Since becoming president of the Society of Professional Journalists, I’ve constantly talked about #SPJStrong. We are a strong organization in part because we have two communities that bring journalists together for a common cause.
If you’re a freelancer looking to expand your network, find a job lead or join a supportive group, all you have to do is turn to the SPJ Freelance Community. “The challenge for freelancers is often just working in isolation,” said Hilary Niles, the community’s chair. “What makes us unique is the sense of camaraderie.”
Today more than 2,000 freelance journalists are members of the SPJ Freelance Community’s Facebook group. There, robust conversations take place about everything from breaking into the freelance world to story pitching to finding health insurance. “Members are constantly going to the Facebook group to share information, ask questions and ask for advice, and share frustrations and look for support,” added Niles, a freelance journalist since 2015.
The community supports freelancers across all experience levels and media types with a strong sense of belonging. “Happy Friday, freelancers. Time to brag!” is how community co-founder Hazel Becker gets members to share their experiences on Facebook. “Please tell us about something you did this week that you’re proud of and tell us what accomplishment was challenging.” The personal touch works, leading journalists to share their work or issues they’ve overcome.
Two SPJ website databases offer guidelines for pitching stories to different media outlets and information on grants, fellowships and training initiatives. “And those are absolute gold mines,” added Niles. “We’ve gotten so much positive feedback and appreciation.”
The Freelance Community leaders recently had their first virtual open house, not just to let journalists know what they have to offer, but also, according to Niles, as a way to show that SPJ takes freelancers seriously and will always have a place for them. “Traditionally, the way into SPJ was through chapters, and now that the communities exist, we recognize that we are a portal into the organization.”
The SPJ International Community is known for keeping members connected to the world. As its co-chair Dan Kubiske put it, “We focus on the First Amendment — yes that’s an American thing — but press freedom, that’s a global thing.”
Whether it’s keeping us updated on Philippine journalist Maria Ressa’s struggles with press freedom or the recent crackdown by the Chinese government on the press in Hong Kong, focusing on international issues and journalists who work abroad is at the core of SPJIC. “In Hong Kong, if you have an attack on the free press, what makes you think it will stop?” asked Kubiske, who has been part of the community since the mid-1990s.
SPJIC is unique in that it provides journalists who want to work abroad with the tools and connections to make it happen. It also helps journalists in the U.S. broaden their storytelling by showing how an international issue may have a local connection.
SPJIC uses social media and a newsletter to keep members informed and to bring nonmembers into the fold. “We are constantly listening to the community we are building to see what kinds of things would be helpful to their work,” said committee co-chair Elle Toussi.
#ICTalks is one of the most popular projects of SPJIC, often featuring speakers who are foreign correspondents or authors who write about international issues. “The whole point of an ICTalk is to connect journalists worldwide,” said Toussi.
As the International Community continues to evolve and grow, Kubiske hopes SPJ members realize it’s essential to keep their eye on the world: “There are events taking place thousands of miles away that hit right down the main street near you.”
I can’t think of any other journalism organization with strong groups like the SPJ Freelance and International Communities. Both have several projects in the works for 2022. SPJ members: stay tuned.