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Sell or shrink.

Sell or shrink

The last time you saw a good movie, did you tell a friend about it? I'll bet you did. Chances are you went to the movie in the first place because a friend said it was good.

Decisions we make often are influenced by the recommendations of friends. A major topic of conversation at coffee breaks and parties is the exchange of tips - our opinions about what we like or dislike.

Buying a computer? Find someone who bought one recently and learn from their recommendation.

Need a babysitter? Ask a friend.

Find a terrific restaurant? Tell your friends about it.

We're all perfectly willing to tout our picks on a variety of issues - except, it seems, when it comes to SPJ.

When we're asked to encourage a friend to join SPJ - well, that sounds like something we shouldn't do. That's recruiting. That's selling.

And we all know journalists aren't comfortable with selling.

Perhaps we define "selling" too narrowly. We value the Society and what it does or we wouldn't be members. Encouraging a friend to join is just passing along your personal recommendation - it's saying to your friend that you have benefited from SPJ and your friend might benefit too.

And it helps you perpetuate something you like. No matter how fine the restaurant, if you're the only customer, it can't continue serving you. The same is true for organizations. Unless dues are really high, organizations like SPJ must depend on volume - we must have many shoulders to share the load.

"But," goes a common rejoinder, "recruiting is something someone else should do. I do enough by paying my dues."

Yes, we value your dues. But the fact is that every year, people leave SPJ for normal and understandable reasons - they leave the news business, they move to an area without a chapter, they fall on hard times, they die. Sometimes they leave it simply because they've lost interest.

In any event, if they're not replaced by new members, SPJ shrinks.

With fewer members, SPJ can't afford to do as much for its members and for the profession, and the organization you value withers.

Some figures are telling. The Society launched a major member-get-a-member recruitment campaign in the fall. We asked each of our more than 17,000 members to recruit another member. From August 1 to early March, almost 2,800 new members were added to the rolls. But most of those were students, who pay only half dues and are thus subsidized by professional members. Only 755 new full-paying professional members came on board.

That's better than we usually do during that time period - but it is not good enough.

Why? As of early March, the memberships of more than 4,000 old members had expired, including 2,600 pros.

That means members are leaving faster than we're bringing them in - and that spells trouble.

There's still time for the numbers to turn around - but it won't happen without member commitment.

Unless each member takes a few minutes to spread the word to his or her colleagues - urging those who haven't paid to stay in, urging those who haven't joined to do so - SPJ will shrink. And shrinkage will mean that SPJ can offer less - significantly less - in the future.

Is that what you want for SPJ?

It used to be that people joined organizations readily. Now, professional organizations across the country are having to hustle more and are having to use increasingly sophisticated (and expensive) marketing techniques just to stay whole.

The organization that doesn't hustle - by spending lots of money and volunteer time on recruitment - faces a declining future.

The success of an organization comes from members who have fire in their bellies - members who passionately believe that what they do makes a difference in whatever professional world they care about.

I hope journalists still have fire in their bellies - because, in my book, the need for SPJ is growing, not shrinking.

Those who care about the American journalistic tradition need a strong SPJ to continue being the the keeper of the flame for quality, principled, robust, informed and free journalism in a time of technological and financial change in the news business.

I'm not one who thinks bean-counters in the news business are necessarily bad. It's important that the news business be run as a business and continue to generate the returns that allow it to continue.

The news business must stretch and adapt to change - producing different kinds of products with different kinds of funding methods to meet the needs of a changing world.

But in this climate, it's important, too, that someone is holding high the standards and ideals of the American journalistic tradition - beckoning journalists to do their best, pressing governments to keep records and meetings open, making sure that credible journalism continues to be a high goal at news companies, and attracting good people into the business.

The Society has played that role for more than 80 years. With its network of chapters, its national organization and its broad-based membership, it is uniquely situated to perform that role.

But it can't continue doing that unless members are as willing to say a good word about something as important to their profession as they are to recommend movies and restaurants.

Do you have a fire in your belly?

If so, talk someone into joining SPJ or remaining in SPJ. It will make a difference.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Society of Professional Journalists
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Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:recruiting members into the Society of Professional Journalists
Author:Vahlberg, Vivian E.
Publication:The Quill
Article Type:column
Date:Apr 1, 1990
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