While we can’t look ahead five, ten or twenty years to see what the future looks like for the Society of Professional Journalists, I’m confident it will be bigger and stronger than ever.
Because I’ve seen the next generation of professionals coming out of dozens of SPJ student chapters around the country.
These student chapter leaders proved that even during the height of the pandemic, they were unstoppable. Even when forced to go to class remotely, SPJ chapters found ways to keep students engaged and continued to prepare them for the professional world. And they did it with creativity and style.
Maya Brown remembers when a student advisor, in 2020, asked her to revive Stony Brook University’s SPJ chapter. Even though it was during the pandemic, she was determined to make it happen and make it matter. Among the chapter’s actions, the student board she helped put together created a virtual speakers series to connect student journalists with experienced professionals. It was an instant hit.
“When you hear from someone already working in the field, talking about the stories they are working on, it makes you think that can be me if I follow their path,” said Brown.
Her top priority when she became president of the chapter was to keep students interested and involved. To that end, Brown and her chapter planned a one-day journalism conference. They asked the Press Club of Long Island to help.
“I wanted students to be able to network,” Brown said. “Even though they were not meeting recruiters, they can still sell themselves in an elevator pitch.”
Brown admits running a student chapter is work, but she says there is always a way to juggle volunteer SPJ work and class work. “There are people who want to help. All you have to do is reach out. SPJ is a family.”
At California State University, Sacramento, Alex Muegge had to figure out how to grow an SPJ student chapter that had been losing steam due to COVID-19. Muegge focused on planning events where students could network, including journalism-themed movie nights.
“I thought that was important not only on the professional level but also to make personal connections and new friends, especially in a COVID world,” said Muegge. “Any opportunity to network. That’s why SPJ was so appealing to me.”
Muegge believed exposing the SPJ chapter name on campus was key to getting more members. He started open mic night where students from different majors were invited to share their stories through poems, songs, essays or even comedy sketches.
“My goal as president is that any member has as good or better of an experience than I had,” he noted. “I hope they make enough connections, even if it’s just one that can help their career move on to bigger things.”
Kyra O’Conner, Elon University’s incoming student chapter president, recommends for anyone wanting to start an SPJ chapter to find a supportive student advisor and bring the professional journalist alumni into the fold.
O’Conner said that Kelly Furnas, chapter advisor and journalism professor at Elon, has been great about showing what the organization offers, including SPJ’s website with its resources, job postings and conference information.
Elon alumni also play a big part in keeping student members involved and engaged.
“Our chapter has a lot to thank our alumni for…. They did not hesitate to visit us via Zoom.”
As I finish my presidency, I am honored to have represented over 100 SPJ student chapters. I could write a book on how each of them is committed to our organization and is passionate about the future of journalism. We must continue to support these chapters and help members succeed on campus and as they transition into the professional world. Let’s remain #SPJChapterStrong.