Professional groups explore new approaches to attract journalists despite cuts
By Mary Kenney
The Working Press
Journalists at all levels have been told to run for the hills or, at least, for graduate school, given the volatile state of the industry in recent years.
Membership in many national organizations reflects the turbulent industry landscape, as their fortunes too have sputtered.
The Asian American Journalists Association membership numbers have hovered around 1,500 for the last few years, said Executive Director
In September 2010, 1,557 members were registered, but the group dropped to 1,461 in 2011, a decline of 6 percent. Membership grew by 18 percent to 1,719 this year because of the Unity Convention in Las Vegas. The group’s membership spikes each time AAJA attends Unity, where it joins other minority journalists groups every four years for a convention. She expects membership to drop to about 1,500 again next year.
At SPJ, membership dropped to about 7,000 in 2008. Membership has had a “slow, steady, minuscule incline” since then to about 8,000 in 2012, said Joe Skeel, executive director of the Society of Professional Journalists.
Skeel, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for the SPJ convention, was unable to provide specific membership numbers, which he said were in his office in
“As media companies tightened their belt and eliminated some positions, journalists had to keep what money they had,” Skeel said of the 2008 plummet.
Many journalists left both SPJ and the field after the big scare in 2008 about the future of the industry, Skeel said. This has slowly changed during the last four years.
“Even though that’s still the case, I think that initial fear has somewhat passed,” Skeel said.
Membership in the National Association of Hispanic Journalists fell to 1,403 in September, down from nearly 2,300 in 2008. Consolidation among news outlets and staff layoffs have made it harder to retain members, said Interim NAHJ Executive Director Anna Lopez.
The National Association of Black Journalists — the largest of the nation’s minority journalism groups — is struggling to recover from a steep decline in membership, which reached some 5,000 people in 2005. It has since dropped significantly.
As of 2012, membership stood at 3,539, said NABJ President Gregory Lee. Observers say membership has not been helped by the troubled economy and the group’s decision last year to pull out of Unity.
Compared to numbers throughout the organization’s long history, NABJ’s membership in the late 2000s has been low, said John Yearwood, former treasurer for NABJ and Unity, and world editor at The Miami Herald.
NABJ, like all national journalism organizations, had to cut staff as members left and major media organizations pulled funding, Yearwood said. NABJ cut staff in 2006 and 2007, and staff remains much lower than it was in the early 2000s, he added.
The solution to low membership numbers is to reach out to an international audience as well as be creative in searches for funding, Yearwood continued. In the past, organizations like NABJ relied too heavily on major media for funding, he said.
Aaron Edwards, a recent graduate of Ithaca College in New York, is an example of the recruitment challenges facing journalism groups.
He said he’ll remain in NABJ, for example, if he can balance his finances, since his dues have more than doubled now that he is no longer a student.
Journalism organizations have also been challenged to provide their members with technological training and new strategies to keep pace with the changes in the industry.
Samantha Kubota compared the Excellence in Journalism gathering to the Online News Association convention she attended last year in Boston. ONA is new in the field, so enthusiasm is higher there than in SPJ and the Radio Television Digital News Association, she said.
“It’s a marked difference,” Kubota said.
She said she attended the convention workshop about social media that presented very obvious information.
Still, she doesn’t believe the lack of enthusiasm she sees for online news at SPJ and RTDNA will affect their membership, as both groups are well-established organizations devoted to the principles of good journalism rather than new technology, she said.