EIJ sponsorship update

The Society of Professional Journalists has taken an important step in the creation of a sponsorship policy for the modern era. As I wrote in this column when we launched the Sponsorship task force this fall, the Society has effectively been without a written policy since the first Excellence in Journalism conference (EIJ). Although the national board approved sponsorship policies in 2003 and in 2008, these policies were superseded by the agreement to co-host conferences with other journalism groups beginning in 2011.

First and foremost, it is important to understand what a sponsorship policy is. It is a set of guidelines for approving sponsors and for what sponsors will be permitted to do. A sponsorship policy must at the outset be impartial. It does not state which particular organizations will or will not be authorized to sponsor an event, but rather, lays the framework so future boards can make decisions on whether or not a prospective sponsor conforms to the proposed organization’s policy on sponsorship.

I decided to create this task force in mid-August, after learning that there were objections to a sponsored program that had not been approved by the EIJ planning committee, a committee which I have been a member of for the past two years. Although our staff had brought other sponsored sessions to the committee’s attention, I discovered that there was no existing rule or policy requiring this. As the Society’s incoming national president, I asked Patti Gallagher Newberry, who was then running unopposed to become our president-elect, to chair a task force to develop a set of standard operating procedures for EIJ sponsorships.

No conference sponsorship policy should ignore or make light of the fact that EIJ is a partnership. Indeed, the spirit of cooperation among the conference co-hosts is the very heart and soul of EIJ. With this intent uppermost, our first step was to invite our longstanding partner, the Radio, Television and Digital News Association (RTDNA), to join the task force.

Since 2011, we have co-hosted our annual conference with RTDNA. Together, we have had the good fortune to also partner with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), who we’ve been pleased to have join us every other year since 2013; while the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) was a welcome addition to EIJ in 2016 and 2017. As nobody can deny, there is strength in numbers, especially in these challenging times for our profession.

High-level leadership from RTDNA participated in our Sponsorship task force review, and later this month, their board intends to consider the recommendations of this task force and the motion approved by our board.

In our most recent board meeting, conducted by video conference on Dec. 1, the SPJ board decided that both media and non-media entities should be allowed to sponsor EIJ sessions or events. However, sponsored sessions will now be required to be vetted by the entire EIJ planning committee, rather than leaving the decision to do so up to the staff. Although the sponsors can indicate which topics they would like to sponsor, they cannot select the speakers. Furthermore, the planning committee, or the producers that it designates, will now take control of producing the sponsored sessions.

As before, the executive directors of each EIJ partner retain the right to refuse or decline contracts from any sponsor, exhibitor or advertiser. But the rules that SPJ’s board approved earlier this month would give the conference planning committee, which includes elected officers and staff from all of the EIJ co-hosts in a given year, a formal role and the final word in the review process.

The next step is to wait to hear from our friends at RTDNA. Their board may decide to adopt or to reject our guidelines. Once the two established EIJ partners have decided how to collaborate on conference sponsorships, we can inform other groups who partner with us on EIJ conferences now and in the future.

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