AOJ Future Committee Report

The following material is preserved from the original AOJ website as of December 2016 and should be considered historical. 

AOJ Future Committee Recommends Poynter Partnership

At AOJ’s annual meeting in September, a committee was named to identify and evaluate management services for the organization. The committee has completed its work and is recommending that the newly constituted AOJ pursue an agreement for management services with the Poynter Institute.

This recommendation comes after discussions over the past six weeks with the Society of Professional Journalists, the American Society of News Editors, long-time AOJ member Sue Ryon and the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. SPJ, ASNE and Ryon all submitted detailed proposals. We made attempts to open a dialogue with the Online News Association, but given our short window, we did not have meaningful discussions. We are grateful for the time and energy that went into each of the competing proposals that we did receive.

We believe that a partnership with Poynter would provide AOJ with the best chance to solidify management, grow both membership and our endowment and remain an independent organization. Poynter also offers a singular advantage that the other proposals do not: It is the premier journalistic training organization in the nation.

In addition to providing organizational support (handling membership, managing the annual symposium and other administrative functions), Poynter would host AOJ’s annual symposium in St. Petersburg (at least for the first year) as well as the Minority Writers Seminar. Poynter would help coordinate our annual State Department Briefing in Washington, D.C.

Poynter is particularly interested in building on the success of the Minority Writers Seminar. As Ellyn Kamke, Poynter director of custom programs, notes in her proposal, writing and diversity are central to Poynter’s mission. The committee firmly believes that the MWS will be in good hands with Poynter.

Poynter envisions potential revenue streams from each of these events. The committee was impressed with the creative vision of Kamke and her team.

Poynter also would develop custom training packages and other training programs exclusive to AOJ members at a discounted fee.

AOJ’s endowment could benefit from Poynter fund-raising, and our membership outreach efforts could benefit from Poynter’s national reputation. Poynter would manage our funds, including the MWS endowment. Poynter uses a professional manager and also has its own in-house lawyer who could be available for AOJ work.

Poynter offers expertise and training that today’s journalists need, as was evident by Kamke’s presentation at our conference in Mobile. The committee believes it is important that AOJ remain relevant to working members of the media by helping to provide the specific ongoing training that they need.

Among the questions board members may want to consider:

  • At the moment, we have no identifiable revenue streams to cover the cost of management, meaning we would have to dip into reserves. Our hope is that Poynter would be able to work with us to develop revenue from the symposium, State Department Briefing, and perhaps the MWS, to cover the cost of management. This, of course, is not a certainty.
  • Revenue sharing. The Poynter staff is aggressively seeking new revenue to support its own management and close a deficit. And so far, the ideas for revenue streams for AOJ-related events are only ideas. The committee suggests that because of these concerns, any contract with Poynter should be structured for one year only with options to both extend and end the contract.
  • While Poynter has a deep expertise in training, it has not managed another organization. The committee does not consider this a serious concern because of Poynter’s proven track record of managing training and conferences, but this fact needs to be considered and discussed. Poynter two years ago successfully hosted the annual convention of newspaper feature editors.
  • Poynter’s own financial challenges need to be considered. Its annual report for 2013 showed expenses exceeded revenues by $3.5 million. But the committee sees evidence that Poynter management has the organization headed in the right direction financially. The committee recommends this as a discussion point with Poynter representatives.
  • The committee also recommends a line-by-line examination of AOJ’s proposed budget compared against the Poynter proposal so that board members can be sure of the actual cost of the proposal.

The committee recommends that the combined AOJ and AOJ Foundation boards authorize committee members to enter into further talks with Poynter with a goal of reaching agreement on a management contract by Dec. 31. We recommend, as noted, a one-year contract with options for renewal. We recommend a mid-year evaluation (after the State Department Briefing and Minority Writers Seminar). We also recommend pushing back the annual symposium to January or February of 2016 to improve planning and take advantage of the Florida location to potentially improve attendance.

None of the proposals the committee considered offer AOJ everything it wants, of course, but we believe that the Poynter proposal comes closest, provided board members are satisfied that the cost of the services is reasonable and other concerns raised in this report can be resolved.

With Poynter, we retain our independence, draw on Poynter’s years of training expertise to improve our programming, enhance our online learning opportunities and have the potential to raise more money for AOJ’s activities. The committee recommends that AOJ move forward with negotiations with Poynter.

  • David D. Haynes, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, chair
  • Miriam Pepper, AOJ president, Kansas City Star, retired
  • Lois Kazakoff, AOJ Foundation president, deputy editorial page editor, San Francisco Chronicle
  • Kate Riley, AOJ vice president, editorial page editor, Seattle Times
  • Paula Ellis, AOJ Foundation board member and former vice president for strategic initiatives for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
    • Ellis recused herself from discussions involving Poynter; she is a member of Poynter’s board of trustees.
Fall 2014