Kickstarting new ventures

The New Member Task Force of SPJ-NJ has been very busy this summer. We’ve had three events with very sizable turnouts, focusing on three goals:

  • Making SPJ-NJ a more useful organization for mid-career journalists… people in their 20s, 30s and 40s.
  • Holding more activities in northern NJ.
  • Establishing new student chapters.

Seventeen people attended the “new member” meeting we held in Montclair in June. That meeting created some exciting possibilities. There was general consensus that SPJ-NJ must revitalize its website.

To that end, I am pleased to announce the New Member Task Force has spun-off its first committee. Miriam Ascarelli, who attended the June meeting, has now been named the chairperson of the SPJ Website Committee. If you’d like more information, you can contact Miriam at mascarel@ADM.NJIT.EDU.

Now to the Montclair meeting… It can be summarized in two words: Excitement and frustration.

People are frustrated with recent trends in journalism but excited about the opportunity to do something about it. When presented with a wide range of possibilities of what SPJ can become in our state, the overwhelming consensus is that we should promote quality journalism.

At the Montclair meeting, several people offered concrete suggestions:

  • There was general enthusiasm for the idea that SPJ should establish a speakers’ bureau, so that members can volunteer to go into schools in their community. To that end, I and other members will be going to Stony Brook to learn about their news literacy program. You can get general information at
  • There are some hyper-local and alternative news websites in NJ that are making money and paying their reporters. Some of the people who work at those sites were at the meeting. One site in particular is eager to share its business model with fellow journalists. SPJ wants to use its connectivity to make it a little easier to advance quality journalism in this manner.
  • There were many suggestions regarding journalistic ethics, with specifics on how SPJ can help the public identify quality journalism.
  • There were suggestions about increased activism. Representatives from the National Writers Union were present at the meeting, as well as several NJ-members, talking about the “Pay the Writer” campaign. SPJ is not a union, but we certainly support the idea that professional journalists should be properly paid for their work. SPJ is already active in supporting First Amendment concerns and government transparency. SPJ is considering doing more in the near future. If you care about a particular cause that you feel most professional journalists would support, please contact me. I will pass along your suggestions to the board.

There were suggestions in other areas that are worth noting:

  • SPJ is a very large organization that is in a position to negotiate discounts for its members. Many organizations offer discounts on life insurance, car rentals etc. We plan to look into discounts for the tools of our trade. For example, it was suggested that we negotiate discounts at several of the larger camera and video stores in New York. We could also seek unconventional discounts, such as for documentary insurance (known as “E&O” Insurance) and discounts from law firms that offer representation on intellectual property. If you have suggestions regarding specific discounts you’d like SPJ to seek, please email me. Some of these discounts may be local, others may be discussed with the national SPJ.
  • Speaking of other organizations, several people at the meeting were excited about certain projects, but concerned about their time being “sucked-in” by yet another organization. SPJ-NJ President Jane Primerano spoke to this at the meeting. SPJ has indeed been guilty of this at times in the past. Jane is seeking to promote awareness among board members that if people volunteer to work on one activity, they should not be called-upon to work on every activity, especially now that our organization is doing much better. (Which itself is thanks to a small core of people who did a tremendous amount of work.)

With our industry in flux, several people suggested that SPJ offer some sort of credential and perhaps a database, to help identify professional journalists. This possibility is under active consideration.

There’s a lot more in the works. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any ideas.

Best regards,

Bob Schapiro
SPJ-NJ New Member Task Force


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