SPJ ignores calls for transparency

Dear members,

The Society of Professional Journalists has disappointed us.

Earlier this year, we asked SPJ to reject dollars from entities whose actions are at odds with SPJ’s journalistic mission and to use the SPJ Code of Ethics as a guide to vet donations.

On Dec. 1, SPJ ignored that request when it adopted an open-door sponsorship policy that welcomes dollars from everyone and accepts their ideas for panels at the Excellence in Journalism conference.

This means that past sponsors, like the Charles Koch Institute, could continue to sponsor and pitch panels, allowing them to buy legitimacy, influence and a platform at a conference attended by hundreds of journalists from across the nation.

The Koch Institute, which sponsored a FOIA panel at EIJ2018, is closely affiliated with Koch Industries, which until 2017 ran kochfacts.com, a website largely devoted to attacking and discrediting journalists who reported critically on Koch Industries and its activities.

We believe it is fundamentally incompatible with SPJ’s journalistic mission and code of ethics to accept money from entities that have attacked the integrity and legitimacy of journalists and journalism organizations. And we are baffled by SPJ’s refusal to see how this undermines our credibility.

It’s a journalist’s job to hold those in power accountable, and we have sought to hold SPJ’s board accountable. In response, SPJ has used tactics those in power often use to keep reporters out: holding closed-door meetings, refusing to share documents and, in the worst case, being untruthful about its process.

To its credit, SPJ did provide a forum to hear chapters’ feedback. However, the policy it ultimately issued indicates that SPJ has either not acknowledged those concerns, not taken them seriously, or chosen to ignore them.

SPJ should lead in establishing and honoring “best practices” in journalism, not only as to journalists’ professional conduct, but in its own conduct as an organization dedicated to promoting professional journalism. In this, SPJ has failed us.

We want to increase SPJ’s transparency and accountability to us — its members. To that end, we ask for your support on a resolution to require SPJ to disclose contracts with sponsors to its chapters. We plan to submit that resolution at EIJ2019.

The Chicago Headline Club board

SPJ/Los Angeles board