To Harper Memorial Scholarship: Thank You

Nobody gets into this business for fame and fortune. In fact, if you throw that cliche at a journalist, you will get a sarcastic quip and possibly a pica pole thrown at you, since there's no other practical purpose for a pica pole anymore beyond backscratcher and self-defense implement.

There's a great moment in Ron Howard's movie THE PAPER, in which Robert Duvall tells Glenn Close, "If you try to make this job about the money you'll be nothing but miserable, because we don't get the money. Never have, never will." This is more true now than ever, as newspapers everywhere are trimming budgets, laying off staff and even making the paper smaller.

There is a tendency among us all to cut out what we consider to be superfluous: training, and professional organizations like SPJ. But now is when SPJ is the most useful, when we need intelligent programming and thoughtful discussion among our peers.

Over the last year and a half, I've had a crash course in making gold out of hay, as outgoing chapter president Kelsey Volkmann and I have worked with our small-but-mighty board for the St. Louis chapter to provide relevant and useful training in monthly luncheons. Our guest speakers and topics have ranged from how to moderate comments on newspaper web sites to the trials and ethics of covering a natural disaster to a crash course in freelancing.

We don't have any money in our little chapter. But we have a lot of ideas, and we know how to beg, borrow and cajole to get good people to come talk about the work they love. Each month, we see people filling our little luncheon, and we always come away reinvigorated with new ideas and a renewed sense of purpose.

SPJ can give us that reinvigoration. While my current membership extends only back to 2009, I've been unofficially involved with SPJ since my college days in the 1990s, and always supported the philosophy of journalists helping journalists - particularly in a time when we rank below politicians and used-car dealers in the public trust.

We need that more than ever in a time when our profession is riding out a paradigm shift in our very nature. We need solid grounding in journalism standards and ethics for the newcomers to our profession, which is why I am honored to be a part of the Ethics Committee as well. But even we old hacks need SPJ and the resources it offers: we know that there is no end to the new things we can learn from each other. It is too easy, day in and day out, to feed the beast and lay out the front page and look no further than the next web posting.

Sometimes we need a little more. Particularly now, when so many of us consider leaving the profession entirely, believing there is nothing new to be found on newsprint.

I don't believe that. I don't believe our profession is dying or obsolete, no matter how many bloggers crop up or how many industry experts declare us dead.

I believe we are in the middle of an exciting change, a synergy between print and electronic media utilizing the best of both worlds, melding the complex reporting and structure of a newspaper with the immediacy and widespread distribution of broadcast news. I believe that when the dust finally settles, we will find that good work always finds a home, that the people will always need news written and reported by professional journalists, and however we deliver them that news, they will respond to it.

That's why I am deeply honored and humbled to be a recipient of the Harper Scholarship. I never had the honor of meeting Mr. Harper, but I have heard from many who knew him that he was a strong and intelligent leader, an executive director who placed a high priority on training. It is that philosophy of journalists helping journalists that led SPJ to create the Harper Scholarship, so those of us who lack the means to participate at national will have the opportunity to do so.

I will act as a delegate for the St. Louis chapter to the convention. I will speak on a panel about social networking and ethical journalism, and meet with my fellows on the ethics commission. But I know that I will bring back far more to my newsroom than I give to the convention. I will bring back ideas, answers and more questions, and share them with my colleagues so they, too, can learn something new and improve the craft we love so much.

Thank you to those who saw fit to choose me for this scholarship. It is my honor to accept.


  1. Anonymous5:15 PM

    Woohoo! Go Elizabeth!
    *standing ovation*

  2. Elizabeth, happy to hear this. I feel i need to watch the movie "the paper"!!

    Scholarship Letters


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