By Elizabeth Jensen
It’s going to be a long break for RTDNA conference attendees after this year’s event closes on April 14.
This convention will be the last that RTDNA shares with the spring meeting of the National Association of Broadcasters, which it’s been doing since the September 2001 event was canceled in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Next year, the organization will partner with the Society of Professional Journalists for a joint conference, and the decision was made to stick with the SPJ’s traditional fall meeting time (which also used to be RTDNA’s time), which will be about a 17-month gap for RTDNA convention attendees.
Talks of a joint event have been going on for about 18 months, said Stacey Woelfel, news director at KOMU-TV, in Columbia, Mo., and the outgoing RTDNA chair. Declining convention attendance due to cost-cutting was one spur, he said, noting that the supposition was “if we tried to put all of our conventions together we could see more people at one time.”
Joe Skeel, SPJ’s executive director, said there was also a feeling of “wouldn’t it be great if there was one giant mega journalism conference, if people didn’t have to pick and choose where they went, if we could all join forces and put on an amazing professional development program.”
The RTDNA event last year drew about 600 attendees; the SPJ’s convention has been averaging around 700 people. Overlap was small, Woelfel said.
Official details of the late September 2011 event are under wraps until RTDNA’s convention this month, but it’s a badly kept secret that the joint event will take place in New Orleans. “I have unofficially acknowledged that it’s in New Orleans,” Woelfel said. The Louisiana locale will give a break to East Coast members who’ve had to travel to Las Vegas in recent years, he said.
The goal is not two parallel events, but “truly one integrated convention that draws the best programs and speakers,” said Skeel. At a time of journalistic convergence, he said, “We want to cross-pollinate into the different cultures.”
The two organizations will have some events unique to each of them — the Paul White Award will remain an RTDNA honor, for one — but members from both groups will be invited to attend, Woelfel said. He noted there have not been any discussions of merging the two organizations, as some have speculated.
Meanwhile, for RTDNA members who can’t bear the thought of going so long without a convention, RTDNA will have a one-day schedule of workshops at next year’s NAB.