Career Advice

Here’s the Lowdown on 8 Top Professional Groups For Journalists

By Yael Grauer June 5th, 2014

Even after we graduate high school, cliques still exist. But instead of pining to be part of the jocks, nerds, or woo girls, we can just pay to get into professional cliques once we enter the workforce. For journalists, there are plenty of groups out there, but this rundown should help you evaluate some of the best options out there for your particular needs, so when you’re walking down the figurative lunchroom looking for friends, you’ll know where to sit.

American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA)

Who it’s for: Independent non-fiction writers with a handful of major clips already under their belts. Writers with local clips and staff writers need not apply.

Cost: $210 per year, plus a $50 non-refundable application fee.

How to join: ASJA uses a rigorous application process to prove potential members are professional freelancers. Their definition? Someone who’s either written several full-length articles in major national publications over a substantial period of time or had non-fiction books published. For the most part, work published while on staff doesn’t count. The selection committee doesn’t even evaluate the quality of the work; they’re just looking for the “right” bylines.

Benefits: ASJA hosts a national conference in New York City each year, and one of the biggest benefits of membership is a members-only day on Thursday, which includes workshops, networking, and meetings with potential clients who are looking for content creators. Members also receive inside information about smaller conferences or regional events. They even have access to an online database with the inside scoop on pay and a top-secret Listserv, which members are not permitted to share with outsiders.

Association of Healthcare Journalists (AHCJ)

Who it’s for: Healthcare journalists (duh). Full-time faculty members are also eligible, as are retirees (not duh). Public relations professionals are not eligible.

Cost: $60 per year/$30 per year for students/$90 per year for foundation officials.

How to join: Online application.

Benefits: If you are a health reporter, joining AHCJ is worth it just based on the free access to professional medical journals and resources like Elsevier ClinicalKey, ScienceDirect, UptoDate ($499 annual value), American Journal of Public Health ($200 annual value), and Health Affair ($125 annual value). The organization offers an affordable conference—$150 to $200 for members, depending on when you register—with impressive presenters like The New York Times science editor David Corcoran and Men’s Journal editor Tyghe Trimble. And part of the conference includes Freelance Pitchfest, one of the very few one-on-one meetings with editors left in the industry, where freelancers can discuss story ideas with editors, speed-dating style. AHCJ also has a members-only email list.

Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE)

Who it’s for: Investigative journalists and editors, broadcasters, and journalism teachers.

Cost: $70 per year/$25 per year for students.

How to join: Online application.

Benefits: Over 300 tip sheets and guides, access to over 30 government databases, multiple Listservs where users discuss topics like investigative reporting techniques, computer-assisted reporting, and campaign finance reporting. IRE also hosts a members-only annual conference that includes job training events. Additionally, members can access the data analysis and visualization tool Tableau Desktop. IRE is a go-to source for journalists looking to learn technical skills, and groups they partner with teach classes and boot camps on computer-assisted reporting, web programming, statistical analysis, mapping with Access and MySQL, and the wonderfully titled ‘Django for Djournalists.’

National Association for Science Writers (NASW)

Who it’s for: Experienced science writers.

Cost: $85 per two-year membership/$35 per two-year membership for students. Dues are not prorated.

How to join: Applicants must have recommendations from two NASW members and provide five samples of science content produced for non-experts in the past five years.

Benefits: Annual workshops, access to multiple scientific journals including Elsevier’s ScienceDirect, American Physical Society journals, Annual Reviews, Nature, the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association. Members also can track job leads through lively online discussion groups, information on available funding for science writers, eligibility for travel grants, and use free website hosting for up to 10MB. For those who still appreciate a good paper cut, everyone gets a quarterly magazine.

Online News Association (ONA)

Who it’s for: Digital journalists, technophiles, geeks, and aspiring geeks will feel most at home.

Cost: $75 per year/$25 per year for students.

How to join: Online application.

Benefits: Online discussion groups, deep discounts for the annual conference (the early bird rate is $769 for non-members and $439 for members), access to free or reduced-fee legal help, and 25 percent off a one-year JPASS plan.

Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW)

Who it’s for: Business news writers, editors, broadcasters, producers, and business journalism students and teachers. (Those who do not fit this requirement can still apply at a higher cost.)

How to join: Online application.

Cost: $60 per year/$10 per year for students/$75 per year for non-journalists.

Benefits: Two annual conferences—one in NYC and one in Phoenix—focused on business and economics. There are also helpful teleseminars, webinars, and newsletters. For example, the most recent conference included sessions on the Affordable Care Act, the legal marijuana industry,, and retirement savings. Speakers and panelists included Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times, Caitlin Kenny of NPR’s Planet Money, and author Michael Lewis as a keynote speaker. In addition to the conferences and newsletters, members have access to a searchable online membership directory. Students and professionals are also eligible for scholarships.

Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ)

Cost: $40 per year/$25 per year for students.

Who it’s for: Reporters of all stripes—broadcast, radio, print—students and faculty. It’s okay if you work for an employer who lobbies or focuses on public relations related to the environment, but not if you do that on your own.

How to join: Create a profile and fill out an online application.

Benefits: SEJ members are driven by a common cause, and the organization exists to strengthen coverage of environmental news. The society offers an email list, training, regional groups, reporting grants, insider tips on other grants and awards, and mentoring. Regional events include ongoing pub nights in Toronto and meetups in New York City and San FranciscoThe organization maintains a calendar of non-SEJ workshops as well. Members only have to pay $195 to attend the annual five-day conference, and the discount really helps, because non-members have to drop $1,050.

Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ)

Cost: $75 per year/$37.50 per year for students and recent graduates/$94 per year for non-journalists. Regional dues vary.

Who it’s for: All journalists and journalism students and teachers.

How to join: Online application.

Benefits: Members can attend national and regional conferences and gain access to six issues of Quill Magazine, SPJ’s freedom of information guide, and a weekly email newsletter. Although SPJ works diligently to provide continuing education to members, many organization leaders and members alike are still novices when it comes to freelancing. Some training sessions and events are extremely basic, and most seem geared towards on-staff reporting with limited technical skills.

Check out this list to find more journalism organizations. A breakdown of all the cliques in one convenient place—if only high school were that easy.

Image via Draft House

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