Isn't it easier to go with the flow rather than take an unpopular stand?
It's neater certainly, tidier in many ways. But what if you feel so strongly that you cannot sit back and are willing to sacrifice professionally and financially for something you believe?
Does modern society even value such a position?
These are the questions that have gone through my head as I made the decision to rant here and to resign from my part-time position as Membership Manager for the Society of Professional Journalists.
In a nutshell, top officers decided to join major media companies in an amicus brief supporting National Geographic over a freelance photographer. The photographer was suing to get paid for reuse of his work in an anniversary CD ROM. The work dates back to the 1980s before freelancers even knew what "electronic uses" were. Without ever stating what dog SPJ had in that fight, I discovered that SPJ's legal counsel at Baker Hostetler recommended such action. It also lists National Geographic Society as one of its media clients (along with SPJ). I don't know if that played a part in the decision, but absent any other explanation, it certainly appears to have played a role.
At the very least, this was a decision that was made recklessly and without full input of those most affected by its precedent—freelancers. At worst, it was an ethical breach and a break from SPJ's long history of not weighing in on labor/management issues because it has members from both constituencies. Somehow that position is okay for staffers, but not for independents. I was left scratching my head and clearly the top leaders didn't feel a need to answer my questions about the decision.
In the immediate aftermath, I questioned my reasons for wanting to help other journalists. What was I really hoping to gain? Was it selfishness? Pride? Or was it my own sense that someone had to speak up for others who weren't able or willing to speak up for themselves? I like to think it was the latter, but maybe my ego also was served by my involvement.
Monday night was a sleepless one as I tossed and turned, ran conversations through my head, came up with things I should have said or should have said better. That day and night felt very lonely and isolating, as if the good works I had spent fours years on were suddenly erased by my decision to take a forceful stand.
I was the only one in a position to do so. No one else even knew about the decision until I discovered it by accident. Someone had to shine the light and I was in the unique position to be able to do so.
But did anyone else even care? In the wee hours, I would go to my laptop and with my hands over the keyboard, hesitate to type what was on my mind: How journalists routinely expect sources to blow the whistle, to take a stand, but would never do so themselves. I spoke up and lashed out against my own and that night I felt sealed off.
No doubt there is a certain segment who will seal me out permanently. I have to let them go. But as the week wore on, I received support from good people who were sorry to see me go, but were trying hard to understand my reasoning. Most didn't ask for particulars and I didn't share unless they asked. Many more just figured it must have been something extreme for me to take such a stand.
I've fallen on my SPJ sword, taking such a drastic and dramatic step so that others in the organization may look up and say, "What the heck is going on here?" I hope that's the case, but I'm letting go of the outcome.
Because as the week wore on, I found the constant pain in my left shoulder evaporating. I took a two-hour nap on Tuesday afternoon in which I was practically unconscious. I feel a growing calm and peace with my decision. And I feel a sense of excitement at the future possibilities.
One door closes, another one opens. I'm moving on.
I would never presume to encourage others to make a similar decision as I have. This is personal and it's tough. I made so many friends and had so many opportunities through SPJ. Those things will continue. People will continue to join, renew and volunteer for SPJ. I don't begrudge them their support at all. I only know that for myself, selling and supporting an organization that doesn't speak for me as a freelance journalist became impossible the minute the national officers publicly signed on to a legal decision that supported publishers over freelancers.
In my resignation letter, I mentioned that I would be spending more time on my journalism and less time advocating for other journalists. That isn't entirely true. It's in my nature to help others and so I will continue to advocate for freelance journalists, just not through SPJ.
The fortunate thing in all of this is that I now have 20 hours more per week in which to be a freelance journalist. And that opens up a world of reporting and writing possibilities.
My shingle is back outside my door and I am open for more business.