Home > Ethics, Industry stuff > Is the CAJ worth 75 bucks?

Is the CAJ worth 75 bucks?

February 8, 2011

I’m not a member of the Canadian Association of Journalists.

Clearly I care about journalism. (Exhibit A: my bank statement. Exhibit B: this blog).

But, as I write this paragraph, I have yet to be convinced that the $75 yearly fee is worth it.

That’s not to say that the CAJ doesn’t have a role to play. But as a community journalist, I get the impression that the issues about which I care most (allocation of resources, advertising/editorial independence) are rarely, if ever, discussed or commented upon by the organization.

But in the spirit of open inquiry, I”ve decided to take a close look at what the CAJ offers and decide whether it’s worth my $75. (I’ve never done this before. It may change my mind. But I doubt it.) I’ll give a personal value to each role. If the current value comes to $75, I’ll join the CAJ.

1. Events

Here’s the membership info from the CAJ website:

Membership brings you the many benefits outlined on these pages. For example, current members gain reduced entry fees to all CAJ events, which can save hundreds of dollars over the space of a year. Often, non-members can join, pay the appropriate member rate and access membership rates to these events, with the membership fee and member rate still being less than the non-member entry.

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The events page of the CAJ contains mostly Ontario and Quebec events held last year. But honestly, even regular sessions in Vancouver would probably still be not enough to persuade me to join unless I lived within an hour of the event location. That said, if I liked some of the offerings, and if they were conveniently located, those offerings would have substantial value, if just for the drinking component. (There is drinking, right?)

Value if I lived in Prince George: $0.30. Value if I lived in downtown Vancouver or Victoria: $30.

2. Awards

Gordon Hoekstra of the Prince George Citizen won the organization’s top award last year. Being a member, and winning the award, is certainly going to look good on the ol’ resume for Gordon. But I’m simply not going to pay $75 simply to enter a contest that I can’t be guaranteed of winning (and if I’m guaranteed to win, it’s not a contest worth entering). Value: $9.

3. Advocacy

The CAJ issued only one advocacy press release, on a court ruling about broadcasting audio and images from courtrooms, in January. Last year it issued a total of a dozen or so releases. It criticized on the closure of four community newspapers by Black Press. It weighed in on the whole long-form census debacle. And they asked for better protection of sources and more access to information, among other issues. They were all very worthy causes. There’s also the behind-the-scenes lobbying one assumes goes on behind closed doors.

Save the newspaper closure release, the CAJ played with kids’ gloves when it came to this country’s newspaper companies. Christ, it’s not like there’s not stuff out there waiting to be criticized. The CAJ needs to grow some testicals and/or ovaries. Right now, they’re the organization best placed to, say, criticize publishers who don’t have a clue about editorial independence. So, what do they do?

They release a Policy Paper on Editorial Independence which begins with the following paragraph:

In recent years, the credibility of print, broadcast and online journalists has been eroded by frequent accounts of news stories spiked or killed because of pressure from advertisers or from owners wielding their personal political views. That has left the impression among reporters and citizens alike that there exists a quiet assault on the ability of journalists to give a fair account of all sides of an issue, without meddling from advertisers or owners.

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That’s terrific! (I’m not being sarcastic).

The paper itself lays out guidelines for journalists to abide by when it comes to keeping their distance and maintaining credibility in relation to editorial content.

It says stuff like:

2i — Editorial staff should not be required to prepare special advertising sections for their own publications, or for other publications in their company. In the same vein, the names of editors from the editorial section should not appear on special advertising sections.

That’s terrific! (THAT is sarcasm).

Of course editorial staff should not be required to whore themselves out. But try telling that to a publisher.

I hope the document got sent to every single publisher in the country. But I very, very much doubt it. I googled it and the only mention of it is on the CAJ website. And there’s no press release there.

So what? you ask. It’s not like a newspaper’s going to print something attacking their publisher.

True, but at least it shows a modicum of desire to get this document into the hands of those who need to see it. As it is, it remains an infuriating policy paper. “Policy paper:” the words make me shudder. Current value: $7. Potential value: $75.

4. Ethics committee

This is another place for wannabe journalism professors to earn their stripes. I’m not saying that those who serve on the committee don’t have very, very good intentions. They do. (Or that journalism professors don’t do good work. They do.) But those sitting on the CAJ ethics committee and laying down ground rules for other CAJ members are just preaching to a choir that is being held hostage at gunpoint. The choir will sing, but it will do the bidding of those whose fingers are on the trigger.

Don’t get me wrong. I like the idea of an ethics committee. I would even like to be part of one. And I think that dealing with questions like “If a practising journalist seeks public office, what effect does, can or should that choice have on his or her ability to continue or return to his or her work?” is fine and dandy. I just don’t think it’s work that isn’t done by journalism professors. And thusly, I don’t think it’s worth my $75. Value: $3.

5. Status and community

By joining the CAJ I would be able to say, “I’m a member of the Canadian Association of Journalists.” It has a nice ring to it, no? I also imagine that I would get a membership card. That would be good. And I would maybe join the CAJ’s mailing list and become part of the CAJ siblinghood. Value: $5.
5b. J-source

The CAJ is “a founding partner of j-source.ca, and the association handles J-source’s “Ask a mentor“ section where people can have their questions answered by experienced journalists.”

I love J-source, even if it’s got a big paper bent to it. The Canadian Journalism Foundation is the driving force behind the project, but I’ll give the CAJ credit where credit is due. Also, the “Ask a mentor” section is great. Total J-source value: $20; of which one-quarter goes to CAJ thus Value: $5.

———————

I think that’s about it, so let’s do some math, assuming I’m your average community newspaper reporter who can’t afford to live in downtown Vancouver.

Events:        $0.30
Awards:       $9.00
Advocacy:  $7.00
Ethics:          $4.00
Status:          $5.00
J-source:     $5.00

———
Total      $31.30

So, if the CAJ slashed their prices by two-thirds, I think I’d join. Alternately, they could step up their advocacy work. For the time being, though, I’m staying unaffiliated.

Am I totally off base? Are you a member? Should I become a member? How much would you pay? Leave a comment…

Note: you don’t get a new post until I get three half-decent comments. (Yes, that’s how it’s gonna be.)

To all overly sensitive journos: this is my opinion. It is biased. It may even be ill informed. Don’t get in a huff. But if you do, don’t e-mail me. Leave a comment and call me out in public.

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  1. Megz
    February 8, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    The only value I see living in B.C. is J-source and the Ask a Mentor section. I’ve used it (for free) when I felt my ethics were clashing with those of my editor, and I appreciated the response as a new journalist in my first full time job.
    Until they have more to offer in the way of events in B.C., I won’t be signing up.

  2. Scott
    February 8, 2011 at 10:12 am

    Boo! Post because you have something interesting to relate! Don’t hold readers hostage to some arbitrary BS number.

    • February 8, 2011 at 11:51 am

      Hiss! One of my goals with this blog is to start a conversation — and I don’t want to be the sole member of the CAJ’s jury — so I’m hoping this will be an incentive to get others to weigh in. Plus, I don’t have anything to relate right now.

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