Scholarship Activity category. Its primary focus for the year was to support local student chapters at Western Washington University, University of Washington and Pacific Lutheran University. The chapter aided the students with financial aid to attend events like the national SPJ Conference in Atlanta; to assist and promote events like PLU’s First Amendment Free Food Festival; and to host its Annual Collegiate Journalism Conference with the University of Washington SPJ chapter.

The small chapter honoree for Campus Relations and Scholarship Activity is the William O. Douglas chapter. In correlation with the annual Valley Workshop in Yakima, Wash., chapter members worked with high school students to report and write a news or feature story. The chapter also brought the message of FOI to high schools during Sunshine Week and worked with Kamiakin High School students to understand the importance and application of FOI laws and public records requests.

Professional Development

The Greater Los Angeles Pro chapter is the large Professional Development honoree, recognized for its programs and panels on assisting journalists with navigating the city’s cultural landscapes, understanding political reporting, reporting celebrity arrests and legal and ethical battles involved, and the current state of the newspaper industry. Celebrating its 75th year as a chapter, the members in Los Angeles are focusing their efforts on students and freelance journalists who they believe are in need of the most support.

The William O. Douglas chapter is the small chapter honoree for the Professional Development category. While the chapter assisted future journalists, it also helped its professional members with ethics programs and programs to exercise members’ career skills by working with high school students.

Chapter Communication

In the final category, Chapter Communication, the Washington D.C. Pro chapter is honored for its efforts. The chapter has continued its Dateline newsletter and utilizes its chapter blog to alert its members of new items. Board members also created a new Web site that offers more features and information with an easy-to-use events calendar. The chapter is also embracing social media to keep its members informed, sharing with them audio of conferences in addition to event information.

The North Central Florida Pro chapter is the small chapter honoree for Chapter Communication. The chapter contacts members monthly via e-mail in addition to maintaining its Web site with up-to-date event and membership information.

Winners were determined by SPJ volunteers who oversee chapter involvement, using filed annual reports as a guide. The Chapter of the Year awards and the Circle of Excellence awards will be presented Saturday, Aug. 29 during the 2009 SPJ Convention & National Journalism Conference in Indianapolis. The Circle of Excellence Awards will be given at the Closing Business Session at 4 p.m. and the two Chapters of the Year will be awarded at the President’s Installation Banquet at 7:30 p.m.

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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