Why SPJ? After 110 years, is it needed?

Yvette Walker
Sep 1 · 3 min read

The Society of Professional Journalists turned 110 years old this year and the organization celebrated it on the steps of the university where it began. I like this glance backward, to find out where we have come from, as we seek a new way forward. We would love to have you participate, too.

As a newly re-elected national board member, I think about this often. There are dozens of journalism organizations, all with different missions and goals, and all doing good. So, where does SPJ, the oldest of them all, fit in?

Quill magazine reported on the anniversary celebration and linked to the video.

“In 1909, a group of students founded the Society of Professional Journalists (as Sigma Delta Chi) at DePauw University. On Aug. 23, SPJ staffers, its board president, university official and more gathered on the spot where it happened for a brief ceremony celebrating its 110th anniversary.”

There were many speakers, but what John Russell had to say resonated with me. Russell is the SPJ IndyPro Chapter president, and commented that he had not gone to journalism school, but rather majored in political science and economics. Still, he became a journalist and became a leader in SPJ. He said:

“It’s hard not respect and admire an organization that … stands for everything you hold dear, and that helps you with the daily tasks of doing your job at the highest level.”

I am in complete agreement with Russell. SPJ is more than a figurehead of objectivity, free speech and ethics. It also provides real-time, required tools for journalists— critical resources in this era of acrimony against journalism from our top leaders and their followers.

Sadly, we haven’t been doing a good enough job of letting people know this. Many of you told us so in emails and during town halls. The results of our member survey was shared at the Excellence in Journalism Conference Sept. 4–7 in San Antonio and lives online here.

All that we do is on our website, but in case you haven’t browsed it lately, or read our weekly newsletter, SPJ Leads, here is what SPJ does:


Legal Defense Fund

Did you know SPJ helps journalists out of legal scrapes? “The Society’s Legal Defense Fund is a unique account that can be tapped for providing journalists with legal or direct financial assistance. Application to the fund is approved by either a small committee or the national board, depending on the level of assistance sought. The committee works throughout the year raising funds for LDF. In March 2015, SPJ and the National Freedom of Information Coalition announced they would join forces — and legal war chests — to help citizens and journalists fight for public records.” — From SPJ.org


Training

SPJ sends trainers (for free) to newsrooms around the country to teach
in association with Google News Initiative and Facebook, as well as Press4Education, which sends journalists to speak at high schools.


Resources

SPJ has resources on everything from covering hurricanes and tropical storms to the Opioid coverage to mass shootings. The Journalist’s Tookbox lists 70 research and resource areas. I can’t write them all here!


Ethics and Freedom of Information

This has been called our bread-and-butter issues, so you probably know about this. We have the Ethics Code, the book, Ethics Q and A and case studies.



Diversity

This is not least, but I list it last because diversity is an area that needs constant monitoring, and, like other organizations, we need to step up. Our Diversity style guides, toobox, teaching plan, guidelines on profiling and our Fellows program, are all great resources, but we need to add, update and tell members about these resources.

So, is SPJ still relevant after 110? Absolutely, and I hope to help guide for a few more years. If you agree, check out SPJ.org.

Yvette Walker

Written by

Yvette Walker is Assistant Dean at the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma. Journalist 24/7 but opinions my own.

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