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Home > Publications > Quill > President's Column


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Friday, October 2, 2009
President's Column

A new president needs many things - but mostly he needs you

By Kevin Smith

I've always been something of an independent person. When my schoolmates were following trends and trying hard to fit in with their peers, I tended to think more individually, resisting fads and being a part of their loop.

My independence has served me well over my 30 years as a journalist. I’ve lost some friends along the way because I was doing my job as an independent journalist and I couldn’t accept the status quo or look the other way. Others have kept me at arm’s length, but that’s OK because I accepted years ago that independence is essential for doing your job correctly.

But, as I step into my term as president of SPJ, I have to confess that this independent nature of mine is going to give way to the needy side of me. Yes, I am going to be needy when it comes to running this office. In fact, it’s my plan to become the neediest president this organization has produced.

And all of those needs have to be met by you: the officers, board members, committee chairmen and committee members, chapter leaders and members in general. I need the help of more than 8,000 people to make this work over the next year.

If you are a journalist without a job, I need to hear how it happened and what SPJ can do to better serve you. We have in place a three-prong task force that is looking at the future of our profession, how we can assist jobless journalists and how we can stem the loss of memberships and invite people back at a time when being in SPJ should be vital for them. These task-force members need your opinions.

If you are a minority journalist, I need to hear what you think about SPJ’s work on diversity and what improvements we can make for the good of our profession.

If you are a journalist struggling with an ethical dilemma, I need you to share that with our ethics committee. I need to hear what everyone has to say about our Code of Ethics and if it needs updating from the last revision 12 years ago.

If you are facing issues of press rights and need support, we need to hear from you so we can mobilize our Freedom of Information Committee and our Legal Defense Fund.

If you have an interest in global issues, our international committee needs to hear what it can do for journalists in developing countries to assist them in press freedoms or whatever seems appropriate.

If you freelance, our committee needs your opinions on how we can serve the rising numbers in that job market. If you are a digital media guru, or even if you just want to learn the basics, we need to hear what’s on your mind as we expand that committee’s work.

If you are a young journalist and want to work on addressing issues specific to you, we need to hear from you via the Gen-J committee. And speak up and tell us what we need from committees on journalism education, government relations, public outreach and professional development.

And that goes for student journalists as well. The Society needs your input more than ever. None of this works without you. So please share.

But there is one catch to my needy behavior. As much as I want your ideas, I also need you to step up and help make it all work. I alone cannot make it happen. The board of directors can’t make it work, and even the committees will have difficulty, as will the chapter leaders, if members don’t help fill the needs.

We are facing the greatest challenges maybe ever in the history of American journalism. The parts of our profession that aren’t being transformed are being shrunk or disappearing. We are losing papers, stations and jobs, and our nation’s citizenry is losing its voice. It’s a difficult endeavor, but I am perfectly prepared to face these challenges and move us forward. Difficult times call for courageous actions, and that is why I need your help in so many ways.

I not only need your opinions, I need your strength and commitment. And I need you to be courageous, too. I need you to work harder at the chapter levels to create meaningful programming to help journalists, if that’s what’s needed. I need you to talk positively about SPJ and the direction we are heading in these days of turmoil, and I need you to recruit and help retain members. I need you to stand up for press rights and defend the public’s right to know and our right to report it. I need you to question unethical behavior.

I need you beside me and the board this coming year as we chart a course through the unknown. Every little thing you do helps move us forward. If you help me meet the needs of our Society, I can promise you that the course we map won’t carry us though one year, but it will lay before us the path to a prosperous and energized Society for years to come.

I think we all need that.

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