Archive for the ‘Membership’ Category

SPJ: To Infinity and Beyond

Dear SPJ Member:

If you took the time to read my memo regarding SPJ’s future, then you were among select company. It was made available to membership as part of the board materials for the April 26 SPJ Board of Directors meeting.


I’m not offended if you missed it. With 7,500 members, it’s impossible to ensure that every member receives all of our communication. Besides, many SPJ members don’t have an interest in the Society’s governance or internal issues.

But as a member of SPJ, it’s important you have an opportunity to help steer the Society.

I hope you will take the time to read the following post and share your comments below.

This is as good of a time as any to point out that the board supports the vision I outlined in the memo, as do most Sigma Delta Chi Foundation board members and several past SPJ leaders. I should also point out that the ideas in this memo aren’t mine alone. They are a culmination of comments, conversations and ideas I have heard from various SPJ leaders, members and fellow journalists over the years. I merely pulled them together.


In August, I was asked by SPJ leadership to provide my vision of where SPJ should be in 50 years. As the Executive Director, it’s my job to have one eye (if not both) on the road ahead. Truth be told, I’ve been evaluating SPJ’s role in journalism and democracy since I was hired as Quill editor in December 2004.

But it wasn’t until I became Executive Director in 2009 that my vision for SPJ began to clear a bit. This is a result of having the opportunity to listen to SPJ members, think big picture, study trends, listen to association experts and meet regularly with other journalism organization leaders.

This brought me to a few overriding – if unpleasant – realizations:

  1. During the past 20 years, SPJ has focused too much on internal matters and not enough on journalism.
  2. There isn’t a single group in the United States that is effectively serving the watchdog/advocacy role on behalf of the profession.
  3. SPJ will likely not survive as a membership association – as we define membership today.

For the purposes of this post , I am going to focus mainly on items 1 and 2. For more detailed explanation of No. 3, you can read the full memo.

I should say that I don’t see SPJ dying any time soon. We could remain on course and be just fine for the next couple of decades. But 50 years from now, if it remains on its current path, I believe SPJ will be non-existent (or most certainly irrelevant).

More importantly, if the media landscape (as it relates to democracy) doesn’t change for the better, I question if the work of journalists will make a difference.

In August, leaders asked me to evaluate “what is SPJ’s role in journalism?” The broad answer is simple: To be a leader in the industry on all fronts – advocacy, training, membership, etc.

But the more I pondered, I realized the question wasn’t broad enough.

SPJ doesn’t want to just improve journalism. Our mission is based on the belief that SPJ will strive to improve and protect democracy. We do that through journalism.

So, the real question is: How can SPJ most positively affect and protect democracy through journalism?


Since 1909, we have felt the best way to achieve this goal is through individual members. The more journalists that are exposed to our mission, the greater likelihood we would be successful in improving and protecting journalism.

For the first 75 years of SPJ, it was probably a decent approach. It works fairly well when the majority of U.S. journalists are in your ranks – as was the case up until the 1950s or 60s. It probably still works well if you have 15,000-20,000 members.  But today, no single journalism association in the U.S. has this many members. SPJ is the largest with 7,500.

Speaking of journalism associations, today there are about 60 in the United States. Nearly all are dedicated to a niche, whether it’s a beat, ethnic group, medium, etc. These groups focus primarily on their members and their narrowly focused missions, as they should. The downside, however, is that no membership association is effectively championing the causes for ALL journalists in the United States.

Journalists and the associations that support them have become fragmented. We have lost our collective voice on issues that are important to journalism and democracy: open records, open meetings, ethics and diversifying news coverage are just some examples. The list is long, and it grows by the day.

Someone must stand up and take on the role of organizing that collective voice. Someone must be keeping an eye on the big picture. I think that someone is SPJ.

Nobody is better suited for this mission. SPJ has a track record when it comes to journalism advocacy. Being a 501(c)6, we have the legal standing to lobby for legislation (many journalism associations are limited by their 501(c)3 status). We have a staff capable of managing the workload that will be required.

In my journalism utopia, SPJ carries the advocacy torch on behalf of all associations. We work to bring everyone together on all fronts, including cross pollination of training and networking. Meanwhile, our peer groups double down on what they do best: providing resources and training to their respective interest groups.

With all groups focusing on their areas of expertise, and SPJ serving a role to keep us all connected, we stand a greater chance of making a meaningful impact.

The question is, are other groups interested and willing?


The answer is a resounding “yes.” I meet regularly with executive directors of other associations, and a good chuck of our conversation centers around ways to partner. We all have the same goal: maximizing our strengths while not duplicating efforts. We often ask “how can we work together to make journalism better?”

EIJ14_Generic-VerticalThese talks will continue, and I’m confident new partnerships of all types will present themselves.

To that end, we will host a summit of leaders from various journalism associations at EIJ14. The goal is to find common ground and discover ways to work together. We want to form partnerships that don’t yet exist. Credit for this idea goes to Teresa Schmedding, president of the American Copy Editor’s Society. Her work in pulling this together speaks to the desire we all have in maximizing our collective strength.

You have probably noticed that SPJ already partners with other associations. The most obvious example is the Excellence in Journalism conference, put on jointly by SPJ and the Radio Television Digital News Association. In 2013, we welcomed the National Association of Hispanic Journalists to EIJ in Anaheim. We will do so again in 2015.

But most of you probably don’t know that SPJ also has a business agreement with both groups outside of the conference.

SPJ serves as the back-office bookkeeping firm for both RTDNA and NAHJ. We also manage NAHJ’s membership. We do this for two reasons:

1. Because we charge rates below industry standard, our partnership provides significant savings for NAHJ and RTDNA. This allows them to focus more resources on the programs and services they offer their members. Translation: more money going toward improving journalism – not association management.

2. It is an extra unrestricted revenue stream for SPJ. This provides additional money that can be used for lobbying and advocacy. Why is unrestricted revenue important? Because money that comes from donors and grants must be used for a specific purpose, e.g. usually educational programming or scholarships. Unrestricted revenue can be used for any purpose.

In a nutshell, these partnerships are a key cog that will allow SPJ to take on more of the advocacy responsibility. That’s why SPJ is taking steps now to become a unifying force. We are doing this a few different ways, all of which were discussed during the April meeting:SPJ_Come-Work-With-Us_logo

  • HIRING A COMMUNICATIONS STRATEGIST: In an effort to up our game in the advocacy realm, and to help bring other groups together, we have created a new staff position. This person will develop and implement an overall strategy for the Society’s communication efforts. In particular, this person will be proactive regarding journalism advocacy and our role in the profession and democracy.
  • ADVOCACY ENDOWMENT: President David Cuillier is working to create an endowed war chest that can be used to fund SPJ’s advocacy efforts long after we are all dead. It won’t be easy, because as a 501(c)6, contributions to SPJ aren’t tax deductible. But we march forward undeterred. SPJ must work to ensure we will always have the money to fight for press freedoms.
  • SPJ/SIGMA DELTA CHI RELATIONSHIP: Many members don’t know the SDX Foundation exists. It’s the charitable/educational arm of SPJ. It grants thousands of dollars every year to support SPJ’s training efforts. Work is under way to streamline our operations. In the short-term, it means almost nothing to members. But the idea is to let the Foundation manage all of SPJ’s training programs instead of simply issuing grants. This would allow SPJ to focus more keenly on advocacy. With each group having a clear direction, the plan is we will divide responsibilities for maximum results. Moving forward, each will operate in a more entrepreneurial spirit, instead of the status quo.Print
  • ETHICS CODE REVISION: Don’t misunderstand advocacy to mean only “government” activities. I strongly believe that SPJ must be more involved in advocating for better journalism among those producing it. And we must do a better job of explaining why credible journalism is important to the general public. In my opinion, SPJ’s Code of Ethics is one of the best tools available to do both. We must be more vocal in calling out journalism that ignores ethical standards, which can further erode the credible work thousands do every day. Furthermore, if the public better understands the difference between credible journalism and “media,” then democracy is better served.

These are just some examples of the steps SPJ is taking to reposition itself as a meaningful voice in journalism and advocacy. Moving forward, SPJ will take on more projects. We will develop more partnerships. We will evolve as necessary to accomplish our goals.

All of this will be done with one question in mind: How can SPJ most positively affect and protect democracy through journalism?

Thanks for reading,

Joe Skeel

SPJ Executive Director

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The Gift of SPJ

As the Christmas weekend draws near, I can’t help but reflect on this time last year. As a senior at my university, I still had one final semester to survive, and average college tenure does not come with a lot of extra money at hand. So rather than asking my parents for an iPod or designer clothes last Christmas, I asked them for a renewal check to continue my membership with SPJ.

Why? Because I could see the greater value in the professional resources and opportunities SPJ could provide me. As the student chapter president at Ole Miss, the experiences I gained allowed me to not only further enhance my writing skills, but also my leadership, research, graphic design and organization skills. I would need all of these attributes for my future career in public relations and media work.

But all the accomplishments during my collegiate career were minor in comparison for the plans SPJ still had in store for me. Within a month of graduating with my bachelor’s degree last May, I received a dream job offer as the Society’s communications coordinator, a post-graduate internship for media, marketing and public relations efforts.

My job has helped me strengthen my writing, marketing, social media and media relations techniques in both broad and specific ways where average internships are often very limited. I’ve discovered fun, innovative ways to expand my creative skills. SPJ has also introduced me to the wonderful culture that is Indianapolis and allowed me to travel to Las Vegas for the 2010 Convention and National Journalism Conference.

Today, I know of May 2010 journalism and PR graduates who have not found a job. Because of that, I feel blessed and I hope you take away this one lesson: We make our own opportunities in life, and when we believe in them, they often have a way of taking us further than we truly imagined. SPJ is doing that for me.

It’s been an incredible honor to serve the 8,000-strong membership of SPJ over the past few months. Thank you, members and fellow journalists, for all you do for SPJ, the profession and the public interest. Have a happy and safe holiday season.

Where will your SPJ membership take you this year?

Andrew M. Scott is the communications coordinator for SPJ Headquarters. He has been an SPJ member since 2008. Get to know Andrew more on Twitter: @PRMillennial.

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SPJ goes international: A student chapter is born in Qatar

When Richard Roth and I sat down for our Skype meet-and-greet, he was finishing his work day. I was just about to grab lunch.

There are seven hours separating Indianapolis and Qatar, but SPJ has nestled into the journalism fabric of both places now that Northwestern University in Qatar is starting up the first international student chapter.

It’s pretty exciting: They are one of the fastest-growing student chapters already, with 55 four-year members and counting.

“Going from zero to 55, you can’t do that in a Maserati,” joked Roth, who serves as senior associate dean at the NU Medill School of Journalism.

He also will serve as the Qatar chapter adviser (he has been an SPJ member since 1968) and hopes that their first meeting will be in October while school is in full-swing. Why later in the fall? Well, they’re waiting until after Ramadan, when some students fast for 15 hours a day.

His goal is to have a past SPJ president or newly elected president Hagit Limor attend their first meeting. The university even hopes to send some students to the 2011 SPJ Convention.

Something also brought up in conversation is how the journalism culture is different over there. It’s hard for students to report when people are wary of being interviewed, he said.

“Doing journalism here is a hard thing to do,” Roth said. “There’s no history here of free speech. When they go out, people don’t talk to them.”

Northwestern recently sent 12 Qatar students to New Orleans on a documentary trip. They examined the area and how it was rebuilding five years after Hurricane Katrina. One thing students noticed was that it was easy to report in the U.S., Roth said.

Students in Qatar are interested in learning about western journalism and staying connected to it, he said. To get students revved up about starting a chapter, he visited journalism classes and spoke about SPJ, saying that the organization began with students 100 years ago and that if NU Qatar students were interested, they should continue on with the tradition.

And an international chapter is no doubt going to add different perspectives to SPJ. They have students from Palestine, Sudan, South Africa, Egypt, India and Saudi Arabia, to name a few places.

“This is probably the most diverse student body you can imagine,” Roth said.

Since its creation, the chapter has had to deal with small challenges because of its long-distance relationship with SPJ, such as converting Qatari riyals to U.S. dollars and delivering checks from around the world, Roth said.

In two years, their first group of journalism students will graduate (the Qatari journalism program is two years old). Ten years from now, they hope to change the media landscape in Qatar.

And SPJ will be a part of that mission.

“So far, everyone has jumped to fill out the paperwork,” Roth said, “and I hope it continues that way.”

April Dudash is the summer 2010 Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern and does the bidding of SPJ Headquarters. She graduated from the University of Florida in May and has been an SPJ member since 2006.

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Clarifying questions from a recent membership mailing

20/20 isn’t just an ABC News program. It has something to do with hindsight, and perhaps it’s applicable here.

We’ve received some constructive feedback and questions about a recent membership mailing sent to past SPJ members whose memberships had lapsed. The purpose of this mailing, paid for by a generous individual donor, was to tout SPJ’s efforts and encourage past members to rejoin. In this capacity, it was part of a membership campaign, not strictly a fundraising letter in the traditional sense of the term. (Rather, a fundraising appeal would more appropriately come from the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation, SPJ’s associated 501(c)(3) educational foundation, contributions to which are tax deductible.)

Click to enlarge

The feedback has not been against the idea of the mailing, but rather a perceived omission. The card included a box that people could check if they wished to rejoin, along with preferred contact information. People could then detach the information, seal it and send back to us. We would then follow up with a phone call about SPJ membership.

However, there was no price for membership listed (though there is the option to donate a specified amount without becoming an actual member, for those who support our mission but don’t wish to formally join).

This omission of membership prices may have been taken at best as a glaring oversight, and we thank those who contacted us and expressed concern. However, the omission was intended and practical for several reasons. Specifically:

1)      SPJ has several individual membership categories: student, post-graduate, professional, associate, retired. With space limitations, we decided not to list all of them and their corresponding category definitions and yearly dues structure. Click here to see that information at

2)      We honestly hoped that if you indicated a desire to rejoin and sent back the information card, it would spur a personal contact that is somewhat lacking in this age of text messages and smart phones (not that there’s anything wrong with those technologies). Thus, after receiving your card, we would call you, discuss SPJ membership and why it would help you, and talk about the industry, the profession and your desire to join SPJ.

In hindsight, that great 20/20 equalizer that everyone experiences with amazing clarity at some point, we should have mentioned this idea to call you and discuss SPJ membership (including dues) in greater depth. For that, and for any confusion, we apologize.

And to all who gave feedback: Thanks for letting us know. And thanks for reading your mail!


Joe Skeel

Executive Director

Society of Professional Journalists

Sigma Delta Chi Foundation

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