EIJ has a new sponsorship policy

As I wrote in this column in the fall, we’ve been hammering out a new sponsorship policy for the annual conference that we co-host with our friends at RTDNA.

Until this month, our Society had effectively been without a written policy since the first Excellence in Journalism conference (EIJ). Although the SPJ national board approved sponsorship policies in 2003 and in 2008, these policies were superseded by the 2010 legal agreement to co-host conferences with RTDNA, which states that both groups must agree on sponsorships.

The new policy, which both group’s national governing boards have now approved, allows media and non-media entities to sponsor sessions or events and to propose session ideas and speakers. However, these sessions will now be required to be vetted by the EIJ Planning Committee, which includes elected representatives and staff members of each of the co-hosts of the convention in a given year. 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 new rules give the EIJ Planning Committee a formal role and the final word in the review process.

EIJ partners will disclose the new sponsorship policy to potential conference sponsors in sales materials and other appropriate publications or web pages.

Officially, the new policy now agreed to by both partners states:

  • Both media and non-media entities will be allowed to sponsor sessions/events, and to propose session ideas and speakers. Proposals will be vetted by the EIJ Planning Committee. Once proposals are accepted, the Committee and its designated producer will assume full responsibility for participants, topics, times, places, etc.
  • Neither media nor non-media entities may offer speaking fees for sessions/events they sponsor. SPJ, RTDNA or the EIJ Planning Committee may choose in certain circumstances to use sponsor or grant monies to provide fees to speakers.
  • Neither media nor non-media entities may cover expenses for speakers participating in sessions/events they sponsor. SPJ, RTDNA or the EIJ Planning Committee may choose in certain circumstances to use sponsor or grant monies to cover speaker expenses.
  • EIJ partners will retain the right of refusal over all sponsors, exhibitors or advertisers, with contracts reviewed by the executive directors of partner groups before accepting.
  • EIJ partners will disclose its policies on sponsorship of sessions/events to potential sponsors in sales materials for EIJs and other appropriate publications or web pages.

As soon as we closed the doors on the last EIJ in Baltimore, I appointed a task force to draft the policy. This task force was chaired by SPJ President-Elect Patti Gallagher Newberry and included high-ranking officers and the executive directors of both conference partners, as well as others with experience in media conference sponsorships. A key goal of their work was to ensure that the EIJ Planning Committee, which I have been a part of for the last two years, was consulted on sponsorships and took the lead on producing any sponsored sessions.

In December, the task force presented the above recommendations to the SPJ national board of directors, which passed it with two amendments. After consultation with RTDNA, the SPJ board elected to drop both amendments at its meeting earlier this month.

One amendment that the board later rejected would have banned the conference organizers from offering honorariums to speakers. In practice, that rarely has happened, as EIJ speakers volunteer their time and expertise, but the conference partners decided to retain the flexibility to consider such payments in the future.

Another amendment at the December meeting that the board later overturned would have banned EIJ sponsors from suggesting participants for sponsored panels or other events. In the past, some events have included participants suggested by sponsors. Both boards agreed to continue that practice, with the additional oversight from the EIJ Planning Committee.

The new sponsorship policy increases transparency and puts firm control of the process in the hands of the EIJ Planning Committee. This is an important step to build on EIJ’s already considerable standing as a leading national journalism conference.

Personally, I’m thrilled that SPJ and RTDNA agreed on a responsible sponsorship policy for the conference that we have hosted as co-equal partners for nearly a decade. This is a huge step in validating our close partnership.

The two groups have collaborated on EIJ every year since 2011. From time to time, they have been joined by other groups, notably, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), which has joined the conference every other year since 2013; while the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) was a welcome addition to EIJ in 2016 and 2017.

This year, EIJ will be co-hosted by SPJ, RTDNA and NAHJ from Sept. 4-8 at the Grand Hyatt in San Antonio. For more information and to register, visit www.excellenceinjournalism.org

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