The Society of Professional Journalists Has Disappointed Us

For Immediate Release
December 11, 2018

Dear members,

The Society of Professional Journalists has disappointed us.

Earlier this year, we asked SPJ to reject dollars from entities whose actions are at odds with SPJ’s journalistic mission and to use the SPJ Code of Ethics as a guide to vet donations.

On Dec. 1, SPJ ignored that request when it adopted an open-door sponsorship policy that welcomes dollars from everyone and accepts their ideas for panels at the Excellence in Journalism conference.

This means that past sponsors, like the Charles Koch Institute, could continue to sponsor and pitch panels, allowing them to buy legitimacy, influence and a platform at a conference attended by hundreds of journalists from across the nation.

The Koch Institute, which sponsored a FOIA panel at EIJ2018, is closely affiliated with Koch Industries, which until 2017 ran kochfacts.com, a website largely devoted to attacking and discrediting journalists who reported critically on Koch Industries and its activities.

We believe it is fundamentally incompatible with SPJ’s journalistic mission and code of ethics to accept money from entities that have attacked the integrity and legitimacy of journalists and journalism organizations. And we are baffled by SPJ’s refusal to see how this undermines our credibility.

It’s a journalist’s job to hold those in power accountable, and we have sought to hold SPJ’s board accountable. In response, SPJ has used tactics those in power often use to keep reporters out: holding closed-door meetings, refusing to share documents and, in the worst case, being untruthful about its process.

To its credit, SPJ did provide a forum to hear chapters’ feedback. However, the policy it ultimately issued indicates that SPJ has either not acknowledged those concerns, not taken them seriously, or chosen to ignore them.

SPJ should lead in establishing and honoring “best practices” in journalism, not only as to journalists’ professional conduct, but in its own conduct as an organization dedicated to promoting professional journalism. In this, SPJ has failed us.

We want to increase SPJ’s transparency and accountability to us — its members. To that end, we ask for your support on a resolution to require SPJ to disclose contracts with sponsors to its chapters. We plan to submit that resolution at EIJ2019.

The Chicago Headline Club board
SPJ/Los Angeles board

SPJ/LA CALLS ON NEW TASK FORCE TO IMPLEMENT RESOLUTION APPROVED BY DELEGATES PERTAINING TO SPONSORS OF NATIONAL SPJ EVENTS

The Society of Professional Journalists Greater Los Angeles Pro Chapter has sent the following letter to J. Alex Tarquinio, President of SPJ, and Patricia Gallagher Newberry, SPJ President-Elect and Chair of a newly-formed Sponsorship Task Force:

Dear Alex and Patti:

I am writing to you on behalf of SPJ/LA to express our chapter’s appreciation that a task force has been seated to develop recommendations and guidelines for future event sponsorships. It is our deepest hope that the task force will incorporate language of the resolution that was approved Sept. 29 by delegates at the Excellence in Journalism (EIJ) conference in Baltimore. In part, the resolution calls on SPJ to “consider rejecting dollars from entities whose actions are at odds with SPJ’s journalistic mission and using the SPJ Code of Ethics as a guide to vet donations.”

The issue that brought this to a boiling point was the EIJ ‘18 panel ostensibly assisting journalists in navigating the Freedom of Information Act, sponsored by the Charles Koch Institute. SPJ/LA believes the task force’s report must include a full account of how the Koch Institute panel sponsorship was handled — and to what extent Koch and other sponsors have controlled the content of conference programming.

We also believe that any new policies must cover not only sponsorship at annual conventions that are planned with other journalism organization, but all events and programs held under SPJ auspices and should cover chapter events as well.

SPJ should lead, not follow, in establishing and honoring “best practices” in journalism, not just in journalists’ professional conduct in the course of their jobs, but in our conduct as an organization dedicated to promoting professional journalism. We are looking forward to hearing the task force’s recommendations and seeing a report on the Koch Institute panel sponsorship.

Sincerely,

Stephanie Bluestein
President, Greater Los Angeles Pro Chapter of SPJ

WHAT DOES UCLA HAVE TO HIDE? SPJ/LA CALLS ON UNIVERSITY TO RELEASE WITHHELD CORRESPONDENCE WITH TREASURY SECRETARY STEVEN MNUCHIN

The Society of Professional Journalists Greater Los Angeles Pro Chapter is issuing the following statement calling on UCLA to comply with the California Public Records Act (CPRA) and honor SPJ/LA’s March 2018 CPRA request for correspondence concerning Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s controversial February 2018 public appearance at UCLA’s Burkle Center for International Relations:

SPJ/LA is calling on UCLA to stop stalling and comply with the California Public Records Act (CPRA), and honor SPJ/LA’s March 2018 CPRA request for correspondence between the University and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin concerning Mnuchin’s February 26, 2018 appearance on campus for a guest lecture at the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations.

Mnuchin’s appearance became controversial when, unlike previous lecturers, he withdrew his earlier permission for the University to post video and audio of his lecture and a Q&A session, which was briefly disrupted by hecklers.

SPJ/LA and others pointed out that Mnuchin was a public official making an official public appearance at a publicly funded university for an event open to the general public, and that as such, he did not have the right to prevent recordings of the event from being posted by the University. UCLA, after conferring with its own lawyers, agreed that the recordings could not be withheld and subsequently posted the material, as Mnuchin formally withdrew his initial objections.

In an effort to learn what sort of prior agreement might have improperly given Mnuchin veto power over publicly posting records of a public event at a public facility, SPJ/LA on March 7, 2018 filed a CPRA request for all relevant correspondence during the year prior to the controversy over posting recordings of Mnuchin’s appearance.

UCLA has continually stalled the request, repeatedly informing SPJ/LA on March 16, March 29, June 29, and August 31 that despite SPJ/LA’s narrow request and tight time-frame, “the review has not been completed,” ignoring UCLA’s own proposed deadlines time and again.

SPJ/LA again reminds UCLA of its obligations as a taxpayer-supported public institution to comply with the state’s Public Records Act in a more timely manner and either produce the requested documents without delay, or explain as the law requires why those records cannot lawfully be released.

SPJ/LA is left to wonder: What does UCLA have to hide? Who does UCLA have to protect?

SPJ/LA CRITICIZES DONATIONS FROM CHARLES KOCH INSTITUTE AND OTHERS TO JOURNALISM ORGANIZATIONS

The Society of Professional Journalists Greater Los Angeles Pro Chapter is issuing the following statement of concern about the accelerating trend of journalism organizations and entities to both solicit and accept donations from non-profit organizations associated with Charles and David Koch and their company Koch Industries, and from other similar groups that potentially have the incidental or intended effect of ideologically influencing news coverage and journalism policy agendas:

SPJ/LA objects in the strongest possible terms to a $25,000 donation by the Charles Koch Institute for a sponsored session, “Free to FoIA,” scheduled to take place at the national SPJ “Excellence in Journalism” convention in Baltimore, September 27-29, 2018.

The session promises journalists “a tactical and topical guide” to obtaining public records through the federal Freedom of Information Act to “shine a light on government,” and will feature participants from openthegovernment.org (a transparency advocacy group), NPR and a law firm which has represented news organizations.

The Koch brothers and Koch Industries do not come to this issue with clean hands. Between 2010 and 2017, they operated kochfacts.com, a website largely devoted to attacking and discrediting journalists who reported critically on Koch Industries and its activities. The attacks included impugning the reputation of reporters like Jane Mayer, a longtime New Yorker staff writer who reported on the Kochs’ political network in a 2010 New Yorker article and a bestselling 2016 book, Dark Money. The Koch website routinely accused Bloomberg, Forbes, MSNBC, the New York Times, Reuters and many other news outlets of inaccuracies, deceptions and falsehoods simply for reporting facts that the Koch brothers didn’t like.

In recent years the Kochs have changed tactics, quietly deactivating the website and instead trying to co-opt and cultivate a connection with journalism organizations. The Charles Koch Institute and related Charles Koch Foundation have solicited grant proposals and awarded thousands of dollars in grants to journalism entities including the Newseum, the Poynter Institute, the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the Radio Television Digital News Association, the Washington Post and others.

SPJ/LA believes it is fundamentally incompatible with the journalistic mission and codes of ethics governing conflicts of interest to accept money and sponsorships for any reason, whether disclosed or not, from entities like those associated with Koch Industries whose advocacy has long included sustained attacks on the integrity and legitimacy of journalists and journalism organizations.

Moreover, despite its professed support for transparency when it comes to government, Koch Industries itself has never been a champion of openness and transparency when it comes to its own activities. For example, a U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel recently reversed a lower court decision and ordered a Koch-connected foundation, Americans for Prosperity, to disclose its donor list to the California attorney general to ensure against charity fraud. Koch Industries had argued unsuccessfully against such transparency, claiming that releasing its list to law enforcement would imperil the First Amendment rights of its donors.

SPJ/LA calls upon the national SPJ board of directors and other news organizations who have sought or received Koch-related and similar sponsorships to ensure that their policies preclude partnerships with donors whose agendas and tactics are fundamentally at odds with the core journalistic mission to further transparency and accountability in all institutions, public and private, carried out by a free and independent press.

SPJ/LA’s Statement in Wake of Annapolis Newspaper Shooting

For Immediate Release
June 28, 2018

Contact:
Stephanie Bluestein
SPJ/LA President
818-677-3407
Bluestein.SPJLA@gmail.com

SPJ/LA’s Statement in Wake of Annapolis Newspaper Shooting

SPJ/LA mourns the loss of five people today at the Annapolis Capital-Gazette building, in addition to those who were injured in this senseless shooting.

Based on the most current information available, the alleged shooter, Jarrod Ramos, had a longtime grudge against the Capital-Gazette, having lost a defamation lawsuit against the paper, and may have been seeking revenge in a personal matter.

While the shooting appears to be tied to a specific lawsuit, we cannot ignore that this troubling incident at a newspaper office took place during a climate of relentless political attacks on the legitimacy of the press, causing public trust and respect to decline precipitously in recent years.

A deliberate attack on a reporter is an attack on the free press, and on the freedom and liberty of every American as guaranteed in the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights. We stand strong with journalists who work hard every day to provide fair and accurate information necessary for the existence of a healthy democracy.