PRESIDENT’S COLUMN – Celebrating successes, charting course in changing times…

 Betsy RussellBy Betsy Russell

This year’s Idaho Press Club awards banquet was a smashing success, drawing 165 people to a new venue, “Kindness” in the newly renovated Owyhee Plaza. With great food, great music – thanks to our own journalist/musician Kevin Richert – a great venue, great people and great work to celebrate, it was the right way to toast the Best of 2014.

We liked it enough that we’ve already scheduled next year’s awards banquet for the same venue; plan on it for April 30, 2016, when we’ll celebrate the Best of 2015 in Idaho journalism. One of the most popular features of the new venue: The spacious, open bar/lobby area, with plenty of room for any and all who wanted to gather after the festivities.

There’s a photo gallery posted on our website at If you’ve got photos that aren’t already there, by all means, send them in and we’ll add them!

Times are tough in our business, we know that. It’s especially important to celebrate our good work and remember why we’re all in this.

With the start of the Press Club’s new fiscal year July 1, our board voted unanimously to increase dues for some categories of membership, as part of our continuing effort to bring our expenditures and revenues in line; we built up a cushion from years of extreme frugality, but have largely run through it as our industry has suffered and our revenues fell below our expenses.

In the last fiscal year, our expenses exceeded our revenues by $1,500, an amount that was fully and easily covered by our remaining cushion. But with the reserves largely depleted, it’s time to make sure we run a balanced budget.

Annual membership fees for students won’t rise; they’ll stay at just $20 a year. Regular and associate members’ annual dues will rise $5 from the current $35 to $40; and retired members’ annual dues will rise by $5 from the current $20 to $25.

For comparison, the Society of Professional Journalists, SPJ, currently charges $75 a year for professional members; $37.50 for retirees or students; and $94 for associates. We have always tried to keep our dues lower, because we believe Idaho journalists just don’t make that much money and can’t afford much; plus, many news organizations won’t cover the dues or will only cover part of it, leaving it to us hard-pressed scribes and photogs to ante up. All of these concerns have been thoroughly taken into account in our budget-balancing moves.

The board also approved a money-saving move: First-place contest winners will be entitled to one plaque, with additional plaques available at cost for additional names who are on the entry. This sounds like a small change, but we previously have commissioned plaques for every name listed on the winning entry; because some entries include many names, the cost ballooned in the past year to almost the same amount as our budget deficit. This change brings us in line with other contests in our region, and we hope will be a fairly painless way to improve our revenues.

Our board also voted to keep contest entry fees at their current rates of $20 per entry for members and $15 per entry for student members – again, well below most contests – but to increase the non-member entry fees from $35 to $45 for professionals and from $25 to $30 for non-member students. Our hope is that people considering entering the contest who are not yet members will see that if they’re submitting multiple entries, they might as well become members – it’ll actually save them money.

Our annual Fall Conference is coming up, and promises to be a good one, organized by our Southwest Chapter. And board members have been stepping up for an array of duties, including our new contest co-chairs, Melissa Davlin of Idaho Public TV and Cynthia Sewell of the Idaho Statesman, who are taking over from Joan Cartan-Hansen – with her continued guidance – to continue to ease our online entry process and keep things workable, fair and affordable.

Not affected by our industry changes: Our Don Watkins Memorial Scholarship program, which our predecessors wisely set up as an endowment through the Idaho Community Foundation. We are proud of our winners this year, Nikki Segal of BYU-I, the student winner, and Stephen Reiss, photographer for the Times-News (see his article in this issue of the Communicator).

Our First Amendment Committee also has been busy, and is working on important public records, open meeting and court-access issues to protect all of us and our access to our government.

Thank you all for your support of the Idaho Press Club.

Betsy Z. Russell is a Boise-based reporter for The Spokesman-Review, and is the president of the Idaho Press Club.