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Convention attendance up

By Billy O'Keefe

By Jacqueline Palochko / Photo by Nikki Villoria
While many journalism conventions this year had fewer sponsorships and attendees than in previous years, sponsorship dollars and attendees are up for the Society of Professional Journalists.

This year, 620 have registered for the convention, said Chris Vachon, interim co-executive director of SPJ. At the 2008 Atlanta convention, 520 attended. In sponsorships, SPJ brought in $87,000 this year compared to $70,000 in last year.
Vachon said attendance is more than 50 percent above what was budgeted and sponsorships are 52 percent above budget. She said SPJ budgeted less this year because of the economy and the low attendance at the 2008 conference.
“Obviously, with a bad year, we had to be conservative with money,” she said.
But for other national journalism conventions, the economy meant sacrifices.
The American Society of News Editors canceled its 2009 convention scheduled for April 26-29 in Chicago. In a February press release, then-President Charlotte Hall cited the challenging times faced by ASNE members as the reason for the cancellation.
The National Association of Hispanic Journalists looked for sponsorships between October 2008 and March 2009, a difficult time for the economy. NAHJ brought in $400,300 in sponsorship money for its June 24-27 convention in Puerto Rico. Ivan Roman, executive director, said NAHJ brought in about $600,080 in 2008 and $805,000 in 2007. Roman said membership was down 36 percent this year, dropping from 2,200 to 1,400.
“It’s been a bad year,” Roman said. “We did know it was going to be lower. We just didn’t know it was going to be this much lower.”
Roman said some previous sponsors simply did not have the money to give. The NAHJ found sponsorships from Continental Airlines, State Farm Insurance and the U.S. Army. SPJ found sponsorships from the Pulliam family, Gannett Foundation, Eli Lilly & Co., Demand Studios, Scripps Howard Foundation, The Dart Society and Geico.
The National Association of Black Journalists also found sponsorships from nontraditional sources. Karen Wynn Freeman, executive director, said Target was one of the biggest sources of money for the Aug. 5-9 convention in Tampa, Fla.
“Small businesses don’t have the money to give us,” Freeman said.
To save money, NABJ cut some costs. Instead of printing, the program book was available online only.
About 1,495 attended the NABJ conference, a lower number than in previous years. According to a 2008 NABJ press release, attendance at that year’s convention was 2,000.
“Attendance was slightly down,” Freeman said. “But we also scaled the convention down cost wise to save us money.”
Vachon said she thinks one reason attendance and sponsorships are up for SPJ this year is because of the focus on new media and interesting programs, such as the career center, a seven-step career-enhancement program. But at the NAHJ conference, multimedia and careers were also the focus.
NAHJ also spent more money than what it usually spends on having wireless Internet connection installed in all the conference rooms so more multimedia training could be offered, even though NAHJ cut back on audio, visual and printing. Despite the focus on multimedia, however, 750 people attended the conference.
“We only made a meager profit,” Roman said.
Sponsors that have contributed to the conventions have made an impact on the conferences.
“We know that times are tough,” Freeman said. “But the fact that these sponsors support us sends a strong message.”