Trend? Association Opts For Membership Change

Change usually begets change among newspaper associations.

Curtailment of printed publications, the rise of digital outlets, revenue concerns, and a desire to diversify the ranks of members are causing press trade groups to contemplate redefining what constitutes association membership.

Add the South Carolina Press Association to the list of the latest to adopt major change. And, the California News Publishers Association is likely to be next.

In South Carolina, monthly and bi-monthly publications are now active members. Other changes include adding a Diversity Committee as a standing group of the Association, allowing printed magazines to join as associate members, updating communication methods from fax/mail to email, and using more gender inclusive terms.

“We think we’re in the top third of the associations looking to break new ground,” SCPA Executive Director Bill Rogers said in a telephone interview. “The time has come for us to do more to invite minority-owned newspapers.”

Rogers said the actions represented the biggest constitutional change at SCPA since it admitted free publications years ago.

“The Board and SCPA staff have spent the last year studying a number of membership issues related to print and digital news organizations,” SCPA reported in its March 25 newsletter.

Allowing monthly and bi-monthly newspapers to become active members required membership approval because it is a change to the SCPA Constitution. Approval occurred during the Association’s annual business meeting on March 31.

Active members have voting rights, while a different contest celebrating excellence exists for associate members to enter.

The Association said keeping membership totals stable are “vital to the health” of SCPA. “Growing the membership will help keep dues, contest and event fees low for all SCPA members to encourage participation,” the Association added.

SCPA lost nine members last year when they went out of business. Rogers said he was happy to report that two weeklies joined in March. In all, 15 dailies and 82 weeklies comprise SCPA’s active members, Rogers said.

The approved change would make some current associate members eligible for active status. “It would also allow SCPA to provide better support to Black, Latinx and other minority-owned print news outlets that do not qualify for membership under current SCPA Constitution because they do not publish at least weekly,” the Association said. The S.C. Advertising Network, for example, might consider “special add-on buys” in monthly and bi-monthly papers.

Added considerations could come from future recommendations advanced by the Diversity Committee, given its permanent status.

Finally, SCPA noted the Association’s revisions do “not change S.C. laws and codes that relate to legal/public notice advertising. In South Carolina, to receive public notice/legal ads, a publication must be published at least weekly in a printed newspaper format.”

In California, the state News Publishers Association will vote this month on proposed amendments to the CNPA bylaws that would:
“Acknowledge mixed print and digital subscriptions and days of publication for digital products. They also consider Active Members to include community news outlets that serve non-English readers with ‘content that is not necessarily California focused, but is of importance to predominantly Californian readers or the specific audience or demographic in California that the publication serves.’ “

“The revision also notes that the publisher of content in a language other than English ‘must certify that either the content published by the applicant is either principally focused on California or their readership is principally based in California,’ ” the Association added in its April 6 newsletter.

The bylaw changes will be put to active members in a digital vote and tallied at the annual business meeting on April 29.

–Tom Silvestri

Author’s note: Do you know how hard it is for a pet owner to not type SPCA when writing about the South Carolina Press Association?

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