Society of Professional Journalists

Improving and protecting journalism since 1909

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Six tips from a female war correspondent

Alex Quade, a member of SPJ since 2012, is a war reporter and documentary filmmaker who has covered U.S. Special Operations Forces on combat missions since 2007. Extreme storytelling and silent risk-taking lie at the heart of what Quade does. She is the recipient of two national Edward R. Murrow Awards, as well as the Congressional Medal Of Honor Society’s Excellence in Journalism Award for her “honest & courageous” war reportage. Quade has produced videos and online reports for The New York Times, written a front page story for The Washington Times and has two documentaries in film festivals.

Quade started her career as a White House intern during the Persian Gulf War. She’s worked in television covering global conflicts and hostile environments for CNN, Fox News, HLN, and CNNI out of Frankfurt, Germany and New York. Quade’s reporting from the Asian Tsunami was individually cited in CNN’s Columbia duPont Award, and her war reports were part of a group Peabody and Emmy.

Quade attended Georgetown University’s Institute for Political and Ethical Journalism and holds three degrees from the University of Washington. She serves on the Board of Military Reporters & Editors (and is its expert on Special Operations).

Here are her top six tips for being a war reporter:

Be prepared.

I am at my best in extreme situations and chaos. But, war alters you forever. If your video, pictures or words from the front lines aren’t good enough, it means you aren’t close enough.  Witnessing the atrocities of humanity and the suffering of others hurts. As writers and reporters, we can touch thousands of lives. Our actions have consequences. We can make people pay attention and shake them out of indifference. I write and report, because I must. I channel my emotions into my work.

Do not carry a weapon.

Covering Special Operations Forces, I had to learn about weapons. The “A-Teams” I was embedded with in Diyala Province, Iraq, told me that every one of us was on a hit list by name.  They told me that if it was a really ‘bad day’ and the A-Team was slaughtered around me, I should grab one of their weapons and save one bullet for myself. Because that would be preferable to being captured. They cited the beheading of our colleague from the Wall Street Journal, Daniel Pearl, on the Internet as an example. My advice to journalism students or colleagues embedding with military units: Do not carry a weapon. That makes you a ‘combatant.’ Remember, your words and your ability to get the story out are your weapons, which is why journalists are often targeted.

Find a mentor who will kick your butt.

Medal of Honor recipient, Colonel Robert L. Howard, was a legendary member of SOG, Special Forces, Rangers, Delta Force, etc. (he was the Soldier in that iconic photo from Vietnam, running and carrying a wounded prisoner of war). Bob hated reporters, but decided I was worth his time and treated me like a son (even though I’m a woman). Before he died, he said to me: “Alex, truth in reporting is a virtue, without un-necessary exploitation of facts. It’s about trust and honest sincerity: military dependents resent the absence of their loved one and will turn to you for the ‘rest of the story.’ I challenge you to stay alert, stay safe, watch your back, and return home to share your stories and experiences with the public that need to be reminded.”

Remember why you are choosing to cover war.

Every day that I’ve spent in hostile environments and war zones — specifically with those Special Operations Forces — has always brought a unique story. Yes, often something difficult, but often something amazing. I think each story deserves to live and breathe. That is the best definition of a “war reporter.” Not an adrenaline junkie. Not a foolhardy, cowboy, thrill-seeker, but someone who can engage the truth. The truth of these soldiers’ lives cannot be done from a TV-studio in New York City, or from the occasional Anchor-person drop-in. How else can we explain and justify faraway conflicts, if we, as a society don’t care enough to record them?  In their stories, you find the real truth.

Yes, I report the good, the bad and the ugly, but I do it with the context borne only from experience. My goal is simple: to make the inaccessible feel relevant to the American people and audience. The Special Operators will never leave anyone behind. And that’s how I feel about their stories. Their stories should all come home, too, so that the truth is not left behind.

Pack your moral compass.

Just because you’re in a war zone, doesn’t mean you leave your gut ethics behind when the bullets fly.  As a reporter, here’s what I’ve lived by (there are many journalism ethics codes of conduct, from CNN, The New York Times, PBS, the Society of Professional Journalists, etc.): Do nothing you cannot defend. Cover, write & present every story with the care you would, if the story were about you. There is always another side to every story. Your audience is as smart and caring as you are, and so are the people on whom you’re reporting. Treat them all with respect.  Do your homework. Triple-check your facts and sources — it’s better to be right, than first. Your integrity & reputation mean everything.

Don’t think you must be invited to succeed.

My advice to journalism students & fellow journalists: You have an amazing purpose on this earth, and you can’t let fear get in the way. Don’t hold yourself back. Don’t think you must be invited to succeed. Find your own voice and courageously go after what you really want to do. In my case, as a woman living in and covering a very male-dominated world of military Special Operations, I’ve figured out how to still be me, to speak with my own voice and to let the world know what I think and have to offer. I made a choice. I believe anyone with confidence and ability can do really big things if he or she focuses on making it happen. I’ve earned life lessons the hard way and have had many setbacks to overcome. But it was a choice to “suck it up and soldier on,” overcome them and continue on with the journalism and storytelling. I encourage all journalists to think bigger and step outside their comfort zone.

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Member of the Month: Tom McKee

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Congratulations to Tom McKee of the Cincinnati Pro Chapter of SPJ for being named our May Volunteer of the Month! McKee was nominated for the honor by Hagit Limor and James Pilcher. Limor had this to say about McKee:

Tom McKee is one of Cincinnati’s longest-tenured and most decorated journalists, but he really hadn’t gotten involved with the SPJ board until the last 2-3 years.

And his has been an introduction by fire. Soon after agreeing to serve as vice-president, Tom was thrust into the top job of the local chapter in February with the abrupt departure of the previous president.

But through his tireless efforts, his enthusiasm, and his collaborative leadership style, Tom has not only stabilized our chapter but has grown it and taken it further than it has been in years.

Since taking over, we have held at least five events, grown and improved our “Lunch with the Pros” sessions at local colleges and universities, increased membership, and had fun in the process. And he has stabilized and grown our board, a big feat unto itself.

We often get emails from Tom time-stamped well after midnight. He is full of ideas, but he also welcomes others’ ideas as well and is just as enthusiastic about those.

McKee has worked in broadcast journalism for more than three decades, all of it with WCPO-TV in Cincinnati. He interned from Ohio University in 1973, was hired full-time in 1974 by legendary newsman Al Schottelkotte and has been a reporter, producer, assignment manager and now multi-media journalist.

One of the most challenging stories he covered was after being held hostage during the 1980 takeover of WCPO-TV by a gunman who’d just shot his girlfriend to death.  All nine employees were released unharmed.

McKee is the recipient of an Emmy Award, numerous awards in Ohio SPJ contests along with Greater Cincinnati SPJ contest recognition.

The highest honor was the 2012 Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Political Coverage on Television.  It stemmed from a series of 30 candidate profiles where citizens asked questions of politicians.

After serving for several years as Vice-President of the Greater Cincinnati SPJ Pro Chapter, McKee assumed the role as President in March of 2013.

Thanks, Tom, for your hard work and dedication! You set the bar high for other SPJ volunteers. We’re proud to have you as a member!

- Dana Neuts, secretary-treasurer and membership committee chair

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Member of the Month: Steve York

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Congratulations to Steve York of the Louisville Pro Chapter of SPJ who has been named our April SPJ Volunteer of the Month! York was nominated by chapter president Robyn Sekula for being the backbone of the board. In addition to operating the chapter’s annual contest, he moved the contest from paper to online last year. York also helps organize the chapter’s annual trivia night, shoots photos to promote the chapter’s events and is always willing to lend a hand whenever needed.

“Our chapter would not be what it is without Steve,” Sekula said.

Now retired, York spent 33 years at WAVE TV (NBC) in Louisville, Kentucky. He started at WAVE in 1978 as a “one man band,” serving as both a reporter and a photographer, shooting, writing and editing his own stories. He covered everything from tobacco farming and coal mining to train derailments and marijuana busts. In 1975, he was named assignment editor, a job he calls the toughest in the newsroom. After 12 years on the desk, York was promoted to assistant news director until he retired in July 2011.

“It was an exciting and rewarding career, and I feel like I worked with the best people in the news industry,” he said.

York has served on the Louisville Pro chapter board for seven years, including a year as president. For the last five years, he has coordinated the annual Metro Louisville Journalism Awards contest.

Congratulations to York for his dedication to quality journalism and for supporting the Louisville Pro chapter! He’s a great role model for other SPJ leaders and volunteers.

Do you know an SPJ volunteer who consistently goes above and beyond the call of duty? Send us your nominee’s name, chapter, email address and why you think he or she deserves to be out SPJ Volunteer of the Month. The volunteer must be an active member of SPJ. Send your nominations by May 10 to president-elect and membership chair Dana Neuts at spjdana@gmail.com.

- Dana Neuts, secretary-treasurer and membership committee chair

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A look at Northwest newspapers in the digital era

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Steve Bagwell, a member of the Greater Oregon Pro chapter and managing editor of the McMinnville News-Register in McMinnville, Ore., recently published a book called “New Editions: The Northwest’s newspapers as they were, are and will be” with co-author Randy Stapilus. Bagwell recently told SPJ a bit about his book and how Northwest American newspapers are handling their product in the digital age.

SPJ: What inspired you to invest your time in writing this book?

SB: There was nothing else out there like it, even on an individual state level, let alone a Northwest level. And as long-time journalists who had crossed state lines in the region, we felt qualified.

SPJ: What is unique — both good and bad — about newspapers in the Northwest?

SB: I’m not sure there is anything truly unique on either end. But there is lots and lots of color, both current and historical. Northwest journalism is chock full of memorable characters and events. And some of the recent events — the folding of the Post-Intelligencer in Seattle and home-delivery retrenchment of The Oregonian in Portland come immediately to mind — are emblematic of the national state of the industry. They help tell a national story in local terms.

One thing that perhaps marks the Northwest more than most regions is an abundance of very small papers serving very small communities. The region is replete with little fishing, logging, mining and ranching hamlets far enough from a town of any size to support a mom and pop paper. Most other parts of the country are either too desolate or too densely populated for that.

About 20 of these papers, I might add, not only lack any online presence, but also lack any plans for an online presence. They are not engaged in debates about pay walls, Twitter posts and mobile apps, thank you.

SPJ:As an editor at a Northwest newspaper yourself, how did your perspective affect the book?

SB: I’ve spent more than 20 years running newsrooms now, so have gotten a pretty good look at the business side of newspaper operations. I’ve been rubbing shoulders for a long time with counterparts in advertising, circulation, production, accounting and, yes, digital media. I think that gives me insights into traditional journalism, new media journalism and media business operations, the three of which are colliding rather spectacularly right now.

SPJ:When looking at the history of the newspaper business in the Northwest, what patterns did you see between business decisions made back in the day and those made in the Internet age?

SB: Back in the day, content was king. We financed a lot of investigative, enterprise and long-form feature work, even when it involved significant expenses for travel and such. And we had the manpower to afford it, at least at the bigger and/or better papers.

In addition, our journalistic purity rebelled at the thought of front-page ads, front-page wraparounds and the like, let alone themed or — shudder — sponsored content. While we still try to draw lines, we lack both the will and leverage to fend off a lot of revenue producers promoted by other departments these days.

I used to abhor the thought of paid obituaries, for example. But I sure relish the revenue today. And I co-exist much more peacefully with front-page and section-front ads.

Unfortunately, a lot of today’s business decisions involve trimming expenses down to match revenue, and that sometimes seems like a never-ending, perhaps even self-perpetuating, spiral.

Ellen Kobe, Communications Coordinator for the Society of Professional Journalists

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Member of the Month: Eva Ruth Moravec

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Congratulations to Eva Ruth Moravec, who has been named SPJ’s November Volunteer of the Month for her outstanding service to her chapter. In addition to reviving the San Antonio chapter, she is being recognized for raising scholarship money, hosting the Region 8 conference and recruiting broadcast members and freelancers to the board, among other things.

Moravec is a county government reporter for the daily San Antonio Express-News, covering Bexar County government and other local and regional political news. She spent time during the last legislative session working for Hearst’s Austin bureau, and prior to joining the politics team, spent five years on the crime beat, covering breaking, investigative and enterprise news. She’s a regular contributor to several San Antonio Express-News blogs and is a prolific Twitter user with more than 4,000 followers. After her first year at the Express-News, Moravec’s peers selected her to win the annual Phillip True Award for online journalism. Moravec received a bachelor’s of science in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin. She is also the person to blame for resurrecting San Antonio’s SPJ chapter after several dormant years, and serves as the chapter president and one of three co-producers for the annual Gridiron show, which raises money for SPJ scholarships. View her portfolio on Muckrack.com here: http://muckrack.com/EvaRuth/portfolio

We are pleased and excited to honor Moravec for her commitment to SPJ.

- Dana Neuts, secretary-treasurer and membership committee chair

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