Are you curled into the fetal position? No? Then congratulations on finding someone to handle your contest entries this year.

You must’ve found someone, or you’d be like the rest of us: ready for a nap, or a cigarette, or a few weeks of talk therapy. Because as much as we’ve tried to simplify the process of entering APSE’s annual contest, it’s still a certifiable test of endurance. If choosing what to enter doesn’t get you, the copy/pasting will.

APSE president Jeff Rosen of The Kansas City Star

But damn it, it’s a new year, and your section entries have been safely mailed off to Kathy Laughlin or one of her fellow contest catchers, so let’s turn the page already and talk about something more uplifting.

Like APSE’s flagging membership.

Hold up, you say. Membership in decline, Jeff, that’s hardly uplifting. And you’re right, it’s not. But it’s a real problem with no easy solutions, and since we’ve tackled your contest entries, we’re going to discuss the overall health and future of this organization.

Let’s start here: Without naming names, because that’s not what this is about, I fielded a question this afternoon from the editor of an organization whose shop recently combined with another to form one of these super-sites. This editor wondered how he should proceed with certain particulars of his contest entries, as well as their annual membership renewal dues. Part of the shakeup or fallout from this merger or union entailed consolidation of leadership into a central office, or something like that. In short: fewer cooks in the kitchen. And his is not the only such inquiry I’ve received in the last year or two.

Mergers and JOAs have been around for decades, but such consolidation appears to be gaining momentum. I don’t subscribe to the following thinking, but I can see how a corporate bean-counter might: Why have sports editors at each of our papers in <insert geographic area here> when we can have one oversee the whole enchilada?

APSE has a couple of problems with this trend line. Foremost, good people, good journalists, seem to lose jobs when this happens. That hurts people, and families, and ultimately our industry. Second, APSE risks losing dependable revenue in this equation. We’re not out for profit (just ask any of the countless volunteers who’ve given their valuable time through the years), but we do require a certain amount of black to offset our red.

APSE does so much good, whether in outfitting the editors and managers of tomorrow through our Diversity Fellowship, or offering industry professionals ongoing education and camaraderie in the form of our annual summer and winter conferences, to giving editors, writers and visual specialists a place to showcase their work among their peers … or any number of other things that better the lives of working sports journalists each and every day. You know APSE is valuable because you’re a dues-paying member.

But what if APSE ceased to exist?

Camp on this thought for a moment. What if we held firm to our traditional guidelines for membership and saw our numbers continue to decline at their present rate, which in short is alarming?

Would APSE cease to exist as we know it in five years? Perhaps 10?

I don’t know, not for sure, but I feel pretty comfortable in saying that we can’t maintain our current trajectory and expect to survive forever. And like you, I want to see APSE thrive well into the future.

Well, just as the landscape of sports media is changing, so must APSE. To the point, I don’t believe that we can continue to depend so heavily on membership dues from legacy media, or even large-scale websites, for the bulk of our annual revenue. Legacy organizations are too volatile, and large websites too few. That pot is shrinking whether we like it or not.

In my estimation, our way forward will be paved in part by the continued admission of newer digital entities, such as PowerMizzou and GoPowercat in the Midwest, or NESN and MassLive in the Northeast, or FanRag and Outsports nationally. We have a review process in place whereby voting members of APSE’s executive body (current and past presidents, along with current officers and region chairs) review applications from interested organizations and then vote on their candidacy. A candidate is voted in with a simple majority. And I submit to you that we need more such candidates, not fewer.

Members of these organizations, working journalists, are entering and scoring well in the contest. They’re serving as judges. They’re pulling their weight as volunteers. In many cases, they’re former colleagues or competitors on our beats who’ve simply found a new audience to inform and a next-chapter way to make a living.

Some traditionalists say we should be wary of “fan sites,” and I don’t disagree. Our pre-vote review is fairly strenuous. Not everyone is granted membership. We hold a Rivals site to the same journalistic standards we’d expect of a longstanding APSE member like The Kansas City Star. Just as The Star is not above rebuke or other ramifications if we’re found to have committed some sort of ethical or professional violation, neither is the newly minted member website. We help one another and we keep watch over one another. The review process, the watching over, never ceases. Not for a new digital member, not for The Kansas City Star.

I’ll pause here for a moment because I sometimes get too serious for my own good, and I fear we’ve arrived at one of those times. For some reason, I’m reminded right now of a funny thing that former L.A. Times sports editor and past APSE president Bill Dwyre shared a year or two ago in an email thread that I think pertained to potential pitfalls of admitting non-traditional members. I hope he wouldn’t mind me sharing it here.

I used to go into the morning news meeting,” he wrote, “after the Trib bought us and owned the Cubs, and say, when it got around to my time to present the sports news of the day – and with the Cubs in town to play the Dodgers: ‘The Dodgers will be playing us tonight at Dodger Stadium.’ The coat-and-tie news-side guys hated that, so I kept doing it.”

Just as Bill didn’t hesitate to employ a little good humor in those morning news meetings, I think we need to take a thoughtful and perhaps less staid approach to the serious issue of APSE’s future. As most of you know, I campaigned on (and have enacted) a new approach to funding some of our annual events. Our June conference in Nashville will take place thanks in part to sponsorship of various components of the program. APSE has done this off and on for previous conferences and events, and I believe it should become more common, not less. The cost of hosting a summer conference can be well north of $20,000.

Our friends over at AWSM have mastered the ability to balance their professionalism and ethics with acceptance of outside underwriting, and are thus able to stage some excellent events each year. They also have a broader membership base. The Association for Women in Sports Media opens its doors to women (and men, I should note, as a dues-paying member) “who work in sports writing, editing, broadcast and production, and public and media relations.”

Is APSE ready to throw open its doors to PR folks in the sports world? At this point, the answer would be no. But should we be open to soliciting, reviewing and ultimately admitting more digital-only operations in the near future? Should we at least be moving more quickly toward a broader base of membership in order to ensure our solvency for the next generation?

By now, I would hope you’d know my answers to these questions.

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