UW Comm reps on Western WA SPJ Board

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Ashley Stewart (left back), Caley Cook (center back), and Erika Schultz (right of Cook) celebrate at the end-of-the-year SPJ gala. Photo by Joshua Trujillo.

Planning is in full swing for the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Western Washington Chapter’s upcoming programs. Heading the board as President is Athima Chansanchai who served as vice president and treasurer last year, and by her side is UW Journalism lecturer Caley Cook as vice president.

“The thing I really like about being a board member is that the ultimate goal is to provide resources to the journalism community and a lot of that works into providing scholarships for journalism students,” Cook said. “I think that is extremely important as the industry changes.”

The vice president serves as the president-elect, spending the year supporting the president and learning the position. Chansanchai and Cook have been working throughout the summer to figure out what they plan to focus on in the upcoming year.

“One of the priorities that we came up with is to simplify,” Cook said. “We want the events we do to be phenomenal. We also agree that we want to reach out to folks more broadly because the Western Washington Chapter goes all the way down to Tacoma and all the way up to Bellingham.”

Cook joined the SPJ student club at the University of San Diego as an undergraduate in 2000 and has been a member ever since. She won an SPJ award in 2001 for coverage of 9/11 and was hooked after attending the annual gala.

“I got to meet so many different journalists that did such amazing work,” she said. “I just remember thinking I just want to hang out with these people all the time.”

Similarly today, Cook enjoys learning about other types of journalists, which is made possible through SPJ programs like News Trivia and Press Club Night.

“I think sometimes we, as journalists, tend to isolate ourselves with journalists who are a lot like ourselves, so I hung out a lot with online and print journalists,” Cook said. “But I have learned a lot about how, for example, photographers and corporate journalists do their jobs.”

In addition to mentoring former UW chapter president Ashley Stewart (B.A., 2015) as an undergrad, Cook has now gotten to know Stewart as the new treasurer of the professional board. They both attended the SPJ Ted Scripps Leadership Institute this summer.

“Ashley is a really great example of someone who put in phenomenal effort and enthusiasm over her years at the UW into the SPJ student chapter and we could not wait to have her on the professional board because she brings so much experience,” Cook said. “At the same time, she has no preconceived notions about how things should be and it makes her a really great leader because she’s capable of seeing things from everyone else’s perspective. She’s going to do amazing things and go so far – I just know it.”

As treasurer, Stewart will manage finances and keep track of what is earned and spent to help budget for programs. While she says being a part of the student chapter isn’t a prerequisite to joining the professional chapter, she felt it was a natural transition.

“SPJ is especially valuable as a college student because so much of being successful in journalism happens outside of the classroom, and that’s what SPJ connects you with,” Stewart said. “I think it’s worth it to get involved as early as you can.”

Stewart said she joined the professional board because SPJ did so much for her while in college and she wanted to make that happen for other students and journalists.

“It’s really important for me, in my new capacity as a board member, to find ways to connect students with what we’re doing in the pro chapter,” she said. “Next month, SPJ will host a statewide collegiate journalism conference to bring speakers and workshops to students from colleges and universities across Washington. Programs like this are what I’m most interested in furthering.”

Stewart recently wrapped up a job as a statehouse reporter for Oregon Public Broadcasting (public radio) and started a new job as a reporter for Puget Sound Business Journal. Cook accentuated the importance of networking as a student in order to land a job after college.

“I would just encourage students to throw their hat into what feels comfortable for them – whether that’s SPJ or AWC or any other group at the UW – and put in the time to get to know the folks that are there,” she said. “It ends in good things. You never know what those things are going to be, but they’re always really good things.”

In addition to Cook and Stewart, UW Communication part-time lecturer Erika Schultz is also a returning board member.