September 26, 2011 • 2011: New Orleans
SPJ board approves higher dues for next year
The Working Press
After six months of debate, the Society of Professional Journalists’ board of directors has approved increasing membership dues by up to $4.
The decision came by voice vote at Sunday’s board meeting after Director-at-Large Lauren Bartlett made a motion to approve the raise.
Starting in January, professional membership will cost $75 a year, an increase of $3.
Regional directors had agreed at a previous board meeting to survey their members about a potential increase. Reactions were mixed but board support for the higher dues was nearly unanimous.
“It’s onboard with the notion that we just can’t continue to rely on volatile revenue streams or we might find ourselves in trouble,” SPJ Executive Director Joe Skeel said in an interview. “I firmly believe it’s the right decision for the long-term health of the organization.”
Membership fees make up one-third of SPJ’s revenue, representing the organization’s largest and steadiest form of income.
“We know money is tight,” outgoing SPJ President Hagit Limor said in an interview. “But the electricity bills at headquarters and many other costs haven’t stopped rising over the last decade.”
So beginning Jan. 1, all dues will reflect increases ranging from $1.50 to $4.
The new rates are as follows: Professional: $75; Retired: $37.50; Household: $37.50; Post-Graduate: $37.50; Student: $37.50; and Associate: $94.
Incoming SPJ President John Ensslin said he often hears complaints about the current rates. While $72 per year might seem like a bargain to some, other members expressed skepticism about how the dues money is spent.
“I’m increasingly concerned that the amount I am paying isn’t being used wisely,” said Connecticut SPJ member Steven Kalb. “They’ve got to tell me what they’re doing with their money. I don’t know what they’re doing with it.”
Limor said extra funds would fill in gaps that aren’t covered by the current budget. Ensslin hopes more money will mean a stronger reserve and backup funding for the society’s unforeseen future expenses.
Kalb maintained that raising dues “would only succeed in pushing more people out the door.” He said local chapters are the livelihood of the organization and he would like to see more support for them from the national organization.
“Then I’ll be happy to support a dues increase,” Kalb said.
Limor urged members to put the decision into perspective.
“Look back … and tell me what today costs the same as a decade ago,” she said. “Consider how much [you] pay for a Starbucks coffee or a couple app or song downloads. Now split the cost of that by 52 weeks. You get pennies.”
The last increase was in 2002, when professional dues went from $70 to $72.
“In terms of practical, day-to-day ways to go forward, it makes sense, I think,” Ensslin said of the increase. “I think it would be reasonable for us to make some sacrifices as well and look at ways we can tighten the belt.”
A check of membership costs at peer organizations showed that SPJ was near the bottom, Limor said. The National Association of Black Journalists charges $100 while the Radio Television Digital News Association asks for $120-$199, depending on job title.
The National Association of Hispanic Journalists matches SPJ’s new $75 rate and the Asian American Journalists Association falls just below that at $65.
Skeel said his ultimate goal is to assure SPJ is on strong financial footing for the future. He said he’s working toward implementing a system in which members can opt to pay the new dues gradually.