From the President

From the September 2017 issue of AEJMC News

“This is What Community-Building Feels Like”

I must admit: I was holding my breath for a minute there.

That minute was halfway through our annual business meeting, on Aug. 11 at the 2017 conference in Chicago.  After 30 minutes of intense ideation, small groups at 21 tables had just produced 42 poster-sized pages of ideas.  I had just given the team of five “curators” half an hour — not only to synthesize all of those ideas but to present on the big screen a cogent PowerPoint summary.  Would anyone actually emerge from that little adjoining room before our noon adjournment?

Given the talent at work in the adjoining room, I had nothing to worry about.  Still, when Chris Roberts strode from the work room 10 minutes early, laptop open and ready to connect to the projector, my heart did its happy dance.

This was the officers’ grand experiment, to see if the all-member business meeting could become more meaningful by adopting a “Town Hall/Focus Group” mode for at least one of its two scheduled hours, in order to poll members on two essential questions: What is the greatest need of AEJMC members for professional success? And What AEJMC initiatives would help meet that need for its members?

Instead of rows and rows of chairs, we welcomed attendees with rows and rows of small tables, each festooned with creativity-inspiring doodling tools (although I still don’t quite get those little plastic spinners).  Nearly 100 members attended – not an earth-shattering number in itself.  The difference, however, was that they didn’t drift off as the meeting wore on (as we’ve seen happen all too often in recent years).  Folks had invested time and effort in creating pieces of a snapshot of members’ needs and suggestions, and they wanted to stick around to see the final picture.

And a well-focused snapshot it was, thanks to the intense 20 minutes of curation by Chris Roberts, Jan Slater, Heloiza Herscovitz, Paul Parsons and Katie Foss. (Huge thanks as well, by the way, to the Council of Divisions volunteers who adeptly facilitated all those small-group discussions.)

If the 2017 all-member meeting had done nothing more than produce this well-organized set of suggestions, I would have considered the event a success.  But we somehow managed to conduct the essential annual business of the organization as well – from presentations of AEJMC-wide awards and the financial report, to the recounting of the year’s highlights and the passing of the presidential gavel.  And for good measure, we were somehow able to debate a resolution to “reaffirm AEJMC’S commitment to journalism and its role and function in a free and democratic society” in the current political climate.  Thanks to the hard work of the Professional Freedom & Responsibility Committee, the document was both comprehensive and concise.  The discussion did get lively over how to treat “fake news,” but with literally dozens of former and current copy editors in the room, we reached consensus even in our wordsmithing.

So the process seemed successful, but what about the content of the ideation? You can look at some of the slides yourself on p. 3 here in the newsletter, but in my mind the summaries of responses to both the “greatest needs” question and the “what can AEJMC do” question clustered around five themes:
•  Increase resources for individual professional development, from mid-career mentoring and online resources to stipends for conferences;
•  Help us make our work more relevant to a group of fast-changing industries, from curricular and pedagogical renewal to discoveries of new economic models for media;
•  Enhance the brand of AEJMC, both among members with improved internal communication, and among society in general, with improved external communication.
•  Help us increase the productivity and impact of our research, from grant-writing workshops and collaboration incentives to shortening “time to publication” and raising our findings’ impacts in the media industries.
•  Nurture two important (but often overlooked) groups within our membership: graduate students and international scholars.

That’s a lot to unpack – and again, it’s only a snapshot of 100 members’ sentiments on an early-August day – but the AEJMC leadership is committed to not letting these ideas disappear.  The Board of Directors has already put this meeting’s output on its December agenda. And I was especially delighted to see consonance with the first recommendations of the Presidential Task Force on Bridging the Gap with the Professions: survey media professionals and JMC programs on the current state of academic-professional partnerships; create an annual prize for research relevant to a media profession; create a professional advisory committee to suggest ideas on teaching and research; and increase the partnerships between AEJMC and professional organizations.  (The Board of Directors approved these in Chicago.)

That’s just the start of the consonance.  Incoming President Jennifer Greer is focusing on increasing memberships by increasing the value of belonging to our various divisions and groups, as well as to AEJMC in general.  Many of these focus-group ideas will resurface, I’m pretty sure, in the work of her task force.  And the “Directions” of AEJMC’s long-term Strategic Plan include such goals as “Become A Primary Resource for Scholarship,” “Strengthen Identity, Image and Influence” and “Engage Globally and Multiculturally.”  AEJMC’s Strategic Plan Implementation Committee will continue to work with these focus-group ideas.  It’s encouraging to see that the Aug. 11 suggestions essentially called for a recommitment to, rather than an upending of, many of our existing, expressed values.

I hope we do continue these focus groups in future annual meetings. A lot of the meeting was noisier, and more casual, and at times more spirited than what we’d come to expect at business meetings.  For me, the most rewarding moment – even more than the sight of Chris Roberts’ laptop – was right after adjournment, when a fairly new member attending her first business meeting told me, “This is what community-building feels like.”
By Paul Voakes
University of Colorado, Boulder
2016-17 AEJMC President

“From the President” is courtesy of AEJMC News.

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