SPJ needs to be more inclusive to its newcomers. Here’s why.

A counted vote was taken during a debate over whether SPJ should change its name. (Marc Filippino photo)
A counted vote was taken during a debate over whether SPJ should change its name. (Marc Filippino photo)

By Marc Filippino, SPJ DePaul president

Would the Society of Professional Journalists by any other name be just as sweet?

We might never know. But there was a clear takeaway from my first SPJ national conference: the organization needs to be more inclusive of its newer members

The cracks in the system really widened during the most debated resolution: should we change our name from “The Society of Professional Journalists,” to “The Society for Professional Journalism”?

Every resolution up until that point had been noncontroversial items.

But the name change, proposed by Region 3 Director Michael Koretzky, had a few issues, and the process behind it was also flawed.

Resolution wording

Koretzky’s proposed name change was taken seriously. It’s a big deal to change a title that’s stood for decades, is why resolutions are no place for jokes or hyperbole.

Koretzky put in his resolution that his idea to change the name would “result in much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments (from SPJ voting members)” and that “this change is inevitable or the society will go down permanently.”

The wording of the resolution as it appeared on the app.
The wording of the resolution as it appeared on the app.

This sentence gave the opposition a chance to criticize it, and anyone on the fence about the name change, a reason to treat the proposal with little serious consideration.

Koretzky’s bill wasn’t the only one with jokes in it. The farewell to outgoing president Dana Neutz had some inside jokes regarding her dog Jelly Bean (people went as far as to correct the AP Style and grammar within the joke).

I get it. Jokes are fun. They give everyone a chance to loosen their ties. But inside jokes about the president’s dog, or how the bid for a name change is considered an annoyance, are exclusionary. Newcomers to SPJ don’t have background knowledge to understand this humor, which means college and graduate students who are coming attending for first time, like my executive board and myself, inherently feel left out.

This results in the alienation of a key demographic. If we want new members and consider growing a priority we should handle these sessions seriously.

Access to information

While this resolution was accessible on the EIJ app, it wasn’t included in the hand out that every member received when they entered the room to vote.

That means that, if you are new and unless you were looking on the app, it’s very likely the vote was the first time you’ve even heard of a potential name change.

It was news to me, and it was news to our chapter’s voting member, DePaul SPJ faculty adviser Amy Merrick.

Later in the discussion we were told there were studies and data produced over the potential name change, which would be key in making a decision over such a serious resolution. But no one had immediate access to the data, and nobody knew where it was or how to find it.

How can we be expected to make an informed decision if we aren’t informed?

Many delegates wanted to vote on the matter this year, but in the end, voting members decided to postpone any more discussion about the name change until EIJ 2016, but only by a handful of votes.

If we are truly a progressive organization that wants to include fresh faces and young members, we need to do a better job making everyone feel welcome. The entire weekend at the SPJ Conference I felt like  I was part of a community. Once the bureaucracy started, though, I felt like an outsider looking in.

Despite whether SPJ decides to change its name or not, we should consider changing the ways we do business.

That means allowing voting and nonvoting members to speak, having all the information readily available, and using clear, concise and thoughtful language when we are writing bylaws.

As journalists, we demand a higher standard from the government we cover, especially when it’s catering to the majority.

We should not only adhere to that higher standard, but also set the bar for everyone else.


Got thoughts on this story? Great. Want to join SPJ/ONA DePaul? Even better. Email us at spjonadepaul@gmail.com

Published by spjonadepaul

Official website for DePaul University's Society of Professional Journalists chapter.

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