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Chapter ranking criteria is relaxed

By Billy O'Keefe

Wyoming Pro, a fledgling Society of Professional Journalists chapter, almost lost access to grants and risked probation when none of its members could afford to attend the Society of Professional Journalists’ conference and national convention.
Wyoming Pro remains in good standing, thanks to changes in chapter requirements made by the board of directors Thursday.

Chapter turnout at ’09 convention*
67 chapters
50 eligible to vote
42 at convention
233 chapters
93 eligible to vote
24 at convention
* as of Friday
Here are ideas to steal from some of the nation’s top SPJ professional chapters:
— Western Washington Pro Chapter held a grant-funded town hall ethics program and the group holds regular press club mixers. The chapter also maintains an online diversity resource guide.
— Chicago Headline Club hosted its seventh annual First Amendment Forum and helped absolve a journalist charged with resisting and obstructing a police officer.
— William O. Douglas Pro Chapter sponsored a journalism-related movie night and members worked with high school students to report and write stories.
— San Diego Pro Chapter offered a basic Spanish program for journalists.
Chapter Requirements and Ranking System
SPJ bylaws require that chapters submit annual reports or risk losing good standing, but a new requirement will help keep chapters on track. Regional directors must now complete quarterly reports for chapters, who can then compile those for the annual report.
Professional chapters are ranked annually by a stars system. Each chapter is ranked from one to four stars (four being the best) according to several criteria, including:
— The number of journalism-related activities held during the year.
— How well it supports student journalists.
— Communication among its members and with regional and national leaders.
— Attendance at the regional conference and national convention.
— On-time filing of annual report.

“We’d love to have someone at the convention every year, but it’s just not possible,” said Brian Martin, 2008-09 president of the 20-member chapter. The $500 in the chapter’s account would not cover registration and travel costs, Martin said.
SPJ’s board wants chapter requirements to be encouraging and sensitive to geography, member concentration and socioeconomic realities, said Clint Brewer, 2007-08 SPJ president.
That was the intent of the changes, which relax some criteria used to rank chapters and allow for more creativity in meeting requirements. New guidelines also require that the regional director contact the chapter more frequently.
The revised ranking system, first implemented in 2003, gives chapter leadership incentives to hold activities that promote SPJ goals and rewards chapters for hitting those benchmarks, Director At-Large Bill McCloskey said. Rewards include recognition in Quill magazine, convention registration and SPJ merchandise discounts, and SPJ-financed chapter mailings.
The original chapter ranking system had some inflexible requirements that kept worthy chapters from getting higher rankings and kept struggling chapters in the bottom ranking, where they risked probation and inactive status, said McCloskey, who co-chairs the Chapter Doctor Committee with Director At-Large Michael Koretzky. This committee helps new and struggling professional chapters.
“Chapters do good things all through the year,” then they hit slumps, McCloskey said. Sometimes chapters don’t get their books audited, send delegates to the convention or attend regional meetings, but their reports list many other good activities, he said.
As the industry changes in response to the recession and technology, chapters find more resourceful ways to meet, communicate and pursue goals. Chapters meet online and socialize at mixers, and they hold workshops for students and professionals. Activities like these didn’t fulfill the full-membership meeting requirement, but now they do.
The most dramatic ranking system change addresses regional conference and national convention attendance. If a chapter was unable to attend both events, like Wyoming Pro, the chapter could not earn more than one star in the four-star system.
When a chapter is below two stars, it is assisted by headquarters for one year and could go into probation the following year. Ultimately, the board can revoke the chapter’s charter or declare it inactive.
The board hopes these changes will allow more chapters to grow and improve their rankings. McCloskey suggests that rankings should encourage chapters, not discipline them.
“What we see is that when a chapter has good programs and interests their members, its membership tends to grow,” McCloskey said.