Editor’s note: We’ve asked members of SPJ to write blog posts for us about how exactly to get involved in SPJ. Sometimes, people don’t know where to start. Some join as students, some as pros, and others somewhere in the middle. Kathleen Devaney of the Florida Pro chapter writes about why she first joined SPJ and how she transitioned from student chapter to pro chapter. Read her full story below.
Extra editor’s note: If you’re a student or recent graduate (or anyone, really!) and you want to get involved in a pro chapter, you can find listings of chapters by state here. If you’d like some other kind of SPJ volunteer role, contact me, Robyn Davis Sekula, at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll be glad to talk to you.
By Kathleen Devaney
I went to college at Florida International University, a unique institution in sunny Miami with a soft spot for cafe con leche and the concept of living at home until you’re 25.
But I attended the docile Biscayne Bay Campus, a subset of the main school, which probably matched my then-meek persona.
When I decided that I wanted to switch over from studying English to Journalism at the beginning of my junior year, I gained some help from an unexpected place.
Embarrassingly enough, I’ll admit that I applied for an internship at The Miami Herald without having much experience under my belt. So I received a call from a woman named Chris Delboni, an instructor at FIU who was the director of The South Florida News Service, a classroom-run wire service which produced stories for local mainstream media outlets.
The truth stings at first, but she told me I wasn’t ready to intern at The Herald just yet, but if I started writing for the SFNS, she might be able to recommend me someday in the future. But most importantly, she also told me to join SPJ, an organization that I had never heard about, which she advised.
So I took her word for it and showed up at SPJ FIU’s first meeting. And in no time, I was overstepping my bounds as usual. I found myself sitting in on the executive board meetings, when I was just a regular member, chiming in with my opinions and ideas for events they were planning.
That’s why the next semester, I got voted in to be the events coordinator, a position which I held with so much pride.
Quickly, I found myself planning roundtable discussions and building the framework for our first ever Listen, Learn, Connect conference, which has since become an annual event. I even helped plan zany events like how to write an obituary from within a funeral home. (In fact, I credit our kooky ideas in helping us win best collegiate chapter in Region 3 for the past four years.)
And once again I was promoted, this time to chapter president. Things were sailing full force for me as I was beginning my senior year and now interning at The Miami Herald. None of this would have been made possible without the guidance of Chris Delboni, who helped give me a pep in my step and shaped me into being a poised female journalist.
During my last year, most of my efforts in SPJ FIU were focused on creating two mentorship programs with a local middle school and high school.
But when it was time for me to graduate, I felt so sad to leave behind SPJ. That chapter gave me wonderful friendships on a campus that can sometimes feel community-less and it provided me with a foundation for leadership, a trait I hope I never give up.
After seven long months of searching for a job and searching for myself, I finally got a job as a Social Media Producer for The Palm Beach Post, two counties up from my FIU campus. In addition, I also nerved up to join SPJ Florida. (By the way, it should be noted that I was able to move out of the house before 25.)
The idea of joining a professional chapter was something I had played around with for a while, and lucky for me, I joined the perfect one with prestige and a whole lot of gusto. SPJ Florida was voted as best large chapter of the year in 2010, 2014 and again in 2016.
I was quickly voted in as the VP of Programming, as I had already formed connections with some of the chapter’s members throughout the past couple years.
Currently, I’m working on planning Muslimedia alongside Region 3 Director, Michael Koretzky. This semi-controversial event will bring together Florida journalists with Muslim leaders from Boca Raton to debate the media’s best and worst practices when reporting about the Muslim community in America.
I also recently attended this year’s Excellence in Journalism conference in New Orleans. Most of the panels I attended expanded my mind on how to be culturally sensitive when covering different communities. But they have something for everybody, whether it be tech, ethics, journalism education, and more. I’ve found the most rewarding part of attending EIJ over the past few years is getting to network with fellow journos. SPJ and the array of alphabet soup journalism organizations that participate in the conference are all there for the same reason – our love for journalism. And just when you’ve thought the newsroom as we’ve known it is headed down a dark path, the passion and drive for learning new skills at EIJ makes the future seem brighter.