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Old, new and renewed.

Old, new and renewed

For many whose dedication to the profession of journalism was cultivated under the banner of Sigma Delta Chi, the Society's new name is a jolt.

When they read or talk about a "new spirit" at the Society of Professional Journalists, they figure that, somehow, the "new" SPJ is turning its back on the "old" SDX, and they don't like it. For good reason: the "old SDX" inspired intense dedication and commitment. It was strong, effective, vital.

But just as longtime members are jolted by the new name, I was jarred by the bristling at the new name, because the leadership of this organization does not intend to turn its back on either the words, Sigma Delta Chi, or on the spirit those words symbolize.

The Sigma Delta Chi name did not die with the vote. The Society's related foundation will remain the Sigma Delta supporting the Society's most important goals. Already, some of our key programs, such as Project Watchdog, the First Amendment Center, and the Taishoff-Broadcasting seminars, are Sigma Delta Chi Foundation projects.

There are no plans to delete the words "Sigma Delta Chi" from the highest awards we give, the Sigma Delta Chi Distinguished Service Awards. In fact there is some talk about dropping the DSA designation and calling them, simply, the Sigma Delta Chi Awards.

But more important, the spirit SDX has embodied will not die. The Society's leaders, both board and staff, are proud of our heritage, and we want to honor it even as we meet new challenges.

That's not to say the organization hasn't changed from the exact configuration of its founding years. Organizations that don't change die, as they lose touch with their members.

The "how" has changed, but the "why" - the guiding principles of the organization - haven't. Bert Bostrom's excellent history book of the Society quoted one of its founders, Eugene Pulliam, as saying that at the beginning, "We didn't know what we were creating. We only knew what we believed."

Pulliam described those beliefs in the first article he wrote about SDX; the founders believed that by "binding such men together in the true fraternity spirit and inspiring them with common ideals, a larger spirit of idealism will be injected into the press of this country."

These days, we would say "men and women," and these days "true fraternity spirit" would have less to do with Greek campus traditions than with the special bonds that form between similarly committed professionals.

But what Pulliam described is what SPJ is doing now, and will continue to do - serve as a guiding beacon and a catalyst for the nurturance of a corps of principled, informed, dedicated journalists who share a common bond as members of a uniquely vital brotherhood and sisterhood of journalists. The goal is the same; the form is just a bit different.

So. If we intend to keep the name alive and have the same guiding goals as our founders, what's this "new spirit"?

Perhaps we have been using the wrong words. What's sweeping SPJ is not a "new spirit" but, rather, a "renewed spirit." It's a revival of the old spirit, vigor, and involvement that characterized SDX for so many years. We lost some of that spirit in recent years, for a variety of reasons; like all organizations, we went through a period when "joining" was out.

But as we look at the challenges facing journalism - declining understanding and support of our role, and public skepticism about our abilities, our performance, and our ethics - it's clear the mission of SPJ is a vital as always.

We need an organization to combat the press-bashers - and to make sure that American journalists are so well-trained, motivated, and highly principled that there's little to bash.

It's not an easy task, but SPJ has a renewed dedication to tackle it. Whether you're new, old, or renewed, join in!

In November, the new chairman of SPJ's national Ethics Committee, Manuel Galvan, took what he thought was deserved potshot at SPJ when he asked participants at the SPJ Minority Job Fair in Cincinnati (see last month's Quill) why SPJ had its fair before, instead of during, the national convention.

"Why do we finish up as the Society's convention gets under way? One of the reasons is so the Society would not have to explain to so many non-minorities why minorities were given a job fair, special attention. If the Society has trouble justifying to its members why it seeks to bring more minorities into the business, then a much deeper problem exists."

His suspicion must have struck responsive chords because they were echoed in pieces in at least two publications.

Trouble was, 'twasn't true.

It is true that when the board first considered the job fair, some expressed the worry that non-minority job seekers would be resentful. The board said yes to the fair anyway, and went full-bore.

Would an organization seeking to hide the job fair publish a full-page story about it in the September Quill, complete with a full-page application form urging minorities to sign up? And follow with another full page in the October issue? Would SPJ have included information about the fair in a mailing sent to all 20,000 members? Of course not.

Why did the job fair end as the convention began? So that minority job seekers could take advantage of the incredible array of professional development opportunities at the convention. Why make minority job seekers choose between a potentially valuable job interview and one of the more than 40 top-notch seminars offered? All were invited to stay for the convention; a few took us up on the offer.

There's a lesson in this kind of misunderstanding: It will take time to bread down the barriers of suspicion that still separate minority and non-minority.

There's one encouraging note; not one non-minority wrote to the Quill protesting that SPJ was having a job fair just for minorities. It tells me the commitment to achieving a multicultural newsroom runs deeper than some suspect.
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Title Annotation:name of Society of Professional Journalists
Author:Vahlberg, Vivian E.
Publication:The Quill
Article Type:column
Date:Feb 1, 1989
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