By John Ensslin | April 28th, 2008
Here in the Rocky Mountain West, SPJ recently hosted a spring regional conference that I believe could serve as a template for any region seeking to increase the size of its membership.
Dubbed “Brave New World”, our conference provided one day of training on the skills that journalists will need to work in a profession that is swiftly and inexorably moving online.
Thus we arranged a lineup of speakers who talked about how to do video and audio versions of a story and how writing breaking news for the web is different than the traditional model of writing a story for the print newspaper.
We were especially fortunate to book former New York Times reporter Sarah Boxer, who gave a brilliant funny and insightful keynote speech on the intersection between journalism and blogging. Sarah set the tone for what turned out to be a memorable day of conversation, questions and learning.
We made sure to include some discussion on fundamental topics such as the relationship between editors and reporters. We also held day-long sessions in which professionals critiqued the resumes and clips of young journalist.
We also were careful this year to spend as much if not more time publicizing our seminar as we did on booking our speakers.
The end result was this: more than 90 people came to Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Co. from as far away as Utah and Wyoming. It was a true regional gathering.
But here is the key to our event. We decided to raise membership rather than funds.
Thanks to our partnership with the CSU chapter of SPJ, we were able to have free use of the student center chambers for the day. Our only major expense was lunch, which cost us about $17 per person.
We pegged the price of the conference to a one-year membership. Students who joined SPJ that day paid $53 while non-member professionals paid $89. Members paid $30.
By applying our $17 in local dues toward the price of lunch, we essential were able to allocate the rest of the proceeds to purchasing memberships.
Thus we were able to end the day with a candlelight initiation ceremony when we welcomed 48 new members for the Utah, Wyoming and Colorado chapters.
Two years ago, our chapter staged a successful regional conference in Denver which generated about $1,000 in profits. We were happy for the financial windfall.
But given a choice, I’d much rather have a chapter rich in members than one flush with money.
Our challenge in the year ahead will be to make SPJ as relevant as possible to these new members and to work on retaining as many as possible. But in the meantime, our chapter is growing at a rate we’ve never before experienced.
It is my belief that what happened in Fort Collins that fine spring day is something that can be in any chapter in the country. By tapping into this genuine hunger for training we can initiate a whole new generation of SPJ members.
SPJ by the numbers
Membership this week 9,306
Membership one month ago 9,288
Membership one year ago 8,871