It is not new that the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) is facing financial problems.
During this trying period, two candidates for Secretary-Treasury, Michael Koretzky and Daniela Ibarra, are vying for their respective paths forward. The SPJ News also got takes from outgoing SPJ Secretary-Treasury Israel Balderas, who has experience in the financial situation.
Michael Koretzky: Thinking Beyond the Box
According to Michael Koretzky, who served on the SPJ board for ten years in total, part of the financial problems stem from the unstable, shrinking membership community.
“When I first served on the board, we had approximately 10,000 members. However, it’s important to note that these weren’t the same 10,000 members over time,” said Koretzky. “What happens is thousands drop off, and then you have to recruit new ones to replace them. A small number of dedicated core SPJ members exist, while the majority of members come and go.”
As the financial editor of the counseling company Debt.com in Florida, Koretzky is a part of the Florida chapter of SPJ, a chapter already in a deficit. Koretzky found out that the financial situation of the SPJ national board was even more dire than the Florida chapter he had been a part of for years, as the former had a projected deficit of 161,000 this year.
“[The deficiency] came from not having enough members to cover the expenses, and SPJ has refused to make budget cuts over the years, so they had to make significant cuts all at once, and they didn’t do enough of it.”
Koretzky went on to predict that if the SPJ board continued with the same approach, they would declare bankruptcy within one year.
Running for the position of Secretary-Treasury is a crucial step in Koretzky’s plan to address the challenges facing SPJ. He aims to bring innovation to help the organization overcome its current dilemma, which he believes to be more than financial. Rather, the real problem is the tension between the core values of supporting the First Amendment and adhering to the code of ethics, and the financial constraints it faces.
“As a working journalist, you were joining to support the First Amendment to support the code of ethics, but that runs up against the money at some point.”
In response to this ongoing issue, Koretzky proposed two potential solutions that he aims to implement if elected as Secretary-Treasury.
First, he’d change the membership structure. Koretzky advocated for changing the name of “Society of Professional Journalists” to “Society of Professional Journalism.” As a consequence, SPJ would expand its membership to include not only journalists but also individuals who support journalistic ethics, thereby attracting more support.
The American Copy Editing Society, or ACES, served as an example of the approach Koretzky suggested. Poynter Institute took a deep dive into the ASNE’s annual survey of newsrooms noting there was around a 50 percent drop in copy editors from 2002 to 2012, leaving ACES with around 600 members only. The current president of ACES, who was the treasurer back then, explained to Koretzky that their only option was to expand and become a society for anyone interested in becoming skilled editors, including individuals working on recipe books and in hospitals.
Koretzky argued that it made sense to expand SPJ’s membership and open the doors to more people. “If you look at our board of directors, and current leadership, a lot of them are not journalists now. They’re teachers. Some work in PR.”
Second, make SPJ smaller on purpose. The prototypical example Koretzky had in mind was the Radio Television Digital News Association, also known as RTDNA. It faced similar problems as SPJ did years ago. With the rise of social media in the technology era, the TV industry was shrinking. RTDNA’s executive director, Tara Puckey, made the strategic decision to refocus the organization on news directors exclusively. This resulted in a smaller but more profitable and loyal member group. By narrowing its focus, RTDNA adapted to industry changes and achieved financial stability.
Koretzky suggested that SPJ could consider a similar approach by potentially refocusing its mission or membership criteria and narrowing its community scope.
Nevertheless, Koretzky’s solutions failed to appeal to Israel Balderas, the current Secretary-Treasury.
“What we need is to take it step by step. Step one builds into step two, and step two builds into step three,” said Balderas. “’What he’s suggesting is to change our name and attract everyone, and then become more niche. Those two opposite ideas conflict with each other. So what he’s really proposing is he’s not proposing anything.”
Daniela Ibarra: The Advocate for Value
Daniela Ibarra, who served as the vice chair for the at-large & diversity committee of SPJ’s national board, was trying to figure out something different.
She first suggested exploring innovative funding resources as a potential solution.
One of her ideas was to reach out and bring more donors to the game. Earlier this year, she successfully got one of the sponsors on board. Nevertheless, when it came to more detailed plans for fundraising, she has yet to commit to a financial strategy.
“I think there’s a lot more that we, as a board, can do to find funding for the organization. There are people on the staff whose job is fundraising, but as board members, we should also be fundraisers for the organization. So, I don’t want to commit to anything just yet.”
Another proposal by the TV reporter at KSAT in Texas is to add value to the increased membership fees. Earlier this year, the SPJ board approved to increase membership fees by 5%.
Recognizing that a few dollars may be a make-it-or-break-it for journalists, Ibarra advocated increasing monthly training sessions or seminars to emphasize the value of membership.
“We can bring in different journalists, because we have so many members that have so many different areas of expertise. Everyone has something to offer, whether you’re coming from college or various ethnic backgrounds,” said Ibarra, who has been an investigating reporter for the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.
Balderas affirmed Ibarra’s proposals but has concerns. “The problem is, to do programs, we may need to have money. So that may be another opportunity for us to seek grants from organizations such as Google or the Knight Foundation to fund these programs.”
Her experience working as a multimedia journalist in Tusla, where she along with her colleagues held the first town hall regarding multimedia journalism.
“As a multimedia journalist, I’m used to balancing different things. SPJ is so important to me that I thought about it a lot to make sure that this is the right decision for me. With where the organization is, it’s time for me to just step up and make sure that we really support the organization to make sure it’s here for the next generation.”
In addition to her career experience, Ibarra takes pride in her unwavering willingness to engage in disagreement and debate.
“If you look at the board meetings, [you will find] I don’t always agree with everyone on the board. It’s okay for not everyone to agree. I’ve been kind of the outlier recently, but I think that’s why it’s important for me to continue in the organization because it’s not good for everyone to be on the same page all the right time.”