By Holly Pablo
The Working Press
When John Ensslin became president of the Society of Professional Journalists in 2011, his big goal was to increase membership.
It didn’t happen.
“We’re around 8,000 members, which is where we were a year ago,” said Ensslin, who on Saturday will become the organization’s immediate past president.
Ensslin said growing the membership isn’t a forgotten goal, but rather a project that has become much larger in scope.
The SPJ Board of Directors voted Thursday to accept dues payments online, reinstate institutional memberships and to begin welcoming international members.
Ensslin said those steps will lay the foundation for membership growth.
Ensslin said he is especially proud of the SPJ’s increased use of online platforms and social media than in years past.
He conducted live Virtual Town Hall meetings with 11 of the organization’s 12 regions. During these online video chats, Ensslin spoke with members about the latest news at headquarters and learned about the region’s local goals.
Though the average attendance ranged from five to 15 members, Ensslin said it was a giant step toward more direct communication with chapter leaders and members.
While his term as president ends Saturday, Ensslin said he isn’t going away.
As immediate past president, he will serve as the nominations chair for SPJ’s 2013 elections. He’s also holding two assignments close to his heart.
First, he plans to work with individual chapters on programming.
Ensslin thinks more activities and a higher profile will encourage more people to join.
Second, he wants to put more professional training events online to serve younger, digital-savvy folks and members who may live in rural areas.
“What we’re finding is that the younger crowd is much harder to engage,” he said. “I think the digital programming will attract more young people.”
Some members praised Ensslin’s presidency.
“John has a very diplomatic demeanor,” said Kevin Smith, a former SPJ president. “He works very diligently with a progressive attitude. He’s been the president I hope I was.”
Taylor Mirfendereski, one of SPJ’s national student representatives, said Ensslin’s temperament and dedication helped the board work as a team this year.
“I instantly knew when we met that he’s personable and I think that helps as a leader,” Mirfendereski said.
“He listened to everyone on the board and we got a lot done.”
While the biggest issues last year involved longtime newswoman Helen Thomas’ controversial statement about Israel, an SPJ resolution discontinuing the use of the term “illegal alien” and the “one member one vote” issue, Ensslin indicated he had his own controversies.
Some members expressed concern about SPJ’s involvement following a walkout by the staff of the University of Georgia’s Red and Black newspaper after the publisher put a nonstudent in charge of the paper.
Region 10 Director Michael Koretzky commented about the issue on a blog, but Ensslin asked him to remove the post because SPJ had yet to issue an official statement.
Advocacy issues, including the events that transpired at the Red and Black, are to be discussed at a board meeting on Sunday.
“There’s a lot of politics in this organization just like any organization,” said Andrew Schotz, of SPJ’s D.C. chapter. “John has done well to talk openly about anything. It helped bring about a discussion we can continue.”