At this year’s Society of Professional Journalists’ national convention held in Indianapolis, three national awards were presented to Utah’s two SPJ chapters.
The Utah Headliners chapter was honored as the “National Outstanding Small Professional Chapter,” and also received the “Circle of Excellence” small chapter award for its involvement in First Amendment and Freedom of Information issues.
Weber State University’s student SPJ chapter was given the Campus Chapter Award for Region IX.
Allison Barlow Hess, president of the Utah Headliners and an instructor in the Department of Communication at Weber State University, accepted all three awards on behalf of the Utah chapters.
“It’s an honor to be recognized by the oldest, most prestigious journalism organization in the nation, especially this year as SPJ celebrates its 100th birthday,” Hess said. “Everyone involved in SPJ here in Utah has worked very hard this year to protect the freedoms of the press that we all enjoy.”
The “pro” chapter has continued its efforts on behalf of Utah journalists, working with members of the Utah State Legislature to defeat HB 122. That bill would have undercut Utah’s Government Records Access Management Act, known as GRAMA. It would have wiped out the balancing test which weighs the right of the public to know with the right of privacy. Utah Headliners fought hard for the bill’s defeat, and it was not passed.
In another open government activity, the Utah Foundation for Open Government, UFOG, which is partially sponsored by Utah Headliners and led by board member Linda Petersen, received a $9,000 grant from the Knight-Ridder Foundation to produce a video which will eventually be distributed to Utah high schools on the importance of open government and on being involved in government. The video is currently in pre-production.
Utah Headliners also co-sponsored Sunshine Week last spring, along with the League of Women Voters, to encourage open government; and has participated in the Freedom of Information Audit of online Utah state government records.
“If we could bottle and distribute what they have going in Utah, we would have an explosion of energy,” stated John Ensslin, director of Region 9 for SPJ chapters (of which the Utah chapters are members).
Weber State’s program, under the direction of chapter advisor Sheree Josephson, was honored for its hosting of multiple events and speakers over the past year. Subjects included ethics, diversity and new media. Several hundred people attended the events.
“We want students to perform at the highest ethical and professional manner possible,” Josephson said. “SPJ gives them a chance to interact and network with others who hold the same standards and have the same goals.”