Mapping Out the Future of EIJ Sponsorships

After serious deliberation, I am pleased to announce a task force to brainstorm future sponsorship policy for our national conference. This remarkable group has been selected from among the most talented and experienced members within our own organization and other media groups.

The task force will look into creating a policy and standard operating procedures for selling and producing sponsorships at our annual Excellence in Journalism conference, better known as EIJ. Since 2011, we have co-hosted this conference with the Radio, Television and Digital News Association (RTDNA). The National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) has joined us every second year since 2013; while the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) was part of EIJ in 2016 and 2017.

Unquestionably, EIJ has been a spectacular success — with average attendance over the last two years doubling from the two years before we began co-hosting our annual conferences. A larger and more diverse audience has attracted higher profile speakers, a top-notch journalism expo, and yes, more sponsors. These sponsorships fund not only EIJ, but all of the good work that we and our partners do throughout the year.

However, it has become increasingly clear that SPJ has been improvising our EIJ sponsorship policy. In order to lay the groundwork for EIJ’s future growth, it’s time to stop playing the sponsorship game by ear.

Meet the Sponsorship Task Force

Patti Gallagher Newberry

The task force will be chaired by Patricia Gallagher Newberry. As President-elect, she will be stepping up to SPJ President next year, and so by tradition, she will serve as our representative on the programming task force for our next annual conference. In 2019, we will co-host EIJ in San Antonio with our friends at RTDNA and NAHJ. In her other life, Patti is area director and senior lecturer in the journalism program at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where she has been a faculty member since 1997.

Robert S. Becker

Robert S. Becker is the chairman of our national Bylaws Committee and of the Washington, D.C., professional chapter’s Freedom of Information Committee, a role he has filled for more than 25 years. The attorney also serves as the Mid-Atlantic Region member of our national Freedom of Information Committee. In this position, he provides advice and information on access to journalists and others in the D.C. metropolitan area.

Alison Bethel McKenzie

Alison Bethel McKenzie is executive director of SPJ and of our foundation. She took over the reins in March, well into the planning of this year’s EIJ, and joined the programming committee. Alison is a veteran journalist with over 30 years of experience as an award-winning reporter, bureau chief, senior editor and media trainer. She has a decade of nonprofit leadership experience, including six years as the executive director of the International Press Institute in Vienna, Austria. Earlier in her career, she worked as an editor at The Boston Globe, The Detroit News, Legal Times, a weekly law journal in Washington, D.C., and the Nassau Guardian, a newspaper in the Bahamas.

Bob Butler

Bob Butler is an award-winning journalist who has worked in radio, television and print. He is currently a reporter at KCBS Radio in San Francisco. He spent 18 months as the diversity director for CBS Corporation. Bob was a key member of the Chauncey Bailey Project, which investigated the murder of journalist Chauncey Bailey. He created and executes the Television Newsroom Management Diversity Census. He is a former president of the National Association of Black Journalists and sits on the board of SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents thousands of broadcasters around the country.

Ivette Davila-Richards

Ivette Davila-Richards spent 10 years as an associate producer at CBS News in New York. She was one of our diversity fellows at the EIJ conference in Baltimore and has since joined the national Diversity Committee. She is a board member of The Deadline Club, which is our professional chapter in New York. She served in leadership roles at NAHJ for eight years — two years as president of its New York chapter and six years on its national board, first as regional director in the northeast and then as Vice President for Broadcast.

Scott Libin

Scott Libin is chairman of the RTDNA Foundation and Immediate Past Chairman of the RTDNA board. He is a fellow at the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota. Scott has 30 years of experience in broadcast and digital journalism. Before joining the University of Minnesota faculty, he served as vice president of news and content at Internet Broadcasting. Scott has been news director at WCCO-TV and KSTP-TV in the Twin Cities, as well as WGHP-TV, in the Greensboro, N.C., market. Scott spent seven years on the resident faculty of The Poynter Institute, a school for journalists in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Dan Shelley

Dan Shelley is Executive Director of RTDNA and of its foundation, as well as a former Chairman of the Board, the organization’s top officer. Dan is a veteran radio and digital executive. He was Senior Vice President of Digital Content Strategy for iHeartMedia, where he was responsible for the development of a national content strategy for the company’s more than 850 radio stations. He was a Senior Vice President at Interactive One, where he oversaw the digital platforms of the company’s more than 50 radio stations. Prior to that, he was Director of Digital Media at WCBS-TV in New York.

Why We Need an EIJ Policy Review

SPJ members — not to mention the organization’s prestige — have benefited enormously from our partnerships with other media groups. Amid constant assaults on our profession’s credibility and enormous economic pressures in newsrooms, the EIJ model has allowed us to join forces with our colleagues. Sponsorships play a critical role in this success.

However, the national board of directors recently realized that we needed to clarify our sponsorship guidelines so both the staff and the board understood how sponsors were approved and how any sponsored sessions were produced.

Let me take this opportunity to dispel some lingering misconceptions that have formed in recent months and apologize for any erroneous statements by our board.

The SPJ staff has traditionally handled approving EIJ sponsorships and organizing any sponsored sessions. Apparently, it wasn’t unusual for sponsors to have a significant hand in the planning of these sessions, a relatively common practice at other national journalism conferences. The board was unaware of this. Now that we know, one of the key assignments of this task force will be coming up with recommendations for how this programming should be handled in the future.

Unfortunately, in a flurry of emails leading up to our Baltimore conference, some SPJ national board members became convinced that sponsors were not, in fact, involved in planning sessions. They shared this inaccurate information in emails to our members. The board of directors sincerely regrets this error.

For the record, the specific panel in question was the FOIA panel sponsored by the Charles Koch Institute, a 501(c)3 nonprofit foundation with a track record of sponsoring First Amendment programming by a wide range of press groups such as The Washington Post, the Poynter Institute and the Newseum. A past national SPJ president contacted the board in mid-August to say that he had been invited to speak on the conference’s FOIA panel by the session’s sponsor. Until this time, the board members did not realize that sponsors had been involved with planning sessions.

Further confusion ensued a few days later, when another past national president retrieved a memo from 2003 and sent it to both boards. The 2003 memo outlined a policy at a time when SPJ still held its annual conferences alone. For example, this memo says that “SPJ will control all aspects of the convention program,” and that “non-media contributions shall be handled by SPJ staff.”

The media business itself has evolved enormously in the last 15 years, with nonprofit and for-profit corporations stepping up to fill the void left by the decline in advertising and programming dollars.

Although the 2003 memo will be among the historical reference materials available to the task force, these capable individuals will need to start from scratch to build our new sponsorship policy.

As a consequence of these misunderstandings, I decided in mid-August that forming a task force to draft an EIJ sponsorship policy would be the first order of business once the new board took office in Baltimore. On Aug. 16, I asked Patti if she would chair this task force. To those who know Patti, it will be no surprise that she instantly agreed.

I think we can all rest more easily for the time being and allow Patti to take charge of this important work. I’ve asked her to bring recommendations to the national board at our Dec. 1 meeting that will help us create an enduring sponsorship policy.

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