By: Mark Fitzgerald
And decides whether to move its headquarters
James L. Gray, a former print and broadcast reporter who has run associations for the past 15 years, begins work March 29 as the new executive director of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) at a time when the nation’s largest journalism organization faces an unusually crowded agenda.
In just three weeks, SPJ’s board will decide whether to keep its headquarters in Greencastle, Ind., or move to the downtown campus of Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI). Through the summer, SPJ will be putting the finishing touches on its long-awaited strategic plan, and in October it celebrates its 90th anniversary at its convention in Indianapolis.
Gray will be SPJ’s third executive director in as many months. In January, Dennis Norris resigned after just eight months in the position to head another association. David Cox, the former editor of The Tribune-Star in Terre Haute, Ind., has served as temporary executive director since Feb. 1.
“Jim has the blend of association management experience and journalism experience that we were seeking,” says Wendy S. Meyers, SPJ president and editor of Veterinary Economics magazine in Lenexa, Kan. “Jim has also been on both the print and the broadcast sides of journalism, so he understands the needs of those two important constituencies in SPJ.”
Gray was most recently executive director and president of Empire State Business Alliance in New York, a public-private partnership between utility companies and the New York economic development department that encouraged industry to move to the state. For about 10 years he was president and chief operating officer of the Manufacturers Association of Central New York in Syracuse. During his tenure there, SPJ says that Gray increased membership retention, quintupled annual revenues, and designed continuing-education programs.
Gray is a former correspondent and editor for Market News Service in Washington, D.C., and columnist for Central New York Business Journal. Early in his career, Gray was a news anchor at WBRE-TV in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and a general-assignments reporter at the Pittsburgh Press in Pittsburgh. He has a journalism degree from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.
“My goal is to build member value into membership in SPJ so that membership meets and exceeds the expectations and is perceived that way,” Gray says.
As executive director, Gray will run the Sigma Delta Chi foundation, the society’s educational arm, serve as publisher of Quill magazine, and manage the cramped headquarters SPJ will be leaving within a year.
SPJ’s board will decide between two proposals for a new headquarters at its April 17-18 meeting. The first, from DePauw University, offers a vacant lot by the Center for Contemporary Media for a $1 annual lease. The lot would house a two-story building costing about $500,000.
DePauw says it is willing to loan SPJ the amount of any shortfall between construction costs and the money raised by a capital fund drive.
DePauw would keep the society in Greencastle and would be a sentimental choice: SPJ began at DePauw as the fraternity Sigma Delta Chi in April 1909.
The proposal from Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis would bring SPJ to an urban setting. IUPUI wants to house the society in its proposed Communications Complex on its campus near the center of downtown Indianapolis. The complex will house the schools of journalism, music, a new media program, and the University Information Technology Systems organization.
SPJ could avoid a capital campaign by moving into the complex as it is planned, or spend about $1 million for a 3,500-square-feet expansion, IUPUI says. It says the Indiana legislature, which must approve the building, has given it a high priority and construction could begin in early 2000 with completion about 18 months later.
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