SPJ Shenanigans, 2022

It’s that time of year, when each SPJ chapter reports to our national organization on our activities for the past year. It’s always a good time for reflection, for reviewing the programs that worked, the ones that didn’t, and setting our goals for the coming year.

I’ll skip all the boring financial and organizational stuff, except to note that this year two of our long-time board members retired. We offer our sincere thanks and best wishes to David Nicklaus and Neil Ralston for their many years of service and wise counsel, and we hope they enjoy all that lovely free time! We also welcomed Jennifer Brown of Lindenwood University to our board, who has taken on the role of university liaison, and bid farewell to Kae Petrin, who is still on the board but in the middle of moving to the Pacific Northwest, so we won’t have them for long! 

In October 2021, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson announced he intended to prosecute journalists at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for uncovering a potentially disastrous security flaw in a state website that threatened to expose Social Security numbers for 100,000 teachers. The Post-Dispatch held off publication long enough to allow the state to take down the site before reporting, heeding the Ethics Code’s call to weigh potential harm against the public’s right to know, and were instead punished by threats of criminal prosecution. The St. Louis Pro board voted immediately to issue a statement calling on the governor to rescind his threat as a vast overreach that creates a chilling effect discouraging journalists and watchdog groups from doing their civic duties.

St. Louis Pro’s statement was co-signed by the Greater St. Louis Association of Black Journalists, SPJ Colorado Pro and the St. Louis Press Club, as well as SPJ national leaders, including President Rebecca Aguilar. The governor doubled down on his threats, even after his own prosecutors declared no charges would or could be filed. The case was closed in February, but as of this writing no apology has come from Gov. Parson. 

Other activities over the past year include:

• In cooperation with the Google News Initiative and its partnership with SPJ national, we hosted a Google Tools webinar training program, which was attended by professionals as well as students from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and St. Louis University.

• Freelancer Coffee Hours continued in partnership with the Editorial Freelancers Association, shifting online when COVID infection rates rose again. Some were purely social, while others included guest speakers on issues specific to freelancing. However, the unpredictable nature of the pandemic drained much of the participation in this program, and it is currently on hiatus. We remain in discussions with EFA’s leadership in the hopes of starting it up again when there is sufficient interest.

• We have re-launched our quarterly happy hours, which have always been very popular and attended by members and non-members alike. The next will take place on Wednesday, July 6 at International Tap House on Delmar.

• A new cooperative was formed among the St. Louis Society of Professional Journalists, Greater St. Louis Association of Black Journalists, St. Louis Press Club, Online News Association, Editorial Freelancers Association and PRSA of St. Louis. Coordinated through GSLABJ, it has opened lines of communication and cooperation among the various media organizations, and we cross-promote our events and support each others’ initiatives. 

• Ordinarily our signature event of the year is our Student Journalist Boot Camp, which puts college-level student journalists through “J-school in a day” with sessions taught by working journalists sharing their professional experience. It includes a mock press conference led by an actual police officer, a writing contest with prizes, and lots of pizza, just like Election Night. Unfortunately boot camp has been on hiatus for the last couple of years due to COVID, but this year we were honored with a grant from the SPJ Foundation to help us re-launch it this fall. It is tentatively slated for Sept. 24 at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville!

• We co-sponsored the annual First Amendment Free* Food Festival, in which passers-by are encouraged to sign away their First Amendment rights for free pizza. The event took place on the quad at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and the staff of The Alestle volunteered as counter-protesters and Goon Squad, as the participants got a taste of what it’s like to live in a society without the First Amendment. In all, 94 people chose to sign away their rights, and another 33 decided against it, which makes it one of the most successful years in the 13-year history of the program. 

The Alestle crew, ready to enforce the laws of Mass Communica

• Board president Elizabeth Donald represented the chapter and the national Professional Standards and Ethics Committee at SIUE’s Mass Comm Week, presenting on the SPJ Ethics Code and the importance of a personal code of ethics. Donald made a similar presentation to newsroom leaders and educators at the SPJ Region 7 Conference in Wichita.

• St. Louis Pro was represented at the regional conference in Wichita and last fall’s national conference, which was held online instead of New Orleans, sadly. Board president Elizabeth Donald served as delegate for the members of St. Louis Pro and represented the chapter at both conferences. 

• We were finally able to hold our “annual” trivia night that had been postponed five times thanks to COVID. We had a fantastic time and raised money to help support our programs, and we were so glad to finally be in person with our fellow journalists again!

The message: Newspapers are being raided these days, like pirates of old. Arr!

• As far as communication goes: St. Louis Pro has a quarterly email newsletter and this website, which we attempt to keep updated with our activities and information of interest to St. Louis journalists, not just our members. As our newsletter only runs quarterly, we have begun running a monthly jobs list in order to keep our members better informed about job opportunities in southwestern Illinois and eastern Missouri. We plan to keep updating these posts throughout the month, as ongoing layoffs in our region continue to leave journalists out of work. We also maintain an active Facebook group and Twitter account

As always, our programs are only as good as our volunteers, and I want to thank all of our board members, volunteers and students who worked so hard to keep our programs going through wildly fluctuating pandemic rules and constantly changing circumstances. We are always open to new ideas, and especially new volunteers to help us serve the media community here in St. Louis. If you’re interested in working with SPJ, please contact us at stlouisspj@gmail.com