Reiterating her goal to improve community outreach and speak to political groups, primary schools and secondary schools around the U.S., new President Rebecca Baker told Society of Professional Journalist members that they are “stronger together.”
“But together,” she said, “we can make journalism great again — and again, and again, and again.”
Baker, who ran unopposed in elections at the 2016 Excellence in Journalism Conference in New Orleans, received the president’s gavel at the installation banquet that concluded the 2017 conference. In a Q&A with the EIJ News Team, Baker said outgoing president Lynn Walsh’s focus on communication within SPJ was “very much needed” and will benefit her goal.
Quoting the film “A League of Our Own,” Baker said the difficulties the media face, whether the public’s perception or financial strain.
“The hard is what makes journalism great,” she said. “And SPJ, as I see it, is to make the hard a little easier and to help journalists make their work great.”
Baker, according to the SPJ website, is the organization’s 101st president. Working as deputy head of news at the New York Daily News, Baker is the first national president from New York City in 35 years.
Baker hopes to see the organization visit 100 schools throughout the next year through the Press for Education Project, a new SPJ initiative.
Challenging every SPJ chapter to reach out to their community, whether through a town hall or through visiting local high schools, Baker said speaking to community members about their trust — or distrust — towards the media is crucial to understanding, and possibly changing people’s mindsets.
“Maybe we’ll inspire some kid in the class to be a journalist,” Baker said. “Or at the very least, maybe we’ll give them a little bit of understanding about how news is produced, written, broadcast, created.”
Aside from visiting schools, Baker said she hopes to form greater interaction among committees through the creation of an outreach committee. Each outreach committee member represents a major pre-existing committee such as FOIA or education and is headed by an academic.
Committee members, Baker said, will find ways the various SPJ communities can reach out to the public.
“For too long, those committees have worked in silos,” she said. “Some things those committess still have to do individually … But there are many, many ways these committees can work together.”
In her final moments as president, Lynn Walsh, investigative executive producer at NBC 7 San Diego, recalled phone calls she received from reporters around the nation asking how to handle mockery on Twitter and cries of “fake news” from government officials. During one phone call, she said, a reporter commented that Walsh must be in the “worst time” to be president.
To that, Walsh said, she responded: “not at all.”
Walsh said in her final speech that she most enjoyed reaching out to non-journalists, as well as helping journalists approach difficult — and sometimes contentious — subjects.
“This position is meant to represent, then protect, journalism, and we need that more than ever,” Walsh said.
Although she called “fake news” a “very dangerous” concept that deserves the society’s attention, she, like Baker, urged her fellow SPJ members to reach out to their communities to hold discussions on how journalists gather news, as well as explain journalists’ news values.
“A majority of people in our communities don’t understand what we do, and why would they?” she asked. “We have hidden it for the most part behind this curtain, and we need to remove the curtain.”
Baker will lead the organization until the 2018 conference in Baltimore, set for Sept. 27-29, 2018.