By Samantha Bennett
I joined representatives of other groups at the Council of National Journalism Organizations’ winter meeting in February, and everyone was asking pretty much the same question: How can we help our members and keep our organizations viable in the face of industry setbacks and this miserable recession?
Some of the ideas presented are ones the NSNC board has considered before, and others were ideas that other organizations have adopted with success. There’s a lot for our board and our members to consider as we move forward and look for ways to grow and adapt.
For example, we may need to put a few carefully guarded doors in our ethical walls to allow access and bring in funding. A membership category for sponsors and vendors could be added with higher dues, higher conference fees and perhaps a limited voice on the board. The incentive to vendors would be controlled access to our membership list and newsletter, as well as the chance to establish a relationship with potential customers. Most organizations that do this don’t allow access to e-mail (we all get bombarded enough), and the whole proposition would require strong board supervision and the establishment of an ethics committee that would maintain lines between information and sales – and limit the stream of press releases. If the idea of a new membership category doesn’t feel quite right, maybe one-time deals like $500 for a single ad or PR e-mail blast would work. Members could opt out, but depending on who our vendors turn out to be, you might actually be interested in hearing about their special offers or new products and services.
Other ideas are member benefit programs or discount cards, ramping up the advocacy that people join professional organizations to enjoy, or even a name change. NSNC is not just national but international, really, and maybe the day is coming, in the increasingly digital world, to drop the word “newspaper.” International Columnists Society? North American Society of Columnists? International House of Opinion? (Kidding.) Perhaps we need a new-name contest.
We already have a scholarship contest and our Education Foundation, but there’s probably more we could be doing for students. Regional contests and scholarships, an internship database, student chapters at big universities and J-schools that would attract their own speakers, in-house interns to work on our Web site, newsletter and conferences and some kind of mentor program are all ways to ensure our craft – and our organization — has a vibrant future.
Given the reality of what’s happening to our members, this may be the time to consider a hardship (unemployment) membership discount, which would allow laid-off columnists to continue to belong at deeply reduced dues.
To provide added value to members between conferences, we could partner with Poynter and its NewsU. arm to conduct webinars. NewsU. already offers courses in media literacy (we could help explain the difference between news and opinion to the public) and online learning about software (we could learn how to use cool apps to further and diversify our own careers) – if we partner with NewsU., we could offer discounts for members. Poynter hosts live chats on its Web site, so if you write a book, make a movie or break a big story, they could host a chat to publicize it.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing more ideas from the CNJO meeting with board members, and we’ll be discussing which ones might work for NSNC and how we can make them most beneficial for our members. We’ll talk about this at our general membership meeting in Ventura on Sunday, June 28.
As always, I want to encourage you all to get involved. This is your society, and we want the organization to work for everyone. In these difficult times, journalism groups are having to rethink everything to find a new way forward. The public needs journalists more than ever. We want to be there for them, so NSNC is pursuing ways to be there for us.