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Open government key issue at closing business meeting

By Billy O'Keefe

By Sommer Ingram
Delegates to the Society of Professional Journalists elected national officers and passed resolutions calling for more open government and an end to “checkbook journalism” during Tuesday’s closing business session.
Members welcomed Darcie Lunsford as SPJ’s president-elect by a vote of acclamation. Lunsford, of the South Florida Business Journal, was previously secretary-treasurer. She will advance to the presidency at the 2011 convention.
John Ensslin will take office as SPJ’s secretary/treasurer with 71 votes to his opponent Sonny Albarado’s 39 votes.
Lauren Bartlett won the delegate-at-large position with 64 votes to 55 votes for Holly Fisher.
Kym Fox of Texas State University was elected campus adviser-at-large with 64 to 55 votes for Rick Brunson of the University of Central Florida.
Tara Puckey from Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis and Taylor Mirfendereski of Ohio University were elected student representatives with 87 and 52 votes, respectively. Three other candidates garnered 91 votes combined.
Delegates passed a motion at the meeting calling on President Barack Obama to end deliberate communication barriers between journalists and federal agencies.
The resolution urges Obama to create a model in which all levels of government are more open and continual restrictions on communication are eliminated.
Several resolutions passed in a block motion buttressed support of free speech and free press rights of college journalists and advisers, support for reform of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, opposition to checkbook journalism and support for a federal shield law.
Recently, SPJ has been troubled by the growing trend of paying news sources for exclusive stories, a practice known as checkbook journalism. The resolution called for SPJ to urge news organizations to stop this “unethical and professionally corrosive practice.”
The Freedom of Information Committee submitted the resolution on FERPA reform, stating that the law has strayed from its original intent: to protect students’ academic or financial aid information from being released to the public.
The FOI committee said the U.S. Department of Education’s vague definition and application of FERPA has given many university officials leeway to illegally keep school records a secret.
SPJ called for Congress to clarify FERPA to only exempt from disclosure “information that would explicitly link financial aid information, poor grades, non-criminal disciplinary records or other deficient academic performance with specific identifiable students.”
Delegates also passed resolutions thanking outgoing President Kevin Smith, the SPJ Headquarters staff, and David Cuillier, FOI committee chairman, for their hard work.
Cuillier traveled cross-country April through June on his Access Across America tour gathering advice and giving training to journalists at every stop.
“I am a longtime proponent of SPJ doing things that are very tangible, very visible and doing things that don’t only benefit our members, but for the public,” said Mac McKerral, resolutions committee chair. “And that’s exactly what Dave has done.”
“This is a group effort,” Cuillier said as he took the stage to a standing ovation.
“We as journalists have to keep this fight going. I can tell you, journalism is not dead. It’s strong. I was proud to see people working and doing awesome things throughout the country,” he said. “Government secrecy is rampant, and we have to stand firm and push back. This is what it’s all about.”