SEJ Strategic Plan 2006 - 2008

SEJ Strategic Plan 2006-2008

Submitted by SEJ Executive Director Beth Parke and approved by the board of directors September 28, 2005, in Austin, Texas.

Page Contents

History and Present Context
Organizing Principles
Governance of SEJ
Strategic Planning Process
Key Stakeholders
Context for SEJ's Work: External Threats and Opportunities
SEJ Capabilities: Strengths and Weakness
Desired Outcomes
Critical Issues: Overview
Critical Issues: Goals, Objectives and Strategies
    I. Stability of Resources
    II. Membership Development
    III. Board, Staff and Volunteer Development
    IV. Improved Programs and Services
    V. Protecting the Integrity of Operating Principles and Values
    VI. Building Stature and Significance


The Society of Environmental Journalists, Inc. (SEJ) was founded in Washington DC in February of 1990 by a small group of reporters, editors and producers working in print and broadcast news media. The group was established as a nonprofit, nonpartisan, nongovernmental organization "exclusively for charitable, scientific, and educational purposes within the meaning of section 501(c)3 of the US Internal Revenue Code."

SEJ's original articles of incorporation dedicate the group's work to "educating journalists engaged in reporting on the environment to enable them to better inform the public on critical issues of environmental science, economics and policy, and encouraging discussion and communication among journalists and the public regarding important environmental issues."

SEJ's first strategic plan was written in 1995. Since that time, its board, staff and members have renewed the process through three formal updates. The purpose of SEJ strategic planning is:
1) to re-affirm basic organizing and operating principles, values and goals for the Society of Environmental Journalists;
2) to capture current awareness of critical issues for SEJ, internal and external; and
3) to inform SEJ's future work, as board, staff and members move forward in choosing priorities for new or renewed objectives, within a corresponding resource framework.

Action plans are not detailed in this document to the extent they are operative for SEJ. Board members, staff and volunteers are dedicated to continuous goal setting, creative project management and problem solving in response to critical issues for SEJ and the field of environmental journalism.

History and Present Context

SEJ's founders shared the following key assumptions:

  • The public is largely uninformed about environmental issues;
  • Journalists have a tremendous responsibility to report environmental news;
  • Journalists who cover environment-related issues can use help in doing a good job; and
  • Experienced environmental journalists are an excellent source of assistance to one another and to those who are new to reporting on complex environmental science and policy issues.

As the only North American organization of professional journalists dedicated to improvements in environmental news coverage, SEJ has attracted students, educators and news professionals from all media for camaraderie, education, and exchange on environmental issues and information.

A grassroots style of organizing and an emphasis on volunteerism and appropriate partnerships — based in part on scarcity of resources — became SEJ's mode of operation. SEJ's board developed rigorous policies, guidelines and procedures with regard to membership and fundraising to preserve the organization's credibility and independence from special interests.

SEJ's membership list grew rapidly in its first five years, from a few dozen dedicated reporters who founded the group in 1990, to more than 1,000 in 1995. As of December 2008, SEJ has more than 1,500 members throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and 25 other countries.

The organization has three categories of membership. To qualify as an Active Member one must be a full-time journalist working on publications or programs generally available to the public, for employers not involved in professional lobbying or public relations on environmental issues. Academic members must be teaching faculty or students. Associate members must be substantially engaged in writing, editing or producing news for print or broadcast, but they may work for institutions not primarily in the journalism business, i.e., universities, scientific research institutions and environmental advocacy groups. Paid lobbying or public relations work disqualifies individuals from Active, Associate or Academic membership.

Early in 1993, with seed grant support from two foundations, SEJ established headquarters in Philadelphia and hired a full-time executive director. Later that year, a full-time systems manager and part-time conference coordinator were brought onto the staff. SEJ now operates with six full-time staff members and part-time contract personnel. SEJ programs now include a comprehensive annual conference, regional events, on-line services, freedom of information WatchDog project, print and electronic publications, SEJ Awards for Reporting on the Environment, diversity initiatives, specialized fellowships, membership recruitment drives, mentoring, outreach to editors, and co-sponsored activities of varying descriptions.

SEJ's total operating budget in 1994 was $270,000. For 2004, the budget was approximately $838,000. SEJ maintains strict guidelines and ethical practices with regard to acceptable funding sources and the relationship of funding sources to program decisions. SEJ does not seek or accept gifts or grants from non-media corporations, advocacy groups, or government agencies. Programs and operations are underwritten by foundation grants based on SEJ proposals, earned income (including dues, mail list rental, conference exhibitors and conference fees), university sponsorships, and contributions from media companies and individuals.

SEJ's April 2005 membership report noted that 69% of all SEJ members were qualified as Active, 14% as Associate, and 17% as Academic. SEJ members report the news in all types of media and market sizes. 43% of SEJ's active members are employed by daily newspapers. Overall, SEJ members are employed 30% with newspapers, 21% freelance, 7% magazines, 10% students, 7% educators, 6% television, 5% radio, 2% specialized newsletters, 2% online media, 2% news services, and 8% total of smaller categories including photographers, publishers, book authors, or eligible editorial staff of universities, nonprofit organizations and government agencies.

These figures may be contrasted with those of SEJ's March 2002 membership report, when the organization had 1,127 members. At that time, 63% of all SEJ members were qualified as Active, 19% as Associate, and 18% as Academic. In March, 2002, 43% of SEJ's active members were employed by daily newspapers. Overall, SEJ members were employed 27% with newspapers, 22% freelance, 9% magazine staff, 9% students, 8% educators, 5% television, 5% radio, 7% photographers, book authors, or editorial staff of university, government or nonprofit publishers, 3% news services, 2% on-line publications, and 3% with specialized newsletters.

Note: SEJ's overall membership increased by 283 from the spring of 2002 to the spring of 2005. Therefore, in categories where percentage of members stayed the same, the total number of individual members in that category did increase. Likewise for categories where a percentage increased (for example, the number of members qualified in the "Active" category) the actual number of individuals gained was more significant than overall percentage, taken alone, might imply.

SEJ has become a leader among journalism organizations, at the forefront of the movement within journalism that is working to increase training opportunities for journalists to improve news coverage on issues of substance. SEJ is in a unique position to influence the future of environmental reporting. There is no more appropriate group in the United States to take on the challenges reflected in this strategic plan.

Organizing Principles

The Society of Environmental Journalists, Inc. affirms the following as its most fundamental and defining principles:

SEJ's vision: An informed society through excellence in environmental journalism.

SEJ's mission: To advance public understanding of environmental issues by improving the quality, accuracy, and visibility of environmental reporting.

SEJ programs and services are created by journalists and dedicated to two central goals:

    • To build a stronger, better-educated, and more closely connected network of journalists and editors in all media who are covering environment-related issues; and
    • To improve and increase news reporting on those issues.

Governance of SEJ

SEJ's 2006 board has fifteen voting members and one ex officio member. Thirteen voting directors represent SEJ's Active membership. One voting director represents the Associate membership and one voting director represents the Academic membership. In addition, one board member, SEJ's founding president, holds an ex officio position. SEJ's board meets quarterly. Each fall, four or five voting directors are elected to three-year terms, by mail proxy and in person at the annual meeting of the SEJ membership. Immediately following each year's annual membership meeting, new and returning directors elect a president, first vice president (programs), second vice president (membership), treasurer, and secretary as officers and members of the board's executive committee. Only board members in the Active membership category may serve as officers of the board. The SEJournal is governed by an editorial board that is appointed to staggered three-year terms by the SEJ board of directors.

Strategic Planning Process

This strategic plan is based on review and analysis of program-specific survey and evaluation data collected 2002-2005, board meeting and board committee discussions, collections of anecdotal feedback, questions and suggestions raised by members and other key constituencies, and staff reports on measurable and observable outcomes that were compiled for reports to board members, annual membership meetings and foundation grant-makers.

Key Stakeholders

SEJ works in direct service to the journalism community. Through journalists the organization serves the needs and interests of audiences of the general public.

SEJ's "primary constituency" may be defined as professional journalists, editors, and producers working in print, broadcast and online news media, as well as teachers, scholars and students of journalism and the environment.

Institutional partners for SEJ programs and operations often include universities and other teaching institutions, journalism groups, university-based institutes or study centers, museums and scientific research institutions.

SEJ's larger community of interest, or "secondary constituency" is defined as those who have an interest in media, news reporting and the environment who may benefit from or participate in SEJ programs and the SEJ network. This community includes citizens, government agencies and officials, educational and charitable foundations, environmental organizations, public relations agencies, industry groups, concerned citizens, corporations, publishers, think tanks, individual scientists, scientific research institutions, trade associations and education groups working in environmental law, science and health.

Context for SEJ's Work: External Threats and Opportunities

The SEJ community has witnessed increased centralization of reporting and content creation by media corporations. There is great concern about increasing government and corporate intrusions into the editorial process, and increasing limits on public access to government and corporate information. At the same time we have seen growth in freelance journalism, especially in new media: blogging, podcasting, website development, independent e-publishing and book publishing. There is a powerful dialogue going on now among professionals about what defines journalism and who qualifies as a journalist in the digital age.

Trends in the United States economy have led to media company consolidation, and many news organizations have instituted staff cutbacks in response. Cutbacks naturally lead to time pressures on remaining news staff, decreases in the "news hole" and lack of resources to report complicated stories. These factors effect SEJ and its membership in many ways, from volunteerism to employer support for board service and conference participation, to long-term career patterns in the field.

Despite the potential for change suggested by both media and societal response to recent natural disasters, SEJ has been operating since 2001 in a political climate in which terrorism, war and other issues have overshadowed environmental concerns. This and the fact that environment did not poll as a top tier political issue in the 2004 Presidential election in the United States have fostered relative disinterest and lack of understanding among editors with regard to the importance and relevance of environmental issues. Nevertheless, SEJ planners have been aware that some sectors of society continue to have a very strong recognition of the importance of environmental issues. Some see a remarkable degree of political "fermentation" in process, aided by the growth of international and scientific activity. In the process of scouting for the future of SEJ's annual conference program, board and staff have witnessed growth in the number of universities that are highly motivated to advance environmental and scientific literacy in the United States and around the world. Many outside partners want to work with SEJ, including distinguished universities, journalism groups and other high quality journalism training programs. New opportunities are presented to the organization on a regular basis.

The news industry itself routinely faces economic challenges and identity crises that affect the potential pool of journalists likely to be interested in SEJ programs and services. Diversity issues continue to present difficulty for mainstream news organizations in the U.S. and this trend undermines SEJ's potential for success with diversity. At the same time, the fact that Spanish-language news media were the fastest growing sector of the US press in 2004 presents a wonderful opportunity for groups like SEJ.

SEJ members might say that "The Environment Story" is bigger and more important than ever, and it will only grow more so in years to come. They recognize professional challenges in cracking the complexity of environmental issues, overcoming the pitfalls of fragmented reporting, and making important concerns more audience friendly. They see the growth of environmental information, complexity in the field, and sophistication of environmental laws and controversies as creating a perennial demand for an organization like SEJ. They see that collective action by working journalists is needed, for restoring the public trust and reminding society that strong and accurate news reporting in the public interest is crucial to democracy, and to community well-being.

There is always potential that SEJ's credibility as a journalism organization, or individuals serving in SEJ leadership, may be caught in political crossfire on environmental policy debates. SEJ cannot afford to be viewed as a tool of environmental advocacy, government, industry or any special-interest group. Some have suggested that SEJ's leadership can be, at times, overly protective of the organization's image and attentive to political balances to the point where independent exercise of news judgment in its programming may be hindered. SEJ leaders must anticipate pressures in this area and be forthright in response to ideological attacks on environmental journalism, environmental science or manipulative campaigns of influence, that may target SEJ or SEJ members.

SEJ continues to be highly vulnerable to external threats to the organization's financial stability. This will continue to be true as long as SEJ's annual operating budget is dependent to such a large extent on foundation grants and media company contributions made in response to the organization's proposals for general support or member-driven programs. There is a scarcity of funding available to SEJ from the limited number of journalism-oriented foundations and news organizations. And there is a trend among grant-makers interested in environmental issues toward more funding for litigation, for hands-on resource management projects, for advocacy work and for foundation directed activities. There is less funding available for communication, education and general support of indirect strategies promoting environmental literacy such as those embraced by SEJ.

SEJ Capabilities: Strengths and Weakness


SEJ has three primary internal strengths: institutional identity, people and programs. The group has a well-defined mission, consistent goals, reasoned policies and a highly respected track record of successes in its work. Over many years, SEJ leaders have developed strong planning skills and effective methods of operation. The organization's key weaknesses include persistent financial uncertainty and the chronic tendency of SEJ projects to create demands that strain the capacity of limited budgets and personnel time available. The key internal challenge that SEJ planners face each year is in maintaining focus and discipline on priorities and allocations for limited resources.

Institutional Identity

SEJ's unambiguous status as a journalism organization, offering educational programs designed by working journalists and journalism educators, has proven to be a great institutional strength. As an independent, non-partisan 501(c) 3 educational membership association, SEJ has developed tremendous credibility in the field. SEJ continues to occupy an important place at the center of a larger community that is concerned with media, the environment and the future of public service journalism. SEJ maintains strict rules and practices with regard to appropriate sources of funding for its work, accepting no gifts or grants from non-media corporations, government agencies or environmental groups. The group has a history of impeccable financial management. SEJ maintains a lean and efficient organizational structure and a strong culture of volunteerism.

From time to time there is confusion among SEJ members and prospective members about the group's function and its tax status as an educational nonprofit whose programs must be open to the public. SEJ is not a professional or trade association. Nor is SEJ in the business of granting press credentials, serving as a public relations agency or passing judgment on the quality of someone's work as a journalist. Confusion on SEJ's function and its institutional identity will require continued dialogue and attention by board, staff and members.

SEJ has managed well within its boundaries and means, through operating and project budgets defined by individual giving, foundation and university-based funding, earned income, and careful fiscal management. But it continues to lack predictable and continuous sources of funding adequate to support current and potential new programs and services into the future. This is a weakness that will continue to challenge SEJ, as it maneuvers to maintain its institutional identity, develop its roster of programs and encourage the healthy participation of board officers and directors, professional staff, volunteers and members.

Human Resources

SEJ's strength in people can be seen across the membership, the board and the staff. SEJ members represent all levels of experience in the journalism profession, across all types of media, as well as educators and students of journalism. The organization has a distinguished, hardworking and committed board of directors, many motivated volunteers and an experienced, professional staff. Board, staff and volunteers maintain strong and productive working relationships. SEJ's leadership is confident, far-sighted and entrepreneurial in nature.

A variety of indicators provide evidence that members are generally very satisfied with what SEJ offers them. Over the last three years, the SEJ membership roster has grown:

Date Number of SEJ Members
March 2002 1127

(Note: In June 2002 SEJ membership jumped to 1203. The April 1 deadline for SEJ awards entries brought in many new members.)

Date Number of SEJ Members
March 2003 1243
March 2004 1286
April   2005 1410

(Note: In August 2004 SEJ membership jumped by approximately 60 through a funded membership drive for diversity offered in conjunction with UNITY 2004, the joint convention of the National Association of Black Journalists, Asian American Journalists Association, Native American Journalists Association and National Association of Hispanic Journalists.)

Diversity is an important value for SEJ, with regard to membership. Diversity is defined broadly for SEJ, encompassing racial, ethnic and geographic diversity as well as type of news media (print, broadcast, online) and market size, gender balance, and both student and faculty academic participation, to represent and benefit our primary constituency of journalists and academics in all of the United States and to the extent possible, Canada, Mexico and other parts of the world.

Despite persistent attention and some real gains for diversity in the SEJ membership, on the staff and on the board over many years, there is still a lot of room for improvement.

There is a need for increased participation in and leadership for environmental reporting by broadcast journalists and by journalists of color. These needs reflect weaknesses within the news industry itself that are well-recognized by others in SEJ's professional journalism community. Similarly, there is a persistent need for increased participation by people of color in the environmental sciences in the United States. These external trends tend to foster parallel weaknesses within SEJ.

Diversity is an important value for SEJ with regard to development of conference agendas, speaker rosters, TipSheet source listings, featured Web links, SEJournal articles, and other SEJ program initiatives. In program and publications planning, diversity is defined and valued by SEJ to include a variety of key constituencies, including those defined by points of view, as they may be relevant to accurate reporting on specific environmental issues under consideration.

SEJ's veteran staff adapts well and operates efficiently in many highly developed areas of responsibility. Similarly, SEJ has a strong number of veteran board members, serving the group in specialized ways. This strength also poses the threat of major disruption should several key members of the staff or board leave at the same time. Finally, "burnout" of board members, member-volunteers and paid staff due to over-extension with a long list of ambitious goals continues to pose an internal threat to SEJ's long term stability.


Over time SEJ has developed a highly valued and effective collection of programs, including the annual conference, comprehensive Web site, journalism awards, TipSheet, freedom of information WatchDog project, quarterly SEJournal, EJToday news digest, members-only listservs, fellowship programs, mentor program, and co-sponsored events with academic and journalism group partners. SEJ programs, services and publications have gained an excellent reputation for quality and importance within the group's prime constituency of working journalists and academics, as well as with scientists, government officials, environmental advocates, business leaders and others. Among donors, SEJ programs are regarded as successful and cost-effective.

SEJ's tendency to over-extend on program expectations is a weakness that sometimes threatens the quality of program delivery. To minimize the threat posed by this tendency, SEJ leaders must stay on guard, to protect core programs and prevent distraction and dilution of efforts. SEJ investments in new activities must be considered very carefully. Evaluation and decision-making practices should insure that ongoing programs are still needed, that they are working and that adequate support for them can be maintained before new programs are added.

Desired Outcomes

The board, staff and members of the Society of Environmental Journalists intend to make progress, with measurable or observable results in the following areas, as a result of SEJ operations and programs 2006-2008:

    • To provide leadership in the field of environmental journalism
    • To improve the practical value of SEJ programs, publications and online services
    • To increase participation and program use by key SEJ constituencies
    • To increase the quality and frequency of member-to-member communication within the SEJ network
    • To build a larger, stronger SEJ network
    • To build institutional stability that can provide for consistent growth in the strength and activity of the SEJ network, and its value and usefulness to working journalists, students and educators

Progress toward these outcomes will be measurable through indicators matched with specific objectives. Advancement may also be observed, evaluated and reported through answers to the following questions:

With regard to leadership in the field and SEJ's reputation of integrity and creativity:
What are the emerging issues in this field? Is SEJ taking a leadership role with them? (Examples: environment-related freedom of information issues; the state of broadcast journalism on environment-related issues; diversity in environmental journalism, growth of Spanish-language press in the United States.) What other organizations and institutions are working with SEJ, as sponsors, partners, customers, colleagues or constituents for current and future projects? What connections are reflected by SEJ's web site? What feedback has the organization gathered from publishers, news managers, journalists in varied media, students, educators, environmental news sources and other key players about SEJ's reputation and the meaning and impact of its work to advance environmental reporting?

With regard to value or usefulness of programs:
What are current trends in new and renewing SEJ memberships? What are current trends in SEJ diversity and volunteerism? What indicators can be seen in data on subscriptions to SEJournal, TipSheet and WatchDog Edition Tipsheet, web site traffic, listserv activity, conference participation and conference evaluation? Do participation rates indicate healthy demand for SEJ programs and services? What can be observed in specific program evaluation data, both anecdotal and measurable? Are distinguished journalists, scientists, government officials and environmental leaders of varied descriptions eager to participate in SEJ conferences and contribute to SEJ publications? What evidence has SEJ collected to illustrate the effect of its work to stimulate more and better environmental news reporting?

With regard to institutional stability:
Has SEJ maintained its community of interest through excellence in program delivery? Has it maintained or increased its membership roster? Has it preserved its core identity as an organization of working journalists? Has SEJ maintained or increased volunteerism? What strategies are in place for retaining veteran staff or preparing for staff transitions? Has SEJ balanced its budget for the current year and maintained an operating reserve equal to at least 30% of the annual budget projected for the year to come? Has SEJ increased the size, diversity and reliability of the funding base projected for programs and operations in the future?

Critical Issues: Overview

The following six critical issues have been identified as core concerns for SEJ in maintaining organizational health and building strength in addressing its mission.

These were first recognized in the group's 1995 strategic plan, and they were reaffirmed by SEJ boards in 1998, 2002 and 2005. These encompass recurring themes of internal and external concern and response. Notes under each issue are updated in each new plan.

I. Stability of Resources
SEJ must respond with perseverance and creativity to the challenge of unpredictable funding for operations, programs and member services. Sources of grants, sponsorships and earned income for SEJ operations must be compatible with SEJ's mission and appropriate to its journalistic identity.

II. Membership Development
SEJ must continue building its membership network and promoting its use. Leadership development for the future of SEJ as a volunteer-driven organization is an underlying goal for all membership development. Diversity is a persistent value for SEJ membership development. Efforts to recruit new members and retain current members should be meshed with SEJ goals for programs (critical issue IV), goals for integrity of operating principles (critical issue V) and goals for growth in institutional stature (critical issue VI).

III. Board, Staff and Volunteer Development
SEJ must invest time, attention and budget resources in the cultivation, training and retention of qualified and effective board, staff and volunteers. Teamwork is a core value for relationships within and among these groups. Attention should be given to long term personnel issues including contingency planning, potential staff transition issues and practices to foster a well trained and sustainable volunteer base for the future of SEJ programs.

IV. Improved Programs and Services
SEJ has the opportunity to offer unique and essential information resources for environmental journalists. The organization will need to recognize and respond to the differing needs and potential contributions of members across membership and media employment categories. SEJ will need to maintain its most popular and effective programs and develop new programs carefully, to avoid the deleterious effects of strain on organizational capacities.

V. Protecting the Integrity of Operating Principles and Values
SEJ must remain committed to protecting the journalistic integrity of its membership and institutional identity. Board, staff and key volunteers must consistently establish and maintain clear policies with regard to pressures that could erode membership standards, financial policies or influence organizational behavior in a way that could tarnish SEJ's reputation as an independent journalistic organization.

VI. Building Stature and Significance
All members of the SEJ community should work to increase the organization's visibility and influence, to serve the broader imperatives of its mission. Efforts to protect freedom of information on all environment-related issues should remain central to SEJ's work. SEJ must continually widen its community of interest and raise awareness of shared goals for informed democratic societies. This will be accomplished through membership development and the building of good relationships with leaders in print and electronic media, academia, science, government, business, industry, environmental organizations, philanthropy, concerned citizens and other journalism organizations. SEJ's identity as the premier organization of environmental journalists in North America should be built in ways that are increasingly relevant to local and global news reporting beyond North America.

Critical Issues: Goals, Objectives and Strategies
As a framework for strategic planning and action over the next three years, SEJ board and staff will address a small number of key objectives, for the advancement of organizational goals. Established practices and new routines for the achievement of specific objectives and advancement of fundamental goals will be maintained and improved as needed.

Priorities and action plans related to each critical issue area will be established by SEJ board members and SEJ staff no less than quarterly, and more often as appropriate. Progress will be monitored through meetings, project cycles and reporting routines adopted by board and staff members for this purpose. Whenever possible, performance indicators and measurable outcomes will be established as part of the action planning process so that board, staff and volunteers involved in follow-through will know when they have been successful in addressing specific objectives.

I. Stability of Resources

Strategic Goal:
To maintain or increase the size, diversity and stability of SEJ's funding base, within board-established policies and guidelines for acceptable sources of income.

To maintain balanced budgets and satisfactory cash flow for annual operating budget at 2005 levels, or growth, with a minimum reserve fund to equal at least 30% of SEJ's current year operating budget.

To underwrite direct and indirect costs of SEJ programs and operations through appropriate and diverse sources of financial and non-monetary support, including foundation grants, individual contributions, university sponsors, media company sponsors, earned income and appropriate institutional partnerships for cost-sharing.

To increase the investment balance of the 21st Century Fund, SEJ's endowment to help safeguard the future of the organization.

Strategies to Accomplish Goal and Objectives for Stability of Resources:
SEJ's executive director will implement a comprehensive approach to financial management, to maximize both revenue and cost-effectiveness of programs and operations in service to SEJ's mission. Budgets will be developed in balance with resources.

SEJ will strive to diversify its sources of support in full compliance with boardestablished policies and development guidelines for gifts, grants, sponsorships, partnerships and earned income.

Board members will become increasingly well educated about SEJ financial needs, strategies and methodologies. Board members will participate in efforts to increase funding opportunities for the group. Budget and accounting systems will be developed by the executive director and her designees and implemented with approval from the board. A board audit committee will work each year with the executive director and an independent accounting firm to produce audited financial statements and fulfill all legal requirements for SEJ as an IRS-qualified 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.

Operating budgets for SEJ will be developed and proposed by the executive director on an annual cycle. The budget will be reviewed, discussed, amended and approved by the SEJ board each January. Significant adjustments to the annual budget may be proposed and approved at any time. Budget plans will be based on knowledge of available resources and informed projections of expense and revenue, and keyed to organizational priorities. Because personnel costs are the single largest item in SEJ's operating budget and it is important to maximize the flexibility, value and impact of SEJ's paid personnel time, the organization will maintain a modest number of full-time salaried staff whose work can be augmented effectively by task-oriented volunteers and paid consultants.

As a core strategy for balancing the annual operating budget, SEJ board and staff will give consistent effort to cultivation and acquisition of foundation grants, university sponsorships, media company contributions, and individual donations to the 21st Century Fund, SEJ's general endowment fund. SEJ's executive director and her designees will seek foundation grants of general support for programs and operations, and, when appropriate, project grants based on priority initiatives. Whenever possible SEJ will secure multi-year grants. All grant fulfillment responsibilities will be met in a timely manner. When possible and appropriate, institutional partnerships for costsharing purposes on specific projects will be established.

SEJ board and staff will strive to maximize revenue from existing categories of earned income and to foster creative development of appropriate new sources. Existing categories of earned income include conference registration fees, press release distribution and mail list services, conference exhibits, advertising in conference program booklet and SEJournal, membership dues, SEJournal subscriptions, and investment income on operating fund accounts. Potential new sources of earned income, such as adbooks, paid business card source listing service on the Web site, and other new ideas will be explored.

SEJ's endowment committee will set reasonable targets for success and implement work plans to secure gifts from individuals for the 21st Century Fund. All endowment-related fundraising will proceed in accordance with board established policies.

Each January, during the annual budget approval process, the SEJ board will determine a suitable timetable and level of allocation of SEJ earned income, drawn either from the year past or projected from the year ahead, to a board-restricted fund held within the SEJ endowment account.

II. Membership Development

Strategic Goal:
To strengthen SEJ's membership base and foster leadership development for environmental journalism through communication with current members and all journalists who cover environment-related issues, as well as with students and journalism educators.

To increase the SEJ membership roster beyond 2004-2005 levels through recruitment and retention of journalists, educators and students who are qualified for Active, Associate and Academic categories.

To provide an open and welcoming culture of collegiality that will foster racial, ethnic, geographic, gender and media diversity within the membership and leadership of SEJ in North America, and for the field of environmental journalism generally.

To maintain SEJ membership eligibility standards despite changes and challenges within the field of journalism.

To attract new and renewing memberships among specific membership constituencies:
• including print, broadcast, online, small market, major market, network, freelance, student, educator, Hispanic, African American, Native American, Asian American, Canadian, Latin American and other international journalists, students and educators
•by aligning SEJ program planning with the professional needs of target groups.

To improve member participation in SEJ programs and services and promote familiarity with SEJ goals, policies and institutional identity.

To increase the effectiveness of SEJ outreach efforts, to build community, diversity, volunteer leadership and resource sharing among SEJ members and non-member colleagues.

Strategies to Accomplish Goal and Objectives for Membership Development:
SEJ membership systems will be implemented with consistency and in full accordance with policies and procedures established by the SEJ board and the board's membership committee. SEJ staff will maintain the integrity of membership systems and the accuracy of membership data to make it easy for the membership committee to fulfill its duties.

The SEJ membership committee will anticipate emerging issues for the journalism profession that may be relevant to membership and will be pro-active in response by developing guidelines and procedures for handling applications. For example, when does a blogger's work qualify him or her as a journalist and when should it be viewed as public relations or lobbying?

The content of SEJ programs and services will reflect priorities for outreach to prospective new members and objectives for retention of current members.

SEJ personnel (paid and volunteer) will give consistent and creative attention and investment to internal and external marketing of current SEJ publications, programs and services, to increase participation by current members, build member satisfaction and attract new members.

SEJ staff will continue to maintain and improve the member database and use it to provide information to board and staff for routine analysis of membership trends.

SEJ will offer numerous high-quality systems to enable members to share their knowledge and their work or to get help from fellow members. Opportunities for sharing will include the SEJ-Talk and SEJ-Mail listservs, volunteer jobs in support of tours and sessions at the annual conference, social time built into conference agendas, the mentoring program, submit-a-story feature for EJToday, opportunities to contribute to SEJournal, TipSheet, and the freedom of information WatchDog project and, informal referral services through the SEJ office, and the online membership directory, updated to match the official member database that is maintained at SEJ headquarters.

Current (external) research and (internal) program evaluation reports will be reviewed for insights that may aid in establishment of goals, strategies and action plans for future membership recruitment and retention, particularly among target groups such as editors, broadcasters, Spanish-language journalists and journalists of color.

In considering any proposal for changes in membership dues policies, board members will consider the potential influence that such changes may have on membership growth and membership renewal.

SEJ board, staff and volunteers will research and outline the opportunities, needs and interests represented by various potential membership constituencies and put that knowledge to use in addressing objectives for membership development. For example, students and younger reporters benefit from instruction; more experienced journalists benefit from camaraderie and examples of excellence from peers; educators can use academic resources; Spanish language journalists need resources to be provided in Spanish. Some offerings benefit everyone: high quality story leads, access to sources, skill development training and representation on freedom of information issues.

Each year, the board membership committee will identify specific groups as priority targets for specialized membership drives. Staff will develop and implement program and marketing plans and progress will be monitored. Results of different approaches will be noted and methods will be repeated or improved upon as appropriate. For 2006 through 2008, the following constituencies have been suggested for special attention: journalists reporting in Spanish-language media in the US and throughout Latin America; Canadian journalists; college students who are majoring in journalism or science communication; broadcast journalists in public radio, local television news and network television news; newspaper editors; freelance journalists, including book authors; and print reporters who frequently cover environment-related issues on health, business, science, political, and general assignments.

When adequate funds can be secured or allocated for this purpose, SEJ will offer conference travel fellowships, including free one-year memberships, to specific target groups.

III. Board, Staff and Volunteer Development

Strategic Goal:
To maintain a well-run organization based on optimum effectiveness of its board, staff and volunteers, with a shared sense of purpose.

To develop greater excellence in nonprofit governance, management, leadership and community service for the advancement of SEJ's mission.

To maintain an elected board of directors and officers that is knowledgeable, diverse, collegial and resourceful.

To foster visionary thinking and practical skills for the accomplishment of specific tasks by SEJ member-volunteers.

To sustain effective professional staff by maintaining good practices and "building a bench" over time, through consistency and excellence in hiring and training talented people for key positions.

Strategies to Accomplish Goal and Objectives for Board, Staff and Volunteer Development::
SEJ will hold a leadership development retreat at least every four years, as a meeting ground for those with new thinking and new energy for leadership and future development of the organization. Agendas and outputs from the retreat will reflect SEJ's vision, mission, and current circumstances and be used to inform strategic plans and action plans for coming years.

SEJ's executive director and board officers will review board development and staff development needs at least annually and distribute information, plan presentations or special meetings and engage consultant services as needed.

SEJ will use board meetings, role definition and board committee processes to foster excellence in nonprofit governance, camaraderie and collaboration among board and staff, to prevent difficulties and to improve effectiveness of all board members.

SEJ staff will use job descriptions and routine meeting processes to promote creativity, communication, and effectiveness. Staff will engage the services of human resources consultants as needed, to review progress, implement best practices, maximize job satisfaction and prevent burnout for all SEJ personnel, paid and volunteer.

The SEJ board and executive director will establish contingency plans for potential changes on board and staff rosters, to promote smooth leadership transitions.

IV. Improved Programs and Services

For 2006-2008, SEJ's roster of programs, publications and services includes the following:

    • Comprehensive annual conference, co-sponsored with a distinguished university
    • Comprehensive, multi-layered web sites at and /members_content
    • Membership directory, available through /members_content or as a printout, by request, from the SEJ office
    • SEJ-Talk listserv, for interactive discussion and information exchange among members
    • Freedom of Information WatchDog project, to monitor and act on environment-related freedom of information and right to know issues
    • Quarterly SEJournal, distributed in print and electronic form
    • TipSheet, WatchDog TipSheet, and occasional supplements, distributed via email listserv and web site
    • SEJ Awards for Reporting on the Environment, in a variety of print, broadcast and online media categories
    • Diversity program, to increase participation and networking among US journalists of color, US Spanish-language journalists, Canadian journalists, Mexican and other Latin American journalists through fellowships, listservs and specialized outreach; and to maintain working partnerships with UNITY groups, (NABJ, NAJA, AAJA and NAHJ).
    • Mentor program, to link younger journalists with more experienced colleagues, for skill development
    • EJToday, a daily news digest service, distributed via web site and highlights-only email listserv
    • Online learning modules with The Poynter Institute's News University
    • Creative collaboration with other journalism groups and academic programs, including training initiatives, joint publications and co-sponsored events
    • Weekly Environmental Events Calendar, distributed via web site and email listserv
    • Various print and electronic publications developed and distributed in cooperation with academic and journalism group partners
    • Regional conferences, investigative field trips, seminars and social gatherings
    • SEJ-Mail listserv and postal mail list, for fee-based distribution of potentially useful information from SEJ's larger community of interest

Strategic Goal for Critical Issue IV: Improved Programs and Services:
To provide essential information and training opportunities for all journalists who may be covering environment-related issues, within a corresponding personnel and budget framework for SEJ.

To refine, improve and repeatedly refresh a core set of programs, services and publications, designed primarily by and for journalists for maximum value and usefulness to SEJ's primary target audience: professional journalists who may be covering environment-related news in all forms of news media, as well as for students and journalism educators.

Strategies to Accomplish Goal and Objective for Improved Programs and Services:
SEJ staff and board will anticipate, listen for, and remain responsive to the needs and interests of working journalists who are covering important environmental issues. Program planners will stay informed about trends in the news industry, trends in journalism education, trends in environmental science and policy, trends in public understanding of environmental issues, and other topics of special interest and relevance to SEJ and its mission.

SEJ program planners will give priority to working ahead of the curve on environmental news developments, through the application of informed prescience, to assist reporters with emerging issues and for annual conferences, to highlight preparedness and long term thinking on key environmental issues of the host region.

SEJ personnel will periodically survey the SEJ board and membership to better understand which programs, publications and services are most highly valued, which are underutilized and what might be done to improve participation if indicated.

Priorities for SEJ program initiatives and resource allocation will be recommended by the executive director and endorsed by the board through the annual budget process and as a routine part of development planning (fundraising).

Each program event, service or publication offered by SEJ will be planned and managed to maximize quality, cost-effectiveness and usefulness for working journalists, students and educators. Specific work plans, including personnel training plans, will be mapped and managed by senior staff, paid consultants, board members or other volunteers, as designated by the executive director in consultation with the vice president for programs. To whatever extent is practical for each, all SEJ programs, publications and services will involve some element of volunteer participation.

SEJ staff will periodically assess and respond to needs for updated software, office equipment and other technology required for successful programs and services.

SEJ staff will continually develop and implement cost-effective marketing plans to increase participation by target groups for SEJ priority programs, as well as to build general awareness of SEJ among target constituencies of print, broadcast and online journalists, students, educators.

Evaluation data for individual programs, publications or services will be gathered and reviewed by project leaders and/or SEJ staff, and reported to the SEJ board, committees, grant-makers and university sponsors as appropriate. Assessments and analyses will be based on anecdotal evidence, participation trends, survey responses and other specific indicators. Evaluation data, summaries of lessons learned and relevant recommendations will be used to inform SEJ staff, board and volunteers engaged in planning for future programs, publications and operations.

Potential adjustments to SEJ's roster of programs will be carefully reviewed by SEJ's executive director, vice president for programs and project personnel each year as part of budget planning for the year to come. Significant new project allocations, or recommendations for adjustments with existing programs (for example, changes in number or scale of events or fellowships, decisions about print runs or advertising budgets) will be reviewed by the SEJ board as part of the annual budget process. When necessary, existing programs and services will be retired to make new ones possible. Minor new program investments in response to special opportunities may be made at the discretion of the executive director.

SEJ will continue to emphasize strategic partnerships with other journalism organizations and academic institutions through joint projects, panel swaps, co-sponsored events and publications.

V. Protecting the Integrity of Operating Principles and Values

Strategic Goal:
To protect the institutional identity and integrity of SEJ as a nonprofit 501(c)3 educational membership organization of news professionals and academics, and maintain the highest standards of journalistic function and independence for the organization.

To establish and enforce effective policies, guidelines and procedures with regard to SEJ membership.

To reinforce SEJ's role and purpose as a journalism organization and distinguish SEJ's membership and work from that of public relations and environmental advocacy groups, through consistent communication with members and non-members.

To maintain high journalistic standards for program content and planning methods for all SEJ programs and services, including activities with strategic partners.

To enforce effective financial policies, guidelines and procedures, to maintain appropriate sources of funding and impeccable financial management for SEJ.

Strategies to Accomplish Goal and Objectives for Protecting the Integrity of Operating Principles and Values:
SEJ's board, membership committee, and staff liaison will maintain diligence and consistency in processing new member applications. They will administer routine surveys to renewing members with regard to potential changes in eligibility or membership category.

SEJ's board, finance committee and executive director will maintain and periodically update written guidelines on acceptable sources of income, and routines for public disclosure of financial information.

SEJ program planners will respond energetically and consistently to contemporary concerns about ethics and values in the field of journalism, to shine a light on issues of bias and credibility in the news media and reinforce this organization's strong dedication to traditional journalistic standards of accuracy and professional excellence.

SEJ board, staff, volunteers and strategic partners will maintain vigilance in all program planning to guarantee high standards of quality and member participation, so that all programs associated with SEJ's name are consistent with the description "planned by journalists for journalists."

VI. Building Stature and Significance

Strategic Goal:
To advance and protect the stature and significance of environmental journalism.

To build respect for environmental journalism and increase awareness of its value and importance among news industry leaders in the U.S. and worldwide, especially among print and online news editors and broadcast news managers.

To strengthen the broader professional movement for better education and training for all journalists, in support of greater excellence in news reporting to serve the public interest.

To provide leadership on environment-related freedom of information and right to know issues, within the journalism community and for the general public.

To increase awareness of SEJ's mission, membership and programs among leaders in environment-related professions, including scientists, government employees, economists, business leaders, environmental advocates and others of prominence.

Strategies to Accomplish Goal and Objectives for Building Stature and Significance:
SEJ board, staff and members will seek out or create opportunities to communicate the organization's vision, mission, goals and objectives to key constituencies.

Through its roster of programs, publications and services SEJ will provide consistent leadership and professional response to environment-related freedom of information issues and threats to the public's right to know, including disinformation campaigns and attacks on legitimate science.

SEJ will work to increase use of information resources, training and educational events that are already available and foster the creation of important new training resources and opportunities for journalists who may be covering environment-related issues.

SEJ representatives will maintain and build on strong strategic partnerships, with key journalism groups and training institutions, including the American Society of Newspaper Editors; Investigative Reporters and Editors; the Poynter Institute; Radio and Television News Directors Association; Coalition of Journalists for Open Government; UNITY: Journalists of Color; National Association of Science Writers; and other groups affiliated with the Council of National Journalism Organizations.

Through marketing of the annual awards program and various features on the Web site, SEJ will promote and reward the pursuit of excellence in environmental journalism in print, online and broadcast news media.

SEJ will establish and maintain partnerships with distinguished universities for the annual conference. Each year conference planners will involve important news-makers and other prominent speakers in the program agenda.


In approving this strategic plan, the 2005 SEJ Board hereby affirms SEJ's vision, mission and basic goals, and recommends the critical issues, objectives and strategies noted above as core priorities for attention 2006-2008.

All board committees, staff, and member-volunteers are encouraged to keep the ideas and directions outlined in this strategic plan in focus as specific plans are made, actions are taken, evaluations are performed, results are reviewed and the cycle of SEJ advancement is repeated.

Each year there will be a limited number of "leading edge" themes in focus for strategic action and emphasis by SEJ board, staff and volunteers. Specific actions with regard to each of these will work with insights noted within this plan along with newer research, analysis and strategic thinking undertaken by teams of SEJ personnel, as needed. For 2006, the following themes are suggested as central to that leading edge:

  • To diversify and expand sources of support for SEJ operations and endowment accounts, through earned income, grants from new and renewing foundation sources, and individual gifts, within the ethics and policy framework established by the SEJ board.
  • To invest in training and leadership development activities for board members, potential board members, key volunteers, and staff to prepare them well for organizational stewardship, decision-making and action planning.
  • To give consistent attention to membership recruitment and retention, aligned with programs, among groups identified by the board's membership committee for specialized outreach (for example new members who've joined in the awards entry process, fellowship winners, broadcasters, editors, Spanish-language journalists, students.)
  • To engage in effective planning, marketing, implementation and evaluation cycles for SEJ programs and services, to increase value and participation and inform logical adjustments to the program roster.
  • To make contingency plans for constructive response to personnel changes or unexpected shortfalls in the operating budget.


The Strategic Plan of the Society of Environmental Journalists is intended to be a dynamic document, to provide guidance for current and future SEJ staff, board and members. SEJ's president and executive director are accountable for monitoring, updating and reporting to the SEJ board and membership on progress with various organizational goals and objectives noted in this plan, and they will bring updated plans to SEJ's board of directors for review and re-authorization as needed.

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