A Whirlwind of Activity at EIJ11 in New Orleans!

National conventions are one of my favorite parts about being an SPJ board member and Region 6 director.  I recently returned from the first Excellence in Journalism convention in New Orleans, the first joint convention with SPJ and RTDNA.  It was a smashing success with more than 1,300 journalists from across the country gathering for three days of professional development sessions, workshops, panels, and guest speakers.

We also held our fall SPJ board and business meetings at the EIJ convention.  We installed several new officers, including John Ensslin, who will serve as SPJ president in 2011-2012.  He is an excellent guy and I trust he will lead SPJ to the best of his ability.

Several big developments came out of the SPJ board and business meetings.  Here are some of the big ones:

These first two changes are directed towards all members of SPJ:

1. The SPJ board approved a nominal membership dues increase, effective January 1, 2012.

Here are the new prices:

-Pro Members: $75/year ($3 increase)
-Retired: $37.50/year ($1.50 increase)
-Household: $37.50/year ($1.50 increase)
-Post-Graduate: $37.50/year ($1.50 increase)
-Student: $37.50/year ($1.50 increase)
-Associate: $94/year ($4 increase)

This is the first time SPJ has increased dues in nearly a decade.  SPJ board members felt it was necessary to maintain the overall financial health of the organization and so it can continue to provide the programs and services you come to expect as an SPJ member.  Membership dues are the only stable source of income for SPJ and this modest increase will help prevent a more drastic increase in the future.

Read more about the dues increase on the SPJ website.

2. Every member of SPJ will now be able to vote for national board officers.

At the convention, the SPJ delegates approved a “one member, one vote” system to elect national board officers.  In the past, officers were elected by the delegates, which are sent to the convention by chapters in good standing with SPJ.  Chapters are awarded delegates based on the number of members they have.  Typically, the number of delegates that attended the convention and voted for officers was a very small percentage of the overall SPJ membership.  Supporters of the “one member, one vote” change say the new system will enfranchise members who normally wouldn’t have a say in voting for officers, such as members who don’t belong to a chapter or members whose chapter can’t afford to send delegates to the convention.

So how will the new system work?  That is still being worked on, but it looks like it will be an online voting system that will be open during the national convention.  There will also likely be changes to when candidates must file to run and how those candidates will get their message across to SPJ members.  Watch for more details over the course of the year.

The next change affects leaders of SPJ chapters, both professional and student:

3. Chapters will no longer be evaluated on a star-ranking system.

For the past several years, SPJ used a star-ranking system to evaluate which chapters were doing well, which chapters needed help, and which ones should be eliminated.  The stars went from one star (weakest chapters) to four stars (strongest chapters) and were based on criteria such as number of programs held, attendance at regional and national conventions, efforts to increase membership and communicate effectively with chapter members, and filing the annual report on time.  Chapters that were in good standing were awarded with delegates, discounts on national convention registration, and the chance to apply for awards and grants from SPJ.  Those ranking were handed out as directors at-large evaluated chapter reports, done in spring.

This past year exposed several weaknesses with the system.  Several chapters that were small in membership but still did several programs throughout the year were punished with a lower star ranking.  In some instances, chapters that re-started after the national SPJ board meetings in fall 2010 were awarded fewer stars because they didn’t attend that national convention.  And it didn’t help that computer glitches caused some chapter reports to arrive incomplete to headquarters.  In the past year, several regional directors and chapter leaders expressed frustration with the system, saying it did more to punish chapters than help and/or reward them.

So the national board voted in New Orleans to get rid of the star system and replace with a simplified pass/fail system.  The new system will work as follows, for both professional and student chapters:

-Chapters must file an annual report and complete a review of the chapter’s finances by the deadline (60 days out from the start of the SPJ national convention).

-Chapters must complete at least three programs that support the mission of SPJ (diversity, FOI, ethics, professional development) in the reporting year.  The programs must involve a number of chapter members and engage the broader journalism community in the chapter’s geographic territory.  A board meeting does not qualify as one of the three programs.

-Chapters must send representatives to the regional conference or the national convention.  A chapter must seek a waiver from the regional director if it cannot send a representative to either the regional conference or the national convention.

A chapter will be considered in good standing if it meets and/or exceeds these requirements.  The board encourages chapters to go above and beyond the minimum requirements in order to keep its members engaged in SPJ.

If a chapter does not file an annual report for three consecutive years, the board may decide to revoke the chapter’s charter and declare it inactive.

Hopefully, this will simplify the requirements for chapters to be in good standing with the national organization.  As we go throughout the year, please let me know if you have any questions about the new evaluation system.

The final change affects the process of creating a new chapter:

4. The “provisional status” period for starting a new professional or campus chapter has been eliminated.

In the past, chapters that were just starting out were granted “provisional” status for one year.  They operated like active chapters but were not granted a charter for one year in order for them to prove they could meet the requirements necessary to be a chapter.  Some felt like this acted as “red tape” on the way to becoming an active chapter.

Now, if there is interest in starting a student, professional, or satellite chapter, the board can approve them for “active” status right away.  The board will still review new chapter requests at the spring and fall board meetings.  But the goal is to make this whole process of starting a chapter easier.

There’s a lot to digest here, so if you have any questions about the decision of the SPJ board or delegates, feel free to email me at spjregion6@gmail.com, send me a Tweet (@spjregion6), or post on the SPJ Region 6 Facebook page.



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