The closing ceremony of any event is sure to be an emotional, yet gratifying moment and the Society of Professional Journalists’ (SPJ) version was no exception. Election results were announced, journalism work was honored and there were remarks from outgoing SPJ President Patricia Gallagher Newberry and incoming President Matthew Hall.
“SPJ has meant so much to me over so many years and I will be most happy for its prominent place in my eventual obituary,” said Newberry.
Newberry said she faced many challenges during her term as SPJ President. She started her term without an executive director, created the online conference in less than three months, worked to turn the organization’s deficit— between $129,000 and $188,000 — around and worked on creating a new system for database management.
“We had a good year despite the obvious interruptions because we worked together toward common goals,” Newberry said.
Executive Director John Shertzer announced the 2020-2021 board and regional leaders. Matthew T. Hall, the editorial and opinion director at the San Diego Union-Tribune, was sworn in as SPJ’s 104th president, covering the 2020-21 year.
Looking ahead, Rebecca Aguilar was voted in as SPJ’s president-elect, Ivette Davila- Richards as secretary-treasurer, along with Rafael Olmeda and Claire Rega as at-large directors. Region coordinators are Ann-Marie Adams (Region 1), Ginny McCabe (Region 4), Amy Merrick (Region 5), Kathryn Jones (Region 8) and Ed Otte (Region 9). Region seven had no candidates.
Hall’s remarks were filled with thanks to Newberry, the staff, along with all of the students and mentors. “I want to thank you for standing up for journalism and for yourselves in what has been a difficult year for so many,” he said.
Hall called attention to the tireless work that journalists have been committed to for the past six months. He commended journalists for reporting on the front line of the pandemic, juggling working from home and working in the streets documenting the historic racial justice protests.
Hall then recalled a teary moment that he and his father shared as he was campaigning for the position of president. As his father lay dying, he stayed by his bedside furiously editing a piece for the San Diego Union-Tribune. In his final days, Hall and his father spoke about journalism, journalism advocacy, and news.
“Words cannot describe the difficulty of that day’s balancing act,” Hall said.
Hall also shared details of SPJ’s new strategic plan that Executive Director John Shertzer calls “the core four.” He noted the core four honors SPJ’s past and seizes the future.
“We’ll be champions of journalism, fighters for the first amendment, stewards of ethical journalism and producers of journalism’s future,” Hall said.
The strategic plan calls on media outlets to create diverse newsrooms, restore the annual training program for SPJ leaders, and establish 10 new college chapters — with at least three from Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
“We’re done playing lip service to diversity. The stakes are too high,” Hall said.
Hall closed his remarks with a passionate message about this being the year to remove barriers. He called on members who have the means to cover the cost of SPJ membership to those who want to join but may not have the means. This would more than double the organization’s membership, he noted.
“I’m going to listen, I’m going to learn, I’m gonna lead, surrounded by a great board, and surrounded by thousands of volunteers,” Hall said.