From the President

From the July 2017 issue of AEJMC News

“The AEJMC Business Meeting: Extreme Makeover”

The makeover is just about complete, and Aug. 11 is The Big Reveal.

I’m referring to the extreme makeover the AEJMC leadership has designed for this year’s business meeting. This is the plenary meeting near the conclusion of our national conference every year. If you’ve never attended one, you’re not alone. Attendance of this meeting has taken a turn for the worse in recent years.

The meeting’s original purpose is still important. Every large organization needs one annual gathering in which members can collectively take stock: hear a summary of the year’s principal activities, learn the group’s financial status, witness the transition of leadership and honor outstanding members.

But the format has become deadly dull.

Just like our students, it seems we’re less inclined these days to sit still for nearly two hours, just listening. So, naturally, when we see in the schedule a block of time where not a single session in the entire conference is programmed other than the business meeting, it’s simply too tempting to play hooky. As Past President Lori Bergen wrote in her column last fall, “Every year a few minutes before 10 a.m. on the last full day of the conference, I see folks streaming out the (hotel) doors to take a break, meet up with friends, plan a project with collaborators – ALL good things that we encourage and that our conference is about – and the ONLY thing they’re missing is the business meeting.”

In that column, Lori lamented that her only true regret about her expiring term was that we tackled this problem a little too late to make changes for last year’s Minneapolis conference. Lori had been urging a meeting in which members themselves would be the headliners. They would share their ideas about broader, longer-range goals for AEJMC, and the leadership could benefit from a fresh, grassroots set of member priorities each year. Alas, by the time we started to reorganize this meeting last spring, too many traditional-format features were already in place. And yes, last year’s meeting had attendance problems.

So Lori, this one’s for you.

This spring, the leadership ladder – President-elect Jennifer Greer, Vice President Marie Hardin and I – undertook the makeover. With valuable input from Jennifer McGill and her staff – the ones who really make the conference go – we’re making these changes:

• The name is now the Membership Town Hall (which will also squeeze in a few necessary business matters).

• Most of the award presentations (which have taken up most of the time at past meetings) have been scheduled for different, smaller meetings in the conference.

• Instead of rows and rows of chairs, we’ll greet you with about 15 pairs of small tables. At every table, members will be asked to discuss the same two questions:

Q1: What is the greatest need of AEJMC members for professional success?

Q2: What AEJMC initiatives would help meet that need for its members?

• Displaying remarkable powers of synthesis and consensus-building, facilitators guide each table to a single “need” and a very short list of initiatives in response to that need.

Once all the tables’ ideas have been gathered, the meeting reverts to a more traditional format: presentation of (a very few) awards, the finance report, votes on one or two resolutions from the PF&R Committee, and the swearing in of the new president.

• Meanwhile, sequestered nearby, the facilitators will help three curators condense the 30 tables’ input into a succinct, non-redundant list, which the curators will present at the conclusion of the meeting.

Thus the one-way-communicated mass business meeting of old becomes an interactive, small-group exercise. I hope you’ll agree that the two key questions are broad enough to solicit a creative and wide-ranging set of challenges and solutions — from the ideological to the pragmatic, from the very long-term to the very short-term. Are we doing enough internationally? Are we doing enough in the public-policy arena? Are we doing enough to help our professors, instructors and grad students succeed? Are we in enough alignment with our counterparts in the media professions? Are we doing enough to foster important new research? Those are only a few of the many, many questions this Town Hall may elicit.

And as we all know from our own experience with these kinds of exercises, follow-up is key. On Saturday, the day after the Town Hall, the new (2017-18) AEJMC Board of Directors will hold its first meeting. And the results of the Friday Town Hall will be prominent on that agenda, as the board addresses possibilities for implementation.

Of course, this can succeed only if members (like you!) show up. Friday morning is our one opportunity to gather as a group to take a deep breath and talk about what AEJMC means to us. And yes, there will still be time that week to visit with friends, tour the city or brainstorm a project with a new colleague. But on Friday morning? Let’s make this chance — to tell the leadership what’s on your mind – a top priority for the week.

By Paul Voakes
University of Colorado, Boulder
2016-17 AEJMC President

“From the President” is courtesy of AEJMC News.

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