It’s a cliché that journalists, whose lives are based on storytelling and presenting news and information, are not good at communicating with one another.
On a small scale, as in a daily newsroom, or on a larger scale, as in a national organization, that weakness is evident. On Sept. 11 and 12, 22 executive board members, region chairs and student chapter representatives from the National Press Photographers Association met in St. Paul, Minn. The goal was to bridge the gap between the national organization and its members, and rejuvenate its members — professionals and students alike.
NPPA is an advocacy group, whose mission is to promote visual journalism, protect the rights of those working in the field and educate both members and the next generation of journalists. Through the NPPA, many journalists have made connections, found internships and jobs, been represented in legal cases and found a group of individuals who share the same goals and take interest in each other’s work.
In the past few years, NPPA membership has decreased from nearly 12,000 to fewer than 6,000.
Throughout the course of last week’s discussion, attendees mentioned a few reasons for declining membership. One major component is the unwillingness for news organizations to pay the membership fees for their photographers and editors. Historically, entire photo staffs would belong to the NPPA, and dues would be paid for by the organizations. In today’s market, photo staffs are fortunate to have multiple people, let alone paid organizational memberships.
Also, members often don’t see clear benefits to membership. The quality of the monthly clip contest — once extremely competitive and leading to the prized title of Regional Photographer of the Year — has deteriorated. Many journalists with full-time positions say they no longer need the networking opportunities. Some no longer say it important to have access to representation from a group attorney.
So when the time comes to pay $110 to renew, the other ways $110 could be used becomes a major factor in making their decision.
With the issues identified, leaders at the meeting encouraged members to focus on solutions rather than past problems.
“This is a beginning,” NPPA vice president Scott McKiernan said.
It is often said the first step in solving a problem is recognizing there is one. NPPA took the first step by gathering a group of representatives to brainstorm and come up with ways to invigorate the organization.
Student leaders discussed how to attract members, keep them coming back and how to raise money for events and programs for the chapter and community. Students left the meeting with new ideas for keeping university chapters connected via social media, and created a shared Instagram account to keep track of each others’ work and host contests throughout the year.
Professionals discussed new ways to enhance the monthly clip contests, reconnect the regions and increase membership. New conferences, the possibility of a textbook and ideas for events and programs all were proposed.
While taking the first step is commendable, the next steps will be more important. This meeting was like most — more talk than action. The real test will be a month or months from now when attendees — most of whom are working professionals and full time students — return to their daily lives and busy schedules. The ideas and passion are there, but acting upon these is what will revitalize NPPA.
Sarah Gardner is a senior from Eureka, Ill. studying photojournalism and photography at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. She is the editor-in-chief of the student-run newspaper, the Daily Egyptian.