By Emory Williamson
Kevin Z. Smith couldn’t land a job 30 years ago with the student newspaper at West Virginia University.
He wasn’t part of the “in group,” he said.
Determined, Smith went to work for a community newspaper. More than 30 years later, the once-dejected Smith is president-elect of the Society of Professional Journalists. He takes the reigns of SPJ on Saturday.
“I never thought I’d get to this point,” said Smith, a journalism assistant professor and former editor. “It’s exciting to think that I’m going to be president of the largest journalism organization in the country. That’s not bad.”
An SPJ member since 1978, Smith became more involved in the organization in the late 1980s following growing concerns he had for the ethical behavior of some fellow journalists. He was sent “over the edge” when a local television reporter began fabricating information in stories.
Employer: Fairmont State University
journalism assistant professor, the Columns adviser
Family: Two sons, Ben and Nick
Hobbies: Hockey and working on antique cars
Smith’s Key Issues for SPJ:
Confront struggling newspaper industry by furthering SPJ’s role in discussing issues.
“We have to get a handle on where this profession is headed and where this industry needs to be taken,” Smith said. “SPJ has to have an active role in those discussions. We need to be sitting in front of the classroom, we need to be immersed in those discussions and we have to do it now.”
Work with previously established committees within SPJ that retool journalists who have lost their jobs.
“I want to create a situation where if you’re an unemployed journalist, or if you’ve given up your membership in SPJ and you’re down on your luck, those dues for SPJ will be the best investment you make in regaining your career,” he said, noting that SPJ has lost 1,400 members in the past year. “It’s a huge issue looming out there and we’ve got to wrestle it.”
“That was the clincher,” he said of the incident. “You mean to tell me we have journalists out there fabricating the truth to promote themselves? That next Monday I was calling the SPJ president and asking to be on the ethics committee.”
Current SPJ President Dave Aeikens said Smith will excel in his new position.
“He’s a tireless worker and advocate for SPJ,” Aeikens said. “He believes in what we do and ethics is one of his special passions and that’s an important part of our mission.”
Smith also served as West Virginia’s sunshine chair, advocating for open meetings and open records laws.
Smith said he enjoys working with students in Fairmont State University journalism courses and as the adviser at the student newspaper, the Columns.
“The true satisfaction for me is watching my students grow and excel as journalists,” he said.
The Columns editor Molly Born calls Smith a workaholic but enthusiastic and highly accessible to his students.
“I’ve always admired Kevin’s dedication to the student press,” Born said. “He has steadfastly supported and fought for our student voice on campus when it is threatened by budget cuts and the administration’s chokehold.”
Misty Poe, Fairmont Times West Virginian managing editor, said Smith was an influential figure in her career as a journalist.
“I was a young reporter and obviously I needed some guidance and he was always willing to offer me that,” said Poe, who was a reporter when Smith was the Fairmont Times’ managing editor. “He’s the kind of guy that’s always there for you.