While all of us were disappointed to spend four days on Zoom instead of in New Orleans, the SPJ national conference was filled with a lot of incredibly useful information and workshops.
Reports indicate overall that SPJ membership is down, but the biggest losses have been in student chapters. That doesn’t necessarily mean there are fewer students studying journalism, but that fewer are opting to join student chapters – and those chapters may not be recruiting as they once did. That is definitely a conversation we should have, as encouraging students to participate in SPJ and enjoy the benefits of our career development and networking should be part of our mission.
Otherwise, the organization’s finances are (at least to me) surprisingly healthy for a trade organization in the middle of a pandemic. Full copies of these reports are available on SPJ.org and I can provide additional information if you wish.
However, engagement was much lower than I expected for our region. Region 7 includes five states, and I was the only person to show up for our regional meeting. I was looking forward to stealing – er, sharing – ideas for member engagement and programming with my fellow chapter presidents. I was later invited to another region’s meeting, and was happy to chat with them. But it is my hope that I will be able to have more of these conversations going forward, and that we will hear from our own members and our partners with other journalism organizations on ideas for programs and services we can provide.
In the election, Region 7 has elected Jason Edwards of Wichita as our regional coordinator. Edwards and I have had a few messages back and forth and I look forward to working with him as we go forward.
The Society also elected Claire Regan as president-elect, Ivette Davila-Richards as secretary-treasurer and elected Emily Bloch and Daniela Ivarra as at-large board members.
I should note that while there was much discussion in the weeks leading up to the conference about the election, given some controversial matters pending before the delegates. However, only 19 people in all of Region 7 voted. It’s always my hope that as journalists, we would have a greater participation in a democratic process than the general public. I know it’s easy to forget about these things, especially when the election takes place over a holiday weekend (which I hear is not going to be the case in the future), but I urge you as members of SPJ to let your voice be heard in the governance of the Society and helping to direct our leaders in our advocacy and services.
Among the amazing workshops and panel discussions were:
- Practical workshops on digital reporting and editing tools, Google Tools, Facebook, video storytelling, finding better sources, data journalism, public records, campus podcasts, investigative reporting, pandemic reporting, and cybersecurity;
- A strong emphasis on journalists’ safety, with panels on covering protests with situational awareness, safety in physical and virtual worlds, legal coverage (or not) on journalists out in the field;
- Significant attention to diversity, with panels on diversifying voices in the newsroom and in our coverage, empowering students in college newsrooms, and getting women into news management;
- At least five sessions on freelancing, including the usual 101, connecting freelancers with editors (along with a massive pitch sheet!), online tools and apps for freelance business management and productivity, breaking into national media, and pitching your stories;
- Helpful workshops for educators, including how to transition from the newsroom to the classroom, managing mental health matters as an educator, creating more inclusive classrooms, and helping students find internships;
- A growing discussion on mental health and trauma, both for the professional newsroom and student journalists. Discussions included prioritizing mental health particularly in the pandemic, and the particular risks faced by broadcast and photojournalists;
- And of course, paying close attention to our role as advocates for the First Amendment and our profession. It’s worth pointing out that SPJ’s advocacy was largely responsible for the creation of the Freedom of Information Act more than 50 years ago, and SPJ continues to push for protections for journalists and journalism today. Panels included how to advocate as a chapter and when you cross the line into lobbying, fighting extremism and disinformation, unionization of newsrooms, censorship as practiced by public information officers, the future of nonprofit news, newspapers’ addressing problematic histories on race and much, much more.
I’ve skipped over much of the internal discussion regarding governance and structure within the organization, because I imagine it’s not all that interesting unless you’re personally invested in helping to run SPJ. Naturally I’m happy to discuss all those conversations with anyone who’s really interested.
I am always amazed at the incredible value of this conference for professional development, and I would encourage any journalist – particularly young people and those looking to change or grow their careers – to consider attending. Next year’s conference will take place Oct. 27-30 in Washington, D.C. – and hopefully actually happens in person this time! Do consider it as you plan your professional development next year.
As always, I am honored to represent St. Louis to this conference every year, and appreciate the support from the chapter members and board. Here’s hoping for another strong year for SPJ, nationally and here in St. Louis.