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With fewer board candidates, SPJ elects nontraditional leader

By eijnews

By Pashtana Usufzy
The Working Press

“Currently unopposed.”
Those two words appear often on the Society of Professional Journalists’ website at the start of almost every biography for a national board
Out of 11 races, eight candidates ascended to their positions automatically.
“I wish I had an opponent even if the person blows me out of the water,” said new President-elect David Cuillier before he stepped into the position.
Cuillier’s run for the second-highest office was unopposed. He will automatically assume the presidency after his year as president-elect.
He was not alone in wishing for more competition.
“We would love to have more contested races and give our members true choices,” said Hagit Limor, SPJ nominations committee chair and a former SPJ president.
A reduction in financial support from employers, combined with members’ busy schedules, has been a stumbling block to attracting candidates, Limor said.
Laurie Williams, former Region 10 director, agreed. She said increased demands from employers and a sheer lack of time have made it difficult for members to become more involved in the national board.
“A lot of newspaper organizations have had such severe cuts in their budgets that it’s difficult for people to both have the time and the budget” to run, she said.
Potential candidates simply don’t have the ability to pay for trips or the time that would make a run feasible, many said.
Immediate Past President John Ensslin disagrees.
He said while board positions require dedication, money and vacation time, those aren’t the reasons people avoid running.
“Just put those words on paper and see how lame they look,” Ensslin said, referring to the employer-support argument. “The real reason is it’s a lot
of work.”
Ensslin said those who run for board positions deserve credit for stepping up.
He praised people like Dana Neuts, a freelance journalist and marketing expert, newly elected to the secretary-treasurer position.

Dana Neuts, region 10 director and newly elected secretary-treasurer, was named Regional Director of the Year at Saturday’s banquet.
Colin Frank/The Working Press

Neuts, director of SPJ Region 10, ran unopposed. Her lack of a traditional journalism background and involvement in public relations reignited a sensitive issue.
Limor said SPJ members in the past had approached the nominations committee with concerns about non-journalists running for national office. However, Limor, who asked Neuts to run for the position, said those worries are unfounded in Neuts’ case.
“She cares about the mission,” Limor said, referring to SPJ’s goals.
Neuts said her diverse background shouldn’t disqualify her from serving.
“If I did PR full time, I wouldn’t have run for a national position,” she said, adding she considers herself a freelance journalist. She estimated 20 percent of her work is public relations and marketing and the rest is in journalism.
Neuts believes her background in business administration makes her even more qualified for the secretary-treasurer position because it is an area of expertise.
“I think a business background is crucial,” she said. “I bring these different facets to the board.”
Cuillier urged members to be more open to accepting candidates with different backgrounds.
“I think this organization has a strong tradition of being journalism purists,” said Cuillier, who previously served as secretary-treasurer. He called such purists “journalism jihadists.”
“I don’t think everybody needs to have the same experiences to be a leader,” Cuillier said.
Other SPJ leaders said they agreed.
The organization must allow for change, said Fred “Ethical Fred” Brown, the vice chair of the SPJ ethics committee.
In the last decade or so, he said, there have been fewer people running for the national board and journalists should be open-minded to incorporating different groups.
“The old traditions, I think, are undergoing serious examination,” Brown said, “and that is not a
bad thing.”
Holly Pablo contributed reporting.

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