In 1960, Delaware Valley journalists joined their peers across the nation in organizing a local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, the largest and oldest professional journalists’ organization in the country, Sigma Delta Chi or SDX. The local chapter is now known as Greater Philadelphia Pro Chapter or SPJ Philadelphia. Fifteen founding members, many of them graduates of Temple University in Philadelphia, petitioned national SPJ headquarters for a local charter. The first president was Associated Press Bureau Chief Joseph H. Snyder.
Since then, SPJ Philadelphia has hosted a wide variety of programs for its members featuring fellow print and broadcast journalists discussing topics pertinent to SPJ’s mission of improving and protecting journalism. In recent years, SPJ has sponsored programs on the coverage of 9/11, the coverage of clerical sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, political correctness in the media, and truth vs. balance in reporting on the presidential election.
The chapter has also hosted and co-hosted workshops and conferences on such topics as freelancing and adapting to the computer age of journalism. In recent years, programs and board meetings have taken place at the Pen & Pencil Club in Center City Philadelphia.
Members of SPJ Philadelphia have also worked to promote the journalism profession by hosting an annual high school career conference and speaking to high school and college classes on such topics as ethics in journalism. In the past, SPJ Philadelphia raised funds for journalism scholarships through its popular Gridiron Show that featured and lampooned local politicians and celebrities. In recent years, SPJ Philadelphia has annually offered to a college student pursuing a journalism or communications career, The Irwin Schier Award for Journalistic Potential, a $1,000 scholarship established by the late editor and public relations executive’s wife, Saundra.
The Public Ledger building, in fact, is among four Historic Sites in Journalism in Philadelphia designated by plaques obtained through the efforts of SPJ members. It is where the first Hoe Rotary Printing Press was installed which revolutionized the printing of newspapers. Other Historic Sites in Journalism established by SPJ Philadelphia include John Dunlap’s printing shop at 128 Market Street where the Declaration of Independence was first printed, the Curtis Building where America’s leading magazines including the Saturday Evening Post were once published and a plaque in Franklin Court honoring Sarah Josepha Hale who, for 40 years, was the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, the prototype for modern women’s magazines.