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A year of both change and beginnings.

The past year well may be remembered as a year of beginnings - a year of starting fresh while recalling the traditions and principles upon which the Society of Professional Journalists was founded.

In the 12 months reflected in this report - August 1, 1997, through July 31, 1998 - the Society found a new executive director to lead the organization, approved and installed a new computer system to manage the operations of the organization, and began a strategic planning process to direct the organization for years to come.

Executive Director Dennis Norris joined the Society in May. Norris, an Indiana native, was director of development and public relations for the Metropolitan School District of Perry Township, an Indianapolis suburb, and was executive director of the district's Education Foundation, a 501(c)(3) entity similar to the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation. Before directing the school district foundation, Norris was a San Francisco police officer. He was assigned to various stations in the city, worked on gang and drug issues, and spent some time fielding and referring media calls in the department's Operations Center. He attended City College of San Francisco, the University of California-Berkeley, where he received a bachelor's degree with honors, and is working toward a master's in philanthropic studies at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis.

"I'm pleased to be a part of such a historic and dynamic organization, and I look forward to doing my part in support of professional journalism," Norris said. "As SPJ/SDX moves into a new era, I intend to work proactively toward increasing the membership and providing solid financial footing as we look to the next decade and the Society's centennial."

Ahead is a year of decisions about the organization's future including its location, priorities and programs. SPJ has many opportunities. Its leadership is committed to ensuring that the organization makes the most of each of those opportunities with the interests of members at the forefront of each decision.

Enjoy this look back at Fiscal Year 1998 - SPJ's activities in awards, freedom of information, membership and service, professional development, and the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation.


Recognizing outstanding achievement in journalism and dedicated service to the Society is one of the most important and visible roles of SPJ. The Society honors individuals and organizations through awards ranging from the Sigma Delta Chi awards to a citation as a Historic Site in Journalism. Here are some who were honored with 1997-98 awards.

Sunshine awards were presented to:

* The Tribune-Star of Terre Haute, Indiana, for its successful fight to obtain records on more than 150 patient deaths at a nearby community hospital.

* Forrest Landon and John Edwards for their work on behalf of freedom of information and the Virginia Coalition for Open Government.

* Bill Rogers of the South Carolina Press Association for his successful leadership of the effort between the news media and the state attorney general's office to stop enforcement of the Driver's Privacy Act.

* The staff of the Miami Student at Miami University in Ohio for its successful effort to force the university to turn over records on non-academic disciplinary cases.

* The Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida for its leadership on freedom of information issues in Florida and nationally.

A First Amendment Award was presented to Gary Cohn, Mark Matthews and Ginger Thompson of The Baltimore Sun for a series that documented how a CIA-trained Honduran army unit kidnapped, tortured and executed hundreds of suspected subversives during the 1980s with U.S. knowledge and complicity.

Pulliam Fellowship winner: John Krist

John Krist, assistant editorial page editor of the Ventura County (Calif.) Star, received the Society's $30,000 Pulliam Editorial Writing Fellowship. He studied efforts throughout the United States to reconcile the old and bitter conflict between those who would preserve the nation's natural heritage and those who rely upon it for their livelihood.

Conflict over national resources and land use has been among the most significant and enduring themes in American history over the past century, Krist said, but that conflict is only part of the story. His goal was to bring public attention to arrangements where people are finding ways to accommodate both human economic activity and preservation.

The SDX Foundation's board of directors voted this year to raise the award to $40,000 and will present the 1998 award to George B. Pyle of the Salina (Kansas) Journal. Pyle will study "the scientific, economic, environmental and political factors that shape modern American agriculture."

Wells Key winner: Paul Davis

The Society presented its highest award to a member in 1997-98 to former SPJ President Paul Davis. Davis received the Wells Memorial Key at the 1997 National Convention in recognition of his continuing commitment to the Society, the profession and journalism education.

Davis was president of the Society in 1988-89. Past President Steve Geimann called Davis "a leader in this profession long before stepping into our limelight." Davis played a significant role in the two-year study of broadcast journalism education, crafting the final narrative to accompany research and analysis developed for the Pauley Task Force. He is also a member of the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation board of directors.

Historic site

The Society named the Chicago Bee Building as a Historic Site in Journalism. SPJ President Fred Brown, political editor of The Denver Post, dedicated the Bee Building Feb. 18 by presenting a bronze marker to the Chicago Public Library, which opened the renovated building as a branch library in 1996. "The Chicago Bee was noted for its editorial independence and its stand against sensationalism," said Stephen Rynkiewicz, who nominated the Bee Building on behalf of SPJ's local chapter, the Chicago Headline Club.

SPJ's Historic Sites in Journalism has placed more than 50 bronze markers across the country to honor individuals, news organizations and places of national historic journalism interest.

Sigma Delta Chi Awards

The Society presented Sigma Delta Chi Awards in 30 categories to outstanding individuals and organizations. In April 1998, SPJ's board of directors approved the addition of two new online categories - deadline reporting and non-deadline reporting - in the 1998 Sigma Delta Chi awards contest. The board also approved the division of the photography category into feature and spot news. A category for television documentaries was added and several categories were divided according to circulation and market size, but those won't be implemented until the 1999 contest.

The 1997 contest received 1,534 entries. The winning entries are on the Society's Web site at

Mark of Excellence Contest

For 27 years, the Society has presented the Mark of Excellence Awards for student journalists. In the contest for work completed in 1998, there will also be an award for best all-around online student newspaper, a new category for the awards. In the 1997 contest, the best all-around daily newspaper was The Daily of the University of Washington, while the best all-around non-daily newspaper award went to The Eastern Progress of Eastern Kentucky University. For the third year in a row, The Burr Magazine from Kent State won for the best student magazine published more than once a year. California State-Northridge dominated the radio awards, winning two individual radio categories and for the best all-around radio newscast. Northwestern University won two individual television categories, while Lyndon State College took the honors for best all-around television newscast.

High School Essay Contest

The Society is committed to continuing its journalism education efforts and ensuring that young people who are interested in journalism as a career have the tools they need to succeed. To that end, the Society continued sponsorship of the High School Essay Contest on "What a Free Press Means to America." The national winner, James Tysse of Thomas Jefferson High School, was sponsored by the Washington, D.C., chapter and received a $1,000 scholarship. Second-place winner Martin Johnson of West Henderson High School won the local contest organized by the University of North Carolin-Chapel Hill chapter and received a $500 scholarship. Margaret (Brynn) Seibert of Galesburg High School won the contest sponsored by Western Illinois University's chapter and placed third in the national contest, receiving a $300 scholarship.

SPJ Programming Grants

The Society awarded more than $5,000 in grants to fund chapter programs in 1998. Chapters receiving grants this year were: Cal State University at Chico for a Project Watchdog program examining California's Bagley-Keene Act; Emerson College for its program Affirmative Action and the Media; Howard University for a newspaper mentoring program for high school students; Lehigh University for a panel discussion of online journalism; Pacific Lutheran University for a year long mentoring program with a local Native American high school; Truman State University for a two-day radio news workshop; the University of Texas at Austin for a series of four journalism workshops; the Central Ohio Pro Chapter for a panel discussion of a statewide ballot issue that came about in an attempt to reform Ohio's workers' compensation system; the Maine Pro Chapter for a broadcast writing workshop; the Minnesota Pro chapter for The Storytellers Conference: A Workshop for Writers and Photographers; the South Florida chapter for a symposium on Public People, Private People and the Press: Whose Life is it Anyway?; and the William O. Douglas Pro Chapter in Washington state for Access '98, a one-day freedom of information seminar.

Circle of Excellence Awards

The Circle of Excellence competition is designed to recognize professional chapters that have done an outstanding job in freedom of information, professional development, newsletters, diversity and campus relations. Because the categories distinguish between small and large chapters, there may be two winners in each category.

Freedom of Information Small Chapter - Micronesia

The Micronesia chapter sponsored a freedom of information seminar that gave details on Guam's FOI act and open meeting laws. The chapter also celebrated National FOI Day with a dinner and awards presentation featuring Supreme Court Chief Justice Peter Siquenza, who spoke openly about the precedent-setting cases being reviewed by the high court. At the dinner, the chapter presented its own Sunshine award and honored the local winner of the High School Essay Contest. MSPJ served as a vanguard of free speech for the island, sending letters of protest to the Federated States of Micronesia government after learning it had approved a resolution calling for the deportation of the editor of the country's only newspaper. MSP alerted SPJ national leaders to the situation. The government was inundated with protests over its attempt to censor the news and the free flow of information to the public.

Large Chapter - Willamette Valley

The Willamette Valley's program year focused heavily on open records issues. The chapter sponsored two Open Records Summits, one in Eugene and one in Portland, to update journalists on the status of open records and meetings in Oregon. A follow-up to the summit was conducted the next month and included a review of the current legislative session and threats to open records and meetings. In other activities, the chapter joined an ACLU lawsuit seeking greater access to state-sanctioned executions and provided $500 in seed money to Open Oregon, a new nonprofit organization whose primary focus will be educating reporters and the public about public meetings and records. The chapter put forth a resolution at SPJ's national convention expressing outrage at federal officials after the arrest of two Eugene Register-Guard journalists and made open access to government a primary topic in the chapter newsletter.

Campus Relations Hawaii Pro Chapter

The Hawaii chapter runs Hawaii's only statewide journalism internship program. Out of about 100 applicants, eight to 10 students are placed in paid summer jobs with local newspapers, TV stations, local companies and specialty publications. The chapter and the employers split the cost of the internships. Hawaii Pro offers two scholarships a year and produced a videotape called Jobs in Journalism to help members who visit schools. The chapter also has raised and donated legal fees to support the University of Hawaii student chapter in its case before the Hawaii Supreme Court.

Diversity Farthest North Chapter

In addition to the great accomplishment of putting national president Steve Geimann on a dog sled during his visit to Alaska, the Farthest North chapter sponsored some intriguing diversity programs this year. The first was Moose Soup: A journalist's guide to Interior Native Organizations, a program aimed at introducing reporters to the many different education, non-profit and for-profit groups designed to help Alaska Natives and run by Alaska Natives. The session included traditional Native foods, such as moose, caribou, beaver, baked salmon, dried fish, wild blueberry and rhubarb puddings, and, of course, moose soup. A second meeting focusing on diversity issues was part of the Alaska Press Club's J-Week. This session was titled Understanding Tribal Sovereignty: A Guide to Indian Country. Tribal Sovereignty recently was the topic of a front-page story in The New York Times.

Professional Development Large Chapter - Chicago Headline Club

In this competitive category, the innovation shown in the Headline Club's programming set it apart. The chapter's pro development schedule included a tour of 18 historic sites in Chicago journalism; a program called The Journalist in Cinema featuring a panel of Chicago print movie critics discussing the portrayal of journalists in cinema over the past 50 years and how they've contributed to (or detracted from) the profession; a program with Loyola University titled Journalism X: News Reporting for the Next Generation; a Personal Finance Day workshop that covered tax tips for journalists, retirement plans and changes in tax law. The chapter's annual Peter Lisagor Dinner featured Debbie Nelson of The Seattle Times speaking on winning the Pulitzer Prize and Chicago broadcast journalist Carol Marin speaking on journalism ethics.

Small Chapter - Inland Northwest

The Inland Northwest chapter conducted nine professional development programs this year, covering a nice range of topics, including a panel discussion of news and rumors, a local media attorney discussing issues of media access, a one-hour TV program on journalists and fairness (in conjunction with a local public TV station), a Native American journalist discussing the work of minority journalism, and a panel discussion on the ethics of pretrial coverage based on The Dallas Morning News coverage of the Timothy McVeigh trial.

Newsletters Large Chapter - Austin

Austin chapter president Sarah Barnes credited chapter member Mike Ward for working tirelessly to transform the chapter newsletter, the NewsHound, into a useful and entertaining publication. Barnes said the NewsHound has helped the Austin chapter gain new respect among its members and prospective members. An attractive design and clever writing set this newsletter apart. Regular features include Barks & Bytes (gossip and information on local journalists); Poop & Scoop (notes on upcoming journalism events); and MemberFile, which profiles a different chapter member each month.

Small Chapter - Oklahoma Pro

The SPJ Source, edited by Oklahoma chapter member Libby Quaid, is an attractive, informative newsletter that promotes SPJ activities and programs. The Source is published monthly - an ambitious undertaking for a small chapter.

RELATED ARTICLE: First Amendment work

The First Amendment guarantees freedom of the press, and SPJ works to make sure that constitutional right is protected. At the 1997 National Convention, the Society released The Erosion of the Reporter's Privilege, a report by Pulliam/Kilgore Intern Holli Hartman. The report documented a disturbing trend in the law.

"With increasing frequency, journalists are finding themselves on the losing end of the scale when courts weigh their interests against those of accused criminals or civil litigants," the report stated. "Courts are saying that reporters deserve no special protection from testifying when they are called to the stand. The message to journalists: Unless your source is confidential, don't escape a subpoena to testify or turn over unpublished material."

The report concluded: "Unless the media can get strong shield statutes passed in all states, they will have to tip-toe around the fragile law of the reporter's privilege and pick battles they can win."

The Society also published an overview of prison access policies, compiled and written by Charles Davis of Southern Methodist University. The survey found a system fundamentally at odds with the news media, where no two states agree on how much access should be granted to the mass media covering correctional facilities. The report is available at the Society's Web site at

Earlier in the year, the Society joined the Foodspeak Coalition to fight veggie libel laws. The laws have grown since Oprah Winfrey's brush with the Texas cattlemen in federal court. The coalition also maintains a Web site with some of the most current material on veggie libel trends.

SPJ Past President Paul McMasters testified on behalf of SPJ and other journalism organizations at House Judiciary Committee hearings on the proposed federal paparazzi laws. SPJ opposes these proposals that would overlay state statutes with a federal law.

Lucy Dalglish, immediate past FOI committee chair, wrote an amicus brief for SPJ and other groups in the Kentucky State University case that involves censorship of a college yearbook. The case is on appeal in the 6th Circuit (Eastern District of Kentucky). The district court's judgment in this case is the first in the nation to impose the Hazelwood standard on a public university publication. Until now, Hazelwood had applied to high school press activities.

Many of the Society's FOI activities are funded through SPJ's Legal Defense Fund. The fund is the major source of support for public-access litigation and occasionally has paid for activities to preserve litigation, such as freedom of information hotlines and lobbying for laws that strengthen public access. The fund is supported through donations and the proceeds of auctions at regional and national SPJ conventions.

RELATED ARTICLE: Outstanding chapters for 1997

Each year at the SPJ national convention, SPJ recognizes three of its chapters deemed "most outstanding" for activity during the previous year.

For the third consecutive year, the Northern California Professional Chapter was named Outstanding Large Professional Chapter by the Society. The NorCal chapter's commitment to freedom of information, diversity and ethics, and its consistent principled advocacy has gained the chapter a high profile, both professionally and among the public. In typical "success breeds success" fashion, this public attention has brought the chapter both membership and volunteer enthusiasm.

The Outstanding Small Professional Chapter for 1997 was the West Virginia Professional Chapter. With only 26 members and a core group of four extremely dedicated board members, the West Virginia chapter managed to do more than many chapters with greater resources. As chapter president Nerissa Young said, "West Virginia Pro could be the scrappiest small chapter in SPJ, or else we're just too stupid to know when to quit." The chapter conducted diverse programs, lobbied the state legislature on three critical FOI bills, published and distributed state Sunshine cards, and increased membership by seven during the year.

The chapter at Columbia University was named Outstanding Campus Chapter for 1997. Despite an intense nine-month graduate program, this chapter managed to conduct a full slate of professional development programs, increase membership by more than 190 percent, and produce a yearbook for the journalism school. They even made time for some fun activities like a regular no-frills movie night and a war-end cruise and graduation party.

RELATED ARTICLE: Membership and Services

The Society welcomed a new professional chapter and a new campus chapter to its network during the past year. The Brazos Valley chapter in Bryan/College Station, Texas, and a chapter at Radford University in Radford, Virginia, were granted provisional status. Three chapters received full charters: Emporia State University, Emporia, Kansas; Ithaca College, Ithaca, New York; and Westfield State College, Westfield, Massachusetts. The Northwest Indiana professional chapter was organized as a satellite chapter of the Chicago Headline Club. SPJ now has 83 professional and 208 student chapters.

RELATED ARTICLE: The Dubin award

Howard S. Dubin Outstanding Professional Chapter Member Award

For a chapter to succeed, it takes a group of dedicated individuals who give selflessly of their time and energy to carry on the business of the chapter. From planning chapter programs, to addressing banquet invitations, to making sure the refreshments are on the table, you'll find loyal SPJ members behind the scenes performing these important but sometimes thankless tasks. In 1997, three dedicated SPJ members were honored as recipients of the Howard S. Dubin Outstanding Professional Chapter Member Award. The award, named for longtime SPJ member and Sigma Delta Chi Foundation president Howard Dubin, is presented each year to recognize those who contribute great sums of their time and energy to their local SPJ chapter. The 1997 Dubin award winners were: Marge Easton of the Colorado Professional Chapter; Pat Gilliland of the Oklahoma Professional Chapter; and Peter Sussman of the Northern California Professional Chapter.
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Title Annotation:Society of Professional Journalists awards
Publication:The Quill
Date:Oct 1, 1998
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