Archive for the ‘membership’ Category

SPJ Members: Ask Chapter Delegates to Pass SPJ Supporter Bylaws Change

A Guest Post by Lynn Walsh, SPJ President-Elect

EIJ16 is almost a month away. On top of all of training and networking opportunities, SPJ chapter delegates will have an opportunity to vote on two proposed changes to the organizations bylaws.

One of them called “SPJ Supporters,” would help us redefine our Associate membership category to better attract people interested in journalism and protecting the First Amendment, but may not be practicing journalists.

Click here to read a condensed version of this post and the proposed bylaws change.

Journalism is not changing, it has changed.

As the ways in which people consume media change, the people creating it are also changing.

SPJ has always supported journalists through training, legal support, networking and more.

But, we also fight for the public’s right to know through FOIA and freedom of the press. We educate the public and speak out on ethical concerns in the media. And maybe most importantly, SPJ is able to take those fights to lawmakers, advocating on behalf of journalists but also the public.

Right now, our membership is made up almost entirely of journalists or former journalists. We want to see those numbers continue to grow, but journalists are not the only people who care about freedom of the press issues, access to public information and the pieces of work we produce that hold the powerful accountable.

In this day in age there is power in numbers. This is especially true if we want to engage lawmakers.

Just look at the NRA. According to a 2013 figure, the group estimates it has 4.3 million members. Right now, a membership costs $30 for one year. We have all witnesses how powerful the group can be at lobbying, preventing measures its members do not support, pushing through measures its members do support.

While SPJ may never be able to reach those type of membership numbers (a girl can dream, though) there are more people out there than just practicing journalists that care about journalism, freedom of the press, access to public information and holding the powerful accountable.

We want to start being able to better engage those individuals. By passing this bylaws amendment, I think we will be one step closer to making that happen.

People who support journalism and the issues SPJ fights for, defends and stands for can become Supporters. We already have the membership category (it was originally used for individuals working in PR) but now we can redefine it, re-brand it and better serve those who join in this category.

These people could be attorneys who work in FOIA or open records law areas. They might be citizen bloggers or activists who share information and report on issues, but may not consider themselves full-time journalists, therefore not have joined SPJ. Maybe these are just friends and family, general members of the public who have been impacted by a great journalist, who want to support our profession and fight for the public’s right to know.

SPJ Supporters would join at a reduced rate. They would not vote on national elections. They would receive newsletters and updates from SPJ designed for them. More information on how SPJ is fighting to fix FOIA, less information about tips on managing a newsroom or how to get a job in news. (Just an example. More information on this proposed bylaws change can be found here. )

The SPJ National Board members support it and so do I. I hope you will too. If you are not a chapter delegate, please contact your local chapters asking them to support it.

Let’s help bring the possibility of impact and influence back to journalists, the public and SPJ.

Lynn Walsh is the current President-Elect for SPJ. In her “day job” she manages and leads the NBC 7 Investigates team in San Diego. She loves holding the powerful accountable and spends more time than she would like fighting for access to public information. Follow her on Twitter, @LWalsh, or contact her via email:

A membership strategy plan in the works

The Society of Professional Journalists will begin working on a membership strategy plan at the SPJ Executive Committee meeting next month in Arizona.

But you can play a part and help us now – look for a short survey in your email in the next day or so from SPJ, asking your thoughts and opinions about your membership. (Update: The survey was emailed to members on 12/18/15. Here is the link).

The survey comes from Tim Daniel, a facilitator we will be using in the strategy development process. The SPJ board approved retaining Tim and holding a session with SPJ leaders and members in Scottsdale in January.

Tim most recently worked with RTDNA on their strategic planning; NAB is a past client of his, as are a number of media-related businesses and groups.

The strategy session will involve the members of the Executive Committee (me, Lynn Walsh, Rebecca Baker, Dana Neuts, Sue Kopen-Katcef, Joe Radske and Bill McCloskey), along with Robyn Sekula, chair of the Membership Committee, and April Bethea, chair of the Diversity Committee. We also invited two people from next door in California, Monica Dattage, who is one of this year’s student reps on the board, and Sam Stewart, an SPJ Diversity Fellow.

Two other leaders who live in Arizona will be there – Robert Leger, president of the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation board, and SPJ Past-President Dave Cuillier. Several members of the SPJ professional staff from HQ also will attend (Joe Skeel, Chris Vachon, Jennifer Royer, Tara Puckey and Linda Hall).

This society has not looked at the question of membership systematically and strategically in at least 10 years, so this process is long overdue. We hope to develop a comprehensive approach to share with the full board at its meeting in April as we work toward an action plan. We’ll be reporting the results of the strategy session after its conclusion.

In the meantime, efforts have been under way to bring back former SPJ members. I asked Robyn and her committee to take a look at membership marketing as I took office. She and Tara have been busy – they developed a series of four different email messages/letters, segmented by demographics. Last week, they reached out to more than 8,000 past members, asking them to renew their ties to SPJ. Robyn reports that the initial response has been good – we’ll report more as we get more results.

So, again, please take the time to fill out the short survey and help us do all we can to work on this vital issue! Thank you.

SPJ Board Meeting Recap

The SPJ spring board meeting was this past Sat., April 18 in Indianapolis. Each meeting is streamed live, but in case you missed it or don’t want to sit through the 6+ hour recording, here are the highlights:

  • The board approved the Fiscal Year 2016 budget. To executive director Joe Skeel’s credit, SPJ has a sizable surplus. We are operating in the black and expect to continue to do so with sufficient reserves set aside for a rainy day and to spend on worthy projects.
  • The slate of candidates for the next SPJ board cycle was announced. New candidates have until about a week before EIJ15 to announce their candidacy. So far, there are only two contested elections (secretary-treasurer and at-large director). Interested candidates should contact Sonny Albarado, past president of SPJ and this year’s nominations chair, or click here for more info.
  • We are seeking nominations to replace regional director Tony Hernandez (Region 12). He moved out of the region, and we are looking for a replacement, effective June 1. We also thanked Tony for his service to SPJ.
  • SDX President Robert Leger gave an update on the SDX Foundation, including the transition of moving programming responsibilities and funding from SPJ back to SDX.
  • The Ethics Committee, led by Andrew Seaman, is beginning the posting of additional materials to supplement the revised SPJ Code of Ethics that was approved by the delegates at EIJ14. In addition, the Code has been translated into five languages (French, Spanish, German, Chinese and Arabic). Those versions are being proofread and, once approved, they’ll be posted to
  • The board discussed how to handle the proposed Marriage & Conscience Act now in committee in Louisiana. The board will send a letter to the Louisiana legislature citing its concern about the bill which addresses religious and moral beliefs, unlike other religious freedom legislation being considered in other states. Our hope is that the bill will be defeated. If not, SPJ will have to reconsider hosting its 2016 spring board meeting, and SPJ and its partner RTDNA will have to discuss the implications for EIJ16, both scheduled for New Orleans next year. President-elect Paul Fletcher and secretary-treasurer Lynn Walsh will work on the letter to the legislature and share it with the board for input by the end of this month. We will also share it with RTDNA, and they will vote on whether or not they wish to sign the letter as well.
  • The SPJ board gave staff the go-ahead to expand its criteria for the selection of convention cities.
  • I announced two new diversity initiatives: (1) Adding members of other journalism organizations (e.g., AAJA, NAJA, NLGJA, NABJ, NAHJ, etc.) to the Diversity Committee, led by April Bethea, as a pilot project. If this is successful, we hope to expand this to include members of these organizations on other committees to help expand the diversity within our organization. (2) Creating a partnership between the Diversity Committee and Membership Committee to develop diversity-related resources for our members. We’ll first create a list of programming ideas, gathering successful program information from SPJ chapters and regions. We’ll expand to include other resources such as how to identify local chapters of other organizations that we could partner with, and link to other diversity-related resources, such as the NLGJA style guide and the diversity style guide project that is supported by the SDX Foundation.
  • I announced the Membership Committee’s upcoming promotion, #spj4all, a one-day campaign to reiterate our organization’s acceptance of journalists from all backgrounds. The committee, led by Robyn Sekula, will share details soon.
  • Four new chapters were added to SPJ ranks.
  • Secretary-treasurer Lynn Walsh announced SPJ’s new career center, a dramatically improved version of our job bank which includes links to additional resources.
  • At the request of FOI chair and immediate past president Dave Cuillier, the SPJ board approved a $30,000 transfer from our fiscal year end reserves to the Advocacy Fund. The board discussed how money would be spent and what the approval process might be.
  • Regional director Tom Johnson received the board’s endorsement of his “It’s the People’s Data” project.
  • At-large director Bill McCloskey presented a new SPJ Convention Voting Transparency Policy, developed by the By-laws Committee. The policy was approved.
  • Jennifer Royer, communications strategist, and I discussed the proposed guidelines for handling the deaths of prominent journalists and international matters. Each will be handled on a case-by-case basis, and will rely on good judgment.
  • In Becky Tallent’s absence, an update about the release of the Journalism Education Committee’s new book, “Still Captive? History, Law and the Teaching of High School Journalism,” was shared in the board packet and via email.
  • President-elect Paul Fletcher informed the board that 41% of our membership is not affiliated with a chapter, meaning they are not represented by delegates at convention. At my request, Paul has formed a task force to explore the ramifications of this problem and to make recommendations for correcting it.
  • The SPJ board accepted the Executive Committee’s recommendations for 9 of the 10 overall SPJ awards, as outlined in the board packet. Changes will be effective in 2016.
  • The SPJ board discussed the selection of future Wells Key winners. The Executive Committee recommended that the selection group be expanded from the SPJ officers to the full Executive Committee. This recommendation was approved with two amendments – providing the full board with a list of nominees for the current year and the previous nine years (info. to be kept confidential and not shared outside the board), and after the Wells Key is awarded, the Executive Committee will explain to the board why that candidate was selected. These changes will also be effective 2016.
  • We took a photo of the full board for historical purposes and to kick off the #spj4all campaign. #spjlove

The board meeting was packed full of agenda items, and we had good, thoughtful, respectful discussion and debate about these topics and others. In addition, I thanked the board, volunteers and staff for their hard work and continued commitment to SPJ. We’ve accomplished a lot in the seven months I’ve been president, but there is much more to do.

If you have any questions about the meeting, or you’d like to volunteer, I welcome your comments and ideas. You can reach me via email at

Thank you,

Dana Neuts
SPJ President


Highlights thru Oct. 22

It’s been three weeks since my last post, and a lot has happened in SPJ and the journalism world in that short time. Here are a few highlights:

Earlier this week, we lost journalism legend Ben Bradlee of The Washington Post. He inspired an entire generation of journalists and took editing to a new level. He will be missed. Here is a nice piece in The Washington Post remembering his contributions.

SPJ Georgia and regional director Michael Koretzky fought for and supported George Chidi, a freelance journalist in Georgia, after Thomas Owens, a candidate for DeKalb County commissioner, sought a temporary protective order and filed an application for a warrant on stalking charges against the journalist. The protective order and application were both dismissed, upholding the First Amendment and helping to protect Chidi’s right to do his job. Thanks to SPJ Georgia and Koretzky for fighting on Chidi’s behalf.

SPJ, the Student Press Law Center and 18 other organizations sent a letter to education leaders to renounce the actions of the Neshaminy School District in Bucks County, Pennsylvania for punishing student journalists and their adviser for refusing to use the term “redskins” in the Playwickian, a school publication. Principal Rob McGee suspended the journalism adviser for two days without pay, removed the Playwickian editor from her position for a month, and the newspaper was fined $1,200, the cost of the June edition which omitted the Native American mascot name.

In other SPJ news:

The membership committee, led by Robyn Sekula, is working on a master plan to outline its goals and strategies for the coming year. The committee also named its October Volunteer of the Month – Lee Anne Peck of the University of Northern Colorado. Congratulations, Lee Anne!

The SPJ international journalism community, led by Carlos Restrepo, is also working on a master plan, breaking its work into three primary goals and subcommittees. More on that once the community has had time to review and comment on it.

The journalism education committee is publishing a book in January titled “Still Captive? History, Law and the Teaching of High School Journalism.” The project is the result of three years of research and a survey of nearly 250 Journalism Education Association members in 47 states.

The ethics committee continues to be busy, educating others on the revised Code of Ethics, preparing supplemental materials for and speaking on ethical issues. Check out this post from ethics chair Andrew Seaman on the ethical reporting of Ebola.

The awards and honors committee, led by Andy Schotz, has been working with Abbi Martzall, SPJ’s awards coordinator, to review our awards criteria and make recommendations for changes. Sarah Bauer, the committee’s co-chair, is coordinating the swaps for local and regional SPJ chapter contests. If she hasn’t already, she’ll be contacting awards coordinators in the near future to plan for swaps for next year’s contest season.

The Generation J committee, led by Claudia Amezcua, has been working with her committee on its plan for the year and will be working with secretary-treasurer Lynn Walsh and past president John Ensslin on the recommendations made by the futures task force in June. Two goals for Gen J this year are to broaden the committee’s mission to include journalists at all career levels and to partner with other committees to offer training opportunities via joint Google hangouts.

Led by SPJ past president David Cuillier, the FOI committee has been hard at work, developing a blogging and tweeting strategy for the committee to handling breaking FOI news and to be proactive on FOI issues. For FOI resources, check out the FOI page on

At SPJ headquarters, staff has been busy on many fronts, including planning for EIJ15 (yes, already!), sending out new ethics posters and bookmarks, working on affinity partnerships to offer additional benefits to our members, and developing communications strategies for how and when to communicate with the public and other media organizations.

Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to Phoenix on behalf of SPJ where I talked to ASU journalism students about how to get started freelancing and get those first critical clips. I also met with SDX president Robert Leger and had a fun evening with SPJ members of the Valley of the Sun Pro chapter where we celebrated some local journalism and PR successes and talked about what’s next for SPJ in the year ahead. I’ve also been working with communications staff at HQ to create an outreach plan to help promote our communities. Up next: a visit to Peninsula College in Port Angeles, Washington, finding a volunteer to help support our communities, and planning our January executive committee meeting.

I am sure I have omitted a letter SPJ signed onto or committee projects and, if so, I apologize. The omission is unintentional, but email me so I can include it next time. As always, thanks for your support of SPJ. If you have questions, concerns or ideas, you can email me at SPJDANA @ GMAIL.COM.

Highlights thru Sept. 15

With EIJ two weeks behind us now, things are slowing down a little bit, but the momentum that started at the convention is still going strong. Committees, communities and volunteers are hard at work, locally and nationally. Here are this week’s highlights:

Launch of International Journalism Community: Under the leadership of Carlos Restrepo of the St. Louis Pro chapter, the International Journalism Community was launched. To date, more than 30 journalists have expressed an interest in joining the community. Want to get involved? Email Carlos directly.

Volunteer of the Month: Last week, the Membership Committee named its volunteer of the month – Victor Hernandez of CNN, for overseeing Excellence in Journalism news at EIJ14. Guiding a team of 14 student interns, Hernandez selflessly shared his expertise. Thank you, Victor!

Journalism Education Committee: Butler Cain, assistant professor of West Texas A&M, and the Journalism Education committee are getting the year off to a good start, wrapping up the editing of a book on the state of high school journalism. I anticipate lots of great work coming out of that committee this year, so stay tuned!

Diversity Committee: Lead by chair April Bethea, the Diversity Committee has gotten off to an enthusiastic start. Read April’s blog post about the committee’s goals for the year.

Ethics Committee:  Committee chair Andrew Seaman and SPJ communications strategist Jennifer  Royer are working on a plan to publish, publicize and share the revised Code of Ethics. Late last week the final version went to the printers. Posters and bookmarks will be available soon.

Journalism Advocacy: SPJ issued a statement applauding the city of Tupelo, Mississippi for complying with open records laws. Though the laws have been in place since 1983, Tupelo is the first municipality in Mississippi to comply. Thanks to SPJ member and reporter Robbie Ward, staff writer for The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, for prodding the city to archive text messages and make them available to the public.

Journalism Advocacy: SPJ signed onto a letter by the American Association of Law Libraries to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Court urging them to restore electronic access to court records that were recently removed from PACER and a letter from the Reporters Committee to the DOJ for a dialogue following the media’s treatment in Ferguson.

Volunteer Outreach: Since EIJ14, I’ve been making calls to volunteers including new board members, committee chairs and community leaders to learn about their goals for the year and to thank them for their service. In addition, I have asked for a volunteer to help me support SPJ’s communities, including freelance, digital and international journalism. If you have an interest in working with me, please email me.

Board Training: Chapter coordinator Tara Puckey held the first of two sessions of board training via Skype to tell us more about our roles and responsibilities.

I’m traveling this weekend to meet with the Fort Worth Pro SPJ chapter for its annual “welcome the president” event. I will update you on this week’s highlights when I get back. Until then, thanks for your support of SPJ and journalism, and let me know how I can help.

~ Dana Neuts, SPJ President

My excellent SPJ weekend, reviving a chapter where it all began

In 2009, when SPJ celebrated its centennial at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., I was surprised to learn that we had no student chapter there.

This struck me as odd. After all, as many of you know, DePauw is where SPJ first started as the Sigma Delta Chi fraternity in 1909.

Odd, but perhaps understandable. While DePauw has produced some great journalists over the years, it does not have a stand-alone journalism department.

There are some journalism courses and the campus has a student newspaper, radio and televison station. Yet from what I’ve been able to gather, the campus has not had an SPJ chapter in nearly 15 years.

That may be about to change.

It started almost by accident.

When I started working at The Record in Bergen County, N.J. last year, I became friends with a business reporter named Andrew Tangel.

Andrew is a 2003 DePauw graduate, and one of his professors was Ernie Ford Jr., the former SPJ national president.

When Ernie died last year, Andrew and I got to talking about my hope that someday we could reestablish a chapter at DePauw.

As luck would have it, Andrew was heading back to Greencastle as in instructor in a week-long seminar at DePauw. Over lunch, I asked if he would do me a favor and talk up SPJ among the students he met.

One of those students was Chase Hall, a managing editor at the student newspaper. Chase joined SPJ and offered to talk with his fellow students about reviving the chapter.

Andrew also put me in touch with Mark Tatge, an SPJ member from Chicago who just happened to be teaching multimedia journalism at DePauw as part of a three-year visiting professorship.

Mark agreed to serve as the fledgling chapter’s faculty advisor. A plan started to come together.

Fast forward to this past weekend when — armed with a box of props from SPJ headquarters — I traveled the beautiful country roads that lead to DePauw.

With help from Mark and Chase, we held a shortened version of the original Sigma Delta Chi initiation ceremony.

We inducted 10 student members that night in Meherry Hall, the same room where Sigma Delta Chi started in 1909 with … 10 students.

The next morning, members gathered for their first organizational meeting.

I’m sure the group will face challenges in the months ahead. But I have a good feeling about these students. I think they have the ability to revive a chapter in the heart of where SPJ began.

Meanwhile, if any DePauw alumni or others would like to help with this effort, please feel free to contact Chase at

Looking back on “20 SPJ ideas” two years later

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.

SPJ launches month-long membership drive

I’m in an SPJ membership state of mind.

Tuesday marked the beginning of the SPJ membership drive.

This month-long effort is aimed at enlisting folks like yourself across the county to help grow SPJ one member at a time.

The main component of the drive is a simple one. We’re asking each and every one of our 8,000 members across the country to reach out to someone and try to convince them to join SPJ.

Think of someone within your own circle of friends, colleagues and acquaintances who has the qualities that would make for a good member our Society.

We’re looking for folks who are passionate about journalism and for whom our core values of diversity, ethics, freedom of information and training are a way of life.

How you go about doing this is entirely up to you. Do what you think will work best, whether it’s an email, a hand-written note, a phone call or conversation over a cup of coffee.

One method that has worked well for me is to invite the person you have in mind to an upcoming SPJ event. Convincing people to join is not a hard sell when they can see the kind of work SPJ does on a regular basis.

I’ve found writing a personal note is effective, particularly in an Internet-driven era when it’s nearly impossible to cut through the clutter of email.

The best argument for joining SPJ varies depending upon the person. (Some suggestions on the SPJ site.)

For some, the most compelling argument to join is the work SPJ does in promoting ethical journalism or defending journalists who are in trouble for simply doing their job.

For others, the main draw are the networking and training benefits that come with membership.

Or perhaps your best pitch is a combination of these benefits. (There are also a number of “business” benefits and other affinity services/discounts available to members.)

Try whatever works best. All I ask is that you make an effort sometime this month.

There are no prizes, gimmicks or special deals to this drive. All I can offer is my gratitude for helping make SPJ stronger by finding a few good people, one member at a time.

And a special thank you here to national Membership Committee Chairwoman Holly Edgell and her committee for making this drive happen.




Focus on membership: Highlights of April board of directors meeting

One of the pleasures of being SPJ president is the opportunity to preside over meetings with lots of intelligent discussion on large, meaningful issues.

That was the case Saturday in Indianapolis when the national SPJ board gathered for its spring meeting. We took on several big topics. Here’s a brief recap of what was discussed:

– Past president Hagit Limor briefed us on the email ballot system we will be using in September when all 8,000 SPJ members will have their first chance to directly elect officers under the one member, one vote rule we adopted last year.

We also approved a set of campaign guidelines for candidates that reaffirmed our long-standing tradition that board members should not engage in any electioneering for other candidates.

Our plan calls for a process that will enable candidates to send up to three email messages directly to members as well as a means to create candidate websites. You’ll hear more about this in the months ahead.

Much of our meeting was devoted to issues involving growing SPJ’s membership. No surprise there since that had been my emphasis this year.

-We discussed reviving our institutional membership for media organizations on a one-year trial basis. We currently have about 19 collegiate institutional members. We formerly had some newspapers join as institutions, but currently we do not have any.

The board instructed Executive Director Joe Skeel to craft a proposal later this year as well as to explore ways in which we can make SPJ’s presence felt in more newsrooms.

-We had a long discussion on the pros and cons of actively recruiting SPJ members from other countries. We also talked about whether our legal defense fund should be only for U.S. journalists or should it be a global fund.

The board didn’t take a vote on that,  although an informal show of hands indicated a majority of the board favored taking a global approach on both of these questions. This matter will come up for a vote later in the year.

-We also adopted a recommendation from Region 11 Director Teri Carnicelli, by streamlining the requirements for a new campus chapter to form. From now on, such chapters will be required to have one adviser who is an SPJ member rather than three faculty members.

-Sadly, we deactivated several pro and student chapters that we had been carrying on our membership rolls despite the lack of any recent activity. We did, however, welcome a new chapter, the Texas Panhandle Pro chapter.

-Last but not least, the board agreed to locate our 2014 Excellence in Journalism conference at the Grand Opry Hotel in Nashville, TN. I’m very excited by this selection. Nashville is a great city in which to hold a national conference.

Your national board members are a hard-working bunch. They started at 8 a.m., and except for a lunch break, kept going until 5:30 p.m. when we adjourned. I appreciate their effort and attention.

The state of SPJ – remarks to the Greater Charlotte chapter

While the SPJ Executive Committee visited with members of our Greater Charlotte chapter in North Carolina on Jan. 27, I gave a talk on the State of the Society.

Below is a copy of my remarks (although not an exact transcript.) Or watch the video, uploaded by the Charlotte chapter:

I’d like to take a moment here to share a few thoughts on the state of SPJ — on where we are and where we’re going.

First off, tonight we’ve reached another milestone in SPJ’s long and storied history. We’re celebrating the 100th anniversary of Quill, our signature magazine.

What started as a fraternity newsletter in January 1912 has evolved into an outstanding magazine that helps our members stay current with what going on in journalism and within the Society.

And think about it. How many magazines in America have survived a century or more? Well, there’s Scientific American at 167 years old and Harper’s at 162. But there aren’t a lot more, and as I like to tell our editor, Scott, we’re older than Time.

The pages of Quill tell the history of journalism in America, and later this year, we’re going tap into some of the magazine’s images to tell our history as well. SPJ member Jennifer Peebles is building an interactive timeline of significant events in SPJ history. So, watch for that.

Looking ahead in that history, I’m hoping we can increase our online version of Quill so it’s something members can turn to every day instead of six times a year.

SPJ has a long history of advocating for journalists and the public’s right to know, and this year that has certainly been true. We protested the arrests of several journalists who were wrongfully detained or arrested while covering various “Occupy” demonstrations across the county.

We’ve committed $1,000 from our Legal Defense Fund for a freelance photojournalist who was arrested while covering an Occupy Wall Street demonstration.

We’ll continue to fight these good fights and to stand with journalists who are in that often lonely place of taking fire for simply doing their jobs.

Another thing SPJ is known for is its ethics code, which some folks have called the gold standard for our industry.

Last year, we reached an important goal with the publication of the 4th edition of a textbook of ethics case studies. This year, we’re taking that a step further by writing a series of white papers on various ethics topics.

I’d urge you to take a look at these essays. They are posted on our website, They show that for us, journalism ethics is not just a textbook on a shelf, but an on-going set of values that are useful when doing our jobs every day.

SPJ is also about to do something we’ve never done before: be a landlord.

Thanks to some hard work by our Executive Director, Joe Skeel, we are on the verge of signing a lease with a global recruitment firm that wants to rent the underutilized second floor of our headquarters in Indianapolis.

This will require us to invest some funds into renovating that part of the building, but in the long run, it will create a new stream of revenue.

Now you would be right to ask: What does this have to do with journalism? Nothing really. But at time when other journalism organizations are struggling just to stay afloat, we’re doing something that will help stabilize SPJ’s finances and ensure our future.

And finally, I have some good news about SPJ’s membership.

For the first time since 2008, we are starting the year with more members than we had the year before. Not a lot — just about 200 to 300 more — but it has been that way consistently for more than two months.

Part of that increase may be due to an increase in the number of entries were seeing for our annual Mark of Excellence college journalism awards.  But I think some of the credit also goes to our membership committee, which has been reaching out to lapsed members and talking them into sticking with SPJ.

I hope you’ll help us continue to build on this small trend. I’m asking that every chapter, student and pro, do one membership-building event in the month of March.

We’re calling it our own March Membership Month. You’ll be hearing more about it in the next few weeks, and when you do, please do what you can to ensure that our Society continues to grow in the year ahead.


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