Two years ago while running for SPJ secretary-treasurer, I proposed an ambitious program called “20 ideas in 20 days.”
It represented my thinking back in 2010 on ways in which we could move SPJ forward.
I was careful to describe them as ideas rather than pledges or promises or a platform, because I know from experience that my ideas don’t always work.
I do believe, however, that it’s important to try and find ways to further the core missions of SPJ.
Recently Andy Schotz invited me to respond to his campaign post in which he listed 10 of the ideas I circulated two years ago in an abbreviated list.
First off, I’m honored that Andy took the time to remember and keep that document.
And I was curious to see how my ideas fared two years later now that I am approaching the end of my term as president.
So, here is a rather long post that recalls those 20 ideas, plus my evaluation on whether they worked.
1. Quarterly board meetings. Two in person. Two by phone. More democracy, not less. We often end up doing telephone conferences calls during the year anyway, so why not do two that we could schedule in advance. True a conference call with the full board can be awkward at times, however, there are web conference programs available now that could make these sessions more efficient and interactive.
This definitely worked. We held five board meetings this year, two in person, two by conference call and then our first ever virtual board meeting. As a result, the board had a lot more input. Plus our in-person meetings were not as packed with what I call housekeeping matters, leaving us time to talk about larger policy issues.
2. Use travelling programs such as Tom Hallman’s Narrative Writing Workshops as kindling for starting or reviving chapters. Schedule them in such a way as to help provide the spark to beef up or revive local chapters. I realize this program is not aimed at membership recruitment. However, there’s nothing that prevents a local chapter from using the event as a catalyst for membership building. In New Mexico, the group that attended Tom’s workshop eventually formed half of the interim board of the newly revived chapter.
This idea worked well in New Mexico, where Tom’s appearance helped us revive the pro chapter. But it was difficult to replicate on the national level. The funding for programs like Tom’s were not earmarked for membership development.
3. National speakers’ office. Use the bulk power of SPJ to connect chapters with authors on tour, film previews, ect. If we do this with some regularity, eventually the speakers will come to us looking for venues and trying to connect with local chapters
This idea proved impractical. During the recession, many publishers cut back dramatically on author tours, making this practice harder to tap into
4. Encourage chapters to use regional conferences as a way to draw in new members by pegging the price of the conference to one year’s membership. This year in Region 9, we made the price of conference registration $99 for non-member pros and $62 for non-member students. As a result, we ended with 47 new members in a single day. That represented an 8 percent increase in the region’s membership numbers. At this point in our history, after losing nearly 2,000 members nationwide, it seems to me wiser for chapters to be member-rich than dollar-rich.
While this idea worked very well in Region 9, it met with resistance elsewhere as many regions preferred, quite reasonably, to focus on posting a profit from their conference rather than gaining additional members.
5. Shared use of iContact, Constant Contact or a similar bulk e-mail service so that chapters can communicate better. These programs are capable of allowing any chapter to produce crisp, graphically interesting e-mails that will help their message stand out from ordinary text e-mails.
This idea proved impractical.
6. Fall and Spring membership drives with discounts and premiums. Let’s take a page from the perennially successful campaigns of public television and radio by concentrating our recruitment efforts to a 10-day period twice each year in which we offered premiums such as an SPJ mug or ball cap as a reward for joining during that time frame.
We were able to launch a membership drive this fall, but held it over the span of a month without the gimmicks of premiums.
7. Set aside a room at the national convention to serve as “Studio SPJ,”a place where members could be asked to tape one-minute interviews stating why they joined and what SPJ means to them. Then post these videos on the website on a rotating basis.
This idea fell by the wayside, but I’d like to reserve the chance to try it at our 2013 convention in Anaheim.
8. Present an annual award at the national conference for the fastest growing chapters, both pro and student. Honor both those chapters with the highest percentage increase (typically small to medium chapters) and the greatest numerical gain in members (typically the larger chapters.)
This idea also fell by the wayside, although I still believe it has merit.
9. Appoint a programming czar to help chapters stage programs. Have that person create a programming committee with a representative in each region. This is a crucial step in growing membership since active quality programming goes hand in hand with membership recruitment and retention.
This idea is still a work in progress. I tried doing it through a 12-member committee last year, but that proved unwieldy and ineffective. This year, I’ve volunteered to serve in this national role and incoming President Sonny Albarado has given me the permission to do so. I’ll be working with SPJ staffer Tara Puckey to help bring programming to local chapters.
10. Task the programming chair to attend the annual BookExpo America in New York City in late May. This event – which draws 500 authors and previews 1,500 books due out in the fall – would be a perfect opportunity for an SPJ representative to make contact with publishers and help line up author events with chapters nationwide.
Also in progress. I hope to attend the Expo this spring.
11. Line up a journalism-themed movie premiere as SDX or LDF fundraiser. Over the last few years, there have been several popular feature films about journalists: George Clooney’s Murrow-biopic “Good Night and Good Luck” or Angelina Jolie’s “A Mighty Heart” about Daniel and Marianne Pearl. The next time such a movie comes down the pike, let’s approach the film makers about staging a benefit premiere in a city of their choice.
This idea failed, but not for lack of trying. I tried to convince the makers of “The Bang Bang Club,” a film on photojournalists covering the fall of apartheid in South Africa. But we couldn’t reach an agreement. I haven’t given up on this idea either and will keep an eye out for any new journalism movies.
12. Do an online auction in advance of the convention to raise money for LDF. Not only would enable people not attending the convention to bid on items, it would build interest in the live auction and help us increase the proceeds.
This proved impractical, however, I would still like to explore putting up some LDF items up for auction during the year via e-Bay.
13. Volunteers are the glue that holds SPJ together. Honor their service with a monthly volunteer of the month program. Ask each regional director to nominate one person from their region and highlight that person’s accomplishments.
This idea worked quite well. We not only honored 12 volunteers across the county, two of them went on to win the Howard Dubin award for outstanding SPJ member.
14. Explore finding a service that would enable all regions and local chapters to convert their journalism contests to an online entry system. Currently, regions and chapters are being approached individually by such vendors. By aggregating our buying power, we could get a much more advantageous deal.
This idea morphed into marketing SPJ’s own awards platform, which we were able to sell to a few chapters and journalism organizations. This is still a work in progress.
15. Create An SPJ listening tour. One way for national SPJ leaders to get a feel for the issues affecting the organization is to listen in – when invited – to an occasional chapter board meeting that are conducted by telephone conference call. Just to listen, not to meddle or talk.
This idea worked although I modified it a little bit. I hosted a series of virtual town hall meetings with 11 of our 12 regions and hope to do one final session later this month. While none of these drew large audiences, each once sparked worthwhile conversations that I found quite useful.
16. Candidate’s forum. Instead of forcing national board candidates to dash to 12 regional meetings in an hour at the convention, why not hold a candidate’s forum earlier in the day where people can ask questions of the candidates in a town hall-like forum.
This idea was rendered somewhat moot by the adoption of the one-member, one-vote system this year. However, I was able to do a version of these forums during the above mentioned town hall meetings.
17. Vox Pop. Use the Democracy function on our WordPress blog software to put an occasional question to the membership. While this method is hardly scientific, it would give SPJ’s leadership a quick take on what members think and show a willingness to listen to the membership.
This idea worked very well. I included polls at the end of several columns I posted on the Freedom of the Prez blog.
18. Survey new members on what led them to join. In recent years, we’ve done some careful research on why people drop out of SPJ and who they are. But we’ve not devoted as much attention to where our new members are coming from. What specific things convinced them to join. The more we know about this the better we’ll get at recruitment.
This idea worked. I did my own email survey of new members who joined SPJ this spring. The results made it clear that we enjoyed a spike of new members who joined to get the member rate in our Mark of Excellence journalism contest.
19. Sponsor international journalists. Every Spring, the Alfred Friendly Press Fellowship places about 10-12 young journalists from countries with an emerging free press into newsrooms across the United States. What if we made a concerted effort to invite these folks to be our guests at various regional conferences? Many of them practice journalist at considerable more peril than we do. They would learn a lot about SPJ and perhaps make excellent speakers.
This idea worked, albeit in a limited manner. Two international journalists attended a regional conference in San Diego and had a great experience. A decrease in funding with the Friendly Fellowship program made it difficult to arrange more of these opportunities.
20. Hold a half-day summit during the Spring board meeting to help draft a national membership recruitment and retention strategy. Task the membership committee to come up with several proposals to that end and then try to do what we can on the national level to see that those suggestions are carried out.This idea proved impractical. I relied instead on our membership committee to vet and develop strategies for growing the membership.
So by my count, that adds up to
8 ideas that worked, in full or part.
8 ideas that failed or proved impractical.
4 ideas that are still a work in progress.
In baseball, going 8 for 20 would be considered a good stretch.
But I’m actually just as interested in the ideas that failed. Frequently those failures lead to other more successful approaches that we would not have reached if we hadn’t at least tried.