Some 2,000 journalists will gather starting tomorrow in New Orleans for the annual conference of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Radio-TV Digital TV News Assn.

The theme of the four-day meeting is “Excellence in Journalism.”

Would that were so! So far, SPJ is ducking us on a freedom of the press issue.

Hagit Limor
Hagit Limor
This blog is an open letter to SPJ president Hagit Limor of WCPO-TV Cincinnati who is billed on the SPJ website as “Investigative Reporter.”

Hello Hagit:

I hope that SPJ and RTDNA have a successful conference. Journalists need to support each other these days.

So far, SPJ is ducking the issue of freedom of the press involved in PRSA’s barring this reporter from its Assembly Oct. 15 in Orlando and the ensuing three-day conference.

I have been a member of SPJ more than 40 years and just paid the dues, receiving a thank you letter from executive director Joe Skeel.

SPJ likes my money but neither Skeel nor anyone on his staff will return my phone calls or e-mails.

Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith
Acting on my request for intervention by the SPJ in this press boycott, ethics committee chair Kevin Smith of James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Va., contacted “PRSA officers” and shared “our concerns and our longstanding support for transparency and open meetings.”

Smith, said an e-mail from ethics vice chair Fred Brown of Colorado, “also listened to their complaints and all of us (Ethics Committee) read the Society’s 23-page bill of particulars. The Society does have a strong argument as well, and if there’s exaggeration here as you say, it seems to be happening on both sides.”

So Brown concludes by saying “We saw no compelling reason to pursue this discussion further, taking sides to the point of confrontation. The rest of the ethics committee apparently shares our opinion that this is the Society’s decision and they have to live with whatever bad PR they may get from it.”

SPJ Should Join My Fight

SPJ, acting more like the usual trade association than a group of journalists, sees no need to have a “confrontation” which is just what journalists do with all sorts of institutions, companies, and organizations. Institutions basically don’t like coverage.

As for the 23-pages of “charges” against me, they are just that and deserve no credence. They are especially flimsy because no one from the PR Society, either on staff or among the officers, will present them in person to me for rebuttal.

There is only one issue here—freedom of the press. SPJ cannot sit on the sidelines while this is denied to a reporter by an association that bills itself as the “world’s largest organization of PR professionals.” Barring me now would interrupt 40 straight years of coverage of the Assembly. I have been the only reporter at this all-day session for at least 15 years.

I doubt that the journalists on the program would side with you, Brown or the other members of the SPJ Ethics Committee. I’m also contacting the other members of the SPJ board to enlist their support.

Soledad O'Brien
Soledad O'Brien
Your speakers include Soledad O’Brien, CNN anchor, special correspondent and author, who as opening speaker will “share her first-hand experiences on telling stories of under-reported communities and the challenges that go along with it.”

Would O’Brien be afraid of a “confrontation” with an institution or with anyone?

Fager of CBS News Would Not Flinch

Would keynote speaker Jeff Fager, CBS News chairman and “60 Minutes” producer, be afraid of a “confrontation” with anyone? The two-fisted approach of “60 Minutes” has won numerous awards over the years and a regular place among Nielsen’s “Top Ten” TV shows.

Lara Logan, CBS chief foreign news correspondent, who was sexually assaulted and beaten by a mob in Egypt, will receive the John F. Hogan Distinguished Service Award.

She was not afraid of doing a five-segment series on U.S. Marines on patrol in Afghanistan that won her the RTDNA/Edward R. Murrow Award.

Would she be afraid of “confronting” the PR Society? We doubt it.

PRS Promised Never to Evict a Reporter

It’s ironic that Brown hails from Aurora, Colo., outside of Denver, and once worked for the Denver Post.

A Denver Post reporter was evicted from the 1984 PRS Assembly there by president Barbara Hunter, who presided over the meeting. Only PR trade reporters are allowed, said Hunter, in ordering the reporter from the room.

The Post struck back with a scathing editorial the next day resulting in Society PR director Donna Peltier announcing that the bylaws of the Assembly had been amended so that no reporter, trade or otherwise, would ever be ejected or forbidden to attend an Assembly in the future.

We’re trying to find out the name of the reporter and get a copy of the Post story with the help of Brown but this has yet to be accomplished.