By Mary Barczak and Gregan Wingert
The Working Press
Everything from a wooden chair signed by the journalists who broke the Watergate story to a two-night stay at next year’s national convention headquarters hotel were sold during the Society of Professional Journalists Legal Defense Fund live auction.
Proceeds from two auctions, one live and one silent, benefit the fund that assists with litigation fees for public access cases and help protect freedom of press rights for journalists.
The live auction was held just after 7 p.m. on Tuesday, before the president’s installation banquet, to raise money for the fund.
The silent auction raised $3,000 while the live auction raised more than $4,600. The most sought-after items during the live bidding were Sigma Delta Chi silver spoons and the Watergate chair.
Clint Brewer, chair of the LDF Committee, said one of the recent cases to which the LDF granted money helped support San Francisco blogger Josh Wolf.
In 2006, the SPJ national board gave the largest LDF grant ever, donating $30,000 toward Wolf’s legal fees. The blogger was held in contempt of court for refusing to hand over unedited video of a 2005 San Francisco riot, according to the SPJ website.
“That shows the level of commitment of SPJ,” Brewer said. “It exists to preserve and protect journalism and that costs money.”
SPJ patrons such as former President Georgiana Vines continue to participate in the auction.
“I want to make sure that there is money in that fund for legal defense, ” Vines said. “I’ll be down there tonight and I’ll bid on something.”
In the past, she won a lunch with reporter Helen Thomas with a $1,000 bid.
Five items were up for auction this year, including a director’s chair signed by Daniel Schorr, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, Ben Bradlee and three other journalists who covered the Watergate scandal.
Carol Cole-Frowe was the big winner of the night taking home the Watergate chair for $3,300.
She was ecstatic about her prize.
“I am going to display it in my home,” Frowe said. “I am in awe that I was able to get that. I was telling my husband that I would rather have that than a new car.”
She also bid on another Watergate chair last year, but lost to Steve Geimann, the SDX Foundation president.
Geimann has four of the Watergate chairs. He joked with Frowe after the auction about letting her win this year.
“I’ll see you next year, Steve,” said Frowe, a resident of Norman, Okla.
There are a total of seven chairs.
Along with raising money from the items, SPJ awards coordinator Lauren Rochester hopes the participants had a good time during the auction.
The people who attend usually have been involved with the organization for years, Rochester said.
Sometimes the participants start bidding on random items. Last year, Rochester said, a tie someone was wearing went up for auction and added a level of spontaneity to the event.
An earlier version of this article misstated the amount of money raised in the silent auction. It was $3,000, not $7,680.