January 2012: New Year’s letter from the president – Time for revolution

Better Kat picBy Katherine Ann Rowlands, JAWS president

This year I decided to give up New Year’s resolutions and focus on revolutions instead. Resolutions make me think of failed efforts, faded promises and fake resolve. But revolutions hold all kinds of potential for success, inspiration and meaningful change. In fact, I started a Facebook album called “Kat’s Revolution” that chronicles some of the whimsical and poignant things that strike me as worthy of such a title: relearning how to ride a bike and make those wheels revolve; being grateful for the wheelchair, a revolutionary device that helps me get my elderly mom out and about; and feeling inspired by the revolutionary mission of JAWS.

Think about the power of this message: Supporting the professional empowerment and personal growth of women in journalism and working toward a more accurate portrayal of the whole society.

There’s a lot to like about that mission in theory. But the great thing about JAWS is that there is a lot to like about that mission in practice. Take a look at the compelling and articulate TEDxABQ presentation by past President Megan Kamerick, for example, as she explains to a live – and now Internet – audience why it matters so much to have women’s voices in stories, in newsrooms and in positions of power. And check out the dynamic conversations on our listserv where tips, support, advice and thoughtful discussion reign about issues that affect us all.

At our 2011 CAMP in Asheville, N.C., 130 women journalists gathered for some amazing networking, storytelling and sharing of our professional lives. We heard harrowing and brave tales from war correspondents like Cami McCormick, riveting and memorable details about reporting the Bernie Madoff scandal from Diana B. Henriques, and inspiring and wise counsel from some of our longtime members like Peggy Simpson and Margie Freivogel. We also got great lessons on branding from Lisen Stromberg and multimedia from Susan Mernit. And, in true JAWS spirit, this was also a rewarding opportunity to reconnect with old friends and make some new ones in a beautiful part of the country that had good restaurants and shops to boot.

Next year’s CAMP in Albuquerque, N.M., promises to be just as rich. Programming co-chairs Sarah Pollock and Sandra Fish are putting together a list of potential speakers and panels (don’t delay in sending in proposals if you have them). We set the dates — October 26-28 — to capture the most members possible since our gathering no longer conflicts with UNITY, ONA or SPJ conferences. (In fact, we have submitted proposals to put JAWS-sponsored panels on at UNITY and SPJ.) And the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa is set in a gorgeous area with terrific opportunities for hiking, shopping and exploring.

JAWS is too good not to share and I’m gratified to see so many regional gatherings organized in the last few months, boosting our paid membership up to 435. It’s now time to renew, so keep an eye out for materials online and in the mail. Our strategic plan calls for an ideal membership level of 500 so that we have the critical mass necessary to hold more regional events and do training sessions outside of our annual conference. What we are finding is that word of mouth — even in this digital age — is still the most effective way to recruit new members so please take time to reach out personally to other women journalists who would benefit from JAWS.

Most women who experience our camaraderie, support and fun spirit can’t believe they hadn’t heard about us before but the enthusiasm is infectious. “I’m really glad to have attended my first camp this year in Asheville. JAWS is by far the most transparent, financially prudent, non-hierarchical, non-cliquish and welcoming journalism organization I’ve ever been a part of,” remarked Phuong Ly, a Stanford Knight fellow who has just started a nonprofit called Gateway California to connect immigrant communities with journalists. We hope to capture the new journalism models being created by some of our members and the trailblazing work of our founders through more documentation with updates to HerStory on our website, through the Fran Lewine taped interviews we film and show at CAMP, and via an upcoming Oral History Project.

In addition to boosting membership, the Board of Directors is also making it a priority to update our website and pursue fundraising. Our listserv is still the most active place for our current members to communicate, but the www.jaws.org website is the place potential members and funders gravitate toward for information about who we are and what we do. Sandra Fish, Gina Setser and Becky Day have done a ton of work to make it a vibrant and robust site. But keeping it up to date with fresh material is a job for all of us so we are working on ways to keep new content flowing to our home page and to highlight the interesting work of our members whether that be news about our books, blogs or new jobs.

Fundraising is key because revenues from membership fees and CAMP registrations do not cover all our costs, particularly since we need a full time staffer (thanks Becky!) to keep up with all our ambitions. Thanks to the generosity of members, friends and supporters of JAWS, we ended 2011 with a small surplus and are making excellent progress toward meeting our goals in 2012. Research done last year gave us a head start on approaching funders for grants that can help sustain and grow JAWS in the future. And with the addition of ads to our website (thanks to Dawn Garcia and Becky for making that happen), the Legacy Fund to manage bequests, the Leadership Circle for larger donors and our annual campaign, we have the foundation for continued financial stability.

I see this as a year of growth for JAWS and for me personally as I lead this valuable — and revolutionary — organization! Thanks to all of you who have contributed to JAWS in ways large and small – by being part of CAMP, through your lively conversations on the listserv, by volunteering, and by donating financially to keep JAWS vibrant. Your generosity has encouraged me so much. I would like nothing more than to see that momentum push us forward in 2012 by growing our membership to 500, establishing a firm financial footing by expanding the Leadership Circle and partnering with others to increase our programming during the year. We can do it if we all work together! Let me and Becky know if you can pitch in financially, host a regional gathering or volunteer your time to help us with our website, our outreach or our fundraising. Every bit helps as we work toward reaching our revolutionary potential.