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Friday, December 2, 2011
From the President

Committees, and volunteers, deserve much credit

By John Ensslin

The unsung heroes of our Society are the volunteers who log countless hours working on various national committees.

As your new president, I've been blessed to inherit a very strong set of committees. I've added people and created some new ad-hoc committees, but for the most part, a fair number of folks agreed to continue on this year.

In my view, committees are working laboratories where SPJ policies are drafted and vetted. I've tasked these folks with testing out several new initiatives. Here are brief descriptions of some of the assignments they are working on.

* The Programming Committee is a new panel aimed at helping professional and student chapters increase the level of SPJ activities. One project they are working on is to create a "speakers' bureau" of various experts within SPJ who would be willing to travel at minimal cost to talk to chapters across the country.

* The expanded Membership Committee, which now includes a subcommittee focused on student chapters, will form a team of volunteers to reach out to lapsed members to encourage them to re-up. The group is also working on coordinating a monthlong national membership drive in March 2012. They are also studying the feasibility of creating an institutional membership for news organizations.

* The Ethics Committee plans to begin the long and deliberate process of reviewing our code for possible revisions in light of the challenges and opportunities posed by a digital age. The committee also hopes to author some position papers on topics such as political coverage, checkbook journalism, plagiarism, etc.

* The Diversity Committee is at work on reviving the Rainbow Source Book, working to strengthen ties with other journalism organizations, and partnering with chapters and other journalism groups to monitor content and hiring in media.

* The Freedom of Information Committee is working on an encore production of the highly popular "Access Across America Tour" that national secretary-treasurer and former committee chairman Dave Cuillier created two years ago. This year, we're hoping to have more than one trainer making regional tours to newsrooms and chapters across the nation.

* The Government Relations Committee will work with SPJ leaders and the FOI Committee to advocate for open government at all levels from localities to Washington, D.C. One special emphasis will be fighting efforts to repeal or curtail public notice advertising by state and local government.

* The Communications Committee is working on a strategic communications plan aimed at creating unified messaging and ideas for key initiatives on our core missions. The committee also is working on a plan to position SPJ national leaders as experts on various media topics.

* The International Journalism Committee is evaluating what our policy should be when individuals or groups of journalists apply to join SPJ or to start their own chapter, as a group of journalism students in Qatar did two years ago.

* The Awards Committee is weighing whether it would make sense to honor some of our recently deceased SPJ leaders by naming some of our awards after them.

* The Freelance Committee's special project this year will be to develop a freelancers' resource guide.

* The Legal Defense Fund will continue assisting journalists by funding court battles for their First Amendment rights while working with staff to explore new options for fundraising.

* The Professional Development Committee will continue producing online tutorials for our members and will try this year to offer some webinars.

* The Journalism Education Committee is looking at ways to support high school journalism programs that are facing elimination because of budget cuts. The committee also is sharing syllabi and best practices with new faculty and encouraging more minority applicants for the Mark of Excellence Awards.

* The Digital Media Committee will be working on a special project aimed at creating an interactive digital timeline that will allow visitors to our website to explore SPJ's rich, 103-year history.

* The Gen-J Committee is continuing to blog about young journalist issues at the SPJ website. They are also trying to come up with a more contemporary and less retro name for our "Liner Notes" blog.

And last but not least, I've asked Mike Koretzky to lead a "Blue Sky" Committee. I've asked this group if we hypothetically had $10,000 or $50,000 or $100,000, how could we best spend it? There's no money in the budget for this, but let's first see what this panel recommends.

Will all of these initiatives be adopted? Not necessarily. Where there are policy questions involved, the SPJ board ultimately will decide.

But thanks to the efforts of all these volunteers, I feel like our SPJ year is off to a good start.

John Ensslin is the 2011-12 SPJ president. Reach him at jensslin@spj.org.

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