Looking Back, Looking Forward

ASJA’s calendar year ends in June, not December, but at this time of year, most of us have endings and beginnings on our minds. As we move into 2020 this a good time to consider what we’ve accomplished in 2019, as well as what we have on tap beginning in January.

ASJA is a membership organization, and even without a membership chair, we pay close attention to our member numbers. This is the second year of our associate membership program, which invites emerging freelance writers to join and grow their business with us. With two years of data, including feedback from participants, we’re considering changes to this program. (If you’d like to spearhead these efforts, please consider becoming part of the membership committee. In particular, we’re looking for a chair or co-chairs.) Currently, we have 1,062 members; 45 of these are Associate Members.

By the way, if you haven’t renewed your membership for 2020, let this serve as your reminder! Members are our greatest recruiters, so if you know of someone who should join, be sure to share your story of ASJA with them. And if you’ve always considered joining, get the details here. We’d love to have you!

The point of membership is our benefits, including virtual and in-person resources. This year, we launched a new Facebook page for ASJA members. We still have our forums, but Facebook allows members who use social media to congregate there as well. ASJA also continued programs that helped members connect with editors and potential clients from the comfort of their home offices. Virtual Client Connections hosted a total of 152 members, who met with editors from NextAvenue.org, PopularScience.org, FastCompany.org, American Way and many others. (The next VCC is in late January.) Our Virtual Pitch Slam team hosted eight slams (including the most recent one on December 11) with clients like Preservation Magazine, Business Insider, MIT’s Technology Review and others. As many as 120 members attended at least one VPS in 2019.

We also hosted two conferences this year: our annual conference in New York City and a regional conference in Washington, D.C. Each of these also featured Client Connections, our in-person “speed-dating” event for writers and clients seeking writing. Three-hundred twenty people joined us in New York, and Client Connections matched 225 members for 850 meetings with clients like Bustle, PBS Next Avenue, Memorial Sloane Kettering, AKC & Family Dog Magazine, and SELF. In D.C., 120 people attended, with 76 members attending about 185 meetings with clients like OZY Media, Vox, American Physiological Society, Johns Hopkins Magazine, and CustomNEWS. While you’ve got conferences on the brain, be sure to mark your calendar for April 19-20, when we’ll be back in New York City for our annual conference.

Finally, Estelle Erasmus continued to book editors and clients on the ASJA Direct Podcast. Interviews included editors of HuffPost Personal, Healthline.com and Your Teen for Parents magazine. You can listen to these at the ASJA Direct Podcast page on the ASJA website.

Membership dues help pay for these benefits, but we also depend on sponsorship and grant funds. To help sustain that revenue, the board initiated a development committee, headed by board member Carolyn Crist. She’s already hard at work with president Milt Toby, identifying and applying for grants that will help us meet our financial goals.

In addition, we’ve made progress with the promise to upgrade and redesign our website. Treasurer Howard Baldwin is chairing the team that will contract with a designer/developer to make that happen. As promised, this new site will be paid for by the funds raised in our 70th Anniversary Campaign and feature an educational portal for emerging and experienced writers.

Perhaps you noticed one of our biggest accomplishments in 2019, when it appeared in your mailbox in November. Our magazine content has been revamped thanks to our new editor, Stephanie Vozza, and our new publications chair, Leida Snow. Moving from a bimonthly to quarterly distribution allows our editorial team to dig more deeply into the topics that matter to you, as well as to pay our writers for the first time. In addition, we streamlined our blog, ASJA Confidential, which is now headed up by Debbie Koenig. The Weekly still arrives each Tuesday and features all of the ASJA news you need. Brenda Lange continues as editor of the Weekly.

ASJA’s Writers Emergency Assistance Program continues to help writers who are facing financial difficulties due to medical emergencies or natural disasters. In 2019, we granted approximately $15,000 to about 10 applicants. WEAF continues to be funded by generous donations.

The year is going out with a bang, as ASJA engages in the fight against anti-freelance laws that are crossing the country. Past President Randy Dotinga kept us apprised of the progress of AB5 in California. Through the efforts of Randy and a coalition of volunteers and other writers’ organizations, the bill was amended before becoming law, making it less egregious, but still damaging. In late November, similar bills were proposed in New Jersey and New York. Milt Toby responded with a statement on behalf of ASJA members. At the time of this writing, ASJA is planning a telebriefing to alert members and other freelance writers of how these measures will affect them and what they can do.

It’s been a busy year. And 2020 is looking like it’ll be at least as jam-packed. We expect anti-freelance bills to crop up in other states around the country, and we’re poised to respond. Randy Dotinga and his team of volunteers are making plans for the New York conference, April 19 to 20. We’ll have lots of virtual opportunities for you to connect with potential clients and editors, and we’re planning new SIGs (Subject Interest Groups) to help you stay on top of your field of interest or learn something new.

Most of all, we’re excited to sponsor our first reporting trip to Cuba in March! You still have time to sign up for this inclusive (minus airfare) educational and cultural exchange to Havana, Trinidad and Cienfuegos, Cuba. The trip includes many opportunities to explore this hard-to-get-to country. Check with your editors and book your tour before it sells out! With the right planning, you could pay for the trip with story assignments.

None of this is possible without the tremendous work of volunteers, some of whom offer many hours of volunteer time each week. If you know one of those folks, please send them an email of thanks today. And look for volunteer spotlights in ASJA Confidential and the magazine. One 2020 goal is to crow more about the folks who make our organization shine. We also owe a lot to the staff at Kellen, including our new Executive Director, Tim Bennett. If you’ve called ASJA, you’ve probably spoken to one of the Jameses (James Brannigan or James Cafiero). They help the board and other volunteers stay on track.

Here’s to an exciting and busy 2020. We sincerely hope you’ll join us in New York City and online.

Thank you for supporting ASJA so that we can support you!