SPJ chapters sometimes invite experts to speak at professional development programs. In some cases, a speaker gets an appearance fee, or honorarium. Is this an acceptable practice? What should the limits be for SPJ chapters, especially student chapters?
The Ethics Committee took up the topic in an e-mail chat that started with a question from one of our members. This is an edited version of the discussion. We’d like to know what you think.
This issue of honoraria is something that has been hotly debated in ourchapter. It has been my understanding that National discourages honoraria, and has specified in the past that the Ethics Weeks grants aren’t to be used to paythem.
What we’ve done at the Minnesota Pro Chapter is use Silha Center money — which is not subject to these restrictions as long as the honoraria fall under a certain amount — to pay Ethics Week honoraria when necessary andappropriate. For many people, asking them to travel for two days to give a speech represents a significant loss of potentialincome, and it is — in my opinion, at least — appropriate to compensate them for that.
I would be curious to know whether committee members think that SPJ fundsshould be used to pay honoraria. And if not, why not?
Jane E. Kirtley
Silha Professor of Media Ethics and Law
Director, Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law
University of Minnesota
At its 1996 convention (or thereabouts), SPJ adopted a resolution that was critical of journalists who accepted honoraria. I don’t recall exactly what it said, but it seemed to get more outside attention than the adoption of the new
Code of Ethics.
In any event, I don’t remember that the resolution said honoraria should not be paid. SPJ’s policy, if we have one, is unclear. In practice, we’ve asked people if they’d consider forgoing their usual honoraria to speak to groups of fellow journalists. If they won’t, and if they’re worth it, we’ve paid them.
Columnist and retired editor
The Denver Post
Ideally, all journalists would speak gratis to journalism students and journalism organizations. The reality is somewhat different. How much time the commitment is going to take out of the person’s life is an excellent point. If a speaking engagement takes multiple travel days, I think an honorarium is appropriate.
Our practice has been to not pay when the SPJ student chapter is doing the asking. Our journalism department, however, offers honoraria to guest speakers. The nice speakers donate the money back to the SPJ student chapter or to the department.
I don’t have a major problem with reasonable honoraria, but SPJ chapter grant guidelines specifically say the awards aren’t supposed to be used to pay honoraria.
Morning Edition producer
Maine Public Broadcasting Network
Journalists have an obligation to help other journalists. All of us have come up the ranks by learning from others, and then it’s our turn to help. I don’t think we should be charging other journalists, especially students, who are
At the Chicago Headline Club, we’ve paid for travel and lodging, but I don’t recall paying anyone honoraria. Maybe Christine Tatum can add her memory to this.
Seymour Hersh was our keynote speaker at an awards banquet a few years back, and he did not expect to be paid an honorarium for his appearance. I think that sets a pretty good example — from a major figure in journalism.
The Chicago Tribune
I remember paying a few fees for speakers appearing at Headline Club events (Poynter instructors mainly), but all were very reasonable. For the most part, speakers expected only that their travel, lodging and food be reimbursed.
I agree with Irwin: The guidelines discourage the use of Ethics Week grant money for honoraria — but we may need to underscore this in bright lines next year.
I think honoraria should be rarely, if ever, given.
I agree with the idea of doing something to help the profession.
Speakers’ expenses — and possibly lost income — shouldn’t be ignored. But rather than getting stuck on that path, I’d look at it a different way: What’s the budget? If you can’t afford it with the money available, do something else.
The (Hagerstown, Md.) Herald-Mail
Many, if not most, big-time journalists who get big speaking fees give discounts or freebies to journalism and academic groups.
Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at University of Kentucky
I spoke to several chapters around the country while I was developing my wartime ethics guidelines through local workshops, and I believe some of those talks were paid, at least in part, by host SPJ chapters. I am an independent
(freelance) journalist/author and can not afford to spend several days for travel, preparation and presentation without compensation.
On occasion, I have even considered whether to write an article for Quill for free or to write the same piece for another journalism magazine so that I could receive adequate freelance compensation. I hate to have to make
such choices for an organization like SPJ that I believe in so much, but I must.
This is not a comment on what SPJ’s guidelines are or should be — simply on the realities of freelance journalism. Perhaps different guidelines should apply to those who are given time by their employers to give such talks on company time. I’d hate to see SPJ talks limited only to journalists on a corporate or academic payroll.
I have given many talks without compensation to classes and individual students and to SPJ chapters and on national convention panels, but sometimes it’s necessary to charge, especially since I often write professionally about the same journalism issues I’m asked to speak about gratis.
Peter Y. Sussman
Independent journalist and author
I see many sides to this issue, which is hardly black and white. We should leave the decision to pay honoraria to SPJ chapters — but expect those chapters to honor the guidelines for the expenditure of national money, as Irwin noted, and to live within their budgets, as Andy noted.