One of the questions I get asked a lot by current students is whether or not they should join a journalism association. More often than not these students can see the benefits of such a membership, but since they are still in school they are hesitant to pay the sometimes lofty prices. You need to consider many factors when choosing whether or not to join an organization. Here’s a look at what you should be thinking about:
- When you’re starting out you might want to consider joining at least one association because of the networking and job search benefits they offer. These memberships are expensive so I would not suggest joining more than two while you are still a student. As a student you will be offered the lowest, discounted price. For example, you’ll be paying only $37.50 for a year long membership to the Society of Professional Journalists while current professionals pay $75 a year. If money is your main concern, joining now as a student will actually get you the association’s resources for the lowest price of your career. Avoid spending too much by sticking to just two groups if you can, but take advantage of the discount when starting out. Once you get a job most companies will not pay your membership dues so you can then reevaluate whether or not the membership is worth the price.
- How should you pick the two associations you should spend your money on? You need to research what’s out there and what each one offers. Most importantly find the ones that fit with your passion and what you are interested in doing with your career. There are a fair number of associations in specific areas so, for example, if you’re interested in digital news there is the Online News Association. Of course there are more general groups as well, but make sure you look at each one’s goals and who belongs to them to get a sense of whether or not it can benefit you and what you hope to do.
- Another aspect you need to consider is what you get for your money. Will they let you search their job database? Attend their events? Is there a local chapter near you that will allow you to grow your connections along with its national events? Each one will offer something different. Access to these resources will be very helpful when you are starting your job search. Many of these job databases will include positions tailored to the interests of the group and possibly include sources you never considered looking at before, so it would be good to join an association with a job database. Also look for one that has both local and national events. You probably can’t afford to go to all their national conventions as a student, but a local chapter might have a speaker series or nights where they go out for drinks to catch up so you can still build your network without traveling too far.
The associations I’ve had good experiences with since I was a student are the Society of Professional Journalists and the Radio, Television and Digital News Association, but there are many more out there. You can search for groups on the Council of National Journalism Organizations website. Do your research and find the right one for you!