SD-SPJ concerned about SPJ national conference sponsor selection process

San Diego SPJ has sent a letter to SPJ National board president Alex Tarquinio and other national board members to share its concerns about what seems to be a lack of transparency and rigor in the process for selecting sponsors for the annual Excellence in Journalism conference.

Here is the text of that letter:

Dear Ms. Tarquinio and members of the SPJ national board,

The San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is concerned by the apparent lack of transparency and rigor in the system for selecting sponsors for the Excellence in Journalism conference. While we are sympathetic to NAHJ’s decision to rescind its 2019 EIJ sponsorship invitation to Fox News and return a portion of the sponsorship funds contributed by Fox News, the purpose of this letter is to share our more general concerns with the process for choosing conference sponsors, especially those whose actions may conflict with core SPJ values.

Last year, we were one of many chapters that expressed concern over the Charles Koch Institute sponsoring a conference panel. We praised SPJ’s decision to form a task force that created a new policy for vetting sponsors. We’ve been told that the SPJ board followed this policy when choosing the 2019 conference sponsors.

Yet, that vetting process remains vague. The only details shared publicly are that the EIJ Planning Committee vets proposals submitted by media and non-media entities.

We’d like to see the sponsorship task force reconvene and develop more specific sponsorship guidelines. Any group that provides SPJ with financial assistance should demonstrate a commitment to SPJ’s Code of Ethics. Guidelines should specify what would preclude sponsorship — for example: clear affiliation with a political party, a history of uncivil discourse or a pattern of deliberately spreading misinformation. The absence of such standards will only increase the likelihood that controversy will again overshadow what should be a celebratory event.

Sincerely,

San Diego SPJ

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