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SPJ National Convention report.

912 participate in Crystal City as Denver prepares 1997 gathering

For some, it meant a 10-minute car ride on the George Washington Parkway. Others drove cross-country, through town after town, state after state. For still others, it involved several days of travel, across oceans, countries, and time zones.

But, it also meant more than just the number of hours passed in travel, or the number of miles racked up on the odometer, or the number of curses muttered under a driver's breath on the Beltway.

The 1996 National Convention of the Society of Professional Journalists brought together some of the best minds in journalism, but it did something even more important. It created an atmosphere for learning, teaching, and understanding on a global level.

Attendees from all over the world came to Crystal City, Virginia from Malaysia and Morocco, Beirut and Beijing, Gabon and Guatemala. Journalists and would-be journalists from nineteen countries came together to talk about journalism, freedom of speech and the press; to learn new things, and be reminded of old things.

Arnold Kampelembi came from Zambia, a small country in south-central Africa, where he edits the Sunday Times. Kampelembi told Juliana Lopes of The Working Press that he is most intrigued by the independence that is afforded American journalists. "For somebody coming from my country, where most of the media is under government control, American media is very fair," he said.

Yin Minghua, senior editor and vice-president of Radio Shanghai, traveled from China with a group of Chinese journalists. Zhi-Yu Li, another member of the group of Chinese journalists told Lopes, with the help of an interpreter, "We want to understand American society, especially American media."

Yin said he felt that American journalists are responding well to the challenges they face. "American journalists are very conscientious," Yin told Lopes. "They love their jobs."

Kate Ripley traveled from Fairbanks Alaska, as president of SPJ's Farthest North Pro Chapter. Stirling Morita arrived from Honolulu, Hawaii as the state's SPJ State Sunshine Chair.

Almost 44 percent of the convention's attendees hailed from a university or other academic institution.

April Jones and other fellow student chapter members from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill drove for almost five hours to attend the convention. She said her professors suggested that she and other chapter members attend the convention to network and make contacts for jobs. They left, she said, having gained something much more valuable.

"Going into it, I think we felt it was important to touch base with other journalists," Jones said. "We went to network, but I think we came away from [the convention] with a whole different view of SPJ. You see the big picture, and it really makes you want to plan more programs and get more involved. It was really inspirational," she said.

With a total registration of 912 - 217 speakers and 695 attendees - the convention attendance was comparable to other years. SPJ Executive Director Greg Christopher characterized the convention attendance as typical for the organization.

Region Two (North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and Washington D.C.) boasted the greatest number of delegates - 272 in all.

Six states - Delaware, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Wyoming - were absent from the convention.

More than 30 organizations, media and non-media companies, supported SPJ's 1996 convention as sponsors. Each year SPJ raises more than $80,000 to help defray expenses, Christopher said.

Christopher explained the supporters this way:

Four major sponsors supported the convention's professional development sessions: The Freedom Forum, MSNBC, The Kiplinger Washington Editors, and Gannett. The Freedom Forum also provided funding for The Working Press convention newspaper. Along with those four major sponsors, several other media organizations provided funding for specific aspects of the professional development program. WJLA-TV and NewsChannel 8 sponsored the broadcasting sessions; Communications Daily sponsored the "Complete Journalist" pre-convention track; Congressional Quarterly sponsored the "Dateline D.C." pre-convention track; and Knight-Ridder sponsored the convention's diversity sessions.

Other media organizations also supported the convention. The Bureau of National Affairs, the largest media organization in Washington, hosted a reception for SPJ's chapter leaders. CNN, the University of Maryland's School of Journalism, Central Newspapers, and a group of Washington-area newsletter publishers also hosted receptions. The Washington Times printed The Working Press convention newspaper. U.S. News & World Report, the National Journal, and Hearst also contributed to the convention.

The Washington Post was noticeably absent from this year's sponsorships, prompting a story in The Working Press headlined "Washington Post stiffs convention." The story reported that Post managers cited budget cutbacks and a lack of interest and participation in SPJ among Post staff for their decision. Both Christopher and 1995-96 SPJ President G. Kelly Hawes noted that convention expenses would be covered despite the Post's non-participation.

Corporate support from non-media sponsors for SPJ's convention is limited to social events or in-kind efforts. Bell Atlantic provided phone lines for convention use. The American Petroleum Institute funded the registration bags. BellSouth sponsored InfoMart, the convention trade show. NASDAQ provided office equipment. Hewlett-Packard and International Computer Networks provided many computer needs. NYNEX and Sprint helped with other telephone-related in-kind gifts. Lexis-Nexis and MCI sponsored receptions.

Christopher noted that the Washington professional chapter, the hosts for this year's convention, provided the most help of all along with campus chapters at American University, George Mason University, George Washington University, Howard University and the University of Maryland.

But SPJ's 1996 national convention was about more than just mileage, or attendance, or sponsors. It was about making new friends and greeting old ones. It was about learning and teaching. It was about cherishing the past, and planning for the future. It was journalists and journalism.

. . . and next, the Mile High City

The 1997 SPJ convention will travel to the Mile High City, home of president-elect Fred Brown of the Denver Post.

The convention also will experiment with some scheduling changes to try to better serve member needs.

The Denver convention will open with a reception on Friday night and conclude on Monday. It also will feature meals-optional registration.

Here is the schedule for the conventions into the next millennium.

* 1997: Denver, Colorado; October 3-6, 1997.

* 1998: Los Angeles, California; October 22-24, 1998.

* 1999: Indianapolis, Indiana; October 3-5, 1999.

* 2000: Atlanta, Georgia; Dates not yet available.

* 2001: Seattle, Washington; Dates not yet available.

Mark your calendars!

Kristen Desmond is a Ward Neff intern for the Society of Professional Journalists.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Society of Professional Journalists
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Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:SPJ National Convention Special Report; 1996 convention of Society of Professional Journalists
Author:Desmond, Kristen
Publication:The Quill
Date:Nov 1, 1996
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