Musician turned nonprofiteer delivers the SPJ dish
Hi there. I think it’s about time I introduce myself. I’m Abby Henkel, the communications coordinator here at SPJ HQ. Maybe you have read some of the newsletters, tweets and press releases I have written, raising important questions in your mind, such as, “What’s for dinner?”
I can’t answer that — though I suggest something with kale — but I can tell you a little about what it’s been like as an outsider to journalism working for journalists far and wide.
Hailing from Indianapolis with a BA in music from Earlham College (rah rah, Hustlin’ Quakers!) and an MA in Arts Administration from Indiana University, I wasn’t the most likely candidate for this position. However, I was interested in SPJ because I studied non-profits, I wanted more communications experience from an organization that knows how to communicate, and I have a deep interest in news and the people who bring it to me.
I think most non-profit employees and volunteers get into the sector because they want to support a cause that speaks to them. So here I am, back in Indianapolis and writing communications for the 8,000 members of SPJ and all of our adoring fans.
What I planned to get out of my year at SPJ — this position is a one-year, paid internship-type gig — was a greater understanding of how to create effective non-profit communications and marketing. Yes, I’ve done a lot of that.
Truly, though, what’s been the biggest change for me is that after nearly five months at HQ and one huge convention in New Orleans, my appreciation for journalists and the hurdles they face every day has grown significantly. I knew that most reporters work long hours for little recognition and even less pay (kindred spirits with musicians!), but now I think I can appreciate the risks they take every day.
I’m not just talking about the threats to their life and freedom of the press at home and abroad. I never thought about what kind of personal sacrifices reporters and their families must make just to uncover the truth and share it with a knowledge-hungry public. As I begin to settle down in my own life, I realize that every hour I spend on my work or volunteerism is an hour less with the people I care about most. Reporters make this sacrifice at a young age, understanding in journalism school that they will spend their lives working for the common good but must accept the toll it will take on the family and friends who also depend on them. It’s worth the sacrifice, but it’s not easy.
It’s also not easy to write for 8,000 journalists who have mastered grammar, AP style and the elusive skill of succinct writing. But it’s good for me, and I hope I’m good for the members of SPJ. I look forward to the rest of my time here and the chance to have a positive effect on the people who probably don’t realize how much they’ve already done for me.
– Abby Henkel
Abby Henkel is SPJ’s communications coordinator and a 2011 graduate of Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs master’s program. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.