By Mike Conway
AJHA is very generous with its resources. Now it’s time to bring the resources in line with the generosity. For the past few years, AJHA has been spending much more than it is bringing in. This includes both operating expenses and the convention costs. The AJHA Board just voted unanimously to double our regular membership dues over the next three years and also to raise the convention registration fee to bring us closer to breaking even on convention expenses.
These increases alone will not bring our current expenses in line with revenue. This is the first of three steps we believe AJHA needs to take to ensure the long-term viability of the organization.
The annual dues will increase incrementally annually starting in August 2023. Regular membership will increase to $60 for regular members, $35 for student and retired members, and $1,000 for a lifetime membership. If you renew your membership before August, you can pay the lower rate.
In June 2024, regular membership will increase to $75, student and retired memberships to $45, and lifetime memberships will cost $1250.
In June 2025, regular membership will increase to $90, student and retired membership will be $50, and lifetime memberships will rise to $1,500.
It is important to remember that AJHA doesn’t have wasteful spending. As an all-volunteer organization, AJHA is financially lean. Quite frankly, the overspending is a yearly effort to find ways to encourage and reward scholars for their work in journalism and media history.
After the Memphis conference, Finance Officer Lisa Parcell, Treasurer Ken Ward and I started digging into the numbers. We found that over the past three years, AJHA spent roughly 25% of the money it had in reserve. We are spending roughly $12,000 more than we bring in each year. If that trend continues, the organization could have run out of money in 5-7 years.
Once again, there isn’t anything nefarious about this spending. We had a cushion of money in reserve and a non-profit organization is not supposed to hoard its money. After researching our budget issues, we chose to not make any changes to American Journalism. Because of our contract with Taylor and Francis, our journal pays for itself and the extra money is used to cover some of our other expenses.
Even by doubling our membership dues to $90 for regular members, AJHA dues are by far the lowest of any national academic organization of which we are aware, especially one that produces academic journals. That rate brings in roughly $8,000 a year. Since we are spending roughly $12,000 more a year than we receive, you can start to see the serious nature of our situation.
For comparison, here are rough numbers for annual dues for other organizations: AEJMC + History Division-depending on your salary is likely close to $200; ICA-roughly $200; Broadcast Education Association - $130; Oral History Association-$100; Association of Moving Image Archivists-$185.
Many years ago, the AJHA Board locked in our convention registration fee at $245 for early registration and $270 closer to the date. Unfortunately, that amount no longer comes close to the AJHA goal of breaking even on our annual conference. It is definitely harder to find sponsors that used to cover some of the features of our conference. We spent around $9,000 more than we received from registration and sponsorships in Memphis in 2022.
The Board has voted unanimously to allow the AJHA Conference Coordinator and Treasurer to set the registration fee depending on the expected costs of running the conference. They are working on those numbers now and the registration fee for our September conference in Columbus, OH will be decided by the time we open registration this summer. This will probably also include increases to our add-on events including the Historic Tour and the Gala.
We were very relieved to find last year in Memphis after two years of online conferences that AJHA members were ready to get back in person. We had 119 people register, which is roughly the number of people who attended our conferences in the years leading up to the pandemic.
As mentioned above, these financial changes will not bring AJHA’s spending back in line with revenue, but they will provide more time to consider what we need to do in the future.
The second step is to have a better idea of what you value as a member of AJHA.
As part of that discussion, we will be conducting a membership survey this summer to get your opinions on how we should be spending our money, both for the convention and for the general organization. We will be asking what parts of the organization are most important for us to continue and which ones might be costing more than we can afford. We will also ask those questions about specific parts of the convention in case we need to find ways to bring down the costs.
Please be sure to fill out that survey when we send it your way. The AJHA Board can use your feedback when it needs to make hard choices on future budgets, and the Conference Coordinator will have insight into what parts of our annual conference are most valuable to you.
AJHA Endowment Fund
The American Journalism Historians Association has been an important part of journalism history research for more than 40 years, through the organization itself, the American Journalism journal, and the annual convention. We believe it is critical that journalism historians continue to have AJHA into the future to provide guidance and at the very least, another journal to showcase our work. For many of us, we would not have had the success in our research and teaching if not for AJHA.
To ensure that today’s journalism historians and those in the future also have this organization and its resources, the third step to address our finances includes creating an endowment fund to hopefully ease our money issues. Lisa, Ken, Joe Campbell, and I have already had a few meetings on this idea and have a general idea of how we’d like to proceed. We set it aside this year to concentrate on the immediate budget issues, but we do see it as an important third step in AJHA’s financial future.
If you’d like to help AJHA with an endowment fundraising effort, let us know.
Raising dues and other costs hasn’t been my favorite task as AJHA President, but I think we all feel it is our duty to make sure this organization can do for current and future journalism historians what it has done for us.