Arkansas SPJ urges Legislative Council to require high school journalism offering

To the members of the Arkansas Legislative Council,


As members of the Arkansas Pro Chapter of the United States’ oldest journalism organization, the Society of Professional Journalists (, we write to express our grave concern that the Arkansas Department of Education’s proposed revision of public school accrediting standards will reduce the value of an Arkansas high school diploma in competition with other states’ graduates.


Specifically, we are concerned that the minimum high school accrediting standards will no longer require such courses as journalism, physics or world history and that these would be replaced with more general topics such as English language arts, science and social studies. As you might surmise, the continued offering of journalism courses as an elective is of deepest concern to us.


We support the position of the Arkansas Press Association, which wrote to the ALC’s Rules and Regulations subcommittee “that if schools are not required to offer journalism classes as an elective, then many districts simply won’t, depriving high school students of the opportunity to learn objective thinking, community involvement, civic issues, fact-finding and news photography.”


The APA highlighted research that shows journalism students generally do better in school, in many ways, than nonjournalism students. The APA pointed to a study by Jack Dvorak and others in the 1990s, the findings of which are summarized at


Journalism coursework, as well as the extracurricular benefit of a high school newspaper or other outlet for journalistic work, is proven to help young minds develop the skills necessary to succeed in today’s rapidly evolving world – just as music courses help in developing mathematical skills. Student journalists practice crucial skills rooted in researching and fact-checking, along with practicing objectivity. In a time of “fake news” and increased skepticism toward the media due to concerns of bias, it is imperative that Arkansas schools train students to both sift through and verify information.


Student journalists also learn about emerging technologies, become better communicators through interviewing and storytelling, and strengthen their math and critical-thinking skills through working with data. By giving students the opportunity to put this knowledge to use, Arkansas high schools play a role in creating graduates who are well-rounded and possess the skills needed to thrive in higher education and the workforce.


The Arkansas Pro Chapter of SPJ appreciates that less specificity in required courses and more latitude and choice can benefit smaller, less financially secure school districts, but we worry that a lack of standardized and specific minimum statewide course requirements will tilt the educational playing field in favor of rich districts and further weaken poor districts.


In that vein, we also take issue with a statement made by a school counselor in the Education Department’s submitted record of public comments on the proposed accrediting standards. The counselor wrote in favor of removing drama and journalism from the required 38 credits, saying those courses attract very few students and take up space in the school’s master course schedule.


The counselor’s view seems short-sighted and prejudicial: Small numbers of students might sign up for physics or calculus or advanced math, but those courses are no less vital to some students’ intended careers or further education. Also, could it be that schools’ failure to promote certain courses ensures that few students will sign up for them?


In broad terms, we think the loosening of accrediting standards ultimately will hurt Arkansas students in the increasingly competitive world of information we all inhabit.
We urge you to send the revised standards back to the Education Department for further review, discussion and revision.


Arkansas Pro Chapter,

Society of Professional Journalists


President Jennifer Ellis,
Vice President Chelsea Boozer,
Treasurer Bobby Ampezzan,
Secretary Syd Hayman,

Arkansas SPJ awards scholarships

The Arkansas Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has announced the recipients of two $1,000 scholarships for the 2018-19 academic year.

They are Nicholas Popowitch of North Little Rock and Kolton Rutherford of Maumelle.

Popowitch, a junior at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, is a native of Patchogue, New York. He is executive editor of The Forum, the university’s student newspaper. He will receive the Dean Duncan Scholarship, named in honor of a late, longtime journalism educator at the University of Central Arkansas.

Rutherford is a sophomore at UA Little Rock and is The Forum’s sports editor. He will receive the Winthrop Rockefeller Freedom of Information Scholarship, named for the governor who signed the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act into law on Feb. 14, 1967.

Both students are majoring in mass communication with an emphasis in journalism.

The recipients will be honored at the chapter’s annual awards dinner in the fall.

For further information, please contact Jennifer Ellis, chapter president, at or (501) 533-0565.

2018 Diamond Awards accepting entries

Attention professional and student journalists within 250 miles of Little Rock, it’s time to enter the Diamond Journalism Awards!

Sponsored by the Arkansas Pro Chapter, Society of Professional Journalists, the Diamond Journalism Awards recognize outstanding journalism by professionals and students from Arkansas and bordering media markets in Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.

Eligible work must have been published or broadcast between July 1, 2017, and June 30, 2018.

Entries can be submitted starting April 20, 2018 and has been extended until 11 p.m. CDT, JULY 16, 2018.


Go here for rules and other information.

Call for Candidates: Arkansas SPJ Seeks Members for 2018-2019 Board of Directors

Call for Candidates: Arkansas SPJ Seeks Members for 2018-2019 Board of Directors

The Arkansas Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists will hold its annual board election at its June membership mixer. Want to get involved? Consider running for a seat!

The Arkansas SPJ Board of Directors has 11 seats that are up for election each year, including executive officers: president, vice president, treasurer and secretary.

Check out the following duties and responsibilities of board members and consider running for the board or an officer position. Send a photo and a brief bio that tells why you want to serve as an SPJ leader, your history with SPJ and what you will bring to the group, including any ideas you have for the coming year, to Arkansas SPJ President Jennifer Ellis at by Friday, May 11.

A list of candidates and their bios will be posted 30 days prior to the election and emailed to our membership. Voting will take place at the June 27 annual meeting (location and time to be decided) and via email for those who can’t attend.

Don’t want to be a board member? Get involved in one of our committees!

Duties and Responsibilities
To ensure the health of the Society of Professional Journalists Arkansas Pro Chapter, the members of the Board of Directors must be current on national dues and be accountable for the following duties and responsibilities:

The Board of Directors meets monthly, and sometimes calls special meetings via phone or email. Board members must attend a minimum of nine monthly meetings during their July-to-June term of office, but strive to make it to all meetings or phone in. Absence from three consecutive meetings, or four or more monthly meetings during their term, will result in the appointment of a new director to the position.

Board members must actively participate in at least one of the following chapter committees: Freedom of Information Act, Programing, Contests, Membership and Marketing, or other special committee designated by the president. Active participation may include planning at least one event in a year, advancement of the FOIA through lobbying, contributions to the chapter’s website, newsletter or social media campaigns, or other efforts determined by the board.

What Would You Run? Ethics for Journalists

What Would You Run? Ethics for Journalists

Anonymous sources, graphic images and conflicts of interest – these are just some of the ethical issues journalists must navigate on a daily basis. Join the SPJ Arkansas Pro Chapter at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 22 at Vino’s Brewpub, 923 W. Seventh St. in Little Rock, for a free event that asks the question, “What would you run?”
Inspired by the ABC News series What Would You Do?, competitors from two teams will learn about the SPJ Code of Ethics by playing editor in a variety of sketches designed to test ethical reasoning. Judges will award points for each response, and the team with the most points will win the game.
Ready to compete? Email Sarah DeClerk at by Friday, Feb. 9.
Spectators are also welcome.

Reaching an Audience Online: Quick Tips on Social Media

Reaching an Audience Online: Quick Tips on Social Media

Reaching an Audience Online — Quick Tips on Social Media

Bring your lunch at noon, Thursday, Feb. 15 at the Arkansas Press Association, 411 S. Victory St. in Little Rock, and hear multimedia journalist Polly Irungu share how she’s built an online following of almost 40,000 people on Instagram and more than 14,000 on Twitter. Online editor Gavin Lesnick will present some best practices for journalists on how to use social media to reach an audience.

Polly Irungu is an online intern at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. She most recently worked as a social media intern for NPR in Washington, D.C. In college she was a social media producer and digital content creator for the SOJC’s Communications team, a campus editor-at-large at The Huffington Post and a freelance production assistant for the PAC-12 Networks and Fox Sports. She has worked for TrackTown USA, Def Jam Recordings, EP Entertainment LLC, Artistic Outlet Media, Dell and Adobe.

Gavin Lesnick is the senior online editor at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He oversees editorial content on the newspaper’s website,, including web-first updates, email newsletters and social media. He’s helped grow the newspaper’s online following and increased its number of website visitors. Before becoming editor, Lesnick worked for five years as an online reporter specializing in multimedia and breaking news. He lives in Little Rock with his wife, their 1-year-old old son and two cats.