May 6, 2019

SPJ searches for new members

With almost all the members of Cleveland State University’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) set to graduate this spring, the student organization is facing a troubling situation. If the group cannot recruit new members to fill four of its five officer positions, the chapter might need to shut down.

“We have five chair or officer positions – president, vice president, treasurer, internal communications secretary and external communications secretary – and we need to fill those five officer positions to keep the organization alive,” said Matthew Johns, the president of Cleveland State’s SPJ chapter.

Most of the student chapter’s general members are also graduating seniors, leaving these officers with the task of recruiting new members.

Johns said the group took a multifaceted approach to recruiting new members and raising awareness. The student chapter partnered with the Cleveland SPJ Pro Chapter to host a regional conference in March, attracting potential new members. Officers also spoke to students in several classes, including COM 224, 225, 326 and 425, about the SPJ student membership benefits.

“Unfortunately, those efforts have been pretty much 100 percent fruitless,” Johns said. “We’ve held a few other events this year and we’ve had some decent turnout at those, but unfortunately there’s no carry-over from the events to general meetings.”

A potential SPJ shutdown might not affect the current student population, but it will affect future students with an interest in an SPJ presence on campus.

“The process to create a student organization is lengthy, it’s tedious and it’s difficult,” Johns said. “Even though SPJ exists right now, if it were to go away, it would be basically completely restarting an organization. You can’t just reactivate an organization or it can’t go into a hibernation. It has to completely restart.”

Johns, who joined the student chapter as a general member in the fall 2016 semester, said the organization “seems to be on a cycle of existing and not existing.” The current iteration is completing its third year.

Perks of SPJ student membership include opportunities to network with both professional journalists and fellow journalism students, as well as subscription to newsletters and Quill, SPJ’s quarterly journalism magazine.

General members of the student chapter don’t have to pay membership fees, though elected officers must join the national SPJ organization at a discounted $37.50 student rate.

When asked for reasons why the current student population hasn’t shown much interest in joining SPJ, Johns pointed out a few potential causes.

“I think there’s a lack of excitement for journalism,” Johns said. “I don’t think there’s a lack of enrollment in the journalism program by any means, but if you take a look at what’s going on in the ‘real world’ right now, and certainly not to get political about it, but we’re not exactly living in an era that promotes journalism and journalists. It’s not cool to be a journalist.

“So in my opinion, a lot of the people who are following their dreams or pursuing an interest in journalism, they don’t want to be as public about it and stand out and be like, ‘yes, I’m a journalist,’” he continued. “They just want to do their thing, stay on the down-low, get their education and get out. I think that’s probably a factor.”

Another factor might be a lack of urgency to join student organizations in the first half of the college experience.

“I think as people get closer to graduation,” Johns started, “whether that’s going into their senior year or their last semester or whatever, people really start to realize more and more, ‘oh shoot, I need to do more than just take my classes. I need to be networking and being involved in organizations and publications and writing.’ I think that’s a challenge in recruiting younger students, the freshmen and sophomores.”

Johns and the SPJ officers strategically spoke to lower-level classes to reach more potential long-term members, but the freshmen and sophomores still didn’t jump on the opportunity.

“I think we’re all guilty of it to an extent,” Johns said. “As freshmen and sophomores, we think, ‘I’ll [join SPJ] when I’m a junior or senior.’ I think that plays a role as well. It’s certainly not one thing, though. It’s a collection of small things [causing low new member enrollment].”

Students interested in joining Cleveland State’s SPJ chapter can find more information on the group’s OrgSync page.


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