SD-SPJ Board Election Runoff Questions

Tom Jones

Why do you want to serve on the SPJ San Diego board?

I want to serve the SPJ San Diego board so I can continue to help inform and educate the public on the role of journalists in our democracy while advocating for a transparent government process in San Diego County. Last year, I organized a public survey on behalf of SPJ to find out how the public felt about the city of San Diego’s new public record request system. More than 150 people completed the survey and their answers were shared with city officials during a sit-down meeting with myself and the SPJ Board President. In addition to the survey, I organized and moderated two panels on the topic of ‘fake news’ and I assisted the board with issuing statements that supported the rights of local journalists who faced subpoenas to testify in court. In both cases, a judge ruled the rights of a free press took priority.

These are just some examples of what I accomplished last year as the SPJ SD advocacy chair. If re- elected, I will dedicate more of my time to representing the needs of journalists and public access to our government.

What would be your top priorities in the coming year?

If re-elected to the board, my top priorities and focus will be on the role our board can play when advocating for the rights of open access to our local government powers, not just for journalists but for the public. Journalists’ access to public agencies has steadily decreased in San Diego. The increased use of public information officers, spokespeople and written statements is limiting the release of information the public has a right to.

Currently, in San Diego, there is no repercussion for an agency that refuses to release public documents. Instead, the public and news organizations are forced to pursue legal action, a luxury most journalists and members of the public cannot afford. The focus of my term would be to explore whether or not our board can change that. Other cities have successfully established public councils for reviewing public record disputes and I would like to see if our board can do the same. I would also like to focus on educating local government entities about the state’s public records laws, hopefully leading to a more educated and transparent government process in San Diego County.

What are your proudest journalism accomplishments?

My proudest accomplishments in my journalism career include moments where my team’s investigative reporting has exposed a problem impacting people who are often left unheard. One of those stories began two years ago. It involved a nonprofit whose mission was to raise money for children with cancer. Through our investigating we learned the children and their families had not seen any of the money donated to the charity on their behalf. Our investigation revealed the CEO had several warrants issued for her arrest, warrants that were not actively being looked into until we began to ask questions. Following our initial reports, the CEO was arrested, charged with stealing the funds raised for these children and eventually sentenced to a year in jail. In another story produced last year, parents and students from four local high schools contacted me after losing thousands of dollars to a company that promised a band trip to Japan. The trip had been canceled and refunds were not issued. After our investigation into the company, both owners were arrested and later sentenced for not delivering on the planned trip.

Erin Siegal McIntyre

Why do you want to serve on the SPJ San Diego board?

It’s wonderful that current SPJ San Diego board members are willing to continue their service to our local chapter, but it’s also important to bring journalists from diverse backgrounds onto the board.

Having a new board member means SPJ-SD reaps the benefits of a fresh perspective on our chapter’s challenges, triumphs, and priorities. I’m on the staff of any San Diego media organization; I’m a career freelance investigative journalist based in Tijuana.   

As a new board member, I’d bring service experience from my time on the Journalism and Women Symposium (JAWS) board and as the co-founder of the JAWS Diversity Committee. I feel strongly about giving back and paying it forward, and I believe my energy and passion could be put to good use on the SPJ-SD board.

As a small business owner and single parent, I’m good at efficiency. I know I could help our chapter further SPJ’s mission of promoting the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry, working to inspire and educate current and future journalists through professional development; and protecting freedom of speech and freedom of the press through advocacy.

What would be your top priorities in the coming year?

It’s imperative to continue SPJ San Diego’s battle for transparency via aggressive open records advocacy. We need to actively promote press freedom and open government, and defend our First Amendment rights at every opportunity. I’d like to see a new SPJ-SD focus on race and gender equity within San Diego media organizations. A recent report from the Women’s Media Center (WMC) found that women of color represent 7.95 percent of print newsroom staff, 12.6 percent of local TV news staff, and just 6.2 percent of local radio staff. SPJ SD could also uplift our industry by helping female journalists recognize inherent bias and combat sexual harassment on the job (think #MeToo in the newsroom).

Plenty of opportunities also exist for SPJ-SD to grow our membership and social media presence. Opportunities also exist to create cross-border collaborations with our Mexican journalist colleagues just miles to the south in Tijuana, including an advocacy project on the behalf of the physical safety of Mexican colleagues that could be supported by a $500 SPJ Chapter Grant.

What are your proudest journalism accomplishments?

In my 15-year career, my work has been honored with various awards, scholarships, and fellowships. I’ve grown a robust freelance career in which I’ve been able to follow my instincts and passion for deep-dive investigative work, while earmarking time for service.

In 2012, Beacon Press published my book Finding Fernanda, which exposed organized crime and corruption in international adoption between Guatemala and the United States. That investigation was based in part on 20,000 pages of State Department documents obtained via FOIA, which were released as an additional research volume, The U.S. Embassy Cables: Adoption Fraud in Guatemala, 1987-2010. Finding Fernanda was honored with an Overseas Press Club Award citation for Best Reporting on Latin America in any medium, and an SPJ James Madison Freedom of Information award. My book and reporting on Guatemalan adoption provided the backbone for an episode of “48 Hours Mystery” on CBS that won a 2015 Emmy.

Another standout moment in my career was getting to co-report/co-write a feature magazine story with one of my favorite authors, Tijuana-San Diego literary hero Luis Alberto Urrea. That was probably the pinnacle; he’s a luminary and I still can’t believe I got to share page space with him.


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