The Society of Professional Journalists today began a search for an executive director to replace Greg Christopher, who leaves in October when the 1997 National Convention ends. Quill Editor Maggie Balough will become acting executive director on Oct. 8.
Christopher, 31, submitted his resignation Monday, effective Oct. 7, to become assistant director of the John Purdue Club, the fundraising arm of Purdue University's athletic department.
SPJ President Steve Geimann, senior editor at Communications Daily in Washington, D.C., will head a search committee of professional and academic members seeking a permanent executive director. The Sigma Delta Chi Foundation, SPJ's fundraising arm, also will be represented.
"Greg's contributions to SPJ over six years have been extraordinary," Geimann said. "We are healthier in so many ways today, largely because of steps taken and projects started under Greg's leadership. Greg will be missed, but he will not be forgotten."
Christopher and Balough will work together during the next two months to assure a smooth transition while the search committee seeks a permanent successor. Balough, former editor of the Austin American Statesman, joined SPJ in January 1996. In addition to nearly 18 years in Austin, she has also worked at the Chicago Sun-Times and Bloomington Herald-Telephone.
Christopher joined SPJ in 1991 as marketing and development director, handling fundraising for major projects and advertising sales for Quill. He was named acting executive director in January 1994 to replace Ernie Ford, who resigned. Christopher was appointed as executive director three months later after a nationwide search.
In three and a half years in the post, Christopher has succeeded in diversifying SPJ's finances by reducing the organization's reliance on member dues, while increasing fundraising efforts and other new initiatives like merchandise sales. During his tenure, the Society launched a merchandise catalog that was popular among members.
The Society's professional development program also expanded to nearly a dozen weekend workshops nationwide, each providing reporters valuable training and exposure to the organization.
In the past year, Christopher also proposed sweeping reforms in the relationship between SPJ's national officers and its chapters designed to make it easier for volunteer leaders to maintain chapter status at a time of increasing demands on personal time. He also offered the board of directors several options for continued fundraising initiatives, building separate
endowments to support SPJ's continuing missions of professional development, press advocacy and career support for its 13,500 members.
In his resignation letter, Christopher said his "situation at SPJ is a good one, which made this decision difficult." His new job, he told Geimann, represents an opportunity to fulfill a longtime objective of working in collegiate athletics. "When the opportunity came to return to a familiar campus and delve back into fundraising and marketing, I couldn't turn it down," he said.
In a letter accepting the resignation, Geimann said: "You have left a clear road map for where we still need to travel in the short term. It's now up to us to turn your plans and vision into reality."
"The executive director is the person behind the scenes who supports the work of our volunteer leaders and provides leadership and direction for the dedicated headquarters staff," Geimann said. "Working for 23 bosses on the board of directors can sometimes be frustrating, but Greg was always supportive in making the board's wishes turn into action.
"While he wasn't a journalist, Greg understood our mission without question. He became as passionate a defender of press freedoms and independent journalism as anyone in the business. I respect his insights and his ideas, about SPJ and about journalism."
Gordon "Mac" McKerral, vice president for campus chapter affairs and journalism professor at Troy State University, Troy, Ala., said Christopher considered student journalists and college and university faculty just as he regarded professional members.
"We owe a lot to him," McKerral said from Panama City, Fla., where he's spending the summer on the news desk of the Panama City News Herald.
"He was able to reconnect SPJ to its mission," McKerral continued. "During a time of some financial distress, he figured out that the best way to get us back on our feet was to return to what SPJ's mission had been: professional development, education and ethics."
McKerral also praised Christopher's analytical skills in resolving issues and problems as a key factor that has contributed to SPJ's growth and future success.
"Greg Christopher took an organization that had lost confidence in itself and put it on a sound footing," said Fred Brown, political editor for the Denver Post. "He gave us fresh new, ideas and the financial security that allowed us to think positively about the future. As incoming president, I'm particularly sorry to see him leave. But thanks to Greg's hard work and management skills, SPJ is much better able to make the transition than it might have been several years ago."
SPJ Secretary-Treasurer Wendy S. Myers said Christopher's greatest strength lay in his foresight and his aggressive approach to managing the organization.
"Greg saw opportunities rather than challenges when he became executive director," said Myers, editor of Veterinary Economics magazine. "He launched aggressive membership campaigns and organized a leadership program that's rejuvenated local chapters. Under his leadership, the Society has achieved healthier membership and financial status than at any time during its 88-year history."
"I'm confident that SPJ's leaders can continue his vision," she added.