By an overwhelming vote, Society of Professional Journalists delegates accepted a resolution Saturday night for a new sponsorship policy for future conferences.
The vote comes after years of discussions due to member concerns about who has sponsored parts of the SPJ Conference. There was a belief that SPJ signed on certain sponsors whose treatment of journalists was not in line with the thinking and practices of members of the organization.
68 delegates voted in favor of the resolution, eight were against, and two abstained.
There was concern specifically about how the Koch Foundation, Fox News and Sinclair Broadcast Group, respectively, practice journalism, according SPJ President Patti Newberry.
“We want sponsors who support journalism and do not negate that,” Newberry said.
The new policy states that sponsorships, partnerships, exhibitors and advertisers from both media and non-media entities must not violate federal, state or local laws, statutes, or ordinances; be affiliated or promote acts against journalists and the field of journalism; ignore claims of discrimination or harassment; or actively engage in disinformation or propaganda campaigns against journalists or journalism.
“Sponsors, exhibitors, and advertisers may propose program ideas but not panelists or speakers,” the policy states. “SPJ’s executive director will review each contract before it is accepted.”
The policy applies to national SPJ events, whether or not SPJ is the sole sponsor. It is encouraged that regional SPJ leaders apply this to their programs as well, but that is not required at this time.
Previously, partner organizations were able to sponsor panels, meals, tote bags, and more.
Now, if there was an organization that the board feels is not consistent the board would have the option to not accept its money.
Newberry said Koch, Sinclair, and Fox could re-offer sponsorships, but Newberry said she believes the board would have a much greater incentive to discuss whether SPJ should move forward with a sponsorship.
Newberry, who is in her last year as SPJ president, said she would expect backlash if the board was to accept a sponsorship from the aforementioned groups in the near future.
“The bigger thing to keep in mind is that all parties can move forward in good faith that SPJ staff will have these policies at the top of their minds,” Newberry said.
This year, the board did not have any sponsorships for the conference beyond a monetary value.
“We did not take on anybody this year that would be problematic,” Newberry said. “We have a stellar list that no one would turn their nose up at.”
During SPJ’s 2019 joint conference with Radio Television Digital News Association and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, NAHJ rejected its share of Fox sponsorship dollars after a Fox host likened Hispanic immigrants coming to the United States to Nazi Germany invading Western Europe.
In other actions the board passed resolutions honoring Ginny Frizzi, who was a regional director from 1994 to 2000 and died June 1 from COVID-19, as well as PBS Journalist Jim Lehrer, who died in January.
Other resolutions condemned violence toward and arrests of reporters in Belarus, law enforcement targeting journalists in both Seattle and the state of Oregon, the restriction of the press in Hong Kong, and restriction on speech that could worsen the pandemic. The board also showed its support for Maria Ressa and the staff of the Rappler as well as for the journalists of Voice of America. The last resolutions approved thanked Newberry for her time as president and the SPJ staff for its work planning and executing SPJ2020.