How it happens

It’s been done before: ACES

ACES was once an acronym for the American Copy Editing Society. Now it’s just ACES, much like KFC is no longer Kentucky Fried Chicken. ACES calls itself “the society for editing.”

ACES President Neil Holdway is a traditional copyeditor in Chicago. He was treasurer when ACES made this change right after the Great Recession. At first, he didn’t want to.

“But during the recession, our membership got down to 800,” Holdway says. “Then it got down to 650. We were losing a ton of money. Then we realized there are all the kinds of editors out there. So we let them in.”

It wasn’t a popular move at first.

“The only resistance we got was from old school news people. Eventually there were not enough of those,” recalls Holdway, deputy managing editor for the Daily Tribune outside Chicago. “There was some journalism snobbery going on. We just had to get over it.”

Today, traditional copyeditors represent 10% of ACES membership. Who are the other 90%?

“We have editors editing all kinds of stuff,” Holdway says. “Insurance policies to trade magazines, recipe cards to museum programs. Freelance and corporate communications are our biggest categories.”

Broadening membership was as simple as a bylaws change. Before expanding its membership, ACES old bylaws defined membership like this…

Working copy editors, news editors and wire editors at newspapers, magazines, wire services and online news services of general distribution and serious journalistic purpose; managers in such news organizations with copy desk backgrounds; teachers of editing; and retirees from these categories.

ACES new bylaws simplified this…

Working editors; managers with an editing background; teachers of editing; and retirees from these categories.

Now ACES has a membership of 5,500 – more than SPJ. But unlike SPJ, ACES is still growing.

Old excuses for a new name: RTDNA

When SPJ debated a name change a decade ago, a big obstacle was the purported cost. But a new name is as easy as DBA. That’s “doing business as.”

It’s a legal document that’s cheap and easy to fill out. Back in 2013, we asked Mike Cavender about it. He was executive director of RTDNA, which stands for the Radio Television Digital News Association.

Four years earlier, it was RTNDA – the Radio-Television News Directors Association.

Cavender, who had previously served as chairman of the RTNDA board, helped lead the name change.

“We’re the Radio and Television News Directors Association dba RTDNA,” he says. “Many companies out there are DBAs, and their real corporate names are totally different. You just never see it. It’s totally acceptable and totally legal.”

And totally easy and totally cheap: “You got everything from stationery to the website that’s gotta be changed.” Cavender said the whole thing cost a couple thousand dollars. It was worth it, he said, because it kicked off a new mission…

“We have become, over the last few years, far more inclusive in terms of members who are reporters and multimedia journalists. Did our name change have anything to do with that? Maybe, maybe not. But we’ve been able to communicate that we’re more inclusive.”

Today, RTDNA is thriving. How do we know? Because the current executive director is Tara Puckey, who was SPJ’s associate executive director as SPJ’s membership plummeted.

RTDNA’s conventions are now profitable and full, while SPJ is considering a virtual convention every other year because it has no confidence and not enough cash to host them in person.

Bylaws and delegates: SPJ

Because SPJ is more arcane and bureaucratic than either ACES or RTDNA, it will require more effort to make the same changes.

SPJ has delegates who act as the organization’s Congress – and both function with equal effectiveness. So those delegates will need to approve new SPJ bylaws that will expand its membership and mission.

It’s a extra step, but it’s not an insurmountable hurdle.