What to expect from SFJ in 2023: better contest, new website, virtual trainings

Emily Spicer, SFJ President, shares the group’s plans for a bright 2023!

Happy New Year to all our SFJ members! I know at this point the world hesitates to think things like, “Yep, this is my year” – but this is going to be SFJ’s year.

After some time adrift in the COVID cloud, we are back with a refreshed identity and a more refined mission.

In this first President’s Letter of the year, there’s a lot to cover:

  1. 2023 SFJ Excellence-in-Features Contest
  2. Membership, and what you get with it
  3. How you can help
  4. Our new board and committees

Here we go!

2023 SFJ Excellence-in-Features Contest

This year’s contest will go live Jan. 30 on this site. It will have new, refreshed categories, including:

  • Best Special Product
  • Best Consumer/Service Feature
  • Best First-Person Narrative/Essay
  • Best Feature Writing Portfolio

Also new this year is the deadline. Instead of a month of extensions, we will have one hard deadline. Really. End of day Monday, March 27 is the final deadline for entries.

Contest FAQs

Do I have to be a member to enter? Not this year, but with the cool stuff SFJ will be doing this year (read on below…) for free, why wouldn’t you be a member?

Can I enter as a freelancer? Yes!

Can student publications enter? Sorry, no.

Do I get money if I win? Yes! First-place winners receive $300!

Do I have to be at a newspaper and in the features department/section to enter? No! Features can come from all over the newsroom, from Metro and Business to Sports, or from a variety of publications, whether digital and/or print. It just has to be a feature.

Does the story have to have been in print or is digital-only OK? Bring on the digital-only entries from digital-only publications.

OK, SFJ always gives extensions, so the real deadline will after Tax Day, right? Nope. Really. March 27 will be it. But we will send a few reminders before the deadline.


This will be the last year that membership in SFJ is free. When COVID hit, we canceled our conferences and other in-person meetings. Like a lot of groups, that time allowed us to do some soul-searching and make some tough decisions about our future.

Maybe conferences will be back some day, but for now, for this group of volunteers, that feels overwhelming. We remain committed to supporting and promoting the craft of storytelling, and this is how we are going to do that:

  1. Contest: Our contest will remain – and will get better with updated categories. It’s the only contest that recognizes the true, vast variety of features storytelling, and we keep hearing from members how important it is.
  2. Website: The Digital Committee will oversee an SFJ website redesign, refreshing it to give better access to contest-winning entries and what’s new.
  3. Learning the craft: The Programming Committee will hold quarterly virtual seminars about the craft of storytelling with award-winning writers and creators, so you can learn about how the story came together, and the decisions and choices they made.
  4. Skill building: We will also hold at least one virtual salon where board members will host breakout groups devoted to a specific topic – pitching stories, how to translate journo skills for for other industries, how to craft better ledes, etc. – for a chance to really talk, ask questions and learn.

How you can help

Become a member at https://featuresjournalism.org/membership/how-to-join/.

Membership is free this year, but you need to actually join at the link above so we can contact you about the great stuff we’re doing! (This is an annual thing, so even if you have joined in the past, please rejoin at the link above so we can ensure your information is up to date.)

Please encourage your colleagues to join, too. You don’t have to be a features writer to join – all journalists are welcome.

The initiatives above take a lot of work, and as stated previously, we are all volunteers, and there’s no staff. We want our board and committees to reflect the diversity of backgrounds and opinions at work in journalism today.

So please, become a member and then reach out to volunteer on one of the committees below, or inquire about joining the board. Board members do not have to be journalists, but they must be journalism supporters and enthusiasts, with some working newsroom experience.

Our new board

Who’s going to be leading the charge on these initiatives? Meet the board and the committees we oversee:

President: Emily Spicer, Sales Enablement Manager, Deloitte, (former Features & Food Editor, San Antonio Express-News), emilyspicer@mac.com

Vice President: Laura Coffey, Senior Writer & Editor, TODAY.com, laura.coffey@nbcuni.com

Immediate Past President: Sharon Chapman, Executive Features Editor, Austin American-Statesman, slctexas@gmail.com

Finance Committee:
Chief Finance Officer: Alice Short, Senior Editor, Los Angeles Times, aliceshort55@gmail.com
Finance Board Member: Marge Myers, Managing Editor, Long Dash, Mmyers@longdash.co

Membership Committee:
Chief Membership Officer: Robert Morast, Transformation Editor, San Francisco Chronicle,
Membership Board Member: Christopher Wynn, Arts & Entertainment Editor, The Dallas Morning News, cwynn@dallasnews.com

Contest Committee:
Chief Contest Officer: Mesfin Fekadu, Senior Music Editor, The Hollywood Reporter, mesfin.fekadu@gmail.com

Digital Committee:
Chief Digital Officer: Kathy Lu, Founder, Audiencibility media consulting and Poynter adjunct (former features editor), kathy@audiencibility.com

Programming Committee:
Chief Programming Officer: Sue Campbell, Assistant Managing Editor/Features, Minneapolis Star Tribune, sue.campbell@startribune.com
Programming Board Member: Barbara Allen, Director of College Programming, Poynter, senatorallen@gmail.com

All of us on the board are so excited about 2023 (knocking on wood now)!

Thank you for reading. Thank you for being a member. I look forward to connecting with you in our virtual seminars. Cheers!

Emily Spicer
SFJ President