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Wednesday, October 5, 2011
From the President

Reinvention happens — in life and careers

By Hagit Limor

Editor’s Note: Hagit Limor’s term ended Sept. 27, 2011, during the Excellence in Journalism conference. This is her last column written as SPJ president.

My father sits long hours in his living room chair these days, approaching his 81st birthday, pondering a patchwork of memories captured on the front pages of history.

He saw the Nazis march, select and kill. He grew from boy to teen in a concentration camp. He lost the only home he knew to thieves who would not return it, then sailed across an ocean to build a new home. He fought in a war that threatened that refuge and survived a bullet lodged in his brain to this day. Fragments of metal emerge every few years like the memories that escape any denial.

All that before he was 18.

But if you ask my dad about his past, he won’t bring up forced slave labor, starvation or the family murdered before his third grade. He won’t complain about losing educational opportunity despite a photographic memory, or losing his eye on a battlefield.

He’ll talk about the creation of a new life in a new world, something he did three times in his life. He’ll explain there’s no use in complaining about forces outside your control. He’ll speak of reinvention built on new skills and hard work.

Much a parable to the life of every journalist today.

We find ourselves creating a new world and reinventing our roles within. Some of us don’t like it. Having worked in four newsrooms, I understand that some grousing comes with the key card. I also know that like the invasion of the Borg, resistance is futile.

The economic malaise wrought by the Great Recession only accelerated forces that had been gathering and would not be denied. From the moment Konrad Zuse began inventing the first freely programmable computer in 1936, we set upon this technological path that would change the way we consume news. We added financial pressure the second we began giving away our product for free on the Internet, threatening the advertising model on which we had buttered our bread.

So like my father, we must reinvent, building new models, new media, new skills.

The Society of Professional Journalists will continue to help through this transition. We pre-date even that first Z1 computer, and we will persevere through technologies yet undreamed, much less imagined.

In the same sense, SPJ also must transition to survive. We’ve taken several large steps in the past year. We’ve forged partnerships with other journalism organizations, offering office support where needed, collaborating on training sessions across the country and partnering with the Radio Television Digital News Association to present one of our best conventions ever in Excellence in Journalism 2011 in New Orleans.

At the same time, we not only stayed within budget at a time others could not, we added to our cash reserves and built an awards platform that not only better served our members but that we’ve monetized by selling to other organizations.

Our committees worked their respective specialties to great effort. We added new videos to our on-demand training site, instituted our first national Black Hole Award to highlight heinous violations of the public’s right to know (and pressured Utah to overturn an onerous anti-transparency FOI law three weeks after passing it), and supported through our Legal Defense Fund continuing court battles to defend the rights of a free press.

All the while, we continue to look for new ways to serve our members, recognizing we must evolve much as the industry we serve.

It has been my pleasure to serve the Society as your president this past year. Every moment, every issue, has presented an opportunity for learning and growth, and for that I thank you. In the past 12 months, I’ve met with hundreds of journalists during 21 trips across this country and one to Japan. These conversations have made clear the priorities we share as if one.

We’re concerned about shrinking resources and personnel in the midst of expanding duties to service new platforms. We’re alarmed by an increasing inability to access public officials and public records, accompanied by a decreasing inclination on the part of corporate owners to fight for those rights in court. We’re dismayed by falling salaries that make us question this calling as a lifelong career. We’re challenged to learn new systems, technologies and tools in a constant training loop that tests our time to hone the words and the pictures that make our craft truly an art.

These are the goals and the challenges that we share. These are the focal points that should guide this Society and its business into the future. As I close out this term, my most ardent wish is for SPJ members to rally around these missions that unite us. We owe that to ourselves as journalists and as individuals, and we owe it to the public whom we serve as stewards of the Fourth Estate.

In the corner of my childhood living room, a man who had every excuse to be bitter has lived his life simply to be better. Better than those who would bring darkness into his sunshine, in order so that he could leave a better world for the future. I choose to dream the same for my life as a person and as a journalist. I choose to dream the same for this Society as a leader now stepping aside, and as a member who will continue to serve and to care.

Hagit Limor served as 2010-11 SPJ president. She is an investigative reporter at WCPO-TV in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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