The STC Crisis: the take of a “young” writer

As  a “young” technical writer, treat I thought I might share some of my feelings on the STC crisis.

First, cure a little background on me. I knew while I was in college that I wanted to be a technical writer after graduation. I switched to an English major for that purpose, and picked classes that gave me a “technical communication emphasis”. I joined STC while I was in college because I wanted to connect with people in my field. I got a chapter scholarship to attend a regional STC conference, and had a great time meeting people who did for a living what I was studying.

When I graduated and began working, I joined STC as a regular member. For two of my three jobs, I had to explain to my employer what the “STC” bullet meant on my resume. Until my current job, I’ve never had an employer who would pay for conferences, so my interactions with STC have been limited to those in the local chapter, on the web, and through STC publications. I believe herein lies the problem that STC faces: STC’s value proposition has to be able to compete with what I can obtain from other sources, and do so in a compelling way.

I look at it this way: if the STC were to go away, what would I lose? Let’s take a look at the benefits that I care about that I’d lose:

  • STC publications. I like receiving Intercom. I honestly don’t really ever read Technical Communication. I get the need for a peer-reviewed journal, and understand how this is especially important in academia, but the stuff in TC generally doesn’t seem to interest or affect me. But the reality is that most of the articles that are published in Intercom would get published in other forms (like blogs). They might not be on the same subject, but the information is out there, and will continue to be churned out by writers like my colleague Tom Johnson who are better bloggers than I. So, if the publications go away, I’ll miss them a little bit, but not a lot.
  • Local chapter affiliation. I’ve not been very active in my local chapter until the last couple of months. I’ve attended a couple of meetings in the 5 years that I’ve been a member, but let’s be honest: like any professional, I’ve got lots of things competing for my time and attention. I have a young family that I really enjoy spending time with. When STC meetings conflict with personal interests, I’ve picked personal over professional because I haven’t seen tons of value in the local chapter. My perspective on that is changing as I’ve accepted a VP position in my local chapter, and I hope that as an executive team, we can find ways to make our local chapter more useful to the technical communicators in our region. Six months ago, I considered not being affiliated with a local chapter, but now I’m finding more value there. Maybe this is a resource like so many others that you get out of it what you put into it.
  • SIG / STC online affiliations. The SIGs haven’t been really useful to me. I’m a member of one SIG that has never contacted me with information about the SIG; has never provided any information about lists I might join, nor provided any other benefit. The other SIG has a mailing list, but it isn’t the most active list I follow, and the questions that get posted to that list might as well be posted to other non-STC lists I follow. I’ve watched some STC community leaders create other online sites that don’t restrict their membership to STC members, but they promote these sites to STC members. I think STC loses value in these cases, because I might as well join the other groups (for free) than pay to be a member of STC.
  • Salary survey. The salary survey on STCs website is now a complete joke, and I find it useless. I preferred the old method of self-reporting. While less accurate, I found it much more helpful than the current salary survey. I won’t miss this resource at all because I don’t use it. There are several salary websites I can use that provide as much, if not more, value than the STC salary survey.
  • Job resources on STC websites. The jobs section of the Society web site has not been a useful tool for me. When I’ve been looking for jobs, there haven’t been any local listings. When I went to post a job, there was an additional $120 fee, which my employer wouldn’t pay because they were already listing on Dice and Monster. The irony is that we were able to post on the local chapter website for free, and the writer we hired found us through the local chapter listing. So without STC’s local chapter website, we wouldn’t have found that writer, but it’s not like there aren’t other job boards that tech writers and their employers are using.

So here is my question: if STC is going to remain a viable organization, what is going to be the value proposition? What will STC provide that I can’t get from other sources? And then I have to ask, how much is that worth to me? I hope STC focuses on what I can’t get elsewhere and does it in a way that is valuable and interesting. That is what will keep me, a “young” writer interested in the organization.

9 responses to “The STC Crisis: the take of a “young” writer”

  1. As a senior STC member, I agree for the most part. The SIGs vary; the Tech Editing SIG is excellent, but if some other SIGs aren’t providing value, they should be revamped or disbanded.

    One other benefit that I find extremely valuable is the competitions. Where else could I get the kind of feedback that the competitions offer? If STC fell, the loss of the competitions would be significant to me and my company .

  2. @Andrea Wenger – Andrea, thanks for your comment. I’ve never participated in the competitions, in part because my company has never been willing to pay to submit items to be judged. I’m glad that there are people who find these to be valuable, and I hope that for your sake, these kinds of events can continue at a reasonable price.

  3. Paul,
    Great article here. Your title “take of a young writer” made me think of this: at conferences and chapter meetings, I pretty much see either students or 40-somethingings. Those in the middle are missing. Hmmm, what to make of this? I’ll mull on it for a while but wondered if you had any thoughts on it?

  4. I am not an STC member, and I have been using the outside resources that have been mentioned for quite a while. One thing that I find useful from STC, even though I am not a member has been the strong government lobbying that has been going on to change the definition of our field from Tech Writing to Tech Communications in the Occupational Outlook guide. I see benefit from these career championing (Rebranding) activities even without being a member.

  5. I agree with your comments about the Technical Communication magazine. When I was getting the hard copy, I read maybe one article a year. From my point of view it is a venue for academic types to say they have been published. The same goes for some presentations at the annual conference, very academic and an obvious bullet point for their CV.

    I don’t mean to ruffle any feathers, but my point of view is…from Canada, Continuing Ed Tech Comm certificate from Simon Fraser Univeristy, lone writer figuring everything out on my own…and not really interested in the “Audience Perceptions of Fonts in Power Point Slides” or “Graphical Indicators and Mechanical Reasoning”.

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