Olmeda for Vice President: Society of Professional Journalists

Rafael Olmeda

An independent voice you can depend on to do what’s right for SPJ.

Whatever it takes.

I’d like to thank the members of the Society of Professional Journalists for giving me the chance to serve these past two years as an at-large director. It inspired me to become a proud lifetime member of SPJ. I did it because I see SPJ for what it is, a fierce protector of our First Amendment rights, and for what it should be, the publicly recognized standard bearer of our highest ethical and professional principles.

I’ve been a working journalist for nearly 30 years. Still am. I’m part of a team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2019 for coverage of the mass shooting at a Parkland high school. I was part of the team that was a finalist for the Pulitzer two years running for coverage of Florida’s busy hurricane seasons. I’ve always been about teamwork. I’m not as good at self-promotion. Bear with me.

When I first came to you two years ago seeking your vote, it was with a vision to raise SPJ’s public profile. We are well known within our profession and all but unknown outside of it. We need to change that.

As president of NAHJ and later of UNITY, I helped raise the profile of both organizations by assertively promoting our positions in the public arena. We didn’t just complain and write sternly worded letters. We demanded equal time and challenged our mission’s critics to public debates. I went into the halls of congress to talk to legislators about issues important to the health of our profession. And I went on radio shows across the country defending our members and our standards. 

A few years ago, I noticed a change for the worse in public discourse in this country. A 50-year partisan campaign of hatred against our profession became toxic, and our efforts to fight back, as a whole, have been anemic. We actually had a public official body slam a news reporter and then get elected to Congress. SPJ and other journalism associations were aghast, outraged… and ultimately ignored. The assailant is now governor of Montana.

Imagine if the standards of lawyers and doctors were defined by their critics in the public arena the way journalism is! It’s time to develop strategies to magnify the voice of SPJ. That’s what brought me back to journalism advocacy and to you.

You voted for me to raise your voice and to add a fresh perspective to the way SPJ operates. It was important to me that I first got a better handle on SPJ’s history, its traditions and the diversity of its members, chapters and communities. I respect all of you, whether you agree with me or not, whether you support my agenda or not, whether you joined SPJ 50 days ago or 50 years ago.

I didn’t come here to fight you. I came here to fight for you.

At this conference, I’m doing two things that I think will make SPJ stronger in the long run.

First, I’m asking SPJ to join nearly every other journalism association in the country by giving power to each member to vote on the issues facing us. I worked hard on the bylaws committee to bring you a proposal that you can trust and build upon in the years to come.

I’m also asking SPJ to pass a resolution calling on Congress to make it a federal offense, with enhanced penalties, to violently attack a journalist. Journalism is the only private profession mentioned in the Constitution. Those who commit and incite violence against journalists belong behind bars, not behind a desk in City Hall, Congress, the Governor’s Mansion or the Oval Office.

Vote for me, and this is the kind of conversation you can regularly expect from your SPJ board of directors.

We’ll talk more in the weeks ahead. For now, thank you again for considering my candidacy for Vice President of SPJ.

 My background

Senior writer, South Florida Sun Sentinel
(1999 – Present)
General assignment, crime, courts, breaking news, Black communities, LGBTQ issues, and education. Served three years as an assistant city editor. Worked on the team that won the Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal for Public Service for coverage of the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School

Reporter, New York Daily News
(1993-1999)
General assignment, public housing, crime, religious communities. Winner of numerous service awards for coverage that aided in the capture of over 40 fugitives in my hometown of the Bronx.

National Association of Hispanic Journalists
(2000-2008)
Served as at-large officer, regional director (southeast U.S.), vice president/print and president from 2006-2008. Simultaneously served as secretary of UNITY: Journalists of Color in 2007 and 2008, then as president of UNITY in 2009. Commissioned a study on the coverage of Latinos by news magazines in 2006. Lobbied Congress on behalf of net neutrality and in opposition to excessive media consolidation. Defended members against public vilification and wrongful termination.

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