By: Tony Case
SOCIETY OF PROFESSIONAL Journalists leaders rearranged the group’s 1994 convention schedule after some members pointed out that it coincided with a major Jewish holiday.
The meeting was scheduled Sept. 14-17 in Nashville. Yom Kippur, the highest Jewish holy day, begins at dusk Sept. 14 and ends at dusk Sept. 15.
Jonathan Salant, who works at Newhouse Newspapers in Washington, sponsored a resolution at SPJ’s recent meeting in Miami, asking that the society remember religious holidays when planning conventions.
He withdrew the resolution after SPJ said it would not hold any key meetings or feature any major speakers at the gathering in Nashville until after the holiday ended.
Frank Gibson of the Nashville Tennessean, who is chairman of the Nashville convention, said organizers knew when they planned the meeting that it coincided with the holiday. “We had talked with people of the Jewish faith who said the dates might not be a problem if we made accommodations and we had planned to do that.”
Gibson explained that when the 1992 SPJ convention opened, no chapter had volunteered to sponsor the 1994 meeting.
“Nashville did not come into the Baltimore convention with plans to invite the convention here,” he said. “When we discovered that no one had come forward, we said we would help out.”
His chapter agreed to host the convention but was limited when choosing dates because most hotels already were booked, he said.
Nashville is a convention town, and “when you have less than two years’ notice, planning a meeting is a difficult task. We tried to make whatever accommodations could be made.”
Salant said he was impressed with SPJ’s response. “They were told they had a problem and they said, ‘What can we do to change it?’ “
Joe Tyrrell of the Newark Star-Ledger pointed out the irony of the controversy arising at a convention that had diversity as its theme.
“It was an embarrassing situation for the organization and something that should not have been allowed to happen to begin with,” Tyrrell said. But, he added, it was important that members discussed the matter once it was raised.
Salant said that while some members aren’t happy, an “overwhelming majority” of those who raised objections were satisfied with SPJ’s handling of the matter. He considers it settled.
“The only thing that I was concerned about is that we don’t have to choose between the SPJ program and religious beliefs,” he said.