Board Minutes – 10/1999

B O A R D M I N U T E S

Chicago Headline Club
Board of Directors Meeting

October 20, 1999

Attending: Mary Myers, Maria Traska, Sue Stevens, Rob Hess, Mike Cordts, Ed Cooper, Molly McDonough, Pat Kosar,, Anna Marie Kuker, Howard Dubin, Bob Roberts and special guest SPJ Executive Director Jim Gray

The September minutes were approved without corrections.

President’s Report: We’re in the process of finalizing details on the Future of Journalism conference Maria has engaged several good speakers. We are going to need help publicizing it, and Rob urged those who are contacting the various newsrooms in the city to emphasize what a good opportunity it is, especially for young journalists, to learn about the issues they will be facing as they work their way through the job market. We are trying to find people to train us in Computer Assisted Reporting and research, database use, and Internet training, including instruction on producing web pages.

Treasurer’s Report: Howard Dubin, reported we spent $8100 and revenues were $2200. The Journalist costs $1380 an issue, our biggest expense. Bill also discussed two mailings for which we used a secretarial service, and paid $1250; the first was to a list national sent us of people in our area who are not Headline Club members, and the second was to people who pay SPJ dues but not local dues. He also said the revenue is always low at this time of the year, since the Lisagor provides our largest receipts.

Rob said membership clearly needs to be a focus, and ensure that people participate in our programs and paying dues. We need to learn the names of those we are trying to recruit, and this will be a priority for all board members. We also need to focus energy on the newsletter and changes we’re going to make to it. We need to assure that we are fulfilling our obligation to serve membership. In addition we need to distribute the Journalist to those people we are attempting to reach, e.g online and in our e-mail. Someone mentioned that the newsletter disappears quickly from his desk, and requested extra copies, perhaps for a fee.

We also need to improve our promotion of the Brown Bag lunches to non- members, especially since they comprise the majority of those who attend.

Rob said our target for new members is the younger generation of recent journalism graduates who are just embarking on their careers and need to meet people in the city. The Headline Club is unique in the city in its mission to serve the journalism community.

We also have to improve our promotion of the Brown Bag lunches to non- members, since they comprise the majority of those who attend. Rob said the best value we can offer is the people we’re reaching out to and engaging in our activities, and that should be emphasized to everyone we approach. The question was again posed of the possibility of charging non-members $5 for Brown Bag lunches, and adding them to the mailing list.

Rob also again discussed the problem of dues and the problem of paying $90 a year to join the Headline Club. According to Rob, Jim Gray, the new Executive Director of SPJ, has proposed a new category to permit members to have a discount if they take a three-year membership; it would also provide for paying in three installments, all within the first year. Rob also suggested sharing responsibility with national for recruiting people. We could inform them of new members we have recruited and give them the names and addresses so they could send membership material and an invoice to collect their dues.

We then discussed the Atlanta model, which Rob emphasized he is not advocating, since they are not part of SPJ. The only parallel is that they have a staff director, which might be something for us to consider. The Atlanta Press Club receives strong financial support from every major news organization in their city. “One thing they have going for them is strong backing from CNN,” Rob said. We have many news organizations in Chicago who could become our partners if we choose to take that path. Rob said he thinks this is something that should be considered if we’re to become more viable and accomplish more. Sue Stevens remembered that SPJ used to have an institutional membership. Howard Dubin said that still exists, but it has become dormant. They had 100 members at $30 each, Howard reported.

Rob said Ilyce continues to remind us that we also need to allocate funds for the internship we are establishing. Sue stated she knows of sources who are willing to support the internships. Rob said he is receiving two or three calls a day from students from around the world inquiring about our internships. Occasionally thereare questions as to whether we pay. Some schools are beginning to discuss the possibility of news organizations providing their own scholarships, and Rob sees a demand for that in the market. We can set an example but taking a couple of students and showing it is feasible. We can either establish a fund and supplement it from our treasury or, preferably, establish an endowment that will pay the money over time.

FOI: Bob Roberts submitted the following report: Rob and I sent a letter to Attorney General Jim Ryan on Sept. 29 requesting a meeting with him relative to the changes he has proposed in the Illinois FOI Act.

We had been planning a letter following his comments in the recent Associated Press series on the status of Freedom of Information in Illinois, but Ryan unveiled his proposals at the AP Illinois Editors’ meeting in Bloomington on Sept. 25.

Ryan’s proposals are accessible on the Net (and linked to our Web site) at this address: www.ag.state.il.us/publications/foichange.html. If you haven’t read them through,they are easy to access. Incidentally, the same site will give you an unabridged version of the existing FOI act. Both were put up on the Web in the last month. We linked them almost immediately after a notification from the ubiquitous Abdul-Hakim Shabazz of theAG’s press office ( who still does some broadcast work downstate on our side of the fence on the side). The AG is also posting an unabridged version of the Open Meetings Act on the Web. We were invited before their posting to link, and worked quickly to establish one. Many thanks to Steve Rynkiewicz for doing so.

In a nutshell, here’s what they would do:

allow the AG or state’s attorneys statewide to mediate in cases where pubic bodies refuse to release records under the FoI Act in a timely manner, and grant them the right to bring civil actions seeking to force compliance with penalties for “egregious”conduct.

a new unit in the AG’s office to help research and enforce the FoI Act and assist state’s attorneys in prosecuting such matters.

stepped-up public education. This would include training seminars for local officials over the coming months, and an updated version of the FoI guidebook. Training materials also will be available on the Website.

When we meet with Ryan, and so far he hasn’t responded to our request for a meeting, we should stress our desire to work with him on the public education component. Perhaps, since he was in education for so many year, Ed Rooney could be of service to us here.

On our part, publicizing this is the first thing we should do. When the new FoI guidebooks arrive from the printers, every member should get one, and we should have a reserve we can pass out at FOJ and future programs.

I would urge the AG to set up a hotline so that reporters and others can notify them of potential FoI violations. Given the state of today’s wired world, people are deluging some state agencies with requests for information. The act, of course, allows latitude where officials deem such requests “unreasonable”.

I also believe we should put our heads together and generate additional ideas. One idea I personally like, but am not sure I’d want to tack on to Ryan’s proposals directly, is one we have asked about for years, the taping of executive sessions, so that it can be determined by a judge, if necessary, where OMA violations have occurred. Since we’re talking about a different act, perhaps that can be floated separately. Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie has proposed such a measure in the past, but it has been buried in committee. Bob also would like to see the Illinois Press Association and other interested groups participate with us, but SPJ should take the lead. Anna Kuker asked about who would monitor compliance and how well the Attorney General’s office is doing. Bob replied that it would be our responsibility to do that.

Howard then mentioned that there is a dormant group called the Illinois FoI Council in which all the press groups used to participate. Ed Rooney is the president and Howard is the treasurer, and says they still have $2000 in their account. He suggested those funds could be allocated to our effort. Bob mentioned that Bill Miller was one of the founders of the Council, and any help we could get from him or Ed Rooney would be important. Rob said he hopes we will have a timetable and have more information before we met with the Attorney General. Pat Kosar mentioned that the Attorney General is going to hold a series of forums, though none has yet been scheduled for Chicago. She s said her office is always asked to do the logistical work for such a meeting. Rob replied we should first inquire how many people will be needed, and how much time we’ll need to invest. Bob Roberts offered to make the initial contact.

Jim Gray then gave a report on what national is doing. He admitted that planning for the headquarters move has occupied the leadership, headquarters staff and volunteers for most of the last year-and-a-half; which he said resulted in losing focus on member services. One of the consequences of that was the departure of many valued long-time staff members. He is now interviewing replacements for those who left. Almost all of the director-level positions are open.

Gray said he has been in association management for the past 17 years, though his original career was in journalism. He has done turnaround before, and he sawsimilarities between this kind of activity and changes in government. This situation was not created overnight and will not be solved overnight; it will require cooperation on both sides.

Gray then said national is looking at changes in the SDX Awards, which have long been a feature of conventions. They’re announced in April, but not awarded until October, which lessens the excitement associated with them. They are examining making it a separate event, to be held in partnership with one of the major chapters. We are the first pro chapter he has approached with this idea, but he will be making the same proposal to Washington, New York and Los Angeles.

Gray said the membership is presently in a state of negative growth, which he defines as losing a member for each member SPJ gains. Some of the reasons for this are the proliferation of specialized journalism interest groups, including ethnically- oriented groups. However, SPJ remains the largest journalism group in the country. One of the most frequent complaints he has heard is that cost is a problem. Consequently, he has introduced what he termed a split payment, that would permit people to pay in two installments. Rob then interjected that we need to convince members that we are providing value for their dues. He then asked how we can best persuade people that there is value in the group. Gray said he would like to see the group become a resource for members’ lives at work.. It is not sufficient to have the Quill as the only tangible benefit. National has reintroduced a daily e-mail update called pressnotes, which will soon become members-only. They are also re-designing the web site to make it much easier for people to do business and interact with SPJ. There are other areas that they are considering making members-only services, e.g. Jobs for Journalists.

Howard then asked if the Headline Club could become a test chapter by actively recruiting younger members to join the local chapter first and then inundating them with information on the benefits they would derive from also joining the national organization. Gray said that is something national is looking at with the new marketing director, and there will soon by a new membership director. If the individual members acted as agent in their organization by touting the importance of SPJ in the world of journalism, there would be a great change. Howard asked about corporate memberships. Gray said the national has re-instituted corporate memberships, and consider a discount for them.

Maria Traska then made an intervention complaining about the apparent lack of interest SPJ shows in independent journalists and the trade press. Gray responded that the new strategic plan addresses the issue of assuring that ensuring that all areas of journalism are represented. Sue Stevens pointed out the problem that no managements of news organizations in Chicago are supportive of SPJ. Employers tend to resent the company time their staffs are spending on SPJ activities. Rob then said he has also lost all his flexibility for that purpose. He said that comes back to the question of explaining the value of the organization.

Jim Gray said the problem has been that headquarters has not had a director of communications for a long time, but there is one now. He is willing and able to talk to anyone. Sue Stevens raised the point of calculating how much convention revenues will suffer if the SDX Awards become a separate event. Howard remembered when the awards were separate and were made part of the convention to attract a larger audience. There were then suggestions of separating the awards from the “How I did it” panels or having the panels during the day and the awards dinner the same evening. Gray said his aspiration is to make the SDX Awards as prestigious as the Pulitzers.

Gray was then asked what he thought of having an outside organization handle our day-to-day operations. He said there are a number of SPJ professional chapters who have outside administrators to handle the day-to-day business of the clubs. He suggested contacting the Association Forum, which has expertise in this area; he also discouraged the concept of asking a journalist to serve in that capacity. Rob then ended by saying that we are very good at generating ideas but the implementation is difficult because of the required time commitment. He then again broached the idea of a staff director for the Board’s consideration.

Maria asked about the moving the mailing list function somewhere else now that whoever is doing it has moved to Gurnee. There was discussion of that idea and it was deferred to another time.

The next board meeting is Nov. 17 at 5:30 in the McCormick boardroom. Everyone is encouraged to bring a guest from a newsroom to that meeting.

Rob Hess, Beth Kuker, Bob Roberts and I later had lunch with Jim Gray after the meeting.

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