Posts Tagged ‘Hugo Balta’


Don’t confuse sponsorship with like-mindedness

It’s understandable to treat conference “sponsorship” as a sign of endorsement, admiration, or some other positive connection. That’s how some critics have characterized the Fox sponsorship at this year’s Excellence in Journalism conference next week.

That’s not how I see it. (Note: I am a member of the board of directors of the Society of Professional Journalists, but speaking only for myself.)

Ours is a journalism conference. That doesn’t mean every journalist or news organization invited to participate or share the costs has been vetted for impurities. Program participants have expertise to share. Sponsors make a financial commitment to help with the cause — training journalists, celebrating excellence, honoring stalwarts.

This year, the Fox Corporation is a platinum sponsor, providing $50,000. The sponsorship includes two programs it will hold during EIJ. The plan was for a boot camp on multimedia reporting and a session on how women can establish themselves in the media world, but that has changed — the boot camp will be offered twice instead.

Fox will get exhibit space and its logo on conference tote bags.

I can’t imagine canceling those programs, denying everyone who signed up to learn, a few weeks in advance because of a segment Fox News aired. (The host said of people crossing the U.S. border: “… we have been invaded by a horde, a rampaging horde, of illegal aliens.” He also said: “But when you go back in time and when you look at what an invasion is, whether it’s the Nazis invading France and Western Europe — whether the Muslims were invading a country back in the early years. It was an invasion.”)

Is that giving Fox a free pass for odious remarks by one pundit? Hardly.

In announcing that Fox would remain an EIJ sponsor, SPJ issued a press release that, in the first sentence, blasted the pundit’s “invasion” remarks as “vile anti-immigrant commentary.”

To be clear: SPJ is accepting a sponsor’s money to help put on a worthwhile conference while calling out something the sponsor aired. That sounds like a wise approach to me.

A partnership in producing a conference does not make the partners simpatico in journalism or in business decisions that allow inflammatory rhetoric a place on the air, online or in print.

Fox and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists have had an ongoing connection in conference sponsorship.

NAHJ has been a partner with SPJ and the Radio Television Digital News Association at EIJ conventions in 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019.

Fox has been an EIJ sponsor in 2013, 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019.

What suddenly made Fox toxic this year? Or, more specifically, in August, after being acceptable as a sponsor in July, June and the rest of the year?

In a statement, NAHJ President Hugo Balta said his organization took a stand after the Fox News Radio host (whose show can only be heard through a subscription) used prejudicial language to describe Latino immigrants.

The first few paragraphs of Balta’s statement addressed news coverage — such as the value of “simply reporting the facts, without bias ….”

Even though Balta didn’t give examples of bias in Fox’s news coverage, it’s hard to argue with the principle. The language and tone of immigration coverage is worth self-examination by all media, beyond what one pundit says.

In 2011, SPJ took on a question about proper terminology. At the urging of our Diversity Committee, delegates at the national convention approved a resolution urging journalists to stop using “illegal immigrant” and “illegal alien” to describe “undocumented people living in the United States.”

However, The Associated Press Stylebook, the source for many newsrooms, discourages the use of “undocumented,” too.

The serious among us strive, and sometimes struggle, to get it right.

What better place for examinations of this type than a conference in San Antonio, among three major journalism organizations.

Not everyone, even within SPJ, agrees with the approach to sponsorship that I described.

A similar argument came up last year about EIJ sponsorship by the Charles Koch Institute. SPJ chapters in Los Angeles, San Diego, Chicago and elsewhere were unhappy about the arrangement and called for change.

I oppose litmus tests for sponsors who otherwise fit the guidelines we have in place.

The threshold might sound obvious — we know it when we see it, as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said about the limits of obscenity.

But imagine the vetting process — reviewing a sponsor’s ethical practices, diversity in the newsroom, marketing, corporate morality, and on and on. It can quickly turn into quicksand.

I will keep an open mind for ideas for improvement if we revisit the topic of sponsorship and welcome the recommendations of critics, including chapters who spoke out before. But snap judgments about a sponsor shortly before a convention aren’t a sound foundation for a policy.

Connect

Twitter Facebook Google Plus RSS Instagram Pinterest Pinterest LinkedIn


© Society of Professional Journalists. All rights reserved. Legal

Society of Professional Journalists
Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Center, 3909 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46208
317/927-8000 | Fax: 317/920-4789 | Contact SPJ Headquarters | Employment Opportunities | Advertise with SPJ