Advocating for a New NABJ Constitution

Several weeks ago, DJTF Vice President Benet Wilson offered her views on the proposed changes to the NABJ constitution. Benet, one of the hardest working members serving our beloved association, said she would vote to ratify the changes after online voting begins Monday, July 14. As a co-chair of the NABJ Constitutional Commission, I appreciate the chance to briefly urge for their adoption as well.

First, please note that the NABJ Digital Task Force will host a Twitter chat regarding the constitutional proposals from 8 to 9 p.m. (EST) Monday. I look forward to interacting with my fellow members then via the hashtag #AmendNABJ.

NABJ’s primary governing document needs refreshing. We all know how much our industry has changed since 44 men and women founded our now 3,100-member association in 1975. We are approaching our 40th anniversary. Our constitution no longer serves us well. It’s outdated. It’s too constricting. NABJ cannot even change its logo without a constitutional amendment. It needs a new constitution that reinforces its mission, identity and principals without limiting progress.

The membership, at the 2013 convention in Orlando, established a 15-member commission to review the constitution – and propose changes to better position NABJ and its members to succeed and flourish. Its efforts have resulted in a comprehensive overall that affects matters ranging from vision and goals to governance and membership to chapters and regions.

Following last year’s convention, NABJ President Bob Butler appointed five members from the Council of Presidents, five from the Founders Task Force and five at large to the commission. The group includes two NABJ founders (Joe Davidson and Allison Davis) and three past presidents (Barbara Ciara, Bryan Monroe and myself). Butler tapped Davis and me to serve as co-chairs.

The commission did its work diligently. It focused on ensuring that our members, our communities and journalism are best served in the years to come. Wanting an inclusive and thorough process, the commission also sought input from the membership (via webinars and surveys), national office and board of directors, and reviewed mission statements and governing structures of comparable journalism organizations. The board accepted the recommendations in April.

I urge all NABJ members to review the current constitution and proposed constitution. Also review the extensive overview and answers to frequently asked questions offered on NABJ’s website.

The proposals are not perfect. They surely will not please everyone. But the commission kept at the forefront of its deliberations that for every member who votes no, two other members must vote yes for the changes to take effect. Hence my mandate as a co-chair: Only put forward that which would be supported by seven out of 10 members. The webinars and surveys helped with this immensely.

In my opinion, the most important changes relate to NABJ membership. They would, among things:

  • Create an overarching dynamic that embraces anyone who is creating, producing or supervising the creation of journalism, whether one works for traditional or legacy media companies, or as an independent journalist or media entrepreneur.
  • Enhance membership opportunities for journalists, journalism educators, those former journalists who have served NABJ and the industry significantly, and those new in the business but who are not yet able to afford the costs of professional membership.
  • Remove the “class” concept that certain members are “full” and others are not, particularly with respect to voting on the association’s leaders and initiatives, by creating, for example, such categories as “professional” and “emerging professional.”

Elected leadership is another key concern. The membership’s input made it clear that 1) the board of directors should retain its current size – 14 members – and 2) representation should be based on where we live as much as on what we do. That meant ensuring spots for regional directors and academic and media-related representatives.

It also led to a position for vice president-digital. Some may say only one vice president is necessary. Again, the membership input signaled that not enough members want that approach. It did, though, stress that digital matters, particularly with start-ups sprouting each day and more and more members working in digital-only jobs in legacy newsrooms.

The new constitution would also lead to greater continuity of leadership. Beginning in 2017, members could choose to re-elect NABJ’s president to a second two-year term. This change recognizes the learning curve for whoever assumes the presidency. In addition, staggered terms would begin in 2015 so that only half of the board is up for election each year.

The commission also focused on NABJ’s chapters. However, only minor changes are proposed, to more accurately reflect that they are separately incorporated 501(c)(3) organizations. The commission accepts that a proper constitution cannot solve every problem based on day-to-day competencies and capacities. Take, for example, the idea of having board members take on some of the expense of attending quarterly meetings. Many might agree, but that is not a constitutional matter. It is better left for NABJ’s operating procedures, which the board can amend at any time.

That’s all for now. Remember, the current constitution and operating procedures provide that only full members as of June 30 can vote on the proposed changes. Online voting begins July 14 and ends 5 p.m., Aug. 1. The results will be announced that night at the 2014 convention in Boston.

On behalf of the commission, thank you for your consideration. Please join the Digital Journalism Task Force and me for our #AmendNABJ Twitter chat on Monday night. Please vote to adopt the proposed constitution – and then continue to hold NABJ and its elected leadership accountable.

Herbert Lowe served as NABJ’s president from 2003 to 2005. Previously a reporter for 22 years at several newspapers and communications director for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, he is the journalism professional in residence and director of journalism for social change at Marquette University in Milwaukee.

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