SEJ President’s Report: Gratitude and Grit at the End of 2020
|Photo: Ashley Garmon|
It is hard to believe, given how incredibly long (and not yet over) this year has been that 2020, and my term as SEJ Board President, is coming to a close. This was not what any of us had anticipated for SEJ's 30th Anniversary year, nor any of us in any respect. I had just settled into the presidency when 2020 began to unfurl its wrath. The toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on human life is nowhere close to over, nor are the impacts to the journalists and journalism the public depends upon for information. SEJ remains committed to ensuring that coverage of environmental issues remains steadfast, even in these unsteady times.
In spite of a year that doled out more work than we’d planned for, I’m eternally thankful that SEJ had such a good team in place that could keep the organization strong while responding to members’ shifting needs. I am especially grateful for the dedicated work of Executive Director Meaghan Parker. Without her, I am not quite sure if SEJ would be standing, with finances and programs intact and even excelling, at this year-end moment. (Meaghan, THANK YOU.) But, truly, please join me in thanking all of the staff, board and volunteers who served on awards, grant, audit and so many other committees who, together, make SEJ the force that it is.
The Fund for Environmental Journalism, which pivoted to become a rapid-response grant in the face of travel restrictions which hampered field reporting, is poised to give out a staggering $180,000 by the end of the year, mostly focused on underreported communities and stories. SEJ also launched a webinar series and formed a partnership with Report for America and another with Association of Health Care Journalists and Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. More info coming soon. The #SEJ2020 portion of our 30th Anniversary Conference took place in September with excellent programming and participation, and (with positive, yet preliminary news about vaccines) we remain hopeful that #SEJ2021 can take place in Boise June 2-6 next year.
While all that programmatic work was unfolding, the board stayed on track with organizational objectives, updating policies and finalizing a Strategic Plan that will be a guiding light for the next few years. We appreciate all the members who provided feedback over the summer and feel good about the way the process helped us clarify our values, which include public understanding of environmental issues, editorial independence and transparency, rigorous and unbiased reporting, and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) within SEJ and across news media. Developing the plan gave us a chance to recognize the shifting journalism landscape within which SEJ operates and set our goals to ensure our mission can continue to be fulfilled given these dynamic circumstances.
Much of that organizational work was done by board members who ended their term as of the November 21 Annual Membership Meeting. I want to thank them individually for all their service: Lyndsey Gilpin, Breanna Draxler, Roger Witherspoon, Susan Moran, Gloria Gonzalez and Katy Daigle. They’re all doing excellent journalistic work, and I encourage you to seek them out and see what they’re working on next.
Board members Sadie Babits and Laura Paskus held onto their board seats during the election, and were joined by newly elected members Donovan Quintero of the Navajo Times; Sara Schonhardt, Managing Editor of Internews’ Earth Journalism Network (EJN); Maya Kapoor, associate editor for High Country News; and independent journalist and lawyer Kathiann Kowalski. Welcome!
Also at the Annual Membership Meeting, the two ballot questions about amendments to the bylaws passed overwhelmingly. The first change, passed by 95 percent of the vote, allows for a new student membership category that aims to make SEJ more inclusive and better positioned to cultivate the next generation of environmental journalists and form new university partnerships. The second change removed outdated gendered language and was passed by 90 percent.
But that was just a first step in updating our bylaws. It will take grit to get through the second step. The board recognizes the need for a greater overhaul of membership categories to bring SEJ into alignment with the fundamental changes that have taken place in the field of journalism since 1990. To do this while remaining true to our founding ideals will be a much larger undertaking than this first round of changes that were made in November. I also believe they’re necessary if we are to be able to continue being the leading organization of our kind. We’ll be looking for members who would like to join along with board members to form a task force that can begin researching and drafting these bylaws revisions in 2021.
I close with an invitation. Please join us in #HonoringOurHeroes, our end-of-the-year fundraising campaign, where you (or your family or friends or anyone to whom you send the link along to!) can donate in the name of environmental journalists whose work you respect and admire. Sure, they can be SEJ members, but they don’t have to be. Sure, it can be a huge amount, but it could also be a few dollars. With the donation, their names will be added to our (growing) Wall of Heroes. We aim to elevate and amplify the names and work done by all those in this important field. And hope that they, and you, and the public at large, can always turn to the Society of Environmental Journalists as a place for sustenance, community and the facts you need to understand the workings of this world we live in together.
In closing and in service,
SEJ Board President