I recently attended my fourth NATJA conference and it rocked. We partied at the Puerto Vallarta beaches and drank an untold amount of tequila. We went to panels and sessions that made us better (or hopefully wealthier) writers. We made mutually beneficial relationships with people we hung out with for days. Including some major editors. We got to see far more of coastal Jalisco in a week than most vacationers manage to see on multiple trips.
As we all gravitate to our own little niche-focused social media groups, there’s the inevitable question as to whether these trade organizations still make sense. In the old days of the past millennium, if you didn’t belong to something like SATW (Society of American Travel Writers), you had trouble connecting with people in your field and meeting editors. If you didn’t belong to something like ASJA (American Society of Journalists and Authors), you had a tough time figuring out if the contract you were signing was a raw deal just for you or if everyone working for that publication was getting screwed as well.
Now it’s very easy to connect with other writers or bloggers. There are a hundred e-mail newsletters, blogs, social media groups, and meet-ups that can link you to your kind. You can send out a tweet or put a question on Facebook and have responses within the hour. So it’s easy to think these organizations don’t matter anymore.
Really though, they still do. They might even matter more than they used to. That’s because as it gets easier and easier to connect online, we’re all inundated by more and more information coming through a fire hose. We don’t really need more info or more virtual friends. We need curation. We need face-to-face. We need more colleagues we can help and get help from, not just people who will retweet our blog posts without even reading them.
We need more of what we need and less of what we don’t need.
NATJA (North American Travel Journalists Association) is having a membership drive right now, after coming off their best-attended conference ever. So I’m giving them a shout-out here. That’s the one I belong to and I gladly pay the dues each year.
I shunned SATW from the start because I thought the leadership was way too snooty and treated digital media like a thorn in its side. (A stance that has only slightly improved in their annual awards.) I still see a disdain for bloggers there that makes me keep my distance and I know a few people running websites getting more than 100K monthly visitors that have been turned down when applying for membership. I might join later when I’m in my 60s like most of their members. I know a few members who get a lot out of the regional meet-ups.
But NATJA always felt to me like the more welcoming, inclusive, clued-in community. There’s not much ego, no real cliques, and no sense that people are trying to outdo each other based on how big the mastheads are where they appeared 20 years ago. It’s far from perfect, as any big organization like this is bound to be, but I feel comfortable recommending it. If you haven’t been a part of NATJA and you want to learn more, contact yani (at) natja.org and tell her Tim Leffel sent you.
With all of these organizations, you get some informational perks in terms of press trip invites and industry connections, plus the chance to hobnob face-to-face at their convention. With NATJA you get a discount on entries to their annual travel writing contest too, which means a big savings and the opportunity to win some sweet prizes. I got three nights at a vacation condo I’ll use with my family this year, three nights at an all-inclusive that I used with them last year. Those are pretty typical first place prizes.
You also get a profile page on their site, which means a link back and some visibility, plus NATJA has their own digital magazine that pays and you’re not competing with 3,000 other writers for a slot.
So back to the original question of whether it’s worthwhile to join SATW, NATJA, ASJA, PTBA (Professional Travel Bloggers Association), TMAC (Travel Media Association of Canada), IFWTA (International Food Wine & Travel Association) or any of the other collections of Scrabble tiles. The real question is…are you serious about your career? Joining one is not essential, but it certainly can’t hurt. Is it worth an investment of two or three hundred bucks to maybe meet the editor or partner that’s going to open up a new outlet or income stream for you? That’s a pretty easy return on investment floor to meet.
At a minimum, you should attend TBEX if you’re a blogger. But if you want to step it up, joining an organization with a built-in opportunity infrastructure could take you to a new level.