Declining membership worrisome for Chicago-area journalist organizations

A Look at the future of our Chicago Journalists Association
Allen Rafalson

Most recently, one of the city’s longtime journalist organizations initiated a campaign online in hopes of keeping its old members and attracting new ones .It continues today and is a symptom of what is happening to our profession.
Memberships are declining, and along with it, funds so desperately needed to prevent a shipwreck. Perhaps it’s because digital technology has shown us a new way to see the world. Is this the beginning of the end for nonprofits such as our Chicago Journalists Association? Don’t think so, but we must look at the facts.
Financially, the newspaper industry continues to face difficulties, according to a report by the Pew Research Center. Newspaper revenue declined, less than it was a decade ago and has resulted in the loss of newsrooms jobs for thousands. This explains why journalists no longer look to join journalism organizations, attend their dinners or other events. The loss of income certainly has had a significant impact on their families.  While there may be a glimmer of hope due to the rise in tech journalism, there still remains a huge employment void for those who have been terminated.The report goes on to say that more Americans get their news online, rather than from radios, television or newspapers. Sixty percent of those under 25 depend on social media for their news. Hello, YouTube, Facebook Twitter and mobile readers! While that may alarm many of us, some of the nation’s newspapers are enjoying digital growth and adding employees to their newsrooms, such as the Washington Post, New York Times and Texas Tribune.  Large digital revenues remain mostly on the wish list. None receive more than a small share of their total revenue from digital.Don’t want to spell doom and gloom for unemployed journalists, particularly in Chicago where our two major newspapers are experiencing financial difficulties. However, there exists news outlets with digital-first approaches who may be expanding their staffs, Vice News,, Politico and business-oriented Quartz among them, according to Pew. Admittedly, others have failed.Add our nation’s sluggish economy and it’s easy to see why memberships have declined. Certainly it is worrisome.

About CJA’s future

So what about the future of our Chicago Journalists Association, the city’s second oldest journalism organization whose roots go back 76 years?Believe we can survive if we have the support of our membership and continue to strengthen CJA by attracting young professional reporters and those journalism students attending colleges and universities in Illinois. We have made progress.A couple of years ago we created an Associate Board , which currently consists of 11 students, some whom we believe will eventually become directors. This transformation has already started with the promotion of one of them to Secretary.  Meanwhile, our board continues to get younger as we recently added three new directors with extensive experience, Chicago Tribune business reporter Becky Yerak ,  China Star News executive Yudi Yang and Sun-Times Urban reporter Maudlyne Lhejiriaka.They  are the path to our future.Need I remind you that we also faced challenges near the turn of the century when membership and funding in the Chicago Press Veterans Association was fading. We answered by changing  our name to the Chicago Journalists Association and brought  with it new honors such as the Daniel Pearl and Lifetime Achievement Awards; created a nonprofit CJA Charitable  Fund, which has given $1,000 scholarships to many competing college journalism students; and hiring a noted webmaster to modernize our website, which has received numerous hits from journalists overseas .During the past six months we have been hosts to reporters and editors from the Ukraine and Colombia’s Society of Newspapers and Media.
The Sarah Brown Boyden competition remains a favorite, but purchasing   award plaques for winners is costly. This year we will add a new contest, the Dorothy Storch Award, thanks to the generosity of her family and friend Dick Simpson. Each year, a winning Illinois columnist is to be recipient of a $1000 award. A CJA member and outstanding columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Chicago Today, she passed away late last year. Contest details to be revealed soon.The loss of Dan Friedlander, our longtime newsletter editor, has left a void although we update our activities on our website frequently. We must do a better job of communicating with older members who do not have computers.Bottom line: We may have to curtail many of our activities, including our annual dinner, frequently referred to as the” best presentation” by many of our peers.  This year it will be sponsored by the CJA Charitable Fund, a 501©  (3).Our treasury is almost depleted. We need your help! There remains bills to be paid. Please submit you’re annual dues, along with a donation with this invoice.  And perhaps you may know an individual who may want to sponsor our dinner.To our older and younger members, journalism is your garden. Let it continue to grow.On behalf of our board of directors, wish you and your families a healthy and happy 2016.

Allen Rafalson