SPJ Improves and Protects Journalism - at Home and Abroad

By Smith, Kevin Z. | The Quill, November/December 2009 | Go to article overview

SPJ Improves and Protects Journalism - at Home and Abroad


Smith, Kevin Z., The Quill


A MALAYSIAN JOURNALIST STOOD next to me puffing on a cigarette, quietly drawing down its tobacco and holding its intoxicating smoke deep in his lungs before releasing his stormy cloud into the air.

"You know, smoking will kill you," someone in the crowd said, obviously as taken as I was with the delight with which the man smoked.

"In my country, smoking has killed many journalists; but it has been the smoke of a gun that has done us in," he retorted.

This simple yet staggering exchange took place during my first trip to South Korea in 2007 while I was attending a journalism conference sponsored by the Asian American Journalists Association. Clearly, it left an impression on me. I've made three trips to Korea, attending two World Journalism Conferences sponsored by the Journalists Association of Korea. I've even traveled to Taiwan for SPJ. These trips have helped me gain a fresh perspective on international journalism - the intended purpose.

From these journeys I've confirmed what I had previously suspected: Journalism in other countries is dangerous, even life threatening. That conference almost three years ago opened my eyes wide to the treatment of journalists outside our borders. I'll never forget the story of the Nepalese reporter who - not once, but three times - was dragged from his home in view of his wife and children and beaten by thugs for what he had written. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 33 members of the press have been killed this year, and 760 of our colleagues have been killed since 1 992. Thirty journalists are still missing.

I've heard plenty of stories of captivity, threats and men with guns visible following editors to and from their offices. And here in the United States we complain if we have to eat lunch and dinner at our desks in the same day.

Because of my interest in international journalism, this year I've asked SPJ's International Journalism Committee to step up and strike boldly at some of these problems. SPJ is not an international organization, but we have members in several countries. Recently, I handed my SPJ president's card to a Denver reporter who was relocating to Toronto, encouraging him to stay engaged in our organization. He said he would. Since taking office, I've received e-mails from journalists in Canada, India, Mexico and Germany asking for advice from our organization.

Recently, I held a groundbreaking conference call with Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. The call was set up by SPJ's International and Journalism Education Committees. For the first time, SPJ has pledged to lend real support and work collaboratively with an internationally focused journalism organization to address these concerns over journalists' treatment. …

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