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Home > Publications > Quill > Outgoing president asks members to carry torch


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Thursday, September 27, 2007
Outgoing president asks members to carry torch

Christine Tatum

The Society of Professional Journalists is an amazing organization that accomplishes more in a year than many members — even most, I daresay — realize. Serving as national president, as I have since August 2006, would bring you up to speed in a hurry. It would also blow your mind.

In the past year, SPJ has made healthy, solid changes that have cleaned up some of its administrative and volunteer structures; vastly improved internal and external communications; refocused and re-energized national committees; spawned initiatives that generate new revenue; and challenged national directors to rethink how SPJ serves members and the larger cause of journalism advocacy.

I am particularly proud that SPJ leaders have embarked on a strategic-planning process that stands to help this organization accomplish another century of tremendous work. It is thrilling to watch them plan to deliver more instruction online, and to promote SPJ’s missions through a “Citizen Journalism Academy” that will be presented in a few cities nationwide next year.

It’s also exciting to see SPJ’s burgeoning Legal Advocacy Network generate money for freedom-of-information projects while also connecting the media law and journalism communities.

For far more details about all of this and much, much more, please see my annual report on www.spj.org. I’m willing to bet you’ll agree SPJ is well-positioned to rocket forward with huge impact.

There are ways every SPJ member could help ensure this organization’s success. Some are relatively simple, and others may require some personal reflection. All are offered by a woman who cares deeply for this organization and who has spent the past 13 months fielding thousands (yes, thousands) of e-mails and hundreds (yes, hundreds) of phone calls and engaging in similar conversations at dozens of SPJ events nationwide:

Innovate

SPJ is experiencing (as it should) pains of similar dynamics as those endured by the news industry. Innovation is often at odds with tradition. Folks who cling to tradition often complain that people who champion change are somehow less principled, ethical and knowledgeable — none of which is necessarily true. SPJ can, and must, change with the times without compromising its values. But not changing is not an option for survival.

Communicate

One chief reason people give for dropping membership is that they’ve not heard from anyone in their local chapter. One chief complaint from local chapter leaders is that they never hear from their regional director. And one chief complaint from regional directors is that they don’t hear enough from the national president.

We’re journalists for crying out loud! At the same time, communication is, as they say, a two-way street. It’s time for every member to travel it by speaking up with questions, concerns, ideas, proposals and requests.

Give every member a voice and work to attract new voices

Allow me to be brutally honest: SPJ has struggling chapters that do little, and sometimes nothing, in a year. There are states in which SPJ has no professional chapters.

It is shameful this organization prevents members from voting simply because those members don’t have the time or inclination to start a chapter in a place where there isn’t one. It is silly that members don’t get to vote because their chapter doesn’t have the money — or a willing volunteer — to attend the annual national conference. While chapters are important to SPJ, they shouldn’t be the only way through which a member has a voice in this organization. Paging all innovators. Stat!

Live up to commitments and promises

I’ve never actually seen anyone wrench another member’s hand into the air. SPJ would be stronger overnight if more people said, “Thanks for asking, but I don’t have time to do that work.”

Rise above politics and personalities

Conflicts are bound to happen. The good news is that there is more than enough work to do around SPJ and plenty of wonderful people to meet. Skip the personal strife, and find a new crowd to hang with. Need ideas? Contact SPJ’s headquarters office today.

SPJ’s national presidency is richly rewarding, highly educational and a good deal of fun. Thanks so much for giving me tremendous opportunities — and for helping me learn valuable, life-enriching lessons along the way.

It has been a privilege and honor to serve you.

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