Was the last SPJ national board meeting looking out for the greater good of the organization?


By Sharon Dunten, executive editor, SizingUpTheSouth.com

At most nonprofit organizations that have volunteer boards of directors, meetings and board attitudes can become disheveled and might lead to power struggles and passive-aggressive statements between members of a board who idealistically have been elected to encourage a greater good for the organization they govern.

This might be what happened at the last SPJ National board meeting held via Zoom in early June. If you haven’t read about the SPJ National board meeting in the Columbia Journalism Review or watched the abridged video version of verbal combat between board members and its president on social media or in one board member’s blog, “Journoterriorist,” produced by SPJ Region 3’s Director Michael Koretzky, you might want to view it as an example of what not to do if conducting a board meeting that is recorded and available to the members and general public.

This video, whether it is abridged or not, has produced bad PR for the Society of Professional Journalists as a national organization. The abrupt resignation of Allison Bethel McKenzie, former executive director of SPJ, has caused tension within the board as the members try to figure out how to recruit a new director and organize a search committee. And let’s face it, there may be personality issues between the SPJ board members. To say the least, it was embarrassing to see a national president bring condescension of other board members into the conversation.

SPJ members deserve more from the leadership of their organization.

As stated in the CJR article, its members (and all news journalists) are facing layoffs and really don’t need this egomania coming from an organization’s board of directors whose top responsibility is to be advocates for them and their profession. Journalists face aggression, violence, detainment, arrests, blocked FOI requests, low wages, corporate newsroom takeovers, trauma & stress, accusations of producing fake news, and the most combative president toward the First Amendment in US history.

If SPJ members might be questioning their membership right now, they might want to consider a few things:

  • The SPJ Code of Ethics and SPJ principles to defend the First Amendment rights for press freedom stands firm despite the bureaucratic conflicts of its current president and the SPJ board of directors.
  • SPJ is the nation’s oldest journalism organization and it has been through turbulent times before. SPJ will prevail.
  • A SPJ national president only serves one year, therefore, if an individual is incapable of properly leading the SPJ board, there is an exit plan in place after one year.

How can SPJ members find their voices and demand that the SPJ board leadership resolve its issues and build a stronger Society of Professional Journalists organization?

  • As members: Contact the SPJ national board members and to use a member’s voice on what they expect from leadership and “to get their acts together.”
  • As members: Encourage solutions-building, civil communications for positive changes within the SPJ board (and HQ staff) and do not accept verbal excuses for poor behavior nor lack of follow through for tasks or requests.
  • As members: Vote at the 2019 SPJ national election for new board members at the EIJ19 convention in San Antonio, Texas. Members do not have to be present to vote. A vote can be done through the internet. Journalists write every day about this democratic right they have to vote in the United States. So, why not use their rights as members to elect an outstanding board to finally enter the 21st century? It might be time to leave some antiquated concepts and ideas behind and become more proactive in advocating for journalists and journalism – nationally, regionally, statewide, locally and for the individual journalist who serves the news journalism industry.  
  • As members: Suggest to national leadership to acknowledge that the real lasting work of SPJ is in its volunteers who are “on the ground” providing programs through chapter events and supplying a state or local SPJ voice for their journalists and newsrooms. These SPJ volunteers are the closest connection with individual members and journalists. Remember to support them, to encourage them and to thank them.
  • As members: To do the “next best thing” as an SPJ member and live by what he or she feels that SPJ stands for as an organization that exists to guarantee the rights of the First Amendment and advocate for those who work in news journalism.

Passivity has become an epidemic in this country’s psyche. Don’t let the news journalism profession fall victim of this rampant disregard for action.

Sharon Dunten is also the assistant regional director for SPJ Region 3.

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