A Nod of Thanks to Our Founders, Who Have Put SEJ on a Path to the Future

July 15, 2011
Carolyn Whetzel

SEJ President's Report

By CAROLYN WHETZEL

SEJ learned of the death of David Stolberg, a key founder of the organization, on the Friday heading into Memorial Day weekend.

I never met Stolberg, so I never had the opportunity to thank him for his role in launching SEJ. In fact, I’ve never thanked any of the founders.

So, here’s a belated “thank you’’ to Stolberg and all the original founding members. SEJ members owe them all a deep debt of gratitude. Thanks to their vision and leadership, SEJ remains a vital resource for working journalists and journalism educators.

Before I discovered SEJ, I’m not sure I ever thought of myself as an environmental journalist — just a reporter who covered environmental issues. But now I introduce myself as an environmental reporter.

SEJ not only helps me be a better reporter, it provides a rich, supportive professional community. A community that’s eager to help me and other reporters fine-tune our ideas, find sources and facts, even on deadline — where else does that happen among working journalists except on SEJ’s list-serve? Maybe in newsrooms, but those are shrinking, as the number of seasoned journalists who once filled them, and helped mentor new reporters, continues to drop.

I’m pretty sure my fellow board members and other SEJers feel the same way about this organization. Now it’s up to all of us to see that SEJ continues to flourish well into the future.

Much of what SEJ will be able to achieve in the future hinges on its continued ability to attract funding (foundation grants, earned revenue, and gifts), grow membership, and attract university conference hosts.

From its very beginnings, SEJ has been fortunate to have a steady stream of support from charitable foundations, but those grants are becoming more difficult to win, and the awards are getting smaller. Dues and conference fees and earned income still provide only a small fraction of SEJ’s revenue.

In between advising Miami conference co-chairs Jeff Burnside and Angela Posada-Swafford, Executive Director Beth Parke continues her stellar work courting foundations for funding opportunities to replace the loss of long-time funders, like the Hewlett Foundation.

Thanks to a pledge from the Grantham Foundation, SEJ will be able to offer another round of mini-grants through the Fund for Environmental Journalism, so watch the website for more information on that program. This means SEJ can continue to help freelancers and others with journalism projects they might not otherwise be able to tackle.

On the membership front, SEJ currently has about 1,500 members. Unlike the early days, when most members worked for daily newspapers, the majority are now freelance journalists. No doubt, this is a reflection of the ongoing loss of journalism jobs at newspapers.

SEJ still needs to actively recruit from traditional newspapers, radio and television stations, at the fresh crop of nonprofit news organizations, and at universities. Another potential recruitment opportunity is at the growing number of specialty or niche news publishers, who are hiring hundreds of reporters — think Bloomberg Government in Washington D.C.

The board of directors’ future sites committee, led by Douglas Fischer, is reaching out to universities all across the country in search of hosts for the 2014 and beyond conferences.

Finally, a long-term sustainable SEJ will require ongoing financial support from individual donors — SEJ always appreciates whatever support members can offer — and volunteers.

SEJ is always interested in feedback from members to help identify what programs work, what ones don’t work and how members use the website.

Also, members need to be sure to keep their SEJ web profile up-to-date, especially your contact information. The website offers each member a personal profile space. Log in with your username and pass code then go to your personal profile page. You can upload a photo; provide information about your work, your blog, and more.

SEJ Board president Carolyn Whetzel covers environment issues in California for BNA Inc.

* From the quarterly newsletter SEJournal, Summer 2011 issue.