SPJ 2020 Journalism Conference • Sept. 12-13, 2020



Candidates vie for two contested positions

By Billy O'Keefe

By Julieta Chiquillo
Dozens of delegates from Society of Professional Journalists chapters nationwide gathered Friday morning at a pre-election business meeting to listen to candidate speeches for board of directors positions.
Out of the 12 seats in this year’s election, two are contested. Two candidates are competing for a two-year term as vice president for campus chapter affairs, and three students are vying for two one-year terms as campus representative.
There were only two contested races last year as well.
Resolutions will go to vote Saturday, but SPJ President Dave Aeikens said SPJ wanted this one to stand out so they schedule the vote for the opening business meeting.
“We don’t want it to be a routine resolution,” he said.
Being a board member is a significant time commitment, said SPJ President Dave Aeikens, which decreases candidates who want to run. Members may be satisfied with the candidates currently running in uncontested races, he said. However, looking at the big picture, SPJ should strive for more competition, he said.
Chapters get one vote per 50 members or fewer. Delegates vote at the closing business meeting at 4:15 p.m. Saturday.
Neil Ralston, the incumbent vice president for campus chapter affairs, said he will continue his efforts to protect First Amendment rights on college campuses.
When a First Amendment issue rises, SPJ investigates the case, and if censorship is found, the society opposes it publicly and contacts school officials, Ralston said.
“We’ve won some battles and not done so well in others,” said Ralston, Western Kentucky University School of Journalism & Broadcasting assistant professor.
Sometimes journalists will appeal to school officials’ sense of ethics or pressure them publicly. Quinnipiac University officials retracted after a The New York Times editorial criticized the university for threatening to kick the SPJ chapter off campus for associating itself with a campus publication not endorsed by the university. Ralston said journalists kept the story in the news and created pressure that stemmed positive results.
To complement past efforts to fight campus censorship, Ralston said he would focus on getting students to push for legislation in their state that would protect their First Amendment guarantees.
Shoshi Mabina, who is listed on the SPJ Web site as an employee for Illinois-based magazine Afrique, was called for a speech but was not at the meeting. Mabina could not be reached for comment.
Andrew Seaman, a Wilkes University senior and Working Press staffer, said he is working on a project with the Student Press Law Center — an agreement between student journalists and school administrators to protect students from censorship.
The document is not legally binding but would have some weight in court, he said.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of when it comes to the First Amendment and the free press,” Seaman said.
Tara Puckey said one of her major assets is her ability to balance tasks — parenting, studying, freelance writing and teaching dance – as a nontraditional student. Puckey, who attends Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, said one of her goals is to make mentorship programs between student and professional journalists more accessible through partnerships with local pro chapters.
“We’re going to connect with pro chapters to attend schools with basic information to let students know that if there’s not a (campus) chapter, this is still an option that can benefit them,” Puckey said.
Larissa Kir-sten Larivee, a Minnesota State University senior, Mankato, said she wants to work on improving membership recruitment and retainment. Larivee said her university chapter involved public relations students to help boost membership.
“We’ve done a lot of work to do more event planning,” she said.
Campus representatives serve as student liaisons between campus chapters and the board of directors. Professional members on the board of directors usually get financial support from their employers. The student candidates said they were financing campaign expenses on their own. If they were selected for the position, they said they would also have to cover the expenses related to attending board meetings.




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