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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Society of Professional Journalists members draft resolution to restore the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award

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This resolution will be presented to the Convention of the Society of Professional Journalists for a vote to restore the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award. The resolution has been drafted and endorsed by many members of the SPJ dissatisfied with the failure of some of the SPJ's national leadership.

A resolution reinstating the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award
WHEREAS the Society of Professional Journalists has been awarding the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement award since 2000, with the inaugural award presented to Thomas in recognition of her long and distinguished journalism career, and
WHEREAS the SPJ national board voted in January to retire that award in a special telephone meeting with three-minute time limits on board-member comments and no advance consultation with chapters or national mission committees, and
WHEREAS the national board retired the award without undertaking any substantive discussions with Thomas to clarify her remarks, and
WHEREAS the board's vote to retire the award followed discussion within the national leadership occasioned by Thomas's exercise of free expression as a private individual, specifically -- as reported by SPJ's president -- because she "made comments some find objectionable in a prepared speech," and
WHEREAS SPJ, in a press release before the board vote, said the Executive Committee "condemn[s] [Thomas's] statements in December as offensive and inappropriate," and
WHEREAS the Society has for many years encouraged the vigorous exercise of freedom of expression and repeatedly warned against the dangers of content-based and viewpoint-based restrictions on free speech, regardless of whether some might deem the speech offensive, objectionable or inappropriate, and
WHEREAS SPJ presents other highly coveted awards named for individuals, living and dead, that have not been similarly subjected to heightened scrutiny and reconsideration based on the personal views of the people in whose honor they were named, and
WHEREAS some SPJ national leaders have argued that future potential recipients of the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award might misinterpret the Society's intent in naming the award in honor of Thomas's career achievements in journalism,
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the delegates of the Society direct national officers and staff to:
* Restore the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award, effective December 1, 2011, and
* Accompany all promotional materials for the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award with the following language:
"The Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award is presented to an individual or individuals for a career of extraordinary service to journalism and the journalism profession. The award is named after longtime White House correspondent Helen Thomas for her tenacious and illuminating reporting over a period of more than 55 years. The award is the highest the Society bestows for distinguished journalism careers and, in keeping with its guiding principles, is presented without regard for the personal views held or expressed by any past or future recipient."


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