A message—and a request—from Mark Schleifstein

I just got back from three days in Boston, one of my stops on what we have come to call The Times-Picayune Misery Tour. I and James O'Byrne, a former environment reporter turned into the paper's feature editor, spent a small part of the three days explaining to local radio and TV what happened in New Orleans during Katrina and what's not happening now, and a tiny bit of time raising money for the Friends of The Times-Picayune Fund, which is helping support the dozens of my fellow employees who also lost their homes.

But most of our time was spent talking to journalism students at Boston University — five classes and a public presentation. They're all enthused about reporting, including reporting on the environment. And our lesson from Katrina — that journalism truly is a mission-based profession and representing our readers in the aftermath of the storm is the ultimate test of that mission — seemed to ring true. I was impressed with their concern, with the clarity of their questions.

But they're also confused about the direction of this business, whether there will be jobs for them in the future, and what kinds of skills they'll need to accomplish them.

And that, of course, is where we come in. SEJ  is teaching the journalism world how to cover the most complicated of news stories in ways that touch our audiences every day. And we are giving away almost all of our knowledge about how to do this job for free!

But there's a cost to all of this. Real cost. Real dollars. In order for us to preserve the independence of SEJ, the professionalism that our members exude in their newsrooms and literally around the world, we must become self-sustaining.

By building an endowment, we guarantee that the infrastructure that supports SEJ — its full-time and part-time staffers, our annual conference, our training programs, our wide-ranging Web presence — will continue into the future, will be there when today's journalism students hit the streets.

That's why my wife and I are chipping in another $1,000 to SEJ’s 21st Century Endowment Fund. And right now, your dollars count for more: A grant of $51,500 is being offered by the Challenge Fund for Journalism, a collaboration of the Ford Foundation, the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.  It will give us fifty cents for every qualifying dollar we raise for the SEJ's 21st Century Fund endowment between now and May 31, 2007, up to a total of $103,000. (Gifts from new donors or an increase in gifts from previous donors qualify.)

And that's why I know you'll join me in securing SEJ's future.  I'm asking my SEJ friends to make a personal donation to SEJ’s endowment fund.  Visit http://www.sej.org today — and please give generously.

Mark Schleifstein
The Times-Picayune

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