By Pashtana Usufzy
The Working Press
The cogs and wheels that drive an organization aren’t always front and center.
Sometimes, the forces that keep the system moving lay low until they feel ready to come forward.
In Sonny Albarado’s case, more than 30 years passed before he decided to take on the spotlight.
Albarado’s road to the Society of Professional Journalists’ presidency began in 1979, when he tried to create a chapter as a bureau reporter in Baton Rouge, La.
The attempt to “get some networking going” — at a time when the word was barely spoken among reporters there — fell flat.
“The chapter never got off the ground with great fanfare,” Albarado said.
But the experience linked him to SPJ, and that connection has lasted through his presidency of the Mid-South professional chapter and two re-elections to the Region 12 directorship.
Frank Gibson led Region 12 from 1982 to 1987, when Albarado was a chapter board member. Gibson, now treasurer of the Middle Tennessee Pro Chapter, said he remembers Albarado as “very energetic, a good thinker and a good leader.”
“I remember him being very active in Freedom of Information activities and issues, knowledgeable and aggressive,” he said.
Albarado said his desire to help SPJ navigate the changing world of media prompted him to run for president-elect.
“I saw a need for SPJ to adapt to the new media environment,” he said. “It’s done so in some major ways, but I still think there’s some room for improvement.”
Now the projects editor at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Albarado says he is committed to developing SPJ’s focus on potential Freedom of Information Act violations.
He’s already assigned the task of exploring platform-neutral categories to SPJ’s prize committee, and he’s consulted with outgoing President John Ensslin on the presidential transition and how to keep SPJ strong.
“We live in a world where the profession that we’ve dedicated ourselves to is changing within the last decade or so, and SPJ should change along with it,” Ensslin said.?
Ensslin said that Albarado’s goal should be to listen to critics and admirers in order to create a broader focus for the organization.
“The president is kind of the person who tries to set direction for SPJ,” Ensslin said.
Albarado said one of his immediate attempts to set that direction involves allaying concerns that SPJ is not responding quickly enough to journalistic controversies.?The organization was criticized for its response to the recent dispute over editorial control of the University of Georgia’s Red and Black newspaper. Albarado said situations like those illustrate a need for SPJ to alter its methods.
“It’s important that SPJ be nimble and prepared to respond quickly when any journalist or journalism organization is facing difficulty,” he said.
Kelly Kissel, current Region 12 director, has known Albarado for 30 years. He said Albarado is well-suited to problem solving and providing constructive criticism.
“He’s an excellent leader,” Kissel said. “He doesn’t pull punches. He will tell you what he thinks.”
Albarado says his longer-term goals for the presidency include ensuring that SPJ “is the voice that’s heard when reporters encounter difficulties with public officials.”
He said he wants SPJ to be able to serve all of its functions for all of its members.
“I’d like to be one who all SPJ members feel is approachable,” he said, “and who is seen as pushing SPJ to become even bigger and better than it already is.”
Meet the SPJ board candidates
David Cuillier, the current national secretary-treasurer of the Society of Professional Journalists, is running unopposed for the position of president-elect.
Cuillier, the director of the University of Arizona School of Journalism in Tucson, Ariz., worked his way through SPJ’s ranks, rising from Western Washington University student chapter president to an SPJ adviser at the University of Idaho before taking the national stage as chairman of the Freedom of Information Committee in 2007.
A former Herald city editor in Everett, Wash., Cuillier won the SPJ First Amendment Award in 2010 and an SPJ President’s Award in 2008 and 2010. He has emphasized his dedication to multimedia training through SPJ, as well as the First Amendment and government-record access.
Running unopposed for the secretary-treasurer position, Dana E. Neuts is a freelance journalist and website owner/publisher in Washington.
Neuts is the current director of SPJ Region 10, a position she earned in 2009. Prior to that, Neuts was president of the Western Washington Pro Chapter. Since then, she has risen to Freelance Committee chair and joined the Membership Committee. Neuts helped her chapter to be named Outstanding Large Chapter of the Year, and she is a member of the Kent Chamber of Commerce.
She told SPJ that she hopes to provide support to members, expand SPJ’s partnerships with other organizations, and emphasize a commitment to ethics and freedom of information.
Carl Corry, Eastern Chapter doctor, is Newsday’s online editor for local news and a candidate for at-large director. Corry served as Region 1 director from 2004 to 2006 and was president of the Press Club of Long Island from 2002 to 2005. His SPJ roots go back to 1993, when he earned the title of founding student chapter president at St. John’s University. Corry won the Regional Director of the Year award in 2005.
Corry told SPJ that he aims “to address ongoing concerns and to pursue innovative initiatives that keep us an invaluable resource for journalists.”
Andy Schotz, the immediate past president of the Washington, D.C., Pro Chapter, is also running for at-large director. Schotz, a reporter at The Herald-Mail in Hagerstown, Md., served as SPJ Ethics Committee chair from 2008 to 2011 and joined the committee in 2004. He describes himself as a “perennial SPJ contest judge” and has earned awards from the New York Press Association and other organizations. Schotz told SPJ he is running because of “the strong resistance I saw against letting SPJ members without a chapter have a say in SPJ’s governance.”
Campus Adviser At-Large
Incumbent Kym Fox is currently unopposed for the campus adviser at-large office. The journalism sequence coordinator at the Texas State University School of Journalism and Mass Communication held the presidency of the San Antonio Pro Chapter from 1986 to 1993. Fox worked as a reporter and deputy metro editor at the San Antonio Express-News from 1985-2003. She won the Presidential Award for Excellence in Service from Texas State University in 2008.
Student Representative (Two will be chosen)
Mary S. Kenney is a senior at Indiana University and a candidate for student representative. Kenney is the web/social media chair at the IU chapter, having acted as president from 2011 to 2012. She joined SPJ in December 2009, and she is the copy desk chief for the Indiana Daily Student. Kenney has interned at the Tampa Bay Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune.
She told SPJ that her experience at a student-built chapter will help her “represent and aid all types of student chapters — from large organizations at small colleges to tiny groups at large campuses.”
Meg Wagner is the president of the University of Florida SPJ chapter. She became historian in 2009. Wagner has interned at BreakingNews.com & NBCNews.com, the Gainesville Sun and the New York Times Regional Media Group. She has been an ABC News reporter & producer and wrote for the Independent Florida Alligator from 2009 to 2011.
Wagner told SPJ she will ensure the organization “remains a place where students are valued members, while maintaining all the principles journalists, both students and professionals, fight for.”
Mark Smith is a writer for The Vista at the University of Central Oklahoma. Smith attended the 2010 SPJ National Convention in Las Vegas and has reported for The Working Press. He has been an SPJ member since 2009. Smith was editor-in-chief at the Pioneer at Oklahoma City Community College.
He told SPJ that he hopes to “increase student involvement, on both the local and national levels, advocate a revamped mentor program that pairs students with professional journalists, and share scholarships, training and trade secrets via a blog.”
Meagan McGinnes is the president of Ithaca College’s chapter of SPJ. McGinnes, a junior, has been an active member of the national organization since 2010. She has interned at Chronicle on Channel 5 in Boston and the Finger Lake Environmental Film Festival. McGinnes has served as editor of Buzzsaw Magazine and as a staff writer for the Ithacan newspaper.
McGinnes told SPJ that her experience has included one-on-one connections. “I would love to bring that type of personal relationship to even greater focus on this larger, national scale,” she said.
For more information on the candidates, visit: http://www.spj.org/elections-candidates.asp.