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Politics, new-media sessions mark start of annual convention

By Billy O'Keefe

ARELIS HERNANDEZ / The Working Press
Politics was on SPJ Convention and National Leadership Conference attendees’ minds as scores of professional and aspiring journalists gathered at the opening reception for the Atlanta convention.

SPJ Convention participants wait in for Orecchiette Thursday. (Photo by James Brosher / The Working Press)

SPJ Convention participants wait in for Orecchiette Thursday. (Photo by James Brosher / The Working Press)

“Politics is the buzz, whether it’s SPJ or national,” said SPJ Secretary-Treasurer Kevin Smith, who has been campaigning for the president-elect office against Ron Sylvester.
Between mini-burgers and hot dogs, journalists were having their own election celebrations in anticipation of the historic presidential race. Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin’s speech was a subject of choice for attendees as they debated Sen. John McCain’s choice for vice president.
“We are news people,” Smith said. “We’re never going to be far away from what’s going on in the world.”
Kay Pirtle, an editor from Forth Worth, Texas, said her choice for president might be in question after watching Palin’s speech at the Republican National Convention Wednesday night.
“I think it was a brilliant move putting a woman on the ticket,” Pirtle said, who was impressed by the Republican nominee for vice president. “I just don’t know anymore. “
The atmosphere was ripe with not only national politics but also internal politics. The SPJ president-elect office is contested, breaking with the customary ladder system of officer advancement. Not everyone is happy about the change.
Lawyer Robert Becker, chair of SPJ’s Bylaws Committee, said abolishing the tradition will breed less-effective leaders who know little about the organization.
“The electoral process has become more or less superfluous,” said Becker, who is from the Washington D.C. SPJ chapter.
More than 600 registered
About 600 journalists registered in advance for this year’s conference, and 15 registered today, organizers said. Despite lower attendance than previous years, journalists say they keep coming back to stay abreast of changes in the industry.
“The big theme in our industry now is how to change things and innovate,” Orlando Sentinel reporter Adrian Uribarri said. “Reinvention seems to be the big idea.”
New-media sessions were well attended, particularly Columbia University professor Sree Sreenivasan’s session on technology skills.
“It was outstanding,” Virginia-based freelancer Jill Culora said. “I’ve got to go back to the computer now and look up a lot of stuff.”
$4,752 raised at auction
During a live and silent auction at the opening night reception in the Regency ballroom, $4,752 was raised for the SPJ’s Legal Defense Fund, said Terrence Harper, SPJ executive director.
Among the offerings at the silent and live auctions: A week at a time-share in Arkansas, tickets to a “Colbert Report” show taping in New York, season DVDs of “Grey’s Anatomy,” and a commemorative Ernest Hemmingway postage stamp, cowboy shirts and a toy ATM machine.
The fund aids journalists in press-freedom cases.