Guest Blog: Transparency is good for members and good for SPJ
Press Club of Long Island okays openness policy, sets stage for national Society of Professional guidelines
Guest post by Carl Corry, Director at Large
Following up on its resolution to require greater financial transparency for SPJ chapters, which narrowly failed at the Fort Lauderdale convention in September, the Press Club of Long Island has approved a policy establishing rules covering both financial disclosure and “openness in general.”
The measure, believed to be the first of its kind among SPJ chapters, sets the stage for openness guidelines currently being considered for SPJ and all of its chapters.
The new rules for PCLI operations are as follows:
- The Press Club of Long Island board will post notice of upcoming board meetings on PCLI website by the next business day after they are scheduled by the president or another officer in the president’s absence.
- Members with issues for the board to address should contact the president or another officer in the president’s absence at least one business day before a meeting and the president or another officer in the president’s absence will add the issues to the agenda.
- Board meetings are open to all PCLI members, who will be allowed to attend as observers and will be given the opportunity to address the board during the meeting where appropriate.
- A summary of all votes/actions taken by the board during a meeting will be posted on the website within five business days of the meeting.
- A summary of chapter finances is available for review by PCLI members by appointment.
- The board will respond to media requests for information on PCLI activities or comments on media issues as quickly as possibly but always within two business days.
Some may see the new policy, which in terms of financial information is more restrictive than what was proposed in Fort Lauderdale, as not going far enough to create greater openness, while others may see it going too far.
In a statement on its website and sent to its members, the PCLI board said the policy “stems from the chapter board’s desire to be more inclusive with the PCLI membership and attract new members. It also reflects our belief that as a nonprofit organization of journalists who seek a variety of information from government, other non-profits and other organizations, SPJ and its chapters should be open in their actions.”
The chapter’s initial proposal at the convention–which I supported as a PCLI delegate (I’m a former board member and chapter president)–was prompted by the alleged misuse of the pro Oklahoma chapter’s finances by the former Region 8 Director and, in another situation, the withholding of financial information from a blogger.
The new rules are loosely based on recommendations PCLI Treasurer Bill Bleyer and I crafted for SPJ President Sonny Albarado at his request, “in lieu of another resolution at next year’s convention,” after we spoke at the closing board meeting about not letting the issue die.
Also as a result of those recommendations, Albarado tasked President-elect David Cullier with coming up with guidelines for all SPJ chapters. Those guidelines, which will include input from chapters and members across the country, will be taken up by the executive committee at its meeting in January. A proposal will be presented to the full board in April.
I want to underscore that Cuiller’s proposal will present voluntary guidelines, not a policy.
“Our sense of the convention delegates meeting was that everyone favored more openness regarding chapter finances and meetings, but not everyone felt an edict from national was the way to accomplish it,” Albarado said in an October email.
Cullier said he thinks PCLI’s policy “is a great start.”
Among the measures that might be included for all of SPJ are:
- A best practices sheet for chapters on transparency, including what PCLI has done, “and perhaps discussing ways of making finances more transparent.”
- A resolution for the national conference next year in Anaheim stating SPJ’s commitment to transparency within our own organization.
Cullier said: “It’s essential SPJ chapters operate as openly as possible since freedom of information is a core mission for the organization. No, we aren’t government agencies subject to public record and open meeting laws, but we all believe in the concept that the free flow of information is essential for people to make informed decisions and to trust in their institutions. It is important that we stand behind our principles and words by being as open as possible, within reason and within the constraints that come with the realities of a volunteer organization. It is my hope that all chapters consider implementing at least some practices that foster openness and accountability for their members and the public.”
Let’s help Cullier with his task. Please offer your own feedback below on what he should include in the proposal for the executive committee.
In the meantime, I commend my home chapter for serving as a leader in this issue. I hope the board’s efforts encourage other chapters to follow suit.
Carl Corry is the online editor for local news at Newsday. He is also a longtime member of the Society and the PCLI. Contact him> firstname.lastname@example.org