The Vote in New Orleans


At the end of September, the Society of Professional Journalists is holding its annual convention in New Orleans, and your delegates will be voting on some important issues.

They will also be holding elections for national and regional positions.

And so, we need you to tell us what you think. That way your voice matters. 

I’m attaching a link here that will take you to the amendments to the by-laws:

This link will take you to the candidates’ page:

Resolutions will also presented on the floor of the closing business session.  But the list will be available to delegates prior to that business session at convention. And the convention will deal with any new business from the floor.

Here’s one resolution from fellow Chicago Headline Club member Ray Hanania, who is also running for office:

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

For more than a decade, the Society of Professional Journalists has presented a lifetime achievement award it named in honor of the award’s first recipient, pioneering White House reporter Helen Thomas. 

In January, SPJ’s national board of directors voted to “retire” the award — effectively eliminating it — after Ms. Thomas expressed her personal opinions about Israel’s relationship with Palestine and its influence on U.S. foreign policy, media and civic debate. Sadly, her comments have been presented out of context repeatedly.

The Anti-Defamation League demanded she be fired from her job as a columnist for Hearst. She resigned in the summer of 2010 — and later told former national SPJ president and Chicago Headline Club member Christine Tatum that though the company had treated her well, it simply found it easier to force her retirement than to deal with the inevitable difficulties of defending her. 

The ADL in December also issued a statement demanding that all journalism schools and journalism organizations rescind awards and honors they were giving in Ms. Thomas’ name. Calls and emails from ADL supporters flooded SPJ’s national offices and were burdensome for some individual national board members.

SPJ’s national leaders and staff sadly caved to this kind of pressure. Perhaps even worse is how they addressed this issue. Neither SPJ’s national executive committee nor its national board consulted with national committees about the controversy. In fact, I question the process they followed, acting more like politicians in a smoke-filled Chicago City Hall room.

Our leaders didn’t even contact Helen Thomas to get her side of the story — or to inform her in a timely manner about their decision making. (You can read the account of Christine Tatum, a former national SPJ President) of SPJ’s embarrassingly bad communication with Ms. Thomas here: She did what journalists are supposed to do.

It’s time for SPJ’s members to correct the national board’s poor — and poorly made — decision. Dozens of SPJ members throughout the country are seeking to restore the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award. Ms. Thomas is entitled to her opinions, and the nation’s largest journalism advocacy organization shouldn’t undermine its commitment to free speech by sanctioning her for expressing them. In their press release announcing their decision, the SPJ claimed they were not acting in response to her views, yet in the very same press release, they strongly condemned her views.

Some SPJ leaders have claimed that this controversy — and even Helen Thomas herself — have overshadowed this award. Future award recipients shouldn’t be burdened by these dynamics, they insist. To that, I’ll say this: we have yet to find one past recipient of the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award who said they would refuse it if it were offered to them again today. Past winners have said they remain proud of their award precisely because Ms. Thomas’ name is on it. They understand — as those of us seeking to restore this award do — that Ms. Thomas represents a lifetime of extraordinary achievement and professionalism in journalism to which everyone should aspire. Ms. Thomas’ opinions about the Middle East — or the color orange — simply don’t change that.

Finally, regardless of how you view what Helen Thomas said, or didn’t say (no one ever got her quotes right nor did any SPJ leadership ever ask her for her side of the story — except in an accidental casual meeting by one disengaged board member) it is extremely clear. The current SPJ national leadership failed to act like journalists, failed to act like responsible leaders and failed to even get the facts rights.

I urge you to support the following resolution to reinstate the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award:



WHEREAS the Society of Professional Journalists has been awarding the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement award since 2000, with the inaugural award presented to Thomas in recognition of her long and distinguished journalism career, and

WHEREAS the SPJ national board voted in January to retire that award in a special telephone meeting with three-minute time limits on board-member comments and no advance consultation with chapters or national mission committees, and

WHEREAS the national board retired the award without undertaking any substantive discussions with Thomas to clarify her remarks, and

WHEREAS the board’s vote to retire the award followed discussion within the national leadership occasioned by Thomas’s exercise of free expression as a private individual, specifically — as reported by SPJ’s president — because she “made comments some find objectionable in a prepared speech,” and

WHEREAS SPJ, in a press release before the board vote, said the Executive Committee “condemn[s][Thomas’s] statements in December as offensive and inappropriate,” and

WHEREAS the Society has for many years encouraged the vigorous exercise of freedom of expression and repeatedly warned against the dangers of content-based and viewpoint-based restrictions on free speech, regardless of whether some might deem the speech offensive, objectionable or inappropriate, and

WHEREAS SPJ presents other highly coveted awards named for individuals, living and dead, that have not been similarly subjected to heightened scrutiny and reconsideration based on the personal views of the people in whose honor they were named, and

WHEREAS some SPJ national leaders have argued that future potential recipients of the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award might misinterpret the Society’s intent in naming the award in honor of Thomas’s career achievements in journalism,

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the delegates of the Society direct national officers and staff to:* Restore the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award, effective December 1, 2011, and* Accompany all promotional materials for the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award with the following language:”The Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award is presented to an individual or individuals for a career of extraordinary service to journalism and the journalism profession. The award is named after longtime White House correspondent Helen Thomas for her tenacious and illuminating reporting over a period of more than 55 years. The award is the highest the Society bestows for distinguished journalism careers and, in keeping with its guiding principles, is presented without regard for the personal views held or expressed by any past or future recipient.”

AND WHILE I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION, I also would appreciate your support as I campaign to become a national at-large director for SPJ.

I have been an SPJ member since 1979. During my entire career in professional journalism as a Chicago City Hall reporter, and later as an opinion columnist and analyst, I have always fought for bringing more diversity to our newsrooms. There is little diversity on our national board.

I am running for this office because I want to raise that issue of the lack of diversity and bring more diversity to newsrooms. In the decades I have practiced journalism, we have seen less diversity, not more. My own ethnicity — I am Palestinian — allows me to present and provide for my colleagues an array of views that may not have been considered otherwise. I write a column analyzing Middle East politics for Creators Syndicate. It appears in the Jerusalem Post.

In recent years, as jobs in the journalism industry continue to shrink, I have moved in to media consulting. But I apply my belief in the core principles of responsible, ethical journalism to all of my client relationships and constantly push for both diversity in government and also full transparency.

Thanks for considering this message thoughtfully. I will be at SPJ’s national convention, coming up in New Orleans, and would be happy to meet you there. If you have any questions or would like to discuss ways to strengthen SPJ, please contact me atRAYHANANIA@COMCAST.NET or 312-933-9855 cell. 


Ray Hanania

I’ll feed updates into our brand new news group so you can see what’s going on and also so we can talk among ourselves. I promise not to eat too much but I hope to catch some really good music.

Our new virtual community bulletin board, water cooler, schmoozification center is secondcitynewsies at yahoo groups. Go there. Sign up. Share your voice.

In the meantime, you can always reach me at

Steve Franklin

Cell 773 595 8667