SPJ forms task force to address concerns about EIJ sponsors

Dear Headline Club members,

We flew to Baltimore last month, armed with your responses to our letter raising concerns about SPJ’s acceptance of funds from the Koch Institute for the 2018 Excellence in Journalism conference — a donation we think goes against the SPJ Code of Ethics because it is tied to groups actively trying to destroy public faith in independent journalism and hoping to advance a political agenda.

It was clear from your letters that you agreed with us.

In response to our concerns SPJ created a sponsorship task force to review its sponsorship policy. Patricia Newberry, SPJ’s president-elect and chair of the task force, said she plans to put a proposal before the full SPJ Board by Dec. 1.

Once in Baltimore, however, we learned that for $25,000 SPJ has been relinquishing control of panels to sponsors, allowing groups like the Koch Institute to pick the panel topic and panelists, and write panel descriptions. This lack of a firewall between donations and programming goes against SPJ’s current sponsorship policy, which was updated in 2003 to allow donations from non-media organizations. The policy reads in part, “No money will be accepted from domestic or foreign governments, or from partisan political organizations.” And, “SPJ will control all aspects of the convention program.”

It is unclear why SPJ is not following its current policy. But we think SPJ needs to move quickly to address the issues uncovered. To that end, we joined forces with the Los Angeles SPJ chapter to push SPJ to do so before the next conference. SPJ delegates from chapters throughout the country approved our resolution, which gives the task force a deadline and directs it to “consider rejecting dollars from entities whose actions are at odds with SPJ’s journalistic mission and using the SPJ Code of Ethics as a guide to vet donations.”

We will continue to update you as we learn more from SPJ’s sponsorship task force.

The Chicago Headline Club board