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Tuesday, December 9, 2014
From the President

Get more value out of SPJ through communities

By Dana Neuts

Last year SPJ added communities to its list of membership offerings, giving members new ways to connect with and learn from each other. To date, we have three — freelance, digital and international journalism — all of which are active and serving SPJ members in new ways. But what exactly are SPJ communities and how can they benefit you?

SPJ communities are modeled after divisions formed by other groups like the American Bar Association and Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. They are self-governing, niche-based groups of 20 or more who connect online and off to network, share resources and ideas, and work together toward common goals.

Open to all SPJ members, communities are flexible both in structure and mission, and they can morph as the composition and needs of the groups change. Projects and initiatives are driven by the community, with loose oversight by the SPJ president and support from SPJ staff.

Let me explain how the current communities work to give you a better idea. The Freelance Community was the pilot for this idea.

Freelance Committee chairman Michael Fitzgerald lead the committee in discussions about what tools it would use as a reformed community. Working with SPJ headquarters, the group created a landing page and a wish list of online tools.

Gaining official approval from the national board in April this year, the group did a beta launch of the community in July, unveiling a host of freelance resources behind SPJ's paywall, accessible to members. Resources include a discussion forum, jobs board, freelance training tools, access to the freelance directory, the Independent Journalist blog and more.

Some of the tools like the Independent Journalist blog and the Twitter account (@spjfreelance), of course, are accessible to anyone, including nonmembers; but freelance members will update the blog and Twitter account and write freelance toolbox columns for Quill. Now with about 60 members, the community has some exciting projects in the works, including posting the second edition of the freelancer’s digital resource guide, planning educational webinars and recruiting potential new members.

In July, Alex Veeneman in Chicago sought permission to start a Digital Community. SPJ previously had a Digital Committee, but it has been mostly inactive in the last year or two. The first step in forming a community was to gauge interest. Within a few weeks, Veeneman had the requisite 20 members to form a community, which was then officially recognized by the board in August.

To date, the community has re-established the Digital Committee’s Twitter account (@spjdigital) and Networked blog and created a Google Plus community and a Facebook page. In addition to offering these methods of communication, the community leaders have met virtually to discuss their goals for the year and the election of community officers. They’ve kept the blog and Twitter accounts active and have worked together to expand the group.

Next up is the International Journalism Community. SPJ previously had an International Journalism Committee, which has been quiet the past year or so. Following a blog post I wrote about diversity last month, Carlos Restrepo of the St. Louis Pro chapter reached out to me to ask if we could revitalize SPJ’s international journalism group. Within a week, more than 30 journalists had asked to be a part of the group, including several past leaders of the international committee who have a strong passion for the topic.

Restrepo dove right in and asked community members to submit their ideas and goals for the group. As they formulate their plans for the coming year, they welcome new volunteers and ideas.

A few other ideas for communities have been kicked around, including a student-focused group. As we flesh out these ideas, I welcome your input. I’m also looking for a volunteer to help me support the communities. The time commitment is minimal, but the rewards of connecting members to resources and to each other are immeasurable.

Because the communities have a flexible structure and public and private tools, some of the groups include non-SPJ members, a concept I love. Members are introduced to additional resources, and nonmembers get the opportunity to learn more about SPJ, participate in our discussions and share resources. Ideally, nonmembers who participate will see the value in what we do and join SPJ. Those who don’t may at least have a better understanding of who we are.

Through our communities, SPJ gets to focus on its mission, including promoting the free flow of information, protecting the First Amendment, encouraging high standards and ethical behavior in journalism, and fostering excellence among journalists. The communities won’t address all of our members’ needs, but it is a step in the right direction.

If you’d like to be a member of one of SPJ’s new communities or want to learn more, you can reach me at dneuts@spj.org. I’m looking forward to an exciting year ahead!

SPJ President Dana Neuts is a freelance journalist, author, writer and editor as well as the publisher of iLoveKent.net, a hyperlocal blog focused on Kent, Wash. Her work has appeared in numerous local, regional and national publications including AARP Bulletin, The Seattle Times, Northwest Travel, 425 magazine and South Sound magazine. She is a member of the Western Washington Pro chapter of SPJ. To learn more, visit virtuallyyourz.com. Contact her at spjdana@gmail.com or connect on Twitter: @spjdana

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