A motion to approve a change in the SPJ bylaws that would abolish the current delegate system was voted down in a 48-48 tie at the board meeting Saturday night at the SPJ national conference. The motion needed to pass a majority vote for approval.
The proposed change to the delegate system addressed Article 10 sections 1 and 2 of the SPJ bylaws. The changes would have established the membership as the legislative body and members would be able to ratify any proposed changes to the bylaws. Essentially, each member of SPJ would get one vote and the delegate system would no longer be in place. With the change, every SPJ member in good standing would be allowed to vote by ballot.
Adam Sennott, President of SPJ New England, is in favor of the proposed bylaws establishing membership as the legislative body because he believes that the system leaves opportunities for some delegates to have a disproportionate amount of votes.
“What wound up happening was, you only had a few people who were applying (to be regional delegates) every single year. And those people were people who were members of chapters, but they essentially left and wound up taking votes, lots of votes for themselves,” Sennott said.
Through the current system, SPJ members are represented by delegates. For every 50 members (or fraction thereof) a chapter has, they get one delegate. Unaffiliated members who reside in one of the 12 SPJ regions are also represented through the delegate system. Around 40 percent of SPJ members are unaffiliated.
If a chapter gets 5 votes, they may send 5 delegates to vote or just one person to cast all five votes. Regional delegates can often represent a large geographical region, because of that it’s possible one delegate could represent a large body of members. If a region only has one delegate, a singular delegate could cast all of the regional votes. That’s the problem that some SPJ members were trying to solve with the proposed bylaw change.
Last year a delegate analysis task force was developed per a resolution at the 2021 SPJ National Convention to explore whether or not the current system was providing “equitable representation” to SPJ’s members. Sennott was chair of the task force along with six other SPJ leaders. The task force came up with the proposed bylaw change, after seven meetings and two town halls, and after a vote by the national board on June 4 the change was added to the agenda for the convention.
Other members of SPJ felt that there wasn’t enough discussion concerning key issues about the proposed bylaws. Stacie Overton Johnson, Freelance Community Vice Chair, was the only dissenting member of the delegate analysis task force. While she said she doesn’t support the current delegate system, she also doesn’t support the proposed bylaw change.
“We didn’t have an option B. And that is my biggest problem with the Delegated Task Force. We should have had option B and C and D, we should have been able to discuss that … I feel like there was a lack of robust debate. This is too important to not have that robust debate,” Johnson said.
While others that were in support of the bylaw change felt that a “one member, one vote” system would work better in terms of equitable governance.
“(Members)…should have a say in how they’re governed, they should have a say in how bylaws change… We are a group of journalists whose job is to ensure that our democracy is sustainable. So how can we, as journalists, uphold those ideals, if we are not governing with those same ideals in mind,” Ashanti Blaize-Hopkins, SPJ-LA President and SPJ National Vice President, said.
But others that opposed the bylaw change said that it gives the SPJ board too much power and doesn’t provide enough room for issues to be discussed.
“It sounds like a great democratizing organization. The fact of the matter is, it is not the silver bullet that’s going to provide us with representation,” said Kevin Smith, Region 4 delegate, At-Large Board Member and a former SPJ President.