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Home > Publications > Quill > SPJ should change election procedures to ensure fairness


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Tuesday, August 1, 2006
SPJ should change election procedures to ensure fairness

By David Carlson, SPJ President

A lot of SPJ members know exactly how the American colonists felt at the time of the Boston Tea Party.

Like the men and women of 1773, many SPJ members pay their “taxes,” but they have no vote in SPJ’s national elections.

It sounds a lot like taxation without representation, doesn’t it? And we’re not talking about a small number of people — nearly 40 percent of our professional members and half of our student members are not represented when the votes are cast.

The cause of this injustice is the delegate system we currently use in SPJ governance. And we are the only journalism organization that uses such a system.

It works like this: Each chapter in good standing, student or professional, can elect or appoint one delegate for each 50 chapter members, or part thereof. A chapter with 51 members gets two delegate votes, for example. In order to vote, the delegates have to make their way to the national convention and be present in the business meeting at which the voting takes place.

But not all of our members belong to local chapters, not all chapters are able to be represented at the national convention, and not all of our chapters are in good standing. Something as simple as a late annual report, for example, can cost a chapter its delegate votes. All of those chapters and all of those members are disenfranchised under the current system.

We all wish that every city had an SPJ chapter and that every member was active in one of those chapters, but the fact is that nearly 40 percent of our professional members don’t have a chapter nearby or choose not to belong.

Those members have no voice. It’s also a fact that fewer than half of our campus chapters are able to send delegates to the convention each year. That means more than half of our campus members have no voice.

In the past two years, the existing system has meant that about 100 delegate votes have chosen the SPJ president, the secretary-treasurer and the six at-large members of the board of directors. At best, those 100 delegate votes represented fewer than 5,000 of SPJ’s 9,000-plus members.

I believe that’s wrong. I believe that every member of SPJ deserves a voice in who leads the organization.

At this year’s national convention, delegates will be asked to rectify the situation by approving a bylaws change to recast our national elections.

The idea is to let every member vote for the national officers and for the board members who represent the nation at large.

It also will move the Society to online voting, giving all of us an opportunity to vote during the national convention whether we are present or not. Those who don’t have access to a computer will be able to vote by phone.

The new bylaw will make no other changes in how our organization is governed. Chapters still will send delegates to the convention. Convention delegates still will debate and decide future changes to the bylaws.

Delegates still will debate and decide resolutions, and all members who attend national conventions still will have a chance to meet the candidates and hear them speak about their hopes and dreams for SPJ.

The only difference is that ballots will be cast online or by phone, and all of our members will have the opportunity to vote for their leaders. The voting still will take place during the convention. Polls will be open for at least a full day, but members at home will be able to vote via computer or telephone, just as the members at the convention will vote.

A complete packet of information about the proposal was mailed to every local chapter on

June 23.

The packet includes the exact wording of the proposed change to the bylaws, a committee report and Q&A that details how the online voting would work, and a cover letter from me.

If you or your chapter wants more information, contact me at dcarlson@spj.org or visit www.spj.org/elecbios.asp.

I believe this is a critical issue, and, as your president, I ask for your support.

I hope you will contact your local officers and urge your chapter to send its delegates to Chicago with instructions to vote in favor of this important measure.

It will end taxation without representation. It will make SPJ a better organization.


David Carlson spent more than 20 years as a reporter, photographer, designer and top editor at newspapers before joining the University of Florida in 1993. He was an early developer of online newspapers and now is the Cox/Palm Beach Post professor of new media journalism and director of the Interactive Media Lab at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

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