A message to SPJ members

SPJ Election Central soon will be sending out an email to all members with candidates’ messages. Here is mine:

I am Paul Fletcher, candidate for SPJ President-Elect. This past year I have had the privilege of serving as Secretary-Treasurer. Here are some of the issues I will continue to work on if elected:

(1) NEW ETHICS CODE. In Nashville, delegates will be voting whether to adopt a new Code of Ethics, replacing the 1996 version. I have been a member of the Code revision committee this year; I would welcome the chance to help with the roll-out and transition to a new Code.

(2) ADVOCACY. SPJ seeks to improve and protect journalism. We do that best when we are strong advocates for journalism and journalists: Just this month, SPJ marshalled the support of 37 other journalism and open government groups for a letter to the White House, protesting news suppression and lack of responsiveness by the government. We have pushed for a federal shield law this year. We have followed and supported individual journalists faced with subpoenas or other threats to press freedom.

(3) ONE MEMBER, ONE VOTE. In 2011, we adopted one member, one vote to elect our national officers and board members. It’s time to extend that system to all SPJ votes. Our annual convention provided representative decision-making, based on chapter membership, at one point. But as many as 50 percent of our 7,500 members currently do not belong to chapters. We’ll need a by-laws amendment, so we should start figuring out how to work a change now.

I would appreciate your vote and the opportunity to keep serving SPJ. See you in Nashville!

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A busy couple of weeks

It has been a very busy few weeks, both at work and within SPJ. A quick catch-up that won’t do justice to any of the items.

* The President-Elect Race. In my last post before the Fourth of July, I said I was hoping that Michael Koretzky, Region 3′s director, and I could meet and talk about some of the issues facing SPJ. He and I had a long, productive talk on July 8, and we found several patches of common ground, as well as some points on which we disagreed. We both agree that one member, one vote should be adopted for SPJ decision-making (see my “Message to SPJ Members,” the next post I will put up). Michael withdrew from the president-elect race on July 11. I look forward to more positive and productive talks with him and seeking to find SPJ issues he and I can work together on.

* A Letter to the White House. This is SPJ advocacy work at its finest, and a hat tip goes to SPJ President Dave Cuillier for gathering 37 other journalism and open government groups to back a strongly worded letter to the White House, objecting to information management and a lack of cooperation. Kudos too to Kathryn Foxhall, who has covered government in DC for many years and who wouldn’t give up the quest.

* The third draft of the new Code of Ethics. On July 12, I went to Columbus, Ohio, to meet with 11 other members of the Code of Ethics Revision project, and after 10 hours of high-level debate and discussion, we produced the third draft of the SPJ Code of Ethics. The draft is markedly different from the first and second drafts — it witnesses the inclusion of “transparency” as one of the cardinal tenets of ethical journalism. And indeed, the shift is away from offering guidelines for “journalists” and toward establishing what is “ethical journalism,” since many nontraditional journalists are now on the scene. I will be going to meet with SPJ Delaware on Aug. 4 for a session on the new Code — I’ll offer more thoughts before then.

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A discussion with Michael Koretzky

Michael Koretzky, the other candidate for SPJ president-elect, contacted to me this morning, asking that we debate the issues in the campaign. I’d like to share my response:

Michael -

I’d be happy to debate, or just to have a simple conversation and exchange of ideas.

On the two big issues on which you are basing your candidacy, we are in at least partial agreement.

You said you want to have all committee members approved by the board, I told Andy [Schotz] yesterday that I am not opposed to having committee chairs subject to board approval.

And although we arrived from different arguments, we both appear to favor one member, one vote for matters currently coming before the convention. I laid out a timetable and plan for how we can get there the quickest, given the constraints of the bylaws.

What other issues do you want to debate?

I hope you have seen that I am willing to listen to you. I won’t always agree, but I will listen. And many of your ideas are innovative and valuable.

Let me throw out one last thought, not necessarily for debate, but for conversation: You said in your candidate statement that I will “continue to lead SPJ as it’s been led for a century.” I’m not sure I even know what that means, but I suspect it’s not accurate. I would be happy to relate how I have worked with and led boards and committees over the years, and how I approach that kind of work.

Paul

Michael later shared some of the issues that he would like to see debated or discussed. I am looking forward to a phone talk with him in the next day or two.

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Warner: Filibuster of shield law will fail

This morning I attended a roundtable of the board of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government (of which I am a member) and Sen. Mark Warner. I was able to ask the senator about the status of the federal shield law. Here is my report of the meeting.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., wants to see the federal shield law come to the floor of the Senate for discussion. Any filibuster will fail, he said, predicting that the measure will attract the 60 votes needed for cloture, including his.

The Free Flow of Information Act, S. 987, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee last September on a bipartisan 13-5 vote. There currently is no federal protection for journalists and their confidential sources; the bill would establish a qualified reporter’s privilege at the federal level.

Senate leaders have been waiting until they are sure that the bill will survive a filibuster before bringing it to the floor. Currently an estimated 54-55 senators, both Democrats and Republicans, have agreed to vote for cloture, the procedure for ending a filibuster. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., opposes the measure and is expected to try to stop it.

Warner appeared at a roundtable in Richmond July 2 with the board of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government.

“I think there should be a media shield law,” Warner said, acknowledging that he has not followed the current bill closely. “Intellectually, I’m for it,” he said.

“There needs to be a debate,” he added. As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he said he “had seen the very real damage” Edward Snowden had done “to the U.S. and those allied with us” with his revelations about the National Security Agency.

“How do we balance that in an open society?” he asked. “It’s a fair question.”

He noted to the VCOG board the questions about who would be covered as a “journalist” and the limits of the shield.

The issue of who is covered by the FFIA was vetted in the Judiciary Committee, with a compromise reached last fall by Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., and other senators. Under the bill, the person providing information obtained from a confidential source must have the primary intent to gather news and deliver it to the public; he or she must have a current relationship with a news entity or a past track record of free-lancing. The bill provides a safety valve that allows a federal judge to determine if someone is covered in cases that are not clear. Also, the bill does not provide a shield for confidential information related to terrorism or national security.

Asked whether the bill will make it to the floor, Warner said, “Will it be filibustered? Absolutely.”

But that effort will fail, he indicated. “I’ll vote for cloture and there will be 60 votes,” he said.

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A response to Michael Koretzky’s “offer”

Since my message June 27 to the SPJ board, Michael Koretzky, the other candidate for SPJ president-elect, spelled out more fully his “offer” to me: If I support two proposals he has made at his site, spjrefresh.com, he will withdraw from the race.

This offer is an invitation to a breach of ethics. Accepting this offer would mean taking some action impacting SPJ in exchange for something of personal gain; it would violate the oath I took as an officer and my duties to SPJ. It would be a conflict of interest. I reject this offer on ethical grounds. I will continue to operate, as always, with what is best for SPJ in mind.

Michael’s two proposals involve (1) having the SPJ board approve all committee members proposed by a new president and (2) SPJ governance at our annual convention. Here is my take:

BOARD APPROVAL of ALL COMMITTEE MEMBERS.

Is the SPJ president an all-powerful autocrat? A review of the SPJ bylaws spells out the answer: no.

The powers of the president are enumerated in Article Six, Section Five:

“The president shall be the chief executive of the organization and shall preside at the convention. The president shall have charge of the relations of the organization with other organizations and shall have the usual powers and duties of a president in accordance with the spirit of the bylaws. The president shall have authority to require a report from any chapter or national or chapter officer of the organization at any time. The president is authorized to appoint and assign duties to committees that the president deems necessary.”

This is the only mention of SPJ’s committees in the bylaws.

Contrast the president’s authority to that of the board of directors, found in Article Seven. The board has far more power and responsibility. The board’s members:

• Have “the responsibility of maintaining the fiscal integrity of the Society by keeping it financially solvent.” (Section Eight)
• Are “responsible for organizing, guiding and supervising, and stimulating the activity of each chapter in their regions.” (Section Ten)
• Have the responsibility to “encourage and assist professional chapters in carrying on activities of a professional nature in furtherance of the Society’s aims…” (Section Eleven)
• Draw the organizational map for SPJ and “shall determine the boundaries for regions.” (Section Two)
• Can remove any officer, including the president, for failure to perform the duties of the office. (Section Twelve)

While the executive director reports to the president and the board (Article Twelve, Section One), he/she serves “at the pleasure of the board,” which sets his/her salary and benefits (Article Twelve, Section Two).

The balance of power tips heavily against the president and toward the board.

Beyond that, let’s examine the committee-approval proposal in practical terms.

The SPJ website currently lists 12 committees with 117 volunteers working in those committees.

Does the board really want to take on hiring and personnel management of 117 (or more) volunteers? The president would have to have his/her entire committee roster chosen before the board meeting at the close of convention. That meeting would, potentially, be devoted to review and discussion of 117 resumes and backgrounds at that board meeting. What if there wasn’t a quorum? Would we not have committees until April, the next board meeting? Then, during the year, what if someone wasn’t pulling his/her weight? Would the board establish progressive discipline for committee members? Issue warnings? Fire volunteers?

The board never would get anything else done.

Ask any current board member if he or she wants to take on all this additional oversight. Anyone considering board service would turn down the opportunity, because he/she would become a personnel officer instead of a leader of the Society.

I don’t think this idea is practical or in the best interests of SPJ.

REPRESENTATION at CONVENTION.

I agree that there is a problem with convention representation, but I come at it from a completely different position from Michael.

The current system uses delegate totals based on chapter membership. This is a representational system, designed to parse participation by size of chapter.

There is one big problem, though: According to HQ staff, somewhere between 40 to 50 percent of our current membership does not belong to a chapter.

In other words, those members are not represented at convention.

I think this needs changing, in the best interests of SPJ. We adopted one member, one vote as our method for election of national officers and at-large board members in 2011. We need to extend one member, one vote to other decision-making.

This is not a change we can or should take lightly. It would change our basic governance. It would change the nature and purpose of the convention. It has financial overtones, since the convention is a revenue stream, and this might change the number of attendees. There likely are other concerns I’m not stating here. But I would like to start work on that process now.

This change will require amendments to the SPJ bylaws. And according to the SPJ bylaws, at Article Fifteen, Section One (a), any proposed change to the bylaws must be submitted to all chapters 60 days before the start of the annual convention. The 60-day mark is this coming Friday, July 4, so it is too late to vet a proposal properly and get it to the delegates at EIJ14 in Nashville.

That actually gives us time – time to put it on the table for discussion and to consider all the potential ramifications. The bylaws committee can determine the ramifications of removing the delegate system from our governance. The HQ staff can assess the financial impact, including any loss of revenue. In other words, we have the time to do our homework and do this right.

We are making an experimental move this September, when two advisory questions, one on adoption of the new Code of Ethics and the other on changing the name of the Society, will be on the ballot along with the various candidates for office. The delegates at convention, who will make the call on those questions and others, will have the benefit of all members’ opinions, including those not in chapters.

I suggest we take a similar advisory poll in the spring, before the April board meeting, to ask our membership their opinions about a one member, one vote change in governance. Assuming they support the idea, the board can use that information and have an educated discussion about the proposal and send a recommendation to the delegates for their vote at EIJ15 in Orlando. If the delegates support it, the new system would start at EIJ16 in New Orleans.

Here is a message for Michael:

You have stated at your website and in messages to members that you hope to lose the election and that you do not want to be president of SPJ. I do want to be president, because I want to see the Society be the best national organization for journalists. I want to see SPJ assert its strong voice as an advocate for journalists and journalism. I want to see a new Code of Ethics properly phased in, a task which likely will come on the watch of the person elected in September. During the past year, I have held an office without much of a job description – for a look at what I’ve done with it, please click on the “Secretary-Treasurer” tab above.

We can spend our time for the next two months on a race that you say you don’t want to run or win. Or we can spend our time working together to lay the groundwork for the one member, one vote proposal in the next year. I would welcome the latter opportunity, along with your creative ideas and your energy.

Paul

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A message to the Board

Last week Michael Koretsky, the SPJ Region 3 director, filed to run for president-elect this September. I sent the following message to the other 22 SPJ board members on Friday afternoon:

Fellow members of the SPJ Board:

As many of you know, I am running for SPJ president-elect this September. This past week, Michael Koretzky filed papers to join the race. Both of our candidate bios and statements are available at SPJ Election Central.

Michael’s statement includes this:

“If Paul Fletcher agrees to democratize SPJ as I’ve outlined at www.spjrefresh.com, I’ll withdraw my candidacy.”

I understand that this website will be live on Monday.

This statement puts me an awkward position. I am an elected officer of SPJ and I have been made a public offer that if I take some action or agree to something (to “democratize” SPJ, however that is defined), I will receive something of personal gain in return (the ability to run for president-elect without Michael as an opponent).

This presents a lose-lose situation. Any positive response I might make to any of Michael’s proposals could be perceived as unethical, given the fiduciary duties I owe SPJ as an officer and as a member of the board.

I will not to do anything unilaterally and single-handedly that impacts SPJ, the board or the staff at headquarters, just to achieve the withdrawal of a candidate. I will continue to do what I believe is in the best interests of SPJ. That may include agreeing with all or some of Michael’s proposals; that may mean rejecting all or some of them.

I certainly am willing to listen to any ideas and to seek some agreement or compromise. But I reject the “offer” in Michael’s candidate statement.

Thank you for your time—

Paul

Michael later posted more information on his site Friday evening and Saturday morning. I will be posting a response, again in a message to the board, tomorrow.

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SPJ goes to Washington

WASHINGTON–The leadership of SPJ sought to take advantage of a trip to DC June 20 by visiting the offices of senators who are on the fence on of the Free Flow of Information Act, or the federal shield law.

We were in town for the Sigma Delta Chi awards banquet, held at the National Press Club last Friday night, and for the Executive Committee meeting the next day.

Accompanied by our lawyer, Laurie Babinski of Baker Hostetler, SPJ President Dave Cuillier in the morning visited the offices of Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colorado. Laurie and Dave had a chance to meet with the senator’s deputy chief of staff. He said he thought Udall would be in favor of the bill.

In the afternoon, Laurie and I went to the office of Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia. We met with Megan Field, Kaine’s legislative correspondent, who told us that the shield law simply hasn’t been on their radar. She took lots of notes and asked many questions, vowing to pass the info to the legislative aide handling this type of legislation.

Virginia’s two senators, Kaine and Mark Warner, were among the final 10 Democrats to take a position on the federal shield law. Thanks to the work of SPJVA Vice President Robyn Sidersky and Dick Hammerstrom of The Free Lance-Star, earlier this month at long last we got a position statement — and good news — from Warner’s staff. He will be supporting the shield law.

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