Members Weigh in As Board Considers ‘SEJ 3.0’

April 15, 2013

SEJ President's Report

By DON HOPEY

So two newsy things, kinda related.

I want to pass along some results from SEJ’s fall 2012 member survey, and also an update on the board’s just-launched review of our organization’s programs and services, an effort we are calling, not without some hope (or is it hype?) — “SEJ 3.0.”

The member survey was filled out by more than 200 members out of 1300-plus members, including 172 journalists, almost two-thirds of them freelancers, and 46 academics and students. The self-selected, unscientific sampling confirmed some things we mostly all know, and also contained a few revealing insights:

  • More than half of those responding said SEJ connections provided a good source of story ideas, improved their skills and helped them do a better job reporting. One-quarter said SEJ helped them stay in journalism.
  • One in 10 respondents had been to more than 10 SEJ conferences, a quarter had attended at least two but fewer than five, but 34 percent hadn’t been to any.
  • SEJ programs and services graded as very valuable by more than half of respondents included the annual conference (65 percent), SEJ-TALK (54 percent) and the daily news digest SEJ-BEAT (52 percent). Others with high plus ratings included SEJournal (46 percent), the Fund for Environmental Journalism (41 percent), SEJ Awards program (39 percent) and the Freedom of Information WatchDog TipSheet (38 percent).
  • Several SEJ offerings were unknown to a large number of members. Those included the diversity program, unknown to 41 percent; the mentoring program, unknown to 28 percent; and webinars, unknown to 27 percent.
  • Asked what kinds of new programs and services they’d like to see SEJ provide, more than 60 percent said they had strong interest in tipsheets and reporting guides on emerging issues; new regional activities like “pub nights;” online publication of long-form environmental journalism; workshops on the craft of journalism; and an email newsletter containing news tips, SEJ news, member spotlights and other news of interest.
  • Less support was expressed for new program suggestions for text messages containing SEJ information and new publications or services tailored for mobile devices.
  • Asked if they would recommend membership in SEJ to other journalists, 96 percent of the survey respondents said they would. A little more than half said they were happy with their “level of engagement” with the organization, and many of those who weren’t shouldered the blame, saying it was because they were too busy earning a living.

Respondent comments exposed some common themes. Several said the organization was an “inspiration,” provided “camaraderie” and “community,” and was a “lifeline.” But a few find us “cliquish.” Several said the conference is valuable for its “networking” and a number praised the listservs. Others want more regional activities, including regional conferences, and there was also demand for more training programs and services benefitting freelancers. Some like SEJournal in its printed form while others said dead-tree delivery is not the future.

That’s all good information, and there’s much more that will help inform the board as it assesses the rationale, functionality and finances for all SEJ programs, publications and services. Our goal is to produce a more sustainable operation that maximizes SEJ’s effectiveness and meets the needs of journalists and the organization’s journalistic mission.

We will need to think creatively. The programs and policies we have are familiar and they mostly serve our members well. But they are only one way to approach doing that job. If budget pressures require it — we’re getting less funding from big foundation grants and need to raise more from smaller grants, earned income and membership — we may need to figure out a different way to do that job, or not do programs that are good but not essential.

Board committees are at work reviewing membership, operations, publications, finances and events. At the board’s meeting in Seattle at the end of April, we’ll be looking at all of SEJ’s offerings from top to bottom and asking what its core functions are. And what are its aptitudes and capacities? Where can the organization afford to invest our financial and human resources?

There are hard decisions ahead about the functions SEJ will pursue and what form they will take. The review will be successful if the board can examine SEJ’s programs and services with an eye on what is valuable to members and should be preserved, and what new initiatives are needed to serve the present and future of this Society of Environmental Journalists.

Don Hopey has covered the environment beat at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette since 1993. He also teaches an environmental issues and policy class with a writing component at the University of Pittsburgh, and for the last five summers has been an instructor for the public lands issues and fly fishing section of the Pitt Honors College Yellowstone Field Course.

 


* From the quarterly newsletter SEJournal, Spring 2013. Each new issue of SEJournal is available to members and subscribers only; find subscription information here or learn how to join SEJ. Past issues are archived for the public here.