Live Chat Transcript: Discussing SPJ’s potential name change

Missed the live chat? Here’s a transcript of what transpired. More chats will take place over the course of this process, and all are welcome to participate, so stay tuned to and subscribe to this blog to get details on how and when you can participate!

[12:10] Dave Aeikens: I am a former SPJ president who served from 2008-2009 and spent 10 years on the national board. I am in my fourth year on the Sigma Delta Chi Board. Looking forward to the discussion.

[12:11] Irwin Gratz: Awright. It works! Now, what are we here to chat about??

[12:11] David Carlson: Seems quiet here, so I’ll just say, let’s do this thing. The name change is a great idea!

[12:12] Kevin Z. Smith: Disagree. I don’t get it. I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around this whole concept of a name change that doesn’t appear to me as anything more than just a case of semantics.

[12:12] Kevin Z. Smith: We are a Society of Professional Journalists. We want to be a Society FOR Professional Journalism. My question is, who do we think performs professional journalism? Professional journalists, perhaps?

[12:12] Kevin Z. Smith: I disagree. I don’t see this as anything more than a case of semantics.

[12:14] Irwin Gratz: It is a case of semantics.But if you look at who we are and what we do, Jornalism fits better.It explains why so many of our members are in PR or in Academia.And we’re always fighting for rights we say extend to anyone who does journalism.

[12:15] Dave Aeikens: I have yet to be convinced that changing the name would be beneficial. I am open to the discussion at the same time I hope we don’t spend a lot of time on this that could be spent on improving journalism.

[12:16] Kevin Z. Smith: If we want to be more inclusive then why don’t we try taking professional out of the name and appeal to everyone who wants to practice journalism. We open the door to everyone. Isn’t that the way we are being told things are headed.

[12:17] Al Cross: The only strong card we have to play is the adjective in our name. At a time when professional standards are being eroded, our best niche is to emphasize the need for them.

[12:17] Irwin Gratz: Agreed.And for those of us already in the society, there would be little that would change.What it could do for us, is make us an organization that even people who are news consumers, rather than generators might want to support.

[12:18] Al Cross: Amen to Irwin.

[12:18] David Carlson: Semantics are not trivial.I don’t disagree with taking “professional” out, but it raises a cost issue.

[12:18] Kevin Z. Smith: Support, become members and have an active stake in how the Society is operated?

[12:19] Al Cross: as associate members

[12:21] Dave Aeikens: Have we heard from people who say they would feel more welcome if we were Society for Professional Journalism instead of Society of Professional Journalists?

[12:21] Kevin Z. Smith: So, that’s the idea to throw the door open wide and let everyone join the Society. Wow. Just because I bake a cake in my kitchen and say I’m a baker, doesn’t make me a professional baker and I certainly wouldn’t try to pass myself off as one. But, anyone who wants to be a journalist, support journalism, we invite in? Is that what we think of the journalism profession, that it’s there for anyone to claim?

[12:22] Al Cross: That is not at all what associate membership is about.

[12:22] Irwin Gratz: We’ve never really tried very hard, but associate membership could, and should be viewed as a potential source of additional revenue.Not a well of governing members.The by-laws are specific about that.

[12:23] Kevin Z. Smith: Is this a philosophical reason or a financial one?

[12:23] Irwin Gratz: No reason it can’t be both.

[12:25] Kevin Z. Smith: Yes, but the motive is all important. I don’t think I’ve heard a convincing motive to this point.

[12:28] Al Cross: The “inclusivity” motive appeals to me because we live in a time when lots of people are practicing journalism and defining who is a journalist has become more problematic. In a disintermediated world, there can and should be standards for committing journalism, and that’s what the renamed SPJ would more clearly stand for.

[12:29] David Carlson: Well said, Al.

[12:30] Andy Schotz: What about the word “professional”? Why should that be part of the name?

[12:30] Al Cross: That’s our selling point: standards.

[12:30] Irwin Gratz: Because it speaks to a standard of journalism those of us in the society aspire to.

[12:31] Andy Schotz: Couldn’t “professional” be seen as “for pay”? Contrasted with “amateur”

[12:33] Sonny Albarado: I’m not convinced that the name is the “problem,” if indeed there is a problem.

[12:34] Kelrose: I agree with Sonny

[12:34] Al Cross: Yes, “professiona;” could be seen as “for pay,” if we do a poor job of selling standards.

[12:35] Kevin Z. Smith: I think we might be kidding ourselves if we think changing the name will bring a lot more people in who will want to conform to responsible, professional, ethical standards.

[12:35] Sonny Albarado: Anecdotal evidence that digital journalists avoid SPJ, but no statistical evidence in my view.

[12:35] Kevin Z. Smith: If that were the case, we wouldn’t have 8,000 members. We’d have 20,000 and they’d be from current professional journalists.

[12:36] Kevin Z. Smith: If pro journalists don’t find value in our standards, what makes us think changing our name and bringing more “other” journalism types will suddenly take place?

[12:37] Hagit Limor: To me the name change is all about wanting to attract new members who aren’t in the field but support the first amendment. Whether we need to change our name to do that is another questions.

[12:38] Sonny Albarado: There is a legitimate concern about shrinking membership. Do name-change supporters see that change as solution?

[12:39] Irwin Gratz: I think the name change can, and should, be about more than attracting new members.I do believe it better reflects who we are now and what we actually do (improving and protecting “journalism”)

[12:39] Al Cross: I think we have two types of members (and potential members): people who think the organization will support them, and those who want to support the organization because it supports things they support. The name change appeals primarily to the latter group; there’s no way to estimate how many we might gain from it, but if we gained only 750, that w

[12:39] Al Cross: ould be a 10 percent increase.

[12:39] Andy Schotz: Which is why I think we are framing the issue in the opposite way. How can SPJ be seen as more relevant and essential? Instead, we are asking our members how we should tinker with the name.

[12:40] Sonny Albarado: Andy’s touched on the broader issue in which I’m interested.

[12:41] Andy Schotz: We should be saying, By the way, we could change the name to reflect the new, more open SPJ (if we needed to, and I’m not sure we do)

[12:41] Al Cross: I think this WOULD make us more relevant and essential to some. I’m certainly not opposed to asking members how we can do that, but the name change idea is out there and it’s appropriate for us to consult them.

[12:41] Hagit Limor: Andy, my question is: be seen by who? Within SPJ we know our mission is vital.

[12:41] Kevin Z. Smith: To me changing the name doesn’t do a thing to what we stand for or what we provide. If we have a membership issue because of those two issues, I don’t think rebranding will do anything more than invite others in who might end up feeling the same way, that they are not getting what they paid for. Maybe the issue is looking deeper into what we do for members instead of what we call ourselves.

[12:42] Dave Aeikens: A name doesn’t make an organization relevant. It’s what the organization does.

[12:42] Andy Schotz: As Kevin said, perhaps others within the industry. But the argument I’ve seen made by supporters of the name change is that it will mean nonjournalists would want to join, because they support the cause.

[12:42] Al Cross: We’ve been looking at that for a very long time, and membership is down 25 percent from when I was president 11 years ago. Branding, as our cousins in ads and marketing will tell you, is essential.

[12:43] Andy Schotz: I don’t understand how that change would happen. We already have the option of being an associate member. There are fewer than 100 of them.

[12:44] Hagit Limor: Branding may be essential but we’ve done limited marketing campaigns. I think it’s been tough for us to know where to market.

[12:44] Andy Schotz: So, we hear that there are fewer than 100 because they don’t have full membership rights – i.e., voting.

[12:44] Kevin Z. Smith: Ok, so you rebrand and then you stop there. And what does that give you? It gives you more and more people who once in don’t see value. in any given month, the number of members we get is less than a third renewals. We are losing members faster than we are gaining new ones. So, a name change fixes that?

[12:45] Andy Schotz: The survey of our membership is fine, but if we really want to know why we’re not reaching beyond the current ranks, we should be surveying outsiders.

[12:46] Kelrose: I second what Kevin has said. Branding may be important, but if we’re not offering what people want/need, why would they care what we call ourselves?

[12:46] Andy Schotz: Just as Dave A. said earlier: Who would feel more welcome under the new name?

[12:47] Kevin Z. Smith: Andy is right. We pushed this through on a voice vote at convention and we have nothing more than emotional arguments. We have no research or study to suggest that changing our name will help or hurt us. We are flying blind, with good intentions, but nonetheless flying blind.

[12:47] Irwin Gratz: When it comes to membership, you don’t stop at making a name change.But you want to make sure your name is an inviting part of the package you present.

[12:48] Al Cross: People who believe in responsible journalism as an essential element in democracy. People who occasionally commit journalism and want guidance on how to do it well. People who support SPJ’s missions. That’s a strong three-legged stool we can stand on.

[12:48] Al Cross: Above was an answer to Andy Schotz.

[12:49] Hagit Limor: Seems like name change would need to be accompanied by that marketing campaign to explain who we are to potential new members. And btw, if they’re members, I think they should get a vote, which opens another can of worms.

[12:51] Andy Schotz: I agree with Al, but I think we’re going about it the wrong way. All of the discussion is about “name change.” It should be “Operation Open Doors,” or whatever we can say to strongly connote a change in mission or membership or whatever the message is.

[12:53] Andy Schotz: Whatever good that might be attached to this effort will get lost to perception: SPJ needs to make changes, but it’s focused on tinkering with a few words in its name.

[12:54] Kevin Z. Smith: Think about how much this organization means to all of us on this chat. We all want nothing but success. If this was the corporate world we wouldn’t even consider this action until we did some serious market research and had professionals manage this. You don’t change the name of anything that has a value, whether it’s diapers or mouthwash unless you can reasonably predict the outcome. And we can’t. This decision shouldn’t be made unless we have a lot of due diligence and consult professionals.

[12:56] Kelrose: Who has actually heard someone say “I don’t think SPJ is the place foe me because I’mm not sure I would be considered a ‘professional journalist'”? What I have heard is “I’m not going to join SPJ because of cost / it doesn’t offer the resources I need / I want hands-on training” and more.

[12:56] Andy Schotz: Not only that, but the reason has to be clearly defined and presented. Look at the one comment that’s posted on the SPJ Nomenclature site, from Alicia Shepard. She says SPJ hasn’t made its case for the change.

[12:56] Sonny Albarado: Re: Andy’s last comment – That’s one reason I had that open-ended question at the end of the survey. Took it off because it went beyond scope of initial survey.

[12:57] Kelrose: (forgive the typos, I can only see one line of text as I type, and I’m wearing gloves…)

[12:57] Irwin Gratz: We’re increasingly discussing much deeper issues about raising membership, making ourselves relevant, and doing public outreach.All of these require more effort on our part, but I do think the name change could be part of that.

[12:59] Hagit Limor: Research costs so the current board would have to commit the resources per Kevin’s suggestion. As for why people don’t join, I think many of those questions are excuses. Our fees are on the low end and we do provide a lot of hands on training and resources. Perhaps people don’t know..

[12:59] Kevin Z. Smith: I don’t think we have made the case. I agree with Irwin that all of those things could happen, but I’m not a Madison Ave. marketer and I don’t have a clue about branding and I just think until we know what to expect with a name change, we can’t support it.

[1:00] Irwin Gratz: Maybe we should just follow the example of some businesses and other organizations and simply go by our initials, SPJ.Who needs all those vowels, anyway.

[1:01] Hagit Limor: Thanks to all of you who’ve been at this for an hour… no need to end the conversation except for those who have to run off (to class in my case.)

[1:02] Kelrose: My final opinion: Simply changing the name on the door is not enough to invite people through it

[1:02] Irwin Gratz: This has been invigorating.A discussion that deserves to continue in other forums.

[1:02] Kelrose: Take care, all!

[1:02] Sonny Albarado: Agree that we need to do serious market research, something we’ve talked about numerous times but not followed through on.

[1:03] Sonny Albarado: And thanks for the fish.

  • Steve Geimann

    Well, Hagit and I had a nice conversation,. but it appears it was on a different chat. Oh, well

  • MichaelCarl

    A name change will accomplish little and only further muddy the waters. Presently, the name focuses on the practitioners, a personal touch that conveys concern for the professionalism and quality of those in the profession. Changing the name will create the impression of an impersonal focus on the art, not the artist.

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