To broaden its mission, SPJ must do fewer things better.
The new SPJ doesn’t need to do more than the old SPJ. It needs to do less.
Right now, SPJ is like Denny’s. When you sell everything from pancakes to spaghetti, you’re not doing any of it very well. When was the last time you went to Denny’s on purpose?
SPJ has so many programs, it forgets to put them all on the menu. For example, the First Amendment Forever Fund was created in 2016 as ” a permanent endowment for press advocacy.” In April of that year, it led the SPJ newsletter and was featured on SPJ’s homepage. A year later, it sunk into oblivion, and to this day, it has announced no grant recipients. In fact, the national board is still investigating how much money is in this fund – and where it is.
If we split these forgotten programs between those that train journalists and those that educate the public, we can choose the best in each category. Then we can laser-focus and kick ass.
Expanding SPJ’s membership doesn’t mean abandoning working journalists. It means trying less and accomplishing more.
For example, there’s the Legal Defense Fund. It can award up to $5,000 immediately and much more in a few weeks. Yet according to its own list of accomplishments, the LDF hasn’t given a grant in three years. No one applies for money because they don’t know it exists. It’s not on the homepage.
SPJ also has two hotlines for journalists. One for ethics questions, the other for race and gender questions. Both are excellent, but good luck finding out how many calls they receive, or reading any testimonials from satisfied customers.
These are SPJ’s most hands-on, results-oriented, no-one-else-offers programs. Let’s promote them to every journalist who’s not a member – and to members who don’t know or recall they exist.
Let’s contact journalists facing oppressive lawsuits and ask them to apply for the LDF. Let’s advertise our hotlines to pro and student news outlets. Let’s make the Journalist’s Toolbox a newsroom name, if not a household name.
Then there are the proven successes run by SPJers outside of HQ:
- The ReNews Project, which revives dormant student newspapers on HBCU and HSI campuses, is currently SPJ’s only national diversity program.
- Press the Flesh is a lobbying program that FOI chairs Paul Fletcher and Haisten Willis both wanted to bring to SPJ National, but it never happened. Right now, SPJ offers no lobbying support. Yet it’s one of our core missions.
If we commit ourselves to these programs – and at first, only these programs – we’ll finally be able to answer the confounding question, “What does SPJ do for journalists?”
Educating the public
Some of SPJ’s best programs aren’t aimed at journalists at all. They’re aimed at the journalism-consuming public. The problem is, they’re not properly listed and promoted. In fact, most have been forgotten:
- Leak Seeker – “In an effort to encourage leakers to share their information with reputable news organizations, the Society of Professional Journalists will keep an updated list of newsrooms offering those services.” Sadly, it’s never been updated or promoted.
- Press4Education – “SPJ and the Journalism Education Association are looking to match journalists and K-12 teachers in a nationwide effort to bring more journalism education to schools.” For a couple years, especially under Well Key recipient Rebecca Tallent’s leadership, this was an active program. It stopped when she retired.
- Sunshine Award – “The Sunshine Award recognizes individuals and groups for making important contributions in the area of open government… Nominations are not limited to journalists.” What a great opportunity to do something positive for journalism defenders.
- High School Essay Contest – “National winners of this essay contest receive scholarship awards.” Yet we don’t profile or promote these winners.
SPJ can broaden its mission without creating new work. We simply need to refocus on existing programs for the general public.