New Blood Needed for SPJ Chapter

By Merrett, Tammy | St. Louis Journalism Review, March 2002 | Go to article overview

New Blood Needed for SPJ Chapter


Merrett, Tammy, St. Louis Journalism Review


In 1999, some officers and members of the St. Louis chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) were cautiously optimistic about the future of the local organization. There was talk of new programs to educate and support journalists and to turn around dwindling participation. There was also a plan to bring in new leadership or inspire members to take on leadership roles in SPJ.

The St. Louis chapter at one time was "one of the best chapters in the country," said Robert Leger, former regional director and national SPJ president-elect.

"I attended a regional conference there a couple years ago, and it was one of the best regional conferences I've attended," said Al Cross, SPJ's current national president.

But almost three years after an SJR article let readers know about the plan to turn the local chapter around, even cautious optimism seems to be gone.

What's going on with the local SPJ chapter?

"The short answer is not much," David Nicklaus, the chapter's most recent president, said. "I don't believe there have been any events in at least two years, probably more than that."

Staci Kramer, a St. Louis chapter member for 15 years who has served in various capacities in the local organization, said the chapter is basically "frozen" and that Nicklaus technically still is the president. The other officers voted in during the last election apparently still hold their offices as well.

To some officers, it was not even clear to them that they technically still hold office.

Frozen is a good word to describe the condition of the local SPJ professional chapter. "I don't think we've met in 3 or 4 years," Nicklaus said. "The chapter still exists on paper, I guess."

Reasons for decline

Nicklaus was at a loss for a reason why the chapter has deteriorated. "I don't know. That's a good question," Nicklaus said.

The chapter has experienced a membership decline from 1999--down from 100 to a small group of 30 local dues-paying members, according to Adam Goodman, the last elected treasurer.

But the group has always seemed to have a small, active core group that organized and carried out programming for local journalists that kept the group visible--programming such as an educational series to help journalists navigate the Internet before some of their newsrooms were even connected.

As that core group decided it was time for them to concentrate on other things, they put plans into place for the local SPJ chapter to still have leadership. "We had a very carefully thought-out succession plan that should have carried us through several years," Kramer said.

But those who were committed to assuming leadership in the organization moved on as well. "We had a core group at one time that kept it going, but there weren't any new volunteers to take over," Nicklaus said.

Kramer said that increased demands upon journalists' time, as well as fellowships and different jobs out of the area, contributed to the loss of those leadership commitments. But the original core group did not step back in either.

"I was able to do this and did it at the risk of my own work. At some point you have to balance it a little differently," Kramer said of her decision to scale back her involvement in the local SPJ chapter. "Every hour I spent doing that was an hour I had to find somewhere else to do work."

Kramer said the local chapter's real problem is not its dwindling number of members but lack of people who are willing to organize and lead.

"Getting members isn't the issue," Kramer said. "There is a need for multiple people to take part. I could schedule a year's worth of programming tomorrow, but the point is not for me to do it."

Kramer has been one of the local chapter's key organizers for about 15 years and is still involved in SPJ at the national level as part of the national ethics committee. …

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