For the last 25 years, journalists in Northern Arizona have acted autonomously as they work for their publications, seldom communicating or socializing with one another. Lauren Millette, from KYCA radio station, thinks it's time that changed.
Millette hosted an evening of "socializing and networking" for local journalists on Saturday night, with the intention of gauging interest in starting up a Northern Arizona satellite chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ). Millette invited the Phoenix SPJ Board Chairman, Mark Scarp of the East Valley Tribune, to explain what the organization is all about.
"The Society for Professional Journalists founded in 1909, was the first and is still the oldest and largest association of journalists in the country," Scarp explained. "They stand for about 3 very important things: A free press and an ethical press; they stand for continuing education, journalists keep learning; they stand for advocacy of journalists who are being threatened, or their first amendment rights are being threatened; they support scholarships and education of college journalism. And again, they are in the forefront of the fight to improve and protect the profession of journalism."
The tagline on the national SPJ website reads, "Improving and protecting jourmalism since 1909." Always mindful of that, this organization has remained traditional enough to fiercely protect 1st Amendment rights, but flexible enough to embrace new types of media, such as internet news sites. "It's our mission to serve all journalists, regardless of medium," Scarp said.
Where can a journalist go if they think that the 1st Amendment is being threatened in Prescott, Arizona? Who do they talk to? Is there anyone in Prescott who can offer expert, legal advice? How do they tap into the wisdom of other, experienced journalists? In a rural area, such as Prescott, and northern Arizona in general, these can be daunting questions. That's where SPJ comes in, offering training, educational programs and even free legal advice regarding Freedom of Information issues.
"There's a great need for more networking, greater communication among communicators," Millette explains. "I think there's a great need for a higher level of truth and ethics and integrity in journalism in Northern Arizona. It's rural."
Millette spoke about why she's working on launching the satellite SPJ group. "This is a mission that has not been able to be accomplished for 25 years. I feel that right now it is a very timely time for this, there's a lot of different reporters working for different mediums who are fighting the same battles, only they're doing it autonomously."
In addition to offering an opportunity for journalists to work together and support one another, Millette hopes to bring educational opportunities to Northern Arizona. She spoke about hosting issue-driven panel discussions, and possibly bringing in experts to teach seminars. "I see that there's a great need for further growth. More education, not only on the part of journalists, but on the part of the public, and of sources as well. I see this as a vehicle that can work, not only because I have an interest in doing this, but I'm hearing from other reporters that this is what they want to see. Sedona has an interest in doing this, Flagstaff has an interest in doing this, it's time to get it together."
According to Millette, an organization like this has been needed in Northern Arizona for a long time. When asked why she thinks it's taken so long to address the need, Millette responded, "...not enough interest or motivation." And then she added firmly, "I'm motivated."