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Expanding Our Membership

Hello INBA! :-)

For our first "forum" discussion let's take a look at expanding our membership.  Should we include online journalists in INBA?

Let's hear your thoughts! 

Julie Root---Membership Committee Chair

Jim.Gee's picture

The short answer to Julie's question is, I believe "yes". We're all going to be online journalists in one form or another soon.
The issue at hand, really, is this: how do we define "online journalist".


Let me first provide my idea of context and a timetable for making a change. Our industry is at a tipping point. We've seen broadcasting staff sizes shrink and news operations consolidate. At the same time, we've seen the dramatic shift in how traditional print outlets are moving to more and more online content (and online content that looks like TV and sounds like radio....)

When the economy starts to rebound, which may be before the Spring 2010 convention, broadcasters will face a decision. If... and it's not a certainty... but if they decide to reverse some staff cuts and add bodies to the payroll once more, I suspect there will be a heavy emphasis on producing online, mobile, and on-demand news. In other words "online journalism".

I believe INBA needs to be in a position to recruit online journalists as members before our Spring convention in Oak Brook. That location will be ideal to attract new media journalists from the Chicago area to at least come and see what we're all about.

That means we would need to enact a Bylaws change at the October meeting. Which means the committee needs to develop a plan, if possible, in the next week or two.

This may be an unreasonable expectation... but I believe, if the committee members are willing, it would be worth it.


INBA's Bylaws already allow us to accept journalists who work for the online product of a TV, radio, or cable outlet's website. But now we're seeing more and more journalists who are working exclusively, or at least primarily, online. Moreover, our current Bylaws language is very "distribution" specific:

(From INBA Bylaws, Article III, Section 1, A) "Membership in the Corporation shall be open to persons engaged in the reporting, writing, editing and broadcasting of news for radio, television and/or cable radio and television serving the State of Illinois, to persons engaged in broadcast and/or cable news education at colleges and universities..."

At the July Board of Director's meeting, I proposed a change to include those who do news via the internet, mobile device, and so forth. The Board opted to not approve that language, and suggested the membership come up with a better definition.

One possible answer may be found in how another organization handles this issue. Here's the pertinent language from the RTNDA's constitution:

(RTNDA Bylaws, Artilce III, Section 2- Active Membership) "Any person who is the news director or the supervisor of the news director, or news manager, or who otherwise exercises significant editorial supervision for a licensed radio or television station, cable system, network or other electronic journalism service, and who spends a majority of his or her time in the supervision of news programming, or any news staff member who regularly contributes to news content for any electronic news service is eligible for active membership. The Board of Directors may determine what responsibilities and activities constitute the exercise of significant editorial control."

Obviously, RTNDA still has language which covers News Directors and managers, based on their traditional membership; this is something we need not emulate. The relevant passage is... "any news staff member who regularly contributes to news content for any electronic news service is eligible for active membership."

I ask the membership committee to draft language similar to what RTNDA has that would allow us to invite all manner of electronic journalists into our organization. The committee should use our new website to solicit input from the general membership. Any bylaws change needs to be presented in a document which shows both the old and new language.

The committee should specifically look at both the language in Article I (Purpose) and Article III (Membership).


There will be a very valid concern about letting just anyone with a blog join our organization. The INBA Bylaws already charge the Board with approving new members by a 2/3 majority. If the membership committee thinks that's safeguard enough, then they need not recommend any further changes.


I hope the committee members will move quickly yet deliberately on this issue. I will be available to answer any questions, but I intend to stay out of the discussion from this point on. I only ask that you all put your usual serious effort into this-- I believe this is an important and urgent step forward for INBA.

Jim Gee

Janice.Collins's picture

Like I responded in my email, my short answer would be yes, but I would agree with some of the other responses about what defines an online journalists...not to mention the differences between online print journalists and online broadcast journalists. Additionally, results from quantitative research I have conducted on blogs and "citizen journalists/bloggers" and cyberjournalists (professional journalists who also blog) reveal that there is a distinction between the two. Of course, as one would guess, one has more opinion than the other, etc. I won't get into all of the details, but I think there should be some form of guidelines as to what "type" of online journalists can apply for membership. On the other hand, there are already online organizations made up of members who are simply "online journalists." I believe we should continue the discussion. Oh yeah, and I'm not sure if online journalists who only blog can be viewed as persons or compnay providing "news programming." Thanks for that information Jim. Very helpful.

Jim.Gee's picture

Thanks to all who are participating in this discussion. I'd like to offer some purely procedural options...

1) the committee can draft language for the bylaws which include a definition of which emphasizes traditional journalism practices (i.e., reporting new content - not just regurgitating information, varifying information, traditional reporting methods).

2) the membership committee can draft a bylaws change which includes a broad reference to electronic journalism and submit a separate set of suggested guidelines which the Board can use when approving members.

3) the membership committee can draft a change to the bylaws which include a broad definition and make a separate motion to the general membership at the October meeting to charge the Board with drafting such guidelines for approval in the spring.

We're in a bit of a "catch 22", in my opinion, as some of the best advice on what makes a "real" electronic journalist may come from new media journalists themselves. The best way to engage them in dialogue may be to bring them into the conversation as members.

Julie.Root's picture

I decided to"google" online journalists just to see what might come up and look what I found. There is an Online News Association. Look at what they have for the vision/mission...perhaps we can work from this.

"Inspiring innovation and excellence among digital journalists to better serve the public.

The Online News Association is composed largely of professional digital journalists. Founded in 1999, ONA now has more than 1,700 professional members whose principal livelihood involves gathering or producing news for digital presentation. The membership includes news writers, producers, designers, editors, photographers, technologists and others who produce news for the Internet or other digital delivery systems, as well as academic members and others interested in the development of online journalism. ONA also sponsors an annual conference focusing on the latest in journalism and technology and administers the prestigious Online Journalism Awards.


ONA is a leader in the rapidly changing world of journalism; a catalyst for innovation in story-telling across all platforms; a resource for journalists seeking guidance and growth, and a champion of best practices through training, awards and community outreach.


We believe that the Internet is the most powerful communications medium to arise since the dawn of television. As digital delivery systems become the primary source of news for a growing segment of the world's population, it presents complex challenges and opportunities for journalists as well as the news audience."

Janice.Collins's picture

That's very interesting Julie. Thanks!

Melissa.Hahn's picture

I appreciate all the research and analysis everyone is doing. My #1 concern is that we redefine INBA with great care and thought, so we don't have to do it twice (or more). My recommendation is that we discuss this thoroughly at the Peoria convention and look at voting at the Oak Park convention. I do NOT believe that timing is the most important factor.

Here's how ONA separates "types" of memberships:

Professional: Open to those whose principal livelihood is journalism with experience or interest in producing news for online publication. This category includes writers and bloggers, producers, editors, technologists and developers, designers, photographers and videographers and others who produce news. Professional members are allowed to serve on Board of Directors and vote at the ONA annual meeting.
Annual: $75
3 Years: $150

Academic: Open to college and university faculty with an interest in online journalism.
Annual: $75
3 Years: $150

Associate: Open to those with a special interest in online journalism who do not qualify as professional or academic members. Amateur bloggers, publicists and service vendors are all encouraged to apply as associate members.
Annual: $75
3 Years: $150

Student: Open to high school, college and university undergraduate and graduate students with an interest in online journalism. Graduate students with full-time employment are not eligible for a student membership.
Annual: $25

Zlatko.Filipovic's picture

Yes, I believe online journalists should be included in INBA.

Julie.Root's picture

First, I will start off Jim's "WHO DO WE LET JOIN" section. I am a little weary about letting bloggers join INBA...However, I do feel as though there are some bloggers out there who do relay news and information to the public through text/video/audio. So, I guess we shouldn't totally dismiss that idea.

I do trust the board to use their best discretion when it comes to approving new members. I do not think we need to have"stricter" laws in place for this.

So what is an online journalist? Is it the newspaper or magazine writer who posts audio/video to web sites? Is it a blogger who covers newsworthy events and posts audio/video to the web? Is it someone who works for an online publication that does audio/video posts? What are your thoughts on this? I am thinking all of the above could all qualify for membership.

So...there are 3 main questions that need to be answered.

1) Should we allow online journalists in this organization?

2) If so, what is an online journalist?

2) Do we need stricter regulations in place? (As Jim stated, the Board is charged with approving new members by a 2/3 majority.) Is this enough? Do we need more of a safegaurd in place?

I will be thinking of a way to word the bylaw to include online journalists...that post will come soon! :-)

Rick.Koshko's picture

1) Should we allow online journalists in this organization?

I'm leaning toward yes. This is an identity question. Are we an organization of broadcasters? Of broadcasters, many of whom have an online presence? Of news people, some of whom use broadcasting, some of whom use online methods, and many of whom use both?

2) If so, what is an online journalist?

The question people seem to want answered is what is a journalist. We should already be making a distinction between news and opinion broadcasters. If we take this question as written, i.e. what is an online journalist, we're asking for a list of things like email, web sites, etc. That's not where this discussion has gone.

2) (sic) Do we need stricter regulations in place? (As Jim stated, the Board is charged with approving new members by a 2/3 majority.) Is this enough? Do we need more of a safegaurd in place?

Let's talk about the quality of the safeguard now. When the board members vote, do they talk about the applicant's merits and reasons for denying him or her? Or does an applicant qualify because nobody's heard anything bad and the meeting's getting pretty long already? If quality control is there and two thirds is a good enough number now, it should continue to be a good enough number. If there's no quality control, it doesn't matter what the number is. The best reason for upping the number is if there's some quality control and we want to give more significance to the votes of those who say no after due diligence.

Rick Koshko
WCMY News Director

H.Wayne.Wilson's picture

Inviting online reporters must be considered, but how do you define them. I'm afraid the RTNDA definition of "any news staff member who regularly contributes to news content for any electronic news service" doesn't suffice by itself. What's the definition of "news staff member"? Or "news content"? Some people are strictly gossipers. Do they qualify? I know the board has final say, but can the board monitor all of those individuals?
I believe this will take some time before we get a grasp on how to define online journalist.

Rick.Koshko's picture

To me, it seems the problem is defining journalism. Whether it's online, print, broadcast, cave wall paintings, or whatever, there are certain things we do--steps we take--to make sure our product is worthy of being called journalism. Our discussion about how to bring online journalists into the INBA seems to be about what's wrong with a lot of what's online now. It's even getting into just what makes something online anyway.

Several of us have said we're not so sure those who editorialize or filter news that reflects just one point of view should be allowed to join. I hope we apply the same exclusions to the traditional broadcasters. If we know how to define journalism, opening the membership ranks to the journalists who are online should be easy.

Okay, I know what can of worms that's going to open up. Each of us has had to learn this trade and has made mistakes yet has still been allowed to be part of the INBA. Maybe this is the idea to start from: we all strive to provide objective, informed, and verifiable reporting of things people need to know. Is that what makes us journalists?

Rick Koshko
WCMY News Director

Jason.Parrott's picture

an online journalist?

Are we looking at someone who anonymously adds news content to a website or are we looking at someone who puts their "name" behind their product?

Journalists in traditional news departments put their names/reputations and their station's names/reputuations behind every story they run. Would we expect any less from an online journalist?

I think that the first requirement for any online journalist to become a member of INBA would be accountability. If they put their name and reputation out there as they cover the news... then they could prove to be an asset to INBA. If they do so in an anonymous fashion, then I would not approve of adding them to the ranks.

I think it comes down to accountability.

Joey.Helleny's picture

I find it interesting that much of the discussion seems to about whether a particular online journalist is "impartial" vs. having an "agenda." I don't think we've ever vetted traditional broadcast members with that level of scrutiny. Just having a federal license doesn't make one fair and impartial.

Further, we're all going to have to consider this in a broader sense since it is becoming clear that the future media landscape is becoming more advocacy journalism oriented.