By Joan Khalaf
Even after hundreds of newsroom layoffs, only 10 journalists have taken advantage of the free membership offered by the Society of Professional Journalists.
SPJ launched a dues waiver program, which grants six months free membership to recently laid off members who can’t afford to renew their membership. SPJ lost 1,400 members in the past year. Current membership is 8,400.
For receiving the membership extension, SPJ requires five hours of volunteer time.
Joe Skeel, SPJ interim co-executive director, said he thinks the low number of participants may be because laid-off journalists are angry.
“Many feel like the career they’ve dedicated themselves to has turned its back on them,” Skeel said. “Some see SPJ as unnecessary because they’re going to leave the industry altogether.”
SPJ sent out an e-mail to members, posted the program information on its Web site and issued press releases when the program initially launched in April.
Secretary-Treasurer Hagit Limor admitted that SPJ needed to do a better job of publicizing the program and the prospects for the future of the industry.
“People are just assuming that the jobs won’t be back,” she said. “Yes, there may not be the same jobs back, but there are different jobs in journalism out there.”
According to an American Society of News Editors census to which 66 percent of U.S. daily newspapers responded, 5,900 newsroom jobs were lost in 2008, reducing employment in that industry by 11.3 percent. Television news experienced a 4.3 percent decline in employment by shedding 1,200 jobs in 2008, according to a Radio-Television News Directors Association and Hofstra University survey.
Limor said she thinks many are simply opting out of journalism after being laid off.
“We want to let them know you can still have that passion,” she said.
Limor said it’s important that members continue to have access to the tools and training SPJ provides and not leave the business.
“It’s just a blip,” she said. “If we stick with it through these rough times, we will find our way out the other side.”
For Sarah Wright-Killinger, the program couldn’t have been offered at a better time when she fell victim to layoffs at Yahoo in May.
The former Yahoo News product manager is currently a web strategy consultant for Global Green, a nonprofit organization pushing for more sustainable buildings and cities. Wright-Killinger, of Los Angeles, said she appreciates how SPJ is helping during this difficult time for the media.
“A lot of people are jumping ship, and journalism jobs are shrinking by the minute,” she said.
The SPJ board of directors met in April in Greencastle, Ind., and approved the dues waiver program.
SPJ also took other steps to help journalists without jobs. The organization is offering one-day registration at the national convention, which saves attendees about 45 percent in registration fees. About 35 people took advantage of the one-day registration.
“When the chips are down, we’re here to offer a helping hand,” Limor said.
Skeel said the program is more about a message – to have the networking and tools when they are needed most.
“Our board members get it; they felt it,” he said. “They’ve seen their friends lose their jobs. They want to do everything they can to help their peers.”
August 28, 2009 • 2009: Indianapolis
Few members use SPJ dues waiver
By Billy O'Keefe
By Joan Khalaf