In support of AAJA convention projects

Non-profits don’t seem to be weathering the recession very well, in particular journalism non-profits, since we have the added issue of newspapers hemorrhaging jobs. One thing that stunned my friends in particular was that AAJAhad to pony up $30,000 just to reconcile an unfulfilled contract at the Boston convention’s overflow hotel. The other big issue that began making the rounds before I even saw the official proposal sent to AAJA’s chapter presidents was the issue of the convention’s student projects, like Voices. Basically, the issue is AAJA is in the red and some members are thinking that changing the projects to a sort of all expense-paid convention trip/mentorship program to cut down on costs.

I am unabashedly an AAJA cheerleader, especially when it comes to the convention projects. I served on two and got one of my closest friends to apply for another. I’ve also kept in touch with a lot of my Voices pals — who knew just one week could give you an 8-year friendship? So I sent this letter to the discussion thread.

It pains me that I couldn’t be in Boston for the convention this year, but with a baby on the way and plans to move within the month (and also go to a wedding within the month), it just wasn’t possible.

But I did want to be heard on this subject. There has been rumor of this proposal among Voices alumni on Facebook, and we all feel pretty strongly about this.

I served on two student projects — the online project in 2000 and Voices in 2001. Voices, in particular, was an amazing experience — I got a chance to work with and get to know really great professionals and immensely talented fellow students. The clips I got through Voices are some I’m most proud of. And, if you want to give a student a VIP experience through the convention, there really is no better way than as a Voices reporter or a photographer for the online project.

I am with Shirley on convergence. I may be an online news producer and a veteran blogger, but without my time working intensively as a webmaster, then later as a reporter, I don’t think I could be where I am now. The current state of round-the-clock multiplatform news is too complicated and vast to learn in just one week. I think the projects should be separate, rather than a converged newsroom. It may cost more, but I do think there are other areas where those costs can be recouped.

I like Shirley and Jinah’s cost-saving suggestions, and I’d also like to add that maybe we could get technological support or sponsorship — instead of, say, CBS News, sponsoring the computer setup, how about asking Verizon to loan out netbooks for students who don’t have their own laptops, and ask those students with laptops to bring them along. Maybe each chapter could reserve one convention stipend for a convention intern, as we do with JCamp? I also REALLY like the idea of seeking out local students and editors. It would really increase local participation in the conventions, in my opinion.

As for applications for Voices, I think the problem has been advertising and marketing. I’ve personally gotten one friend to apply for Voices, but she only knew about AAJA and the opportunity because I had done it. And I don’t even remember how I found out about the opportunity. I truly believe AAJA, not just Voices, has a PR issue — not enough people know about the organization. I really think more attention should be paid to this issue, rather than trying to cut down some of the programs that make AAJA such an enduring organization.

Speaking frankly, AAJA hasn’t done much for me aside from the convention internships — I haven’t gotten any scholarships or jobs through the organization. But I love it! I’ve been to all but two conventions in the last decade and am constantly getting together with friends I made through AAJA and Voices. Those friends have helped me keep the faith as I struggled to keep going in the news business. And I’ve been generous with my time and talent (and my husband’s) when it comes to AAJA. More than any scholarship, I think the experience of camaraderie of Voices and the other convention projects really cements a journalists’ commitment to journalism and AAJA. We may be surprised if we looked at who stays and who goes when it comes to scholarship recipients and convention interns.

Please do not eliminate this program. It is one of the best, if not the best, AAJA has to offer.

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