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Banquet opens new year

By eijnews

By Holly Pablo
The Working Press

Immediate Past President John Ensslin (left) swears in SPJ President Sonny Albarado for the next year.
Yasmeen Smalley/The Working Press

A top goal for newly elected Society of Professional Journalists President Sonny Albarado is improving the organization’s image to better reflect its reality.
Albarado, dressed in a tuxedo, raised his right hand and took the oath of office from Immediate Past President John Ensslin at the President’s Installation Banquet on Saturday night.
A Louisiana native of Hispanic and Cajun descent, Albarado is currently acting city editor at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and has been an SPJ member since 1979.
Albarado said that while journalists’ tools and job description have changed, their role has stayed the same.
“Journalists still must dig out facts, interpret information and stand as witnesses to history,” he said. “Similarly, the Society of Professional Journalists has changed significantly over the past six years. But SPJ’s image hasn’t caught up to its own reality.”
About 200 attendees filled a hotel ballroom for the dinner that marks the end of SPJ’s annual convention.
A giant projection screen showed snapshots of attendees at events. With a gavel engraved with his name in his hand, Albarado took to the stage to share his thoughts on the society’s past and his hopes for its future.
Borrowing a phrase from Steve Geimann, former president of the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation, Albarado said the society must reflect today’s changing journalism profession to stay relevant for its members.
Albarado said that when he started attending SPJ conferences in the 1990s, the organization was an inbred group of “crusty newspapermen and TV anchors.”
That’s no longer the case, he said.
“SPJ has transformed into a vibrant, diverse mix of new journalists, mid-career journalists and senior journalists who ‘get’ what has happened to their professions,” Albarado said.
Albarado said SPJ is already reflecting the changing profession of journalism by dabbling in new tools and technologies and becoming more of an advocate for diversity in newsrooms.
SPJ has embraced social media platforms, like Twitter, to send messages and communicate with members. Albarado cited a report from the South Florida Pro Chapter that found that SPJ has nearly 13,000 followers. That’s more Twitter followers than any other major journalism organization, he said.
Albarado said SPJ has become more ethnically and racially diverse through its Diversity Leadership Fellows Program and other initiatives.
Earlier in the evening, the society presented awards to its outstanding members for their dedication to the organization, and awards for journalism excellence.
A common message in all the acceptance speeches was that journalism is here to stay, although the way news is delivered is still changing.
“It’s an invigorating and wonderful time to be a professional journalist,” Albarado said.

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