Tell SPJ to be more ethical, transparent

Dear members,

Please tell SPJ to be more ethical and transparent.

On Nov. 8, SPJ asked members to take a survey about the kinds of sponsorships it would accept for its Excellence in Journalism conference. The survey questions lack the background needed for members to understand what’s at stake. Let us remind you:

  • SPJ is allowing non-media organizations to sponsor the conference and has relinquished control of panels, which means those organizations can select panels and panelists.
  • In relinquishing control of panels, SPJ is breaking its 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.”
  • Among those sponsors is The Charles Koch Institute, which is part of a secretive and complex family of groups whose goal is to advance the Koch brothers’ political ideologies. The groups include Americans for Prosperity, Generation Opportunity and Koch Industries, which has used aggressive tactics against journalists trying to unveil their activities.
  • The survey questions are simplistic and do not get to the heart of the issue: We want SPJ to reject dollars from entities whose actions are at odds with SPJ’s journalistic mission and use the SPJ Code of Ethics as a guide to vet donations. For example, if you vote yes to accept donations from foundations, you would be voting to include groups like the Koch Institute, which is a nonprofit.

There is a comment section in the survey, and we encourage you to tell SPJ to create a firewall between donations and programming, to stop relinquishing control of panels, to stop accepting donations from groups that are at odds with SPJ’s journalistic mission and to be more transparent in its communications with members. We also encourage you to join the online conversation on Nov. 26 from 5 to 6:30 p.m. CT.

The Chicago Headline Club board