Northwestern students start first international SPJ chapter

Students from Northwestern University in Qatar have made history as the newest members of the largest journalism organization in the United States.

The Society of Professional Journalists, which counts more than 8,000 members, officially launched a student chapter at NU-Q yesterday. It is the first time in its 101-year history that SPJ has set up a chapter outside of the United States.

“This truly is an eventful day for this society,” current SPJ President and college professor Kevin Smith said. Addressing the students, Smith said it was a distinct honor to welcome budding young journalists into the chapter. “Our role is now to turn over the reins of journalism to all of you. We will help to educate and train you, and make you the great journalism leaders of tomorrow.”

President-Elect and investigative journalist Hagit Limor spoke to the students about their responsibilities as future journalists. “You are taking on an incredibly important profession. You have the opportunity to change the future of your countries. I encourage you to seek the truth wherever you live and tell the stories that will make it even better. That is the responsibility of a journalist,” she said.

Limor, a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, went on to discuss the wider implications of setting up a chapter outside of the U.S. “This represents an opportunity not only for the SPJ to grow, but also for our societies to get to know each other and understand each other better,” she explained. “We face many of the same issues.  On top of the training and networking opportunities that we offer, we also hope to open the eyes of journalists about what is common among us, creating conversations, friendships and understanding.”

The mission of SPJ is to train journalists, advocate for press rights, and raise ethical standards. Through its work, the organization aims to help improve the quality of journalism. Membership of the SPJ will give the students the opportunity to network with professional journalists, meet other student journalists, learn more about professional ethics, and receive advanced training beyond the academic curriculum. “This will vastly improve your abilities and skills, making you better student journalists, and better guaranteeing your success in the long-term,” said Smith.

To mark the creation of the student chapter, Limor and Smith presented the University with its SPJ charter framed on a plaque. The student body then elected its first officers: Shannon Farhoud, president; Zeena Kanaan, vice-president; and Rana Khaled, secretary.

With only 10 people required to set up a chapter (Northwestern University in Qatar’s chapter began with more than 50 members), students at NU-Q asked whether a professional chapter for the journalism community in Doha would follow. Limor and Smith said SPJ is keen to further expand its presence in the international community and therefore  “would welcome a professional chapter if the journalists of Qatar want it.”

Richard Roth, senior associate dean for journalism at NU-Q, concluded: “This is an important chapter for our students and it is in keeping with our growth as a university. Over the course of the year, we will roll out a number of different programs as part of SPJ’s activities. We are excited to see the advantages our students will gain as they get closer to entering the world of professional journalism.”