If we don’t get better at talking to young people, they’ll turn to other groups
I’ve been involved with SPJ since college. But it wasn’t because of anything the national organization did.
Instead, it was hands-on programs hosted by my local chapter that earned my loyalty and trust. I learned how to write obituaries at a funeral parlor and cover my city’s Muslim community at a mosque while eating falafel. I trained my community with a Fake News Game Show and taught college journalists how to interview zombies.
SPJ has an opportunity to meet young reporters and student journalists where they’re at — by joining them on both the frontlines and picket lines.
For too long, the organization has refused to draw lines in the sand or speak out on topics that matter to our members (and potential members) under the guise of not wanting to ruffle feathers. SPJ is hemorrhaging members at the same time newsrooms are laying off journalists.
We need to offer actual support — not waived membership rates — to prove our group is the best for supporting those in the field.
That means offering more than solidarity for journalists who are fighting corporate leadership for fair wages and contracts. Instead, let’s offer strike funds and legal defense access to negotiating units.
It means partnering with experts at LGBTQ+ and other marginalized resource groups to ensure news in 2023 looks how it should.
It means supporting digital content creators, social media strategists, and SEO specialists — because all of those roles make journalism what it is today.
Our group works so hard to please everyone that we end up serving no one. This group of people wants to change that.
Current SPJ offices: SPJ national at-large director (2021-present), SPJ Florida past president
Previous SPJ experience: 2020 SPJ Howard Dubin Award recipient, SPJ Florida President (2019-2021), Executive Director Search Committee Member (2017), Community Coordinator (2016)
Work experience: South Florida Sun Sentinel Community News Reporter (2017-2018), South Florida Gay News Digital Content Director (2018), The Florida Times-Union Education Reporter (2018-2022), Freelance contributor for Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Whalebone Magazine, The Daily Beast and more (ongoing), Philadelphia Inquirer National Reporter (2022-present)
If something doesn’t change, you will outlive SPJ
In 2019, I ran for SPJ president – not to win, but just to get that three-minute campaign speech in front of the delegates. I wanted a captive audience at the convention in San Antonio.
Here’s video evidence of what I said…
When I was first elected to this board in 2008, SPJ had exactly 9,650 members. Do you know how many we have today? Less than 5,800. We’re losing a member a day. So let’s do some data journalism…
- Since the Mediapocalypse, SPJ has lost 37% of its members.
- The Pew Research Center says newsrooms have lost 28% of their employees.
- Even in its heyday, SPJ never represented more than 6-9% of all journalists out there.
Just to stop our membership slide, we need to double that last number. Which is something we’ve never done before. So how are we gonna do that now? The answer is, we’re not.
And we haven’t.
SPJ now has less than 4,000 members. That won’t get better – because newspapers aren’t growing, and neither are j-schools.
Even if we could survive our nosediving membership, how effective would we be? With so few members, how can we persuasively lobby lawmakers? How influential is our Code of Ethics? How powerful are our statements?
We will expand or expire. Since proposing the name change exactly a decade ago, I’ve waited for something else to work. Nothing has. We no longer have time to wait.
Current SPJ offices: Region 3 director, SPJ Florida president
Previous SPJ experience: University of Florida chapter president (1988), national at-large director (2008-10), Florida president (2011), Region 3 director (2011-2019), Executive Committee member (2019). Also served multiple terms on Membership and Awards committees.
Work experience: Athens Daily News reporter (1989-90), Sun Sentinel reporter (1990-92), iCE Magazine editor and publisher (1992-94), XS Magazine A&E editor (1994-97), Palm Beach Free Press editor (1998-00), FAU University Press adviser (1998-2010), Jazziz Magazine associate editor and managing editor (2000-08), Globe, Star, National Enquirer copyeditor/designer (2002-09), Money Talks News editor (2010-12), Lifestyle Magazine Group editor (2012-13), Debt.com editor in chief (2013-present).
Nicole DeCriscio Bowe
SPJ’s challenges aren’t new, but our solution needs to be
Earlier this year, a current board member and I spent three days looking at SPJ’s archive collection housed at DePauw University. Near the end of the second day, I stumbled across a folder with the word “fundraising” on it. In it was a report from October 1983.
I expected a report from 40 years ago to be dated and not at all useful, but the conclusions of the study were eerily similar to the challenges SPJ faces today.
Those conclusions include:
- SPJ does not offer the practicing journalist enough in the way of program and communication to make them better professionals through their membership.
- SPJ tries to be the jack of all trades, master of none. “Its efforts have been so broadly based that it has not sought a leadership role in areas where it could have taken the helm quite literally.”
- SPJ members cannot be seen as a major source of gift support.
- SPJ doesn’t articulate how they differentiate what it does from what other journalism organizations do.
- SPJ neglects planning, leading to the organization being reactionary to immediate need.
- SPJ “has particular strength at the grassroots level” which forms its image and makes SPJ “known more for what is going on in a number of cities and areas than for its national programs.”
- SPJ is not very good at internal or external self promotion.
And, for those that know SPJ history, by 1990 SPJ was facing serious financial issues and moved its headquarters to Greencastle, Indiana, as a cost-cutting measure.
While it isn’t feasible to follow through with the programming recommendations from 40 years ago during a new budget crisis, the messaging and some of the answers are the same: We need to focus and be intentional in doing what we do well – ethics, FOIA and addressing threats to press freedom.
We can’t survive being the Swiss army knife of the journalism industry. We can’t be all things to all journalists. But we can accomplish the mission set forth nearly 115 years ago from our founding members: to fight for a free press and to promote ethical journalism.
To further quote that same fundraising study…
What remains is to ask [chapter leaders] and others to rededicate themselves and to contribute their energy in an important new direction… Decisions made now with confidence and assertion will demonstrate amply that those who will have the most to gain are also those who are willing to step forward to lead and to help assure success.
Current SPJ office: Region 5 coordinator
Previous SPJ experience: Region 5 Assistant Coordinator (2020-2022), Future Leaders Academy Participant (2022), Future Leaders Academy Volunteer (2023), Student Leadership Institute Coach (2021), Generation J Community Chair (2016-2018). Also served multiple terms on the Membership committee.
Work experience: Salt Lake Tribune Intern (2013), The Reporter-Times and The Mooresville-Decatur Times general assignment reporter (2016-17), AIM Media Indiana copy editor and paginator (2017), The Spencer Evening World general assignment reporter (2017-19), freelance reporter (2020-present), founder and board president of The Owen News Project/The Owen News (2022-present).
Let’s do more for college journalists – and their readers
College student-athletes and athletic personnel need media literacy, and they need media training. Not only do many have access to more cash than they have ever seen, many now are dealing with reporters which comes with notoriety. SPJ should be there to explain 1) why college journalism is important and 2) why institutions of higher education should ease the process of reporting on campus. Issues like this one in California should be few and far in-between.
Journalists don’t bite, and they serve a vital purpose in communities nationwide. But how? SPJ should be loudly beating the drum about why journalism and the skills therein are important. That means the library, the local community college, and the nearest hospital system (for example) should all have a way to understand where and how reporting interacts with their jobs. Right now, reporters spend too much time dealing with other reporters instead of making a pitch to the community about why their work matters.
Current SPJ office: SPJ Florida vice president (2023)
Previous SPJ experience: SPJ Florida director (2022)
Work experience: South Florida Sun Sentinel GA reporter (2015), Chalkbeat education reporter (2016), Virginia Gazette higher education reporter (2016-17), Florida State University academic adviser (2020-21), Florida Atlantic University assistant director of student media (2021-23)