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I'll answer from the other side of the fence. I was the PR Director of the Maryland Office of Tourism 1988-1993. (Before Mindi and Connie, for those who know those great ladies.) I organized, ran, and accompanied as many as 15 trips a year with writers. With few exceptions, I saw no difference in the quality, professionalism, or production/placement from members of the organizations and those who weren't. Those who hustle, hustle and get their articles placed. The prima donnas and freeloaders don't. There were as many losers in the two 'big' groups (IFWTWA and SATW) as there were producers.
(And don't think that the DMOs/PR agencies don't keep a detailed list and call each other after trips. Good and bad names are well known! That, more than anything else -- including placement of stories -- often determines whether you get on a trip. There are too many good writers out there for anyone to put up with jerks.)
I'm back in the trenches now, writing and going on trips as a participant. I see the same thing. The good writers hustle and see results. They get assignments because they have good pitches, good credits, and good reputations. I have never dealt with an editor who gave or refused as assignment based on membership in one of the 'guilds.'
I'm a member of IFWTWA because I've gotten to know a lot of the members over the years. I enjoy their company and network with them, but I also network with writers I've met on trips who are 'independent.' I find that they are of equal value.
When I was with MD OTD, the best 'out of town' group I worked with was the Midwest Travel Writers. They held one of their mass press trips in MD and the Chesapeake Region. A fantastic bunch of people; I would strongly suggest you check them out.
Media Bistro is also a good site to check out. Among other things, if you are an 'AdvantGuild' member (it's something like $60/year), you can get group health insurance. It also opens an enormous library of on-line tutorials; detailed 'how-to' pitch case studies for specific publications; on-line resume posting, and a lot of other goodies. Frankly, it provides more in the way of development, tips, and value than either of the guilds.
I qualify for SATW, but I find the 'sorority sister' requirement -- after qualifying, you must still be recommended by existing members -- offensive, especially considering some of the characters/members/officials I've encountered. By the time you qualify, you've proven yourself as a productive professional, and you have to continue to produce to maintain your membership. This is appropriate. Being further evaluated as whether you are 'worthy' of being admitted to their rarefied presence seems arrogant and artificially exclusive. I know that am not the only writer who is turned off by that 'requirement.'
At any rate, welcome to the club. And good luck! (For all of us.)
Thanks so much for your input, I was hoping to hear from someone on the editorial side. I decided to join the International Travel Writers Alliance and MediaBistro for starters. After the first of the year, I will probably talk with SATW or Midwest Travel Writers. I've got over a hundred articles published online this year, so I'm assuming I fulfill their requirements. Thanks again for some great, thought-provoking comments.