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Tuesday, October 22, 2013
From the President

Priorities and opportunities for the coming year

By David Cuillier

These are exciting times for journalism, and a bit unnerving. But journalism is NOT dead or dying; itís evolving. Journalism matters.

Iím glad SPJ can play a role, and during this next year I will need your help. During my speech at EIJ13 in Anaheim, Calif., I laid out some priorities that we are working on. Here is a summary:

UPDATING THE CODE OF ETHICS

Itís been nearly two decades since a revision, and while the core principles are solid, itís time to look at how the code might continue to stay relevant with emerging issues in the digital environment. I doubt we will see a major overhaul ó itís really just updating and staying current with the times. The Ethics Committee, led by Kevin Smith, will be asking for feedback and involving members at the chapter and regional levels. Itís my goal to have a specific proposal to delegates before EIJ14 Sept. 4-6, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. See more information here, and fill out the survey.

ADVOCATING FOR FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS, INCLUDING A FEDERAL SHIELD LAW

Hundreds of journalists are forced by government every year to cough up their notes or sources. Some are threatened with jail or bankruptcy. We canít have that. On Sept. 12 the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the Free Flow of Information Act that would provide some protection for journalists against willy-nilly subpoenas and harassment. The current proposed language is not perfect, and defining ďjournalistĒ is a quagmire, but I believe we need a shield law, plain and simple. I understand that not all of us are in agreement over the bill language, but I will be encouraging you all to contact your members of Congress this fall to let them know a shield law matters. We also must push back against excessive secrecy and PIO controls to manage the message.

STARTING COMMUNITIES

We are testing out the idea of creating segments, or ďcommunities,Ē within SPJ to allow members to network, share resources and build camaraderie within their specialties. The Freelance Committee is morphing this year into the Freelance Community, which is exciting. More will likely follow. I particularly like the idea of communities for journalism educators, digital journalism, community journalism and beat-oriented specialties. Whatever emerges it must evolve organically, based on what members want. Stay tuned for more information.

IMPROVING COMMUNICATION

Face it: Journalists, ironically, can be really bad at communicating. We assume everyone understands the value of the First Amendment and of journalists. So I have formed a task force to put together a plan of action by this winter to improve our methods for responding quickly to breaking journalism news; communicating better with members, nonmember journalists and the public; and bolstering advocacy. SPJ is unique among journalism organizations because under the tax code it is a 501(c)(6). We have the legal authority, and I think the responsibility, to lobby and advocate on behalf of journalism and the First Amendment ó not only for the benefit of journalists, but for everyone.

DISCUSSING THE NAME CHANGE

Whatís in a name? Apparently a lot! After convention delegates briefly discussed the idea of changing SPJís name to the Society for Professional Journalism, they instructed the SPJ board to continue looking into the pros and cons. I have asked former SPJ president John Ensslin to lead a task force to work through the issues this year, confer with leaders, and provide information for the board at its spring meeting in April. I fully anticipate a healthy discussion, and every member (and prospective member!) will be encouraged to chime in. Region 3 Director Michael Koretzky, who proposed the idea at the convention in Anaheim, has raised some compelling points. To me, this is really figuring out who we are and who we want to be. That is crucial to our future.

Weíll have a lot of other great activities underway this year, including developing new resources to foster diversity in journalism, creating new practical training platforms online and in person to help journalists improve their skills, and helping build scholastic journalism to nurture future journalists. I will blog about all of this more in the weeks and months to come.

So please let me know what you think, and how SPJ can better serve members, chapters and journalism as a whole. Get involved in your chapter and the national committees. We are all in this together, because it makes a difference in the world. Journalism matters!

David Cuillier, 2013-14 SPJ president and former SPJ FOI Committee chairman, is director of the University of Arizona School of Journalism, where he teaches and researches access to public records and data. He is coauthor with Charles Davis of ďThe Art of Access: Strategies for Acquiring Public Records.Ē Reach him at spjdave@yahoo.com.

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