My comments on the #NAHJ board meeting Twitter controversy
Posted by Olmeda on August 2, 2012
One of the challenges one faces when granting an interview with a reporter is recognizing that not everything he or she says will be used in the article. The trick is to measure everything you say so that no matter which quote is pulled, it can stand on its own without confusing anyone. It is an art I have not mastered.
Today I was quoted accurately in an article in UNITY News about NAHJ blocking student reporters from tweeting and recording during a board meeting. I stand by that quote, but I wanted to add a little bit more context than the reporter had room to provide.
For those who don’t know the back story, click here to read the article. I’ll wait.
Now that you have the story, here’s the context to my statement.
I was president of NAHJ at a time when Facebook was still emerging as a force and Twitter was in its infancy. I did not have to contend with the kind of instant reporting that the current NAHJ board faces. As such, my board and previous boards did not have a policy barring social networking during meetings. We did not block reporters from covering meetings in the traditional manner, and (speaking solely for myself) I would have been personally and professionally offended had someone tried to implement such a policy. Yes, NAHJ is a private, non-profit organization (rather than a government). But we are also an association of journalists, and as such, we have a responsibility to recognize the message we send when we implement policies.
Current NAHJ President Michele Salcedo (whom I endorsed and voted for) is dealing with a different set of realities than I faced, and if NAHJ legally implemented a policy blocking tweeting and live reporting from board meetings with her support, then I have no choice but to defer to her leadership and judgment. That doesn’t mean I agree with the policy. I don’t. I think it’s wrong, and I call on the next president and board to repeal it as its first official action this weekend.
I am familiar with the type of board training that Salcedo mentioned in the UNITY News article, having sat through it multiple times and played a key leadership role in it at least twice. I am familiar with the advice that only the president and the executive director should speak for the organization. For the most part, I agree with that. But the advice ignores a significant reality when it comes to NAHJ: The representatives on the NAHJ Board are elected by the members, and as such, they are accountable to the members. As far as I was concerned, any member of the NAHJ board could grant an interview to any reporter, with the understanding that the board member was speaking for himself or herself, not necessarily for the association. I understand that this may conflict with the principle of the board speaking with one voice, but blocking such communication conflicts with a greater principle in my eyes. Board members are elected by the association’s membership and are entitled to communicate with members any way they see fit, including by blogging, tweeting, using Facebook or talking to reporters. True, they may not speak for the association, but no one has the right to stop them from speaking for themselves in their capacity as elected officers.
NAHJ must adjust its policies around its principles, not the other way around.
I am a member of NAHJ, and I am speaking for myself. Thanks for listening.