June 2002

From the Director

CIDMIconNewsletter JoAnn Hackos, CIDM Director

Dear Friends,

We just returned from the STC annual conference in Nashville. Unfortunately, the attendance was only about half of previous years’ conferences-fewer than 1500 people attended. The low attendance is typical of conference attendance since mid-2000, exacerbated by 9/11, but STC’s decline was greater than most. Cutbacks on business travel have affected everyone’s access to learning.

More disturbing, however, is the apparent decline in STC membership. For the first time since I joined STC in 1978, membership has declined. When I was a member of the board of directors in the late 1980s, the executive director was predicting 25,000 members by the early 1990s. Subsequently, the growth curve flattened and that peak was never reached. Even at a time when the numbers of technical communicators were clearly increasing, membership in STC did not increase commensurately.

A few weeks ago, I received a note from a colleague who recruits technical communicators in the Silicon Valley. He noted that approximately 60 percent of the writers on his regular mailing list are out of work. We recognize, of course, that the falloff in employment among communicators has hit the Silicon Valley particularly hard, even as the explosion fueled the phenomenal increase in employment. When the dot.coms failed, the opportunities fell precipitously, especially in telecommunications-related businesses.

In a conversation last week with a colleague at a government-related organization on the East Coast, I heard about a few more writers being laid off. The colleague noted, however, that no one in their centralized organization had been “riffed.” (Rif refers to reduction in force.) The layoffs had come among lone writers working for the computer software developers.

Here’s the observation that I think we ought to pay attention to. Except for the telecommunications industry, which has been in free fall for the past year, most of the layoffs have come to lone writers or small, highly distributed groups working directly for technical types. Very few of the larger technical publications organizations have experienced more than a few rifs. I believe that the effectiveness of the larger organizations may have insulated the staff members from being targeted as extraneous employees, easily eliminated and easily replaced at a later time.

As you know, I have long been a strong advocate for centralized organizations led by talented leaders who know how to sell the services of their organizations. These leaders are often engaged in finding ways to make their activities more valuable by seeking allegiances with peer organizations, such as support and training. They find ways to address customer needs directly and are not afraid to cut costs.

Leaders of these strong organizations have elected to become members of the CIDM. In fact, we have not seen a decline in membership, although some of our most faithful members have been unable to renew because of budget cutbacks. However, the majority of those not renewing have told me that they will rejoin as soon as budgets return. They continue to find CIDM the best organization for them. The value of membership is enhanced by the community of effective leaders that the organization represents. Many non-members attend our annual conference and subscribe to this newsletter.

The key component of building a strong organization is to have a strong, well-informed, well-connected leadership. CIDM is dedicated to growing leaders in the information industry. We hope that even more of you will be able to join us in the future. The contributions of our members will help to ensure that a viable technical information industry exists in the future. CIDMIconNewsletter