A history of the SPJ / EIJ sponsorship conflicts

"Chicago" by Nick Moulds is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

A few chapter leaders asked for a history of the friction over sponsors accepted by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and its partners at the Excellence in Journalism (EIJ) conference, so here goes:

I was asked to be on a sponsorship policy task force was formed, in part, to examine ethical issues, public optics and past controversies of SPJ’s sponsorship practices. 

Here’s the resolution that created our task force.

This task force also gave us the opportunity to address tabled resolutions from EIJ 2019, which are at the heart of the matter:
1. Rejecting Koch Industries’ Sponsorship
2. Ending Media Sponsorship of SPJ Conferences
3. Suspending SPJ’s Participation in Excellence in Journalism
4. And, of course, this bad publicity.

The formation of this current task force is also aimed at addressing the failures of the 2018 sponsorship task force, which many viewed as a stacked deck with no diversity of opinion. That task force, in opposition to the resolution that formed it, reversed SPJ’s own 2003 policy and broadened the power of non-media organizations like the Charles Koch Institute to propose programming. 

This was tone deaf and in defiance of members across the nation who directed “the sponsorship task force 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.”

That policy led to confusion and miscommunication at best, or the board misleading its members about sponsorships at worst. Andy Schotz wrote extensively about this here:
Bad communication, an apology: examining Koch sponsorship

That policy also ignored opposition from some of its largest chapters, notably:

SPJ Los Angeles

SPJ San Diego
SD-SPJ concerned about SPJ national conference sponsor selection process

The Chicago Headline Club (SPJ)
A letter to our member about SPJ / EIJ sponsorships
Tell SPJ to be more ethical, transparent
SPJ ignores calls for transparency
SPJ forms task force to address concerns about EIJ sponsors

More time has been spent bending over backward trying to accommodate questionable sponsors rather than finding sponsors that are aligned with our mission. Journalists should not take money from sources that attack them.

We believe that the time is here to correct this, and the SPJ’s new sponsorship task force crafted and unanimously recommended a new policy to address this.

Click here to read more about that effort, which was endorsed by the SPJ Board on April 18, 2020. It will go before the membership for a vote at the next convention.