By Kathleen Devaney
South Florida News Service
Florida International University’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists recently coveted two awards at the SPJ annual national convention.
For the second consecutive year, FIU-SPJ was bestowed the Outstanding Campus Chapter award for Region III at the Excellence in Journalism convention last week.
“We have a great team and there are more members who have joined just in the last year who have made FIU-SPJ what it is today,” said Katie Lepri, the chapter vice-president. “Our students want to change their careers within the university, and they know how to do that by getting involved in this club.”
During the 2013-2014 academic year, FIU-SPJ hosted multiple events that helped the chapter gain notoriety from within the Society. There was the “Listen. Learn. Connect,” all-day media conference, with local professionals from within the industry speaking about issues, such as journalism ethics, photojournalism, war reporting and more. There was an event to promote the value of free speech, as students learned that their freedom to exercise the first amendment would be taken away in exchange for a free meal. There was also a night of “Ethical Poker,” which was hosted by the Region III Coordinator Michael Koretzky, where members held playing cards with different lines of the SPJ Code of Ethics printed on them.
But FIU-SPJ would not be as successful without the guidance of its adviser Chris Delboni, said Marisol Medina, president of the chapter.
“She has great insight, and she cares about all of us as individuals,” Medina said. “I’m really thankful for her dedication to all of us.”
“This is an incredible honor because it really reflects on the impact that mentoring has on our students,” Delboni said. “And I don’t mean this as a cliché, but this award is not about me at all. It’s about the kind of students we have — the kind of students who take on leadership, who take on responsibility, and the kind of students we want to see in the newsrooms, that we are seeing in the newsrooms, and they come from our school.”
In addition to her award, Delboni had the opportunity to host a breakout session at the convention with Allan Richards, associate dean at the FIU School of Journalism and Mass Communications, as well as Barbara Corbellini Duarte, a former student and current reporter at the Sun-Sentinel.
Their panel, “Starting, Building and Maintaining an Academic Newsroom,” discussed how the South Florida News Service, which provides stories to local mainstream newspapers like the Miami Herald, Sun-Sentinel and Palm Beach Post, came into fruition in 2009, when the major South Florida newspapers went to Richards asking for the contribution of student-written stories.
“Suddenly, I had three editors coming to me and saying ‘help,’ which is a really unique experience because, usually, we are going to them and saying, ‘take our students,’” Richards said.
Delboni, the SFNS news director, said that in order to build and maintain an academic newsroom, there needs to be a dedicated editor/news director with an open-door policy, a space for a newsroom that students can call their own, as well as a website, so that stories can be posted online, regardless of whether or not they are being published in major newspapers.
She added it is also important to have the support of the school’s leadership. SJMC Dean Raul Reis was present at the convention, both at the award ceremony and the panel.
“I thought it was really important for me to be there and show my support for the Society of Professional Journalists chapter,” Dean Raul Reis said. “I’m so happy that the SPJ chapter has come a long way in the last two years. It’s really thanks to the students and their adviser Chris Delboni.”
On the SPJ national level, two main decisions were made at the convention.
The Code of Ethics was revised for the first time since 1996.
Changes to the code include the addition of language supposed to withstand future technologies for all platforms.
An example is the inclusion of the line, “Remember neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy,” under the “Seek Truth and Report It” section. This line refers to the manner in which journalists rush to publish news, as it spreads quickly throughout the internet, sometimes leaving room for errors.
Delegates also decided on another important proposal by the Region III Director Michael Koretzky to change the Society’s name from “The Society of Professional Journalists” to “The Society for Professional Journalism.” Delegates voted against that proposal.
Koretzky said that the name change could potentially boost membership, as it would be more inclusive of people who support journalism, rather than having a majority of members who are journalists. He said that when SPJ lobbies for advocacy to protect journalists, having more membership will present a stronger argument to congress.
“Here’s the thing,” Koretzky said. “I don’t really care if we change SPJ’s name. The thing I care about is that we keep talking about ways to update the society.”
FIU-SPJ was represented by Marisol Medina, Katie Lepri and Kathleen Devaney, who are studying journalism, as well as Jasmine Richardson, a broadcast major, and Alexis Fernandez, a digital media major.
The five colleagues, who became good friends after meeting through FIU-SPJ, attended different panels, networked with both professionals and peers, and most of all, returned home to Miami with a renewed passion for their future careers. The conference helped bridge the gap between the professional and the academic world.
“The key thing that I learned from the conference is that you have to work hard to get to where you want day in and day out,” Fernandez said. “But you should also listen to your intuition and take risks because you never know where it’s going to lead you.”
Members of FIU-SPJ beamed with pride for being recognized as a successful chapter.
“I felt really proud to be a student journalist. I’m doing things that other journalism students aren’t doing,” Lepri said. “The fact that we actually have an academic newsroom and the fact that we have such a great academic adviser — I was proud to be a part of FIU. I was proud to represent our school.”
Categories: Editor's Note