September 16th, 2012
Membership drive Q&A: SPJ chapter guru Tara Puckey knows what a strong chapter looks like
By Holly Edgell
Note to readers: The 2012 Society of Professional Journalists Membership Drive runs Sept. 4 to Oct. 4. As membership chair, I’ve assigned myself the task of sharing the stories of members around the country through a series of Q&A posts. If you would like to share your thoughts via Q&A or in a guest post, email firstname.lastname@example.org. We are also interested in hearing from people wondering why they should join and former members who have constructive ideas about how SPJ can serve the profession. Please share these posts with non-members!
Q&A with Tara Puckey, SPJ Headquarters Staff
Tara is the perfect person to talk about how SPJ chapters power the entire organization. A freelance journalist, she knows the Society from several angles: member, national board member, and now Chapter Coordinator at HQ in Indianapolis. Tara’s job is to keep the Society connected to its chapters around the country and serve as a resource for those chapters and their members. Here’s how she describes the job on her Linkedin profile:
“Assist chapters around the world in building, growing and sustaining their membership while supporting the missions of the Society.”
Tara took the time in the busy week before Excellence in Journalism 2012 to answer five questions.
Edgell You’ve experience several aspects of the SPJ experience. What are some of the hallmarks of a strong chapter that serves its members well?
Puckey Strong chapters can often be tied back to good leadership and strong, unique programming. This business is changing and evolving, so the days where professionals could take paid time out of their day to sit and listen to lectures are gone. Journalists are looking for someone to remind them what an amazing craft this truly is, to teach them new skills and techniques in a way that is interactive and innovative, and someone to lean on. A strong chapter does all those things while staying connected to members and serving local interests as well.
Edgell I’ve heard you talk about the importance of chapters keeping in touch with members. In an age where personal connections seem to be dwindling, why is that local communication so important for chapters?
Puckey Members often come in two kinds: those who know SPJ in their own backyard and are unfamiliar with the national level or those who know SPJ on a national level but haven’t ever connected with SPJ on a local level. That has to change. Members need to know the great things SPJ is doing on a national level, which comes from good communication through the chapter level, but also need to be connected to journalists in their community.
One thing we know members want from SPJ is networking – for jobs, for friendships, for training. Networking is great on the national level, but it’s also important on a local level so we’re working hard to make sure that all members can know SPJ in their backyards.
Edgell Based on what you’re hearing from chapter leaders, what kinds of programming seem to be resonating with members right now?
Puckey Programming is constantly changing with the needs of journalism, which itself is constantly changing, so each and every year I see new and innovative programs that address some of the challenges our members are facing. Right now, members seem to be drawn to interactive programs, events where they’re not only learning, but also having fun and engaging with other professionals or students as well. Chapters are producing short videos, magazines and plays or gathering to conduct hands on training with social media pros. Overall, they don’t want to just sit and listen anymore, they want to do.
Edgell A couple of our regions cover a wide geographic area. Chapters can be physically far from their members and potential members. Any advice for how chapters engage with journalists in this context?
Puckey This has been an ongoing struggle. With changing technology, our members have found it easier to connect through tools like Skype. Some chapters are even holding events with it, cutting programming costs while keeping members connected to quality speakers.
Right now, there’s no official “right” answer for members that are far away from chapters. We’re working on finding the best way to give them a local connection, including networking and programming opportunities. In the meantime, I would encourage chapters with far away members to offer live streaming of events, start a Wiggio or other forum where members can have constant discussions about problems or issues they’re facing and to simply keep in contact with those members. Truthfully, an email or phone call makes members feel less disconnected, even when they aren’t able to attend programming or events in person.
Edgell You’ve been in your job at HQ for a few months now. What’s your favorite thing about working with chapters?
Puckey I think one of my favorite things about being at HQ is that I have the chance to get to know more chapter leaders and members. Another favorite is the fact that I’m able to facilitate sharing amazing ideas from one chapter to another. Sometimes that’s all it takes to spark greatness, so it’s rewarding to see a chapter in New York put a twist on a program originally held in Texas. And I have to add that working with SPJ “newbies,” who are always excited and enthusiastic, to start new chapters is another one of my favorite things.
Overall, I’m lucky that I fell into this great but sometimes messy business. And that I’m part of an organization that reminds me daily why I love it so much. SPJ is great for training and resources and advocacy and all our other important missions, but it’s mostly important to me because I’m connected with others who love it just as much as I do.
More about the SPJ Membership Drive: Toolkit and Calendar included!