‘Tis the Season

The holiday season always is a time for reflection and anticipation. At ASJA we’re remembering a very good year and looking forward to even better things in 2019, all thanks to the work of a passionate and dedicated Board of Directors, committee chairs, scores of volunteers, and guidance from the Kellen Company staff that keeps the train from lurching off the rails.

We celebrated the organization’s 70th anniversary, provided financial assistance to members in need, secured a major national reporting grant, extended our string of successful national conferences, and, sadly, recognized a courageous journalist who was murdered in Malta. It was a busy year for us, and I hope a fruitful one for our members. Some of the highlights:

  • The ASJA celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2018. As part of that recognition, we inaugurated an Anniversary Campaign with the ambitious goal of building an online “educational hub” to serve as a clearinghouse and repository for educational material. Supporting freelance writers through both craft and business education has been an objective of ASJA for decades and developing a robust online site to provide a one-stop resource for educational material is a logical and necessary next step for ASJA. Donations to the 70th Anniversary Campaign are tax deductible and are subject to a dollar-for-dollar match due to the generosity of an anonymous donor.
  • One of the most important things that ASJA has done over the years has been the work of the Writers Emergency Assistance Fund (WEAF). Since 1982, WEAF has awarded more than 160 grants to writers in need, totaling approximately $400,000. The grants, which do not need to repaid by the recipients and are available to both ASJA members and nonmembers, are administered through the ASJA Charitable Trust. The need is always present and tax-deductible donations to the Charitable Trust are always welcome. In 2018, WEAF awarded eight grants, for a total of $19,500.
  • The National Institute of Health Care Management Foundation awarded ASJA a $35,000 grant to fund a national reporting project focusing on “Gender Identify and Mental Health: What’s the Cost?” The grant allowed ASJA to award grants ranging from $800 to $2,000 to 15 professional writers for articles targeted at national publications. More than half of the supported articles have been published, with other publications expected by the March 31, 2019 closing date of the grant period. A second phase of the project solicited personal essays from LGBTQ+ youth discussing mental health issues and their interactions with mental health professionals. ASJA received 11 essays. All the essays were good, some were exceptional. The NIHCM grant was the first of its kind awarded to ASJA.
  • ASJA’s annual conference in New Year every spring is the organization’s most visible, and one of its most valuable, activities. The 2018 renewal was no exception. Packed with educational sessions for journalists, content marketers, and book authors of every experience level, the two-day conference also offers Client Connections, the industry’s largest networking opportunity for freelance non-fiction writers. In 2018, 205 ASJA members participated in Client Connections, meeting 60 editors and agents during more than 750 scheduled appointments.
  • Supplementing the networking opportunities at the annual conference and providing access for those members who cannot attend in New York are Virtual Client Connections and Virtual Pitch Slams. Success stories arising from ASJA’s dedication to networking are rolling in. Other member benefits include opportunities to join one of ASJA’s Special Interest Groups (SIGs) dedicated to specific topics and no-cost access to ASJA Direct: Inside Intel of Getting Published and Paid Well, an informative podcast hosted by Estelle Erasmus featuring interviews with prominent editors and agents. SIGs have been around for a while; ASJA Direct was launched in 2018.
  • One of the highlights of the New York conference is Awards Night, where exceptional work published during the previous year is recognized. Occasionally, ASJA also honors journalists not just for what they’ve written, but for their persistence and exceptional courage in writing it, often at great personal risk. In 2018, the Conscience in Media Award was presented to the late Daphne Caruana Galizia, an investigative journalist who worked tirelessly for 30 years to expose corruption on the island nation of Malta.

On the afternoon of October 16, 2017, Ms. Caruana Galizia was assassinated by a powerful bomb hidden under the driver’s seat in her automobile. The award, presented for just the 12th time since 1975, was accepted by her son, Matthew. I’ve never been prouder of ASJA and our profession than I was that night.

Moving forward into the New Year, you can expect more of the same, only better. During a day-long strategy session in November, the Board of Directors identified several areas for long-term development:

  • Many members have a love/hate relationship with the New York conference. They recognize the value of the educational sessions, Client Connections, the awards, and the associated networking opportunities, but would prefer that the conference be held somewhere more affordable and accessible. The conference is staying in New York; Client Connections is a major draw and nowhere else could we assemble the editors and agents that show up there.

There are changes in the works, however. We’re shifting locations and dates, moving to the Downtown Marriott hotel on May 5-6, 2019. That’s a Sunday and a Monday, with Client Connections on Monday afternoon. Conference co-chairs Jodi Helmer and Carolyn Crist are planning four tracks, for journalists, content producers, book authors, and everyone interested in the business of writing. Of special interest to experienced attendees who might wonder what is left to learn from a conference, there will be special, small-group “Mastermind” sessions focusing on advanced craft.

Finally, for the first time, most sessions on both days of the conference will be open to non-members. Some activities, including Client Connections, will remain restricted to professional members, however, while others may be limited to professional and associate members.

Registration for the 2019 conference is open now, with discounts for early sign ups. More information is available at https://www.eiseverywhere.com/ehome/asja2019nyc/home

  • Regional conferences are a popular alternative for members who can’t make the trip to New York for the annual gathering. A regional is being planned for Fall 2019, with details about the site and program to come.
  • The awards program is being expanded, with additional categories and new opportunities for non-members added. Entries open in early January, with more information at www.asja.org.
  • ASJA Magazine nearly always tops the list of the most popular benefits on membership surveys, with the online version lagging far behind the print version among readers. Balancing the popularity of the print magazine with higher costs and an industry-wide shift to digital publications is a constant struggle, however, and the Publications Committee is drafting a long-term plan for a more robust and sustainable magazine that better serves the membership. The status quo will remain in place for a while, but changes are coming.
  • The Board of Directors also is considering changes to the Forums. They were developed several years ago to facilitate social contacts between members and to provide a reliable source for answers to professional questions. The internet and social media have evolved in ways that the Forums have not, however, and they no longer serve their original purposes in a user-friendly way.
  • ASJA is going to work harder in the future to fulfill its goal o
    f being the “voice” for independent writers. This initiative started last year, when past president and current Board member Randy Dotinga was at the forefront of reporting on a decision by the California Supreme Court that threatened the livelihoods of freelancers in the state. Randy continues to work with a coalition working for a legislative change to clarify the court decision.
  • Finally, members recently were asked to complete a survey regarding health insurance for freelancers. Making this work is a longshot, but ASJA—in cooperation with other writers’ groups—will be working toward that goal in the coming year.

There is much to do moving forward and we always need more help. If you’d like to volunteer, or if you have suggestions or comments about ASJA’s direction, let us know.

Om behalf of the officers, the Board of Directors, and the fine folks at Kellen, Happy Holidays!