East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists

March 2008

MARCH 2008

2008 SPRING CONFERENCE

I wish more of you could have been in New Orleans March 28-29 for the joint Spring Conference of Region 12 and Region 8.
We had about 130 students and professionals from the six states that make up the two regions, but I had hoped for a lot more.
While the purpose of these conferences is to provide training and networking opportunities, we all know that for many students, the highlight of the weekend often is receiving a Mark of Excellence Award for work published or broadcast in the previous year.
Too bad several schools that had winners either sent no one or only a couple of representatives.
I understand how tight money is right now for universities and news organizations, but the Spring Conference contributes to the health of not only SPJ, but of our careers. The conference gives journalists and would-be journalists a space to share ideas and build relationships. For those who can’t make the trip to the SPJ national conference, the Spring Conference is a way to get something meaningful from their SPJ membership.
Perhaps the programming for this conference didn’t offer enough of the cutting edge for some students and pro members. Programming chair Kathleen Wickham worked hard over the fall and winter to solicit programming ideas. The response was adequate but not stellar.
Still, I felt Kathleen and the rest of the conference planning group put on a program that was worth the trip, especially since it was in New Orleans.
Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni, keynote speaker at the conference luncheon, highlighted the importance of giving our customers interesting content in the competitive climate faced by news organizations today.
Dr. Larry Lorenz, dean of the Loyola University New Orleans School of Mass Communications, opened the conference the morning of March 29 with a strongly worded talk about the future of journalism.
More than a dozen students participated Friday evening in a review of portfolios by professional journalists and journalism professors from Loyola. Afterward, roughly 50 conferees enjoyed a New Orleans-style buffet reception.
On Saturday, two panels focused on covering disaster and humanitarian crisis. One used a Texas State University project involving “Doctors Without Borders” as a model for preparing to cover humanitarian crises. The other featured journalists from New Orleans who critiqued the media’s response since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Veteran journalists James Gill, columnist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and Curtis Wilkie, Cook Chair and Overby Fellow at the University of Mississippi, provided insight into digging beneath the public persona of public figures in a session titled “Rascals, Renegades and Rapscallions.”
Another panel  delved into how media covered the story of six black Louisiana high school students who were charged with attempted murder after beating a white student in the wake of simmering racial tension in the town of Jena. Panelists included Craig Franklin, the associate editor of the weekly Jena Times; Nichole Hutcheson, a reporter who covers culture and social issues for Florida’s St. Petersburg Times; and Sandy Davis, a reporter for The Advocate in Baton Rouge, La.
Other panels included discussions of plagiarism and online journalism, challenges to open meetings in Tennessee and access to court records in Louisiana, and the tension between online journalism sites’ First Amendment responsibilities and their search for revenue to support their journalism.
I’ll provide fuller reports on some of those sessions in a later update.
I’ll conclude with this: It takes a lot of volunteer effort and a lot of money to put on the Spring Conference. There are some in SPJ who question the value of continuing the effort and spending the money. I’m not one of them, but the regional directors who serve on SPJ’s national board will be discussing the future of Spring Conferences at the spring board meeting in May. We will consider ways in which the conferences can be restructured to provide those who attend the most rewarding experience and yield the best results for SPJ.
If you have ideas about what can be done to make the Spring Conference better and entice more journalists – student and professional – to attend, let me hear from you at salbarado@spj.org.

Your comrade,

Sonny Albarado
Region 12 Director

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