By Maryann Lazarski
Getting an organization off the ground is often a Herculean effort. When I reactivated the student chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, I was lucky enough to find some very eager students who were up for the task.
Like most new student organizations, we were not without our challenges. We needed to build up our membership, grow our checking account and develop interesting and timely programming.
We didn’t have the luxury of turning to our professional chapter for guidance and support because, unfortunately, the Milwaukee chapter no longer exists. That’s really a shame because at one time the Milwaukee chapter supplied three national presidents for the organization — Dick Leonard, Jean Otto and Bob Wills.
We may not have a strong SPJ professional chapter from which to garner support, but we are very fortunate to be the home of the oldest continuously operating press club in the Americas. The Milwaukee Press Club, which has been around since 1885, right now has about 275 members. They represent the media and journalism academia in southeastern Wisconsin. They also are public relations practitioners and members of the general public.
So I thought why not form a partnership with the Milwaukee Press Club? MPC officers and the board of governors couldn’t have been more gracious in agreeing to form a relationship with UWM student journalists and SPJ members.
“With the Milwaukee SPJ professional chapter no longer active, members of the Milwaukee Press Club are glad to see the UWM student chapter brought back to life,” said David Niles, Milwaukee Press Club past president.
“We are looking forward to working with the student chapter and student chapters at other area colleges and universities to help foster journalism excellence in Milwaukee via programs and mentoring,” he said.
Niles noted that the Press Club, which has traditionally focused on news-oriented programming and social events, has been looking for ways to coordinate career-development activities.
“The connection to the UWM student SPJ chapter will help us realize our goal of launching such programs,” he said.
In a short period of time, this partnership has already proven beneficial for both the student chapter of SPJ and the Milwaukee Press Club. We conducted a joint membership drive on campus that ended up recruiting many more members for both organizations. There are 45 college-level MPC members. Of that, two-thirds are UWM students. I expect that number to keep on growing!
While the two organizations will remain separate corporate entities, members of the student SPJ chapter working with the club are given a break on the normal $10 college-level club dues.
Membership isn’t the only area that grew out of the MPC relationship. Last spring, the UWM SPJ held a silent auction at the Milwaukee Press Club’s Gridiron Awards Dinner. This event drew some 300 plus journalists and prominent newsmakers from around the state of Wisconsin. Our SPJ chapter raised more than $1,000. That money helped send two SPJ student officers to the national convention in New York City last year.
As the faculty adviser for SPJ, I now hold a position on the Milwaukee Press Club’s Board of Governors. My hope is that this will strengthen our partnership so together both organizations will continue to engage in thought-provoking debate on journalistic issues and provide students with additional networking and mentoring opportunities.
“It’s very possible that this partnership will be the program that keeps the Milwaukee Press Club going for another 120 years,” said Roger Stafford, club president.
We’re on our way to making that happen.