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Home > Publications > Quill > From the President

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Thursday, June 19, 2014
From the President

Expand your network through new SPJ communities

By David Cuillier

Now, more than ever, every journalist should have a “Plan B.”

Journalism is not dead or dying, and there are amazing opportunities out there; but clearly the industry is a little more fluid today than it used to be. It’s crucial to develop a network to spring to a new opportunity if the need comes up.

We are here to help.

This year, SPJ is starting a new structural form, called “communities.” Think of them as thematic chapters, where members with a specific area of interest can share tips, job opportunities, gripes and hopes. On April 26, the SPJ Board officially recognized the first community, for freelancers, and it is moving ahead.


Communities are new groups within SPJ that are focused on a specific theme, such as job type (e.g. freelance), beat (e.g. science writing), or other affiliation where people would want to share tips and network.

Communities provide opportunities for hundreds or thousands of members to participate and connect. Communities can operate like traditional geographic chapters — they may elect officers, charge chapter dues, open bank accounts and provide programming/training for their areas of interest. The difference is they don’t have delegates or board representation (at least not yet) because the members already are represented through their geographic chapters and regions. An SPJ member can sign up for multiple communities.

These are not the same as committees, which generally comprise a dozen people tasked with projects by the president. Committees work well for our core missions, such as FOI, ethics and diversity, as well as a specific, ad-hoc task, such as examining the name-change idea. Communities are something else.

The idea of communities first emerged three years ago under John Ensslin’s presidential term, where he assigned a group to examine the idea of “virtual chapters.” Nearly half of our members are unaffiliated with traditional geographic chapters, and the thinking was that maybe virtual chapters would serve those who are floating free. Also discussed was the idea of starting chapters based on themes, such as beats (e.g. government reporters).

It’s similar to practices of other organizations, such as the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication and the American Bar Association. The AEJMC has two dozen divisions based on thematic interests. I’m a member and former head of the Law & Policy Division, and I am a member of several other divisions. I pay a little extra in dues for each division. We get a newsletter, have volunteer officers, provide tips/resources online for division members and have a say in conference programming.


Michael Fitzgerald, chairman of the Freelance Committee, led the way toward morphing his committee into a community. It’s perfect for what we want to accomplish.

Freelancers are a fast-growing segment in journalism, and they have relatively few resources and association opportunities. They appreciate training and networking. We can do that.

Fitzgerald is working to launch the Freelance Community this summer. He is working on a yet-to-be-launched website (beta: spj.org/confreelance.asp) that will allow people to sign up and take advantage of resources, such as the freelance guide. The group might offer webinars, but there are no plans for dues initially. They will elect officers annually, either at their meeting at Excellence in Journalism 2014 in Nashville in September or possibly online through the SPJ election process. Already the freelancers, through President-Elect Dana Neuts’ work, have developed group rates on medical insurance, and more benefits are possible in the future.

I have heard interest in starting other communities, as well, including one composed of young journalists, one for community journalists, and one for journalism educators. They are easy to start — simply fill out a form online and get at least 20 people to sign on. The SPJ Board recognizes them, evaluates them, oversees them and disbands them (if needed), just as it does geographic chapters.

I could see a day where SPJ has a dozen or more communities, focused on specialties and interests of hundreds or thousands of journalists. I think they should have a say in conference programming, and perhaps even a role in SPJ governance.

If you would like to start such a group, let me know. SPJ has strength in numbers, and now in community.

David Cuillier, 2013-14 SPJ president and former SPJ FOI Committee chairman, is director of the University of Arizona School of Journalism, where he teaches and researches access to public records and data. He is co-author with Charles Davis of “The Art of Access: Strategies for Acquiring Public Records.” Reach him at spjdave@yahoo.com.

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