East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists

April 2008

April 30, 2008

Fellow SPJ supporters,

This weekend I’ll be in Indianapolis for the spring SPJ board meeting. A key issue we’ll discuss and probably act on is what to do with regional Spring Conferences.
The board will be asked to “nationalize” Spring Conferences starting next year, the 100th anniversary of the founding of Sigma Delta Chi, the organization that evolved into SPJ.
Under this proposal, headquarters staff and SPJ’s professional development committee would direct the organization and staging of each region’s conference. The staff and committee would develop core curricula each year in accordance with SPJ’s missions and priorities.
Regional directors and/or local SPJ leaders would be consulted to help develop conference programming topical to the region.
The primary beneficiaries of this proposal would be regional directors and leaders of the host-city chapter because they would no longer have to devote days of personal time, and sometimes their own money, to organizing, preparing, publicizing and promoting the annual conference.
Leaders in each region would decide for themselves how big a part they would play in producing the their conference.
In his memo to the board, executive director Terry Harper wrote:
“It should be noted that it is not the intent of this action to force any region to participate that does not want to. If a region wants to continue to do its own thing, that is perfectly acceptable and any formal action by the board should make that clear.
“It is the intention of this action that the national organization will shoulder the financial burden of putting on the conference, as well as reap the benefits of any surplus. Regions and/or local chapters may share in the surpluses (or deficits) by mutual agreement for doing a proportional share of the work.”

***
I support some aspects of the proposal. As someone who has been directly involved in producing three conferences, I would welcome the availability of a national staff member to help create programs and provide financial support.
At the same time, I wouldn’t want all or even a majority of programming to come from headquarters. Some of the best regional programs involve stories and issue specific to the region.
So, as of now, I’m ambivalent. If the board nationalizes the conferences, I would want assurances that local/regional programming get preference. I would also want assurances about the financing end. This region has some cash cushion today but it hasn’t always, and might not in the future.
As it is, SPJ membership in Region 12 is in serious decline. Between 2007 and 2008 the number of members in our region fell 45.4 percent, from 445 to 243. Of all SPJ regions, that was the largest drop in membership; the next largest was Region 8, which lost 15.5 percent.
Only four regions posted membership gains, the largest being 17.9 percent in Region 9. Overall national membership has ticked up slightly, about 1.5 percent, from last year but is still more than 6 percent below 2005.
I don’t how much of our region’s membership freefall is the result of the more than five years of layoffs and buyouts in the newspaper business, but it is not a good sign.
I will need help from all of you to keep people in the organization. Retaining members is just as important as recruiting new members, if not more so.
On top of membership concerns, I remain committed to helping establish professional chapters in Mississippi and Louisiana, two of the 12 states that have no active chapters.
Louisiana has 37 SPJ members and Mississippi 16. I will be calling on those members in coming months to help revitalize SPJ’s presence in their respective journalism communities.

MORE POST-CONFERENCE NOTES
Words of thanks
As you know, SPJ is primarily a volunteer organization. Yes, we have a small national staff, but activities at the local and regional levels are produced by members, all of whom have to work their SPJ roles into their regular jobs.
Dr. Kathleen Wickham, journalism prof at Ole Miss, took on the bulk of the planning for this year’s conference. She rode herd on me, Region 8 director Travis Poling and a handful of others to come up with programming ideas, secure panelists for the programs and otherwise help pull off the event with as few hitches as possible.
Crystal Bolner, adviser to the student chapter at Loyola University in New Orleans, secured university permission to use its facilities for free, helped me locate a reasonably priced conference hotel and organized one of the panels. She also provided last-minute assistance in keeping registration flowing and took care of other details.
I mention these two SPJ stalwarts not only to publicly thank them for their efforts but to call attention to the dedication it takes to pull off a regional Spring Conference.
Thank you Kathleen and Crystal for all you’ve done.

Conference program synopsis
Loyola’s MassComm Dean Larry Lorenz opened the conference with a welcoming address that talked about the role of the media in New Orleans, post-Katrina. He noted that the Times-Picayune matured as a newspaper in the post-flood era. He said the paper has found a way to balance objectivity with advocacy in its reporting on New Orleans.
He noted that while young readers don’t see themselves in the media, young adults were never newspaper readers. While there has been a decline in the newspaper business in the last four years, the Picayune, through its depth coverage and passion since 2005, has demonstrated that newspapers have the power to offer readers nourishing newspapers.

***

Journalism in a converged world:
Freda Yarbrough
, new media director, The Advocate, Baton Rouge:
Management style needs to change, how staff is structured needs to change to meet changes in the online media world.
“Newsrooms must connect with the public. Newsrooms are not the gatekeepers. Newsrooms must listen to the public to know what to cover. Give the public what they want and need in a new package.
“Newsrooms must be platform agnostic.”
Stories must report “why is this meeting important”, not just what occurred at the meeting.
Joe Hight, director of information and development, the Oklahoman/NewsOK.com, Oklahoma City:
The Oklahoman and its online entity separated from its convergence partner, a CBS affiliate, after eight years and created a solo identity as a multimedia company with the newspaper, video, podcasts, blogging and mobile solutions under one badge.
The organization developed newsgathering, presentation and information-organization strategies. It committed to this path by hiring video producers, editors and videographers. It created a data team that aggregates data for topical/ online presentation. And video and podcast studios were added.
As an information multimedia firm, the Oklahoman focuses on common interests, rather than geographic divisions and demographics.
“The general public views itself as reporters and takes pride in beating the local media.”
Dwayne Fatherree, managing editor of NOLA.com:
The online outfit hosts Times-Picayune content but is separate from the newspaper, with its own offices and staff. NOLA.com can host content from other sources, including radio, TV and other newspapers.
Staff producers create content from material supplied by its partners.
NOLA.com also pools its resources with the Picayune for certain coverage.

– Contributed by Kathleen Wickham

COMING SOON IN KNOXVILLE
The East Tennessee SPJ pro chapter hosts its annual Golden Press Club Awards banquet at 6 p.m. May 9 at The Foundry in Knoxville.
National SPJ President Clint Brewer will be the featured speaker.
For more info, visit http://etspj.org/golden-press-card-awards-2/

NEWS FROM OLE MISS

“Quality in a Digital Environment” was the title of the presentation given by multi-media guru Dan Conover at the University of Mississippi’s Feb. 25 SPJ meeting.
Conover is a reporter, cartoonist, blogger, illustrator and videographer for The Post and Courier newspaper in Charleston, S.C. He spent five years as the newspaper’s city editor and worked as news director for its Web site, Charleston.net, in 2006.
Conover “home-blogs” at the eclectic group blog Xark <http://xark.typepad.com/> .
Conover was joined by Janet Edens, who heads The Post and Courier’s innovation planning team.
About 75 students attended the session.
Conover’s visit was funded through a $500 SPJ chapter development grant.
The pair also met with journalism department faculty for 90 minutes to discuss changes in the industry and how journalism departments need to change curricula to meet those needs.
Additional sessions were held with the editors of the Daily Mississippian, the campus daily. SPJ members and faculty hosted a dinner for Conover and Edens at the Overby Center for the Study of Journalism & Southern Politics.
MCAST, the journalism department’s video outlet, has the presentation available via the department’s Web site: http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/journalism/index.html <http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/journalism/index.html>

That’s all for now. I’ll report back after the board meeting.

-30-

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