The Canadian Association of Journalists held its annual conference this week in Montreal.
In recent weeks the CAJ president has made clear
that the association is in the fight of its life. Membership is down to less than 1,000 from much higher historic levels. In keeping with the times, corporate support is down.
But the most stark sign of challenge was the conference itself, with only about 65 registrants and fewer in attendance. (Self-promotional moment: I was one and contributed to three panels here
.) The annual dinner was downgraded to a cocktail party with a cash bar. The awards evening
itself attracted more, but some of those hadn't gone to the conference itself.
Organizationally you cannot criticize the event. The panels had focus, plenty of content, and have made the step into a much better discussion of the digital age than last year. (Rob Curley of the Las Vegas Sun breathed great life
into the event from the outset and Calgary Herald editor in chief Lorne Motley presented a very moving story
of the loss in Afghanistan of journalist Michelle Lang.)
As the CAJ holds its annual general meeting today, it has to wonder what it can do to revitalize the organization. In discussing this over the weekend with colleagues, they seemed to point to a need for the association to put even more between-conferences emphasis on skills training through workshops, seminars, webinars and resources. There seemed little appetite for the CAJ to spend time on advocacy, except for its fight against institutional secrecy.
But these training initiatives don't come without a cost and it would be interesting to see if the craft responds, given there are other free or near-free resources emerging for the journalist in transition. Given its diminished numbers, it'll also be interesting to see if the association can rally corporate media support.
About all everyone (even those with historic grievances with the association) could agree on at the conference was that something needed to be done to ensure the organization endures and sustains.