What the CAJ should do

Canadian Association of JournalistsWhen J-Source posted CAJ president Mary Agnes Welch’s
Open letter from the CAJ” last week, readers were quick to weigh in with
compliments, criticism and advice for the Canadian Association of Journalists. Former CAJ board member Deborah Campbell wrote her response in “An open letter about the CAJ.” Town Hall editor Deborah Jones also contributed a post called “About the CAJ.”

With all those opinions floating around, we decided to compile what our readers have been saying in our Town Hall:

On why the CAJ doesn’t appeal to most journalists:

“Something that needs to be said is that the CAJ, and every other journalism organization or website I’ve seen, fail to recognize that the vast majority of us work at community newspapers where investigative reporting is practically unheard of and most are just trying to rise above in an atmosphere that provides precious little in the way of recompense or positive recognition.
  Layout, photography, posting web content, copy editing — in addition to filing 20 plus stories to multiple deadlines each week — doesn’t exactly foster award winning exposes. Hell, I can’t even get paid for the hours I work much less get tied up in knots about intricate ethical issues and the like.
    Show me a place where I can turn for support and advocacy in the basic battle to have minimum employment standards met and how to maintain a semblance of independence from the advertiser’s sway without jeopardizing my job and then we’ll talk. $14 an hour, a crushing workload and a recession that reduced what little professional development there was to virtually nil. Is this all I get for my degree?
    Love the CAJ and glad you’re still fighting the good fight on all those macro issues, important as they are, but, with my own plans to leave the biz, possibly for good, it seems to me if a way can’t be found to improve things for the front line workers at community papers much else is moot.”       – Fred Davies

 “I believe the key today is for CAJ to assertively tap the new resource that is presenting itself i.e. the many talented *independent* journalists changing the face of Canadian journalism. Indy media workers can help you to survive. Particularly those specializing in cross-border work. CAJ needs to *internationalize*. This is your best bet for growth.”
 – Diane Walsh

“Not only is the CAJ largely irrelevant to me as a journalist (freelancers are still, oddly, considered inferior by the organization, despite the fact that many of us work internationally and that freelance is very nearly the only way we can do time-intensive long-form investigative journalism in the current climate) but based on the organization’s past positions frankly detrimental. I am much more comfortable bringing together groups of journalists on my own rather than being asked to defend such actions by those who came to the events I organized—or didn’t come, and let me know exactly why. (Attacking Stevie Cameron and honouring Judith Miller? Really?)
– Deborah Campbell in “An open letter to the CAJ

“I think the CAJ should also seriously consider the possibility that it may be much better off in the long run to simply stop trying to be all things to all journalists and instead just focus on a few things it can do really well and let membership fall even lower than it is. Keep the members you can serve properly, those who are willing to spend a few bucks on memberships, and let the others go. It may well be that most of the current membership in the CAJ isn’t even the group you should be targeting.”
 – James Risdon

On industry changes:

 “The CAJ is facing changing demographics in terms of the values and culture of new journalists entering into the workplace, technological changes which have radically altered the nature of news gathering in the past 25 years, a corporate media landscape which is very different, and new competition in the form of other organizations which serve journalists. The single biggest mistake the CAJ could make at this time is to do nothing except try to mend fences and carry on with business as usual.”
James Risdon

On marketing the CAJ

“Enlist some bright business students at the post-graduate level or near it to undertake the CAJ as a case study and make recommendations after working with the board and conducting surveys and doing research into the organization. Then…Re-hire John Dickins full-time – and give the man a hefty raise before he leaves the organization without experienced management at the helm. The organization needs money to operate effectively and it needs experienced management.”
James Risdon

On recruiting new members:

“A U.S. sister org to the CAJ, the SPJ (Society of Professional Journalists) cut (and in some cases dropped) its membership fees as the economic tsunami swept over the U.S. print and broadcast journalism sector in the past 18 months. It was a welcome move and appreciated by thousands of laid off reporters and editors and those who suffered pay cuts and unpaid furloughs.”
Andrew McIntosh

“I recommend that CAJ liaise with other groups such as the Committee to Protect Journalists in a strategic effort to build coalitions. Coalitions – that’s where it’s at today. I also suggest that CAJ write about its woes in online publications way outside of itself i.e. not just J-Source or school publications and organizations with which it has been *traditionally* affiliated. Rather CAJ should be bold enough to reach out to brand new outlets to recruit members. Lead them to a chat room. Promote the CAJ twitter page.”         – Diane Walsh

“Journalists don’t want to join the CAJ for a number of reasons. For one thing, I suspect that there is a stigma against being a CAJ member in several workplaces because the stands taken by the CAJ in the past may be unpopular with media owners. I think the idea of volunteering for an organization after putting in a long week at the office probably doesn’t appeal to many of today’s journalists given the aging of the boomer generation and the change in values among younger journalists. If people aren’t joining the CAJ because they don’t want to get drawn into becoming volunteers, then it doesn’t really matter how low the membership fee is, they’ll still shy away from the CAJ. So, you have to find out the real reasons why people stay away.” – James Risdon

On fundraising:

“I suggest the CAJ organize a benefit with either music or comedy or something to that effect which could pack in a lot of people into one venue for an evening or even a few evenings. Just to be clear: I am NOT talking about an event for journalists so that we can all hang out and have a few beers in a cozy setting. I’m talking about putting together a real show which could raise some serious money.                                                                                                       Also, [the annual CAJ] conferences provide content in the form of the speakers’ speeches and insights gleaned from the workshops. This information could be packaged and sold for the benefit of the CAJ.” – James Risdon

On services the CAJ should offer:

“The Editors Association of Canada (EAC) is a good model for how to sustain and advance an organization. CAJ could also promote as a resource for journalists on a ‘per job/topic’ basis. For instance, if someone had a controversial story they wanted to have covered in their neighborhood instead of phoning some mainstream media telephone tip-line (losing control of the narrative) they could be contacting CAJ.
     How so? Because they heard CAJ developed a URL page where they can access a freelance journalist with said specialties. Boom, a connection is made and a story which otherwise would never have seen the light of day gets covered! Even better, it happened – through – anew CAJ initiative which promotes independent media coverage.
    In practice, that’s basically how EAC works. Random people who need editing work go to the EAC site and pick editors based on their profiles. Why couldn’t CAJ set up a similar sophisticated BIO page/database?”
– Bob Herron

On the CAJ’s plea for assistance:

“This plea brings back many memories. I joined the old CIJ in the early ’80s and left shortly before that organization morphed into the CAJ. What I find supremely ironic is the contrast between the name CAJ and Ms. Welch’s assertion that, ‘We could live with the cut in revenue that each $75 membership… brings in if sponsorships from big media giants hadn’t dried up, too.’
   If there’s a funeral let us know where to send flowers.”
– Peter Saracino

“Maybe instead of asking current members what is wrong and what they would like to see in the CAJ they should seek out those members, board members, conference organizers and volunteers who didn’t re-enlist and ask them why. Simply issuing a passive “what’s wrong” to the choir will not get you the answers you need. You have to actively solicit the knowledge, experience and opinion of those who were not happy or didn’t get what they wanted out of the CAJ. After all, that’s the members you need back, right?”
– Greg Locke

On benefactors:

 “We’d better try to fix the CAJ because if David Black is the successful buyer of the Canwest papers, a strong, effective advocate for journalists will be needed more than ever. Isn’t there a wealthy would-be benefactor out there, willing to save the CAJ? “ – Shannon Moneo

“Well that depends, Shannon. How much money are we talking about and what would this benefactor get in return? If the CAJ is willing to make some kind of deal, then maybe a benefactor would step up to the plate. But you have to tell them what they’d get and how much you want.”
 – James Risdon

“By benefactor I mean someone who gives the money with no strings attached or am I being naive? What about Mr. Blackberry, Jim Balsillie or the guys at Google? Journalists help keep their technologies vital. Canada has plenty of rich folk, maybe even some well-heeled journalists, who could be selectively approached.” –Shannon Moneo 

“Finding some rich dude doesn’t address this angst coming out to the surface at the moment- obviously something that still need resolution around it.” – Diane Walsh

“Diane, Why would it be the wrong approach for the CAJ to use methods which have worked for countless non-profit organizations and businesses? The corporate approach in terms of management expertise and marketing savvy works very well. Why not use it at the CAJ?” – James Risdon

“I just think we shouldn’t beckon to some narrow corporate agenda and try to suck up to certain entities in the hope of getting sponsorship (due to the fickle nature of this that you refer to. I agree with you there).  Instead we could work on remaking ourselves and be a resource for journalists seeking work.” –Diane Walsh

On CAJ’s political past:

“The most important reason why the tireless
volunteers who were long the unheralded backbone of the organization
have left has less to do with the current crisis in journalism than with
a very specific fiasco that brought shame to the organization and to
journalism generally. This event, which cost the CAJ enormous
credibility and goodwill, centered on its fateful decision to publicly
“denounce” (their word) one of the country’s foremost investigative
journalists, Stevie Cameron, rather than defending her from
politically-motivated attacks as they should have. While the event
occurred six years ago—a time when neither myself nor the current
president were on the board—it led to the exodus of key CAJ supporters
and the permanent alienation of countless others. Cameron, whose
courageous reporting had exposed how an ex-prime minister had taken
bribes from a German arms dealer, made powerful enemies—but who would
have thought they would include the very organization that was supposed
to represent her?” 
-Deborah Campbell in “An open letter about the CAJ

“The situation facing the CAJ is much greater than this one issue of what happened with regards to Stevie Cameron… The single biggest mistake the CAJ could make at this time is to do nothing except try to mend fences and carry on with business as usual.” – James Risdon

“Let’s not entirely dismiss the issues that have been raised in the last couple of days – re: CAJ’s somewhat checkered political history (it would appear) . . . I don’t know all the facts of the case, but I think …CAJ went after the wrong target: rather than targeting Stevie Cameron, it should have gone after the police who put her in that uncompromising situation. Since journalists are not protected by law in this area, their only recourse is to public policy. Had CAJ intervened to protest the way journalists can be used by the police, there could have been a shift in either public policy or the law (through references or appeals) to make sure that investigative journalists are protected in their own capacity, not merely as “informers” who are compelled to cooperate with the police or suffer the legal consequences.”
– Diane Walsh

On CAJ’s next steps:

“Will there be a board meeting to discuss these ideas and, if so, when? Will there be a report on that discussion available? Is there likely to be an action plan developed? How is all this supposed to be worked out over the next few months?” – James Risdon

On why the CAJ still matters:

“A press card is of enormous value – this is what indy journalists need – to be able to access their chosen venues for stories they’re working on. Especially government sources. Just think of the recent massive Climate Conference in Copenhagen and all the people who were rejected due to not having the *right* credential (not possessing a proper Press Card). CAJ should use this asset – what it has to offer – to track down new allies. I’m just grateful that I have my Card. But now hearing that CAJ is in trouble makes me think that maybe even the credential is at risk.” – Diane Walsh

Read more comments–and add your own–in J-Source’s comment section.