Minutes of the SPJ D.C. Pro Chapter Board Meeting
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
The Games Room
The National Press Club
Present: President Kathleen Burns; Vice President Jonathan Make; Treasurer Amy Fickling; Recording Secretary Kathryn Foxhall; and board members Al Leeds, Elizabeth Grisham, Eric Falquero and Alice Ollstein
Excused absences: Immediate Past President Julie Asher; Corresponding Secretary Joe Starrs; and board member Daniel Young
President Kathleen Burns called the meeting to order at 7:08 p.m.
Treasurer Amy Fickling led discussion of the Treasurer’s Reports for July, August and September, which she had emailed to the board ahead of the meeting. Burns had asked Fickling to show the “amount of current spendable income, minus the portion we oversee for the Foundation scholarships and the Region 2 conference.”
Fickling explained that the Region 2 funds are always broken out in the monthly reports, and that the chapter doesn’t have control over it; she is treasurer for the Region 2 fund, and mingles the money in the chapter accounts, per agreed-upon practice when Brian Eckert was Region 2 director, to manage them, since the total is not high enough for a separate Region 2 account that would avoid monthly fees.
Also, the chapter does not oversee the SDX Foundation of Washington scholarship monies, though the chapter does donate $8.50 of each chapter member’s $25 annual dues to the SDX-CD scholarship fund. Those donations are made when the quarterly local dues checks are remitted to the chapter from national SPJ.
The funds that have been listed as in a savings account have been moved to the line for reserves in the treasurer’s report, where a CD that matured and was put into a savings account had been listed before. Fickling reported she hopes to talk with an investment adviser at the bank shortly to review best options.
Burns asked if some money could be put in mutual funds. Fickling noted that the chapter might have to report capital gains in that scenario, and she is not sure how that would affect current tax filing, which is a 990-N form, indicating we are a non-profit with revenues under $50,000.
Fickling noted the reserves total includes one year’s worth of operating expenses plus a year’s equivalent of the amount the SDX-DC usually awards in scholarships. This does not mean the money is necessarily designated for SDX-DC, but it is suggested that with long-time SDX-DC president and chief fund-raiser Reggie Stuart experiencing a slow-down in activity due to health issues, there might be a scenario under which the chapter would choose to help out the scholarship fund should there be no funds raised in some future year.
She said we might want to put funds in a five-year certificate of deposit. Too long a term might stand in the way of using the funds in an emergency.
Jonathan Make moved that the board approve the Treasurer’s Reports for July, August and September as presented; Eric Falquero seconded; all voted in favor.
Burns was concerned that since the chapter president has not attended the national SPJ convention in several years – and thus chapter funds that would have gone toward reimbursing the chapter president for some expenses of attending have not been spent, increasing the operating fund balance – the board should budget for that expense, since she is planning to attend the EIJ16 convention in New Orleans this year and is expecting to be reimbursed for travel, hotel and registration.
Fickling had also emailed to the board in advance a copy of a budget the board approved for 2015-2016, and a proposed budget for 2016-2017, built off the current budget but reflecting increases in some expenses and decreases in income, based on lost membership and local dues with it.
After going through the line items, the board approved the proposed budget, but did so by acclamation rather than a formal vote.
Burns then wanted to be sure the EIJ16 convention delegates – Kathryn Foxhall, Alice Ollstein, Andy Schotz and herself – would be approved for the reimbursements traditionally approved by the chapter for delegates attending the national convention. To that end, Fickling also had emailed in advance to the board the motions approved ahead of the 2014 national convention, updated with details for EIJ16 and suitable for presenting at tonight’s meeting. Fickling read the motions aloud at the meeting, and asked that the recording secretary include the text verbatim in the record:
Fickling moved that the chapter agrees to reimburse up to four delegates to the EIJ16 convention in New Orleans Sept. 18-20, 2016, at the rate they paid for the early-bird registration and President’s Installation dinner, not to exceed $310 each. The reimbursement requires that delegates successfully complete their duties, including attending and voting, as votes are called, during all convention business sessions and writing at least one report from the convention for the issue of the Dateline newsletter that follows. Delegates must provide a paid receipt — preferably from their registration packets — to receive reimbursement. Any delegate who is reimbursed for or has comped the registration by their employer or other party, such as national SPJ, shall not also ask the chapter for reimbursement.
Fickling then moved that the chapter agrees to reimburse the chapter president at the rate she paid for early-bird registration to attend the EIJ16 convention in New Orleans Sept. 18-20, 2016, not to exceed $230. The chapter also will reimburse the chapter president at the rate she paid for early-bird registration for the President’s Installation dinner on the final night of the convention, not to exceed $80; the reasonable cost (not to exceed $400) for roundtrip airfare booked at least two weeks in advance to travel from Washington/Baltimore to New Orleans to attend the convention; and the cost of staying at the convention hotel at the room rate not to exceed $169/night plus local and hotel taxes for up to four nights. Reimbursement will be made following the president’s return from the convention, after paid receipts are presented.
Falquero seconded both motions after they were read; all voted in favor.
Fickling also handed out copies of the new reimbursement request forms to be used by anyone requesting reimbursement from the chapter. It requires information such as when the expense was approved by the chapter board, contact information for the recipient, and attachments of paid receipts. There being no suggestions for adding any information, the form will be required for requests and used going forward, starting with the delegates and chapter president attending EIJ16.
VICE PRESIDENT’S REPORT
Vice President Jonathan Make and board member Alice Ollstein reported that attendance was good for the Aug. 30 event on “New Media Political Journalists Discuss Presidential Politics.” Fickling had also sent to board members a report on the registrations, turnout and costs/revenues involved in the event. It had one of the largest turnouts in recent memory for a chapter program – 34 in attendance, including 4 panelists; 36 had RSVP’d (not including panelists), of which 20 were students; 8 were members of either SPJ, NPC or SIPA, the co-sponsoring groups; 8 were non-members. Members paid $5 each; non-members paid $10 each; students were admitted at no charge.
Ollstein, introducing a discussion of costs of events and entrance charges, based on her feedback from this program (which she helped organize and moderated), said that even $10 is often a barrier for her co-workers to attend such an event. She noted that events are a gateway for joining the chapter. And she suggested that the chapter should consider more free events, not just free for students.
Make noted that even with the fees for this event, turnout was good. He said he does not think there should be zero fees for events.
There was discussion of experimenting with low fees for the event featuring Margaret Sullivan at the Washington Post on Nov. 15.
Turning to the holiday party event, Burns noted we have talked about changing venues for the annual holiday party this year. It was held at Gordon Biersch last year, and that event featured inviting long-time chapter members who were to receive pins for longevity in membership from national SPJ. Only one could attend last year. She said there are seven chapter members who would receive a longevity pin this year, and she wants to invite them as guests to the holiday party and make a big deal at that event of presenting them with their pins.
Fickling had prepared an analysis of the past four years of chapter holiday parties. There was not one in 2014, hence the event in 2015 was allowed to cost a little more, in the amount the chapter subsidized entry fee per person.
Make suggested that the program committee should continue to discuss timing of that event, saying that a Saturday afternoon might be good. And that more information will be presented to the board at the next meeting, when more details are worked out. He noted that the eventual venue might be expensive, but holding the function on a Saturday not during a lunch or dinner hour might help keep costs down, though it was likely to still be expensive.
In discussing this, there was a consensus that the price point for members at $20 per person was acceptable, with Make warning that the chapter still might end up paying $800 or $1,000 for the party. The chapter ended up paying about $850 for last year’s event, after members paid $10 each and non-members $15. Fickling noted that even at $10 (and a cash bar) last December not many people attended.
Burns said the event was not publicized early enough. Fickling said the chapter’s events tend to draw about 20 people no matter how much advance publicity is given, or how interesting the topic is. Chapter holiday events are competing with lots of other activities as well.
Ollstein noted that people may want to make plans ahead of time.
Foxhall wondered aloud if the chapter should use that money in some other way, such as to advertise ourselves to journalists to attract new members.
Make, Al Leeds and Ollstein suggested we need to strengthen bonds with journalism programs at local colleges.
Ollstein said that one effort to coordinate with journalism programs might be to offer a workshop on resume and interview skills.
Events the chapter has coming up are:
— A session on media and the law, Sept.20, sponsored by the Media Law Institute and the National Press Club, with SPJ DC Pro as a co-sponsor.
— The chapter fall picnic at the National Zoo on Oct. 1.
— A Nov. 15 session on journalism and politics with Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan, who is former New York Times ombudsman. Interviewer is Erik Wemple, Washington Post media critic.
— The SPJ Holiday Party. Special guests would be those receiving longevity pin from SPJ headquarters. Looking at early December for date.
RECORDING SECRETARY’S REPORT
Recording Secretary Kathryn Foxhall presented the minutes of the board’s August retreat, which had been emailed to the board earlier. It was noted that the minutes are more for reference, since there was no official board meeting held at the retreat.
Make moved that the August retreat minutes be approved as amended; Grisham seconded; all voted in favor.
Foxhall also passed along a request from chapter FOI Committee member Bob Becker, who is an attorney with the D.C. Open Government Coalition, that the board contribute funds to support the upcoming national summit of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, which will be held in Washington in October. She thought it would be a good idea, saying this is a major group that SPJ should be relating to.
After discussion, it was determined there was not enough information about what the funds would be contributed to, but the board agreed SPJ DC Pro should get some recognition in exchange for helping to support the event. And that the “censorship by PIO” issue Foxhall’s been spearheading would also tie in.
To that end, Foxhall moved that the chapter ask the National FOI Coalition to hold a “PIO session” at their convention in Washington, D.C., in October; Make seconded; all voted in favor.
Foxhall agreed to find out more from Bob Becker about the requested $500 contribution and get back to the board with it. It was generally agreed that the board would approve that amount, if Kathryn could be allowed to speak about the PIO issue and SPJ DC could make a pitch about the organization. But a final decision will depend on what Foxhall finds out.
Foxhall also discussed the proposal made to national SPJ headquarters that chapters around the country be given a list of their local media contacts once a year from the Meltwater software that headquarters uses. The national office has a contract with Meltwater that limits how SPJ can share the lists. However, in discussions with SPJ, Meltwater has indicated that an annual list going to each chapter might be acceptable. This would be helpful in expanding chapters’ visibility for events and other announcements.
There was discussion on whether to instruct the delegates to the national SPJ meeting on how to vote on particular issues.
This was at Fickling’s suggestion, since she had background information on national SPJ bylaws changes that are to come before the delegates at the convention. Among the bylaws changes coming to vote will be conditions for qualification in the associate category, and allowing convention delegates to be selected from among each region’s members who are unaffiliated with a chapter.
Ollstein, who will be one of the delegates to the national meeting, said that she would not want to be bound to vote in a particular way before hearing discussion on the issues at the convention.
Burns did not wish to entertain a motion on instructing delegates on the bylaws issues.
Grisham noted that earlier this summer some board members worked to consolidate the chapter’s mailing lists and there are still things to be done on that. Foxhall said we could mail out using the Hudson’s list separately for all events.
Grisham also said that she and Dan Kubiske are still working on the chapter website. She said, however, that we have had almost no click rates on the links.
The board was alerted to the fact that chapter membership has declined dramatically, according to a recent report from national indicating the number of delegates assigned to the chapter – which is one for each 50 members or portion thereof. To address this will require getting renewal letters out and getting a list of people who have not rejoined, so they can be contacted to re-up.
It was also noted that the board is likely to have three vacancies over the next month, as Daniel Young has indicated he will need to resign his director seat and there is a director vacancy created by Make becoming vice president.
Oct. 8 is the deadline for articles for the October newsletter. There will be EIJ16 convention coverage included, as the delegates are required to provide it in exchange for registration reimbursement.
The next board meeting will be Oct. 25 at the National Press Club.
The meeting was adjourned at about 9 p.m. with no objections.