TAREN FUJIMOTO / The Working Press
As SPJ approaches its 100th anniversary, it is working to stay relevant, new SPJ president Dave Aeikens said.
“Now is a very important time and we need journalists more than ever to be a watchdog for our government and be a vital link to democracy,” Aeikens said. “It’s not an easy time with cutbacks, layoffs and buyouts, but I am convinced that SPJ will be around for another 100 years.”
SPJ’s strong leadership has allowed it to survive despite the power of niche journalism groups such as those for business and freelance journalists, SPJ treasurer Howard S. Dubin said.
“We were the first and largest journalism group, but a lot specialty groups have sprung up,” Dubin said. “It’s a big challenge because we had the opportunity to be an umbrella group, but they want to do their own thing.”
SPJ is essential for journalists to network for jobs and learn about new media, former Region I Director Carolyn James said.
“With converging media, journalism has become new again and we have to learn the nuts and bolts, essentially a new operating system,” James said. “We need to be able to exchange ideas and formulate standards.”
Aeikens said SPJ is working hard to be essential for all journalists.
“We focus on advocacy, the First Amendment and upholding the highest ethical standards,” Aeikens said. “We focus on professional development, and diversity in the newsroom and news coverage.”
But if SPJ is to continue its legacy, it needs to focus more on young journalists, said Charles A. Fair, associate professor at the University of Central Missouri and SPJ member of 41 years.
“We have a pretty healthy enrollment, but we got to do more to keep active,” said Fair, who is writing an updated history book for SPJ’s centennial. “We need to aggressively welcome young professionals into local chapters in smaller markets where journalists usually start out.”
SPJ’s 100th birthday is April 17, and the Centennial Convention & National Journalism Conference will be Aug. 27 to 29 at the Westin Indianapolis.
Founded in 1909 at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., as the journalism fraternity Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ was created to establish journalism as a respectable craft and uphold high ethical standards such as truthfulness, accuracy and accountability.
Although journalism is going through tremendous change and upheaval, SPJ can continue to help journalists navigate, said Terry Harper, SPJ and Sigma Delta Chi Foundation executive director.
“I think it will attract more people and bring some back to SPJ,” Harper said. “I don’t see us changing our focus.”