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Thursday, June 21, 2012
From the President

By John Ensslin

We live in difficult times. Not a month goes by without fresh news of colleagues who have either lost their jobs or are left to deal with the harsh reality of a smaller newsroom operating on diminished resources.

It’s distressing to read about copy editors being laid off. As someone who has been saved from many an embarrassing gaffe, I’ve come to appreciate the value of a robust copy desk.

Shedding copy editors is like burning the furniture to stay warm, or the proverbial cutting off your nose to spite your face. It’s a desperate option, and in the end, the news outlet gets hurt.

But hard times require hard people, and journalists — especially SPJ members — are a tough, creative and resourceful bunch.

For vivid proof, look no further than the pages of this edition of Quill, where we honor the work of this year’s Sigma Delta Chi Award winners from newsrooms large and small.

There are some amazing stories here. Take, for example, Corrine Reilly’s riveting description of an operating room in a NATO hospital in Afghanistan for The Virginian-Pilot.

Or the tough, ground-breaking stories that Sara Ganim and her colleagues at the Patriot-News did on the sex assault allegations against former Penn State football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky — which also won a Pulitzer this year.

Or Matt Lakin’s exposé of an epidemic of pain-killer addiction in East Tennessee for the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

All of this work was done against the backdrop of news organizations that are stretched to meet their bottom line. But the work still gets done because reporters, editors, photographers and news directors believed in these stories. They did what had to be done.

We salute them, and I look forward to meeting these fellow journalists when we hold our annual SDX Awards banquet at the National Press Club on Friday, July 20.

If you are near the D.C. area, consider joining us. I know from attending last year’s banquet that it is an inspirational evening and well worth your time and the price of admission. For ticket information, contact Lauren Rochester at 317-927-8000, ext. 210, or lrochester@spj.org.

If you can’t be there, stay tuned for a series of “Studio SPJ” programs that will feature interviews with some of the winners on how they got their story. More on these and past programs is at blogtalkradio.com/SPJ.

Exceptional work like this gives me optimism for the future of journalism. I also found grounds for optimism recently while on a sentimental journey into journalism’s past.

In May, I visited Silverton, an old frontier mining town in southwest Colorado and home to the Silverton Standard & The Miner.

The purpose of my trip was to help dedicate a plaque commemorating the site of the newspaper’s office as one of SPJ’s Historic Sites in Journalism.

The Standard & The Miner became the 94th entry on our list and the second in Colorado, joining the Denver Press Club, which was added in 2008.

This weekly newspaper has been a fixture in Silverton since 1875, when it began telling the stories of this town through good times and bad.

You want to talk about tough times? How about this: The original publisher had to haul the printing press and then rolls of newsprint over a 10,910-foot mountain pass.

The paper has endured through boom and bust cycles as well as an outbreak of Spanish influenza that wiped out 10 percent of the town’s population.

What’s particularly remarkable about the paper’s recent history is what happened in 2009 when the previous owner was set to close the paper. The San Juan Historical Society stepped forward, bought the paper and continues to run it on a non-profit basis.

Silverton Mayor Chris Tookey summed up the town’s feelings at a May 5 dedication ceremony:

“We’re so excited that everybody got together and kept our newspaper alive,” she told the crowd that had gathered for the event.

I told the crowd that the plaque was not just to commemorate a site where journalism has been practiced. Rather, the honor was for the unbreakable bond that exists between this paper and its community.

The challenges we face today in serving our communities are no less daunting than they were for the owners of the Silverton paper when they had to haul newsprint over a steep mountain pass in the dead of a Colorado winter.

But as they showed then, and as our SDX Award winners show now, it can be done, and it will be done.

We are a tough, resourceful bunch. We will find our way.

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

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