Posts Tagged ‘Irwin Gratz’


Bad communication, an apology: examining Koch sponsorship

Heading into this year’s national Excellence in Journalism convention, a few SPJ chapters criticized the national board and headquarters because the Charles Koch Institute was sponsoring a Freedom of Information Act session.

I didn’t mind the sponsorship, which appeared to mesh with an SPJ policy approved in 2003.

However, SPJ failed to give critics (and all SPJ members) accurate information — particularly about whether the Charles Koch Institute planned the session it sponsored. For that, I apologize. (Note: This piece reflects my views — not the SPJ board or anyone else.)

SPJ President J. Alex Tarquinio hinted at this in a column posted Oct. 24, writing that because of “a flurry of emails … some SPJ national board members became convinced that sponsors were not, in fact, involved in planning sessions.”

That characterization is technically true, but further explanation and context is in order.

In August, the Chicago Headline Club contacted SPJ Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie and then-President Rebecca Baker with concern about the Charles Koch Institute as an EIJ sponsor. This prompted thorough discussion by the SPJ and SDX boards and McKenzie of this and other sponsorships.

Tarquinio, as president-elect, agreed to form a task force to examine the issue and make recommendations by Dec. 1. That effort is underway. All SPJ members have been invited to take a survey on sponsorship questions. An online conversation will be held Nov. 26 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Eastern.

Irwin Gratz, a past SPJ president and incoming president of the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation Board (now known as the Society of Professional Journalists Foundation Board), tracked down the approved 2003 policy and shared it with the boards during our discussion. Many of us weighed in on how the Koch sponsorship aligned with that policy.

Some key points:

  • “No money will be accepted from domestic or foreign governments, or from political organizations.”
  • “SPJ will control all aspects of the convention program. All convention programs will be on-the-record. People and organizations with positions directly opposed to those of any contributor may be invited to appear.”

This is the 2003 SPJ convention sponsorship policy

Since the policy was approved in 2003, SPJ has had plenty of turnover in its headquarters staff and on its board. As a result, it looks as if, when the Koch sponsorship was proposed and accepted, no one was aware of that policy.

(The task force has found that the SPJ board in 2008 approved an update to the policy. The two key points above did not change, but others did.)

A collective failure in communication compounded the problem. The SPJ and SDX boards reviewed the 2003 policy as if it governed the Koch agreement. Regional directors sent messages explaining and supporting the Koch agreement to all chapters, based on the same understanding.

Separately, though, our staff was proceeding differently with Koch and other sponsors, who were, indeed, allowed to plan sessions they sponsored.

It’s a legitimate question whether the 2003 policy applies now, since it was approved when SPJ held its own conventions, without partners (i.e., RTDNA) we have now. We can no longer say “SPJ will control all aspects of the convention program.”

Certainly, the policy needs to be re-examined and updated, which the task force is doing.

But the failure to provide accurate information was wrong, and we have ourselves to blame.

When I asked during the board’s Sept. 30 meeting if Koch planned the session it sponsored, Tarquinio said, “They did not plan it, but obviously we spoke with them and the process was a little [I’m not sure of the word she used here] this year because, as many of you know, Alison did have to step in for our program manager, who left in the middle of EIJ.”

(The sponsorship discussion during the Sept. 30 meeting is posted here, starting at about 45:40.)

McKenzie then told us that sponsors at that level picked from a choice of sessions. (McKenzie said that level was $25,000, but it actually was $20,000, according to the sponsorship task force.)

“They and any other sponsor at that level can plan their panel,” she said. “It’s their panel. It’s a sponsored panel.”

She said she chose the moderator, plus one panelist. Koch chose the other two panelists. “I reviewed their description and tweaked it, and sort of changed it a little bit,” McKenzie said. “So I was pretty heavy-handed in putting their panel together.”

She continued: “My understanding is, in the past, it hasn’t worked like that — that the sponsor pretty much picks, chooses the panel, chooses the description. I just was very involved in this particular panel.”

When I asked about the 2003 policy that said SPJ controls all aspects of the program, McKenzie said, “I was not aware of our policy at the time.”

Board member Lauren Bartlett mentioned “talking points” our headquarters staff gave the board on Sept. 24 about the Koch sponsorship, including this:

  • The institute doesn’t control anything about the session. It did not pick the topic or select the speakers, who are independent from the Koch foundation.

“No, that was inaccurate,” McKenzie told us.

Collectively, we failed and I understand the frustration of the Chicago Headline Club and others.

There is room for reasonable debate about appropriate sponsorship limits. But facts matter, too.

The Chicago Headline Club told its members that “the Charles Koch Institute, for example, is part of a secretive and complex family of groups whose goal is to advance the Koch brothers’ political ideologies.”

I note that as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the Charles Koch Institute is legally prohibited from political advocacy (although I was called “naïve” to think this limitation is meaningful or obeyed).

Also, the Charles Koch Institute has a record of funding journalism efforts — such as with The Poynter Institute and the Newseum — that align with SPJ’s mission.

For example, from the Charles Koch Institute’s website:

Civil debate and the free exchange of speech and ideas — on our college campuses, in the arts, and in the press — allow us to challenge both ourselves and the status quo. In order to protect good ideas and speech, we must protect all ideas and speech, so long as they do not violate the person, property, or liberty of others.

Also:

The Media and Journalism Fellowship program is for aspiring and entrepreneurial journalists and story tellers. Our program offers media and creative professionals the opportunity to refine their skills while learning about the crucial role of free speech and a free press in our society.

The Poynter Institute was in a similar situation when it accepted money from the Charles S. Koch Foundation (the same organization, despite the variation in the name) to strengthen student publications.

Kelly McBride wrote about why Poynter was comfortable with the arrangement:

We pick the schools. We set the curriculum. We hire the faculty. We occasionally update our contacts at the Koch Foundation about our progress. I can personally attest that over the last year our contacts at the Koch Foundation gave us complete independence to run the program the way we saw fit. …

As an ethics specialist, I’m confident that we will uphold journalism values if we engage in a process of vetting projects, rather than sorting potential donors along a continuum of acceptable and unacceptable, then drawing a line.

If SPJ has the same firewall, I am comfortable with the same approach.

I don’t agree with all of the points raised by SPJ chapters in Chicago, Los Angeles and San Diego. For example, Chicago insists that the SPJ Code of Ethics applies here. I disagree — the code is a set of guidelines for journalism, not deciding conference sponsorships.

Still, I apologize that we gave critics, and others, wrong information.

I couldn’t attend the FOIA session at EIJ because it conflicted with a national board meeting, but the Charles Koch Institute posted this about it:

At its 2018 Excellence in Journalism Conference last week, the Society of Professional Journalists held a panel discussion on use of the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA. Panelists included National Public Radio science correspondent Nell Greenfieldboyce and Jesse Franzblau, a policy analyst at Open the Government (OTG) — an organization that works to promote government openness through the use of access to information laws.

Starting with the premise that FOIA has allowed journalists to shine a light on government for more than 50 years, panelists explained how journalists can navigate FOIA for their benefit; how to find the right information and to isolate good stories; and how to ensure that they get the timely and complete answers from state officials.

The discussion coincided with OTG’s release its citizen’s guide to “America’s Forever Wars and the Secrecy that Sustains Them.” The project, which OTG policy analyst Emily Manna describes as helping the public understand FOIA’s role in “bringing transparency to issues vital to the public’s understanding of military and national security programs,” is supported by Open Society Foundations and the Charles Koch Institute.

From EIJ — election results, SPJ/SDX board meetings, resolutions

The following are the results from this year’s SPJ national and regional elections. Results were announced at EIJ ’18 in Baltimore.

President-elect:

  • Patti Gallagher Newberry (unopposed): 791

Secretary-treasurer:

  • Matt Hall: 502
  • Nerissa Young: 347

At-large director (two years; two seats):

  • Mike Reilley: 456
  • Tess Fox: 441
  • Mercedes Vigón: 437
  • Robin Sherman: 180

At-large director (one year; two seats):

  • Yvette Walker: 728
  • Michael Savino: 645

Region 10 director:

  • Don Meyers (unopposed): 47

Region 1 coordinator:

  • Jane Primerano (unopposed): 148

Region 4 coordinator:

  • Paul Kostyu (unopposed): 58

Region 5 coordinator:

  • Amy Merrick (unopposed): 76

Region 7 coordinator:

  • Leah Wankum: 14
  • Katelyn Mary Skaggs: 8

Region 8 coordinator:

  • Kathryn Jones (unopposed): 64

Region 9 coordinator:

  • Ed Otte: 40
  • Rhett Wilkinson: 16

There were 888 votes out of a total of 6,200 possible voters, or 14.3 percent.

*****

Highlights of the SPJ national board meeting on Sept. 27:

  • Stephanie Bluestein, president of the Los Angeles Pro chapter, and Ben Meyerson, a member of the Chicago Headline Club board, expressed their objections to an EIJ sponsorship by the Charles Koch Institute.
  • The board went into executive session at 9:17 a.m. to discuss a personnel issue, potential litigation and a contract issue (EIJ sponsorship). The executive session ended at 11:02 a.m.
  • Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie said Lynn Walsh, a former SPJ president, will become a consultant for SPJ in charge of Facebook training.
  • Director of Development Larry Messing said SPJ HQ has submitted a new proposal to the Scripps Howard Foundation for a new focus for the Ted Scripps Leadership Institute. For many years, it was a program to develop SPJ leaders. McKenzie said Scripps Howard “wanted a more dynamic focus.” The new focus will be leadership for college journalists.
  • The board approved new financial requirements for chapters. Region 8 Director Eddye Gallagher voted no. President Rebecca Baker abstained. The board unanimously approved an amendment that allows chapters to choose a method of transparency in their records.
  • President-elect J. Alex Tarquinio said a task force to examine SPJ’s sponsorship policy will start on Sept. 30 and will work on having recommendations by Dec. 1.

*****

Highlights of the SDX national board meeting on Sept. 28:

  • Journalist on Call Rod Hicks said he will work on a news literacy project, to train thousands of people, through SPJ chapters. He also said he is working on a long-term project to work with one community to measure its trust in news over time. He is interested in Casper, Wyoming, which is one of the five states with the lowest trust in media, according to a Gallup survey. He is looking for about 125 people who could attend a session every one or two months.
  • The SDX board also talked about the change in focus of the Scripps Leadership Institute. McKenzie said SPJ is looking at 15 schools, and various news platforms, for the new format.
  • The SDX board voted to change its name to the Socety of Professional Journalists Foundation Board. Jane Kirtley voted no. A big consideration was whether SPJ changes its name from Society of Professional Journalists to Society for Professional Journalism. Some said it was better to stick with “SPJ,” which will be correct either way.
  • Board member Fred Brown said he has finished updating the SPJ ethics book, including a new case study on an anonymous op/ed piece in The New York Times from a supposed White House insider. Board members discussed whether to keep the new version as digital or to have a printed book, too.
  • Board member Paul Fletcher will continue working on an SPJ history book.
  • Messing said there will be a new fundraising effort that allows people to send a text message and get a link on how to donate.
  • Board member Dave Carlson objected to donations from planned giving being added to the general fund, calling it “reprehensible.” The board discussed making a change that calls for money to be placed in a designated fund, instead.
  • Board Treasurer Howard Dubin said SPJ’s headquarters needs about $36,000 in repairs, including stairs and the roof. SPJ and SDX will share the costs. The board unanimously approved spending up to $18,000.
  • The board unanimously approved David Cuillier and Frank LoMonte as new members. Also, Todd Gillman, Irwin Gratz, Evelyn Hsu, Alex Jones, Bill Ketter, Hagit Limor, Robert Leger and Sonya Ross will serve new three-year terms. Lynn Walsh withdrew from serving on the board because she will be paid as a Facebook consultant and wanted to avoid the appearance of a conflict. Al Leeds is leaving the board. The board also approved Gratz as president, Limor as vice president, Sonny Albarado as secretary and Dubin as treasurer.
  • The board went into executive session at 11:14 a.m. to discuss a legal matter and personnel. The executive session ended at 12:30 p.m. When it returned to open session, the board approved hiring a company called Labyrinth to help the SDX Foundation register as a charity in many states. The foundation recently realized it has been raising money in states despite not being registered to do so as a charity. Alex Tarquinio and Todd Gillman voted no. Dave Carlson abstained.

*****

Highlights of the SPJ national board meeting on Sept. 30:

  • The board unanimously ratified appointments to the SDX Foundation Board.
  • President J. Alex Tarquinio shared a meeting schedule for the year. Board meetings for the year will be held Dec. 1 (electronic), Feb. 2 (electronic), April 13, June 1 (electronic), Sept. 5. The Executive Committee will hold electronic meetings on Jan. 19 and June 15.
  • Tarquinio said the board will talk later about appointing two additional members, under a new structure approved last year. There will be nominations by early November.
  • Tarquinio said Eddye Gallagher will be the Nominations Committee chair for the coming year.
  • Tarquinio said she is creating three new task forces to look at a strategic plan, a sponsorship policy and a focus on partnerships.
  • The board discussed the details of what happened with the Charles Koch Institute sponsoring an FOI session at EIJ.
  • Bill McCloskey and Andy Schotz were appointed to the Finance Committee.
  • Lauren Bartlett and Michael Koretzky were appointed to the Executive Committee, along with the board’s officers.
  • The board voted to pick a regional director to fill the seat that Matt Hall vacated to become secretary-treasurer. Tarquinio abstained.
  • Alejandra Cancino, the president of the Chicago Headline Club, criticized SPJ leaders for not following SPJ’s sponsorship policy in allowing the Charles Koch Institute to plan its own sponsored session at EIJ.
  • The board went into executive session at 10:43 a.m. for an orientation session with the board’s attorneys and for a personnel discussion. The executive session ended a 12:10 p.m.

The meeting was adjourned at 12:11 p.m.

*****

At EIJ, delegates discussed the following resolutions:

  • A proposal to change SPJ’s name from Society of Professional Journalist to Society of Professional Journalism was rejected. I believe the vote was 60-19. Some who spoke against the proposal said it has been rejected multiple times before and would not accomplish anything. Former SPJ President Kevin Smith accused the sponsors of the reolution (Michael Koretzky and Mac McKerral in playing a “con game” by not acknowledging clear opposition in a past survey and from a task force. A few supporters said it reflects a change in SPJ’s culture and fits with the challenges we face.
  • A resolution to create a task force on SPJ’s sponsorship policy was approved by a voice vote. Cancino, who submitted the resolution, said she speaks for scores of SPJ members who opposed allowing the Charles Koch Institute sponsor a session this year at EIJ. The Resolutions Committee recommended rejecting the resolution since incoming SPJ President J. Alex Tarquinio already has announced that there would be a task force.
  • Delegates approved a resolution condemning the Oklahoma State University football coach for threatening to cut off access to student journalists who asked his team about the departure of one player. Someone in the public relations office then said there would be repercussions if students reported about the threat.
  • Delegates approved a resolution supporting student media, which faces hostility and/or cuts at many schools.
  • A resolution calling on TV stations to stop sending journalists out into dangerous storms and dramatizing or exaggerating actual conditions was overwhelmingly rejected by a voice vote. Some people said it was offensive to assume that dramatization occurs and added that journalists are kept safe when go out into storms.
  • A resolution was approved in support of Reality Winner, asking President Donald Trump to commute her sentence. Winner was sentenced to five years in prison for leaking a top-secret government report on Russian election hacking.
  • A resolution denouncing the imprisonment and calling for the release of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who were convicted in Myanmar of violating an Official Secrets Act, even though they were performing normal duties related to their jobs.
  • A resolution calling for an SPJ contest solely for retired journalists was rejected.
  • A resolution was passed expressing support for Fred Rogers and Public Broadcasting.
  • A resolution was passed to honor the late Richard D. Hendrickson, who died at age 77 after a lengthy career in journalism and teaching.
  • Resolutions were approved thanking outgoing SPJ President Rebecca Baker for her service and the SPJ staff for its work on EIJ 18.

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