By Dominique Fong
In April, AAJA adopted a new fundraising policy that has allowed the organization to accept money from nontraditional companies, a decision that has surfaced concerns about possible conflicts of interest.
Historically, AAJA accepted money from strictly media-related companies. Now, the organization can accept money from corporations and government organizations.
The change had some worried that the sponsorship would compromise an AAJA member’s ability to write a balanced article on the sponsor.
Representatives from sponsors Toyota and Google were present at this year’s convention. The U.S. Census Bureau tabled a booth at the career fair, in addition to traditional media companies such as The Wall Street Journal and The McClatchy Company.
The ethical issue is one that journalists may never agree on, national AAJA treasurer Candace Heckman said.
All donations, however, are still subject to the approval of the governing board.
That, Heckman said, makes the new policy clearer than a former version that allowed companies such as alcohol distributors to donate without restriction.
Convention attendees expressed mixed reactions.
“It’s good that the organization has relaxed its rules to help funding,” said Will Chang, a member of the New York chapter.
Conning Chu, a member of the Los Angeles chapter, said sponsorships from nontraditional companies should be considered on a case-by-case basis.
“I think it depends on the company and what the money’s being used for,” Chu said. “Being a nonprofit, I don’t think it’s a conflict of interest, like if the money is being used for things like scholarships.”
AAJA also redefined the term “media company” to accept money from companies such as Microsoft, which owns MSNBC, and Google, which has websites such as Blogspot and YouTube.
Facing the recession and decreasing donations from traditional media companies, other UNITY organizations have had to implement similar policies to balance their budgets.
The policy is a matter of survival, said Russell Contreras, financial officer for the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.
“We have to still keep the doors open to provide services for the association to grow,” Contreras said.
Contreras said he is aggressively targeting companies that appeal to Latin American and Hispanic communities, such as soccer teams. Contreras has also pursued sponsorships from the Noche Latina campaign, which markets merchandise with word plays on NBA team names, such as “Los Lakers” and “Los Kobe.”
The National Association of Black Journalists has also focused on sports-related companies, this year raising more than $100,000 from the NFL , MLB and the NBA Players Association, among others.
The disparity between revenue from traditional and nontraditional sponsorships is like “night and day,” said Gregory Lee, national NABJ treasurer.
On the issue of ethics, Lee said the relationship between donor and journalist is too indirect to influence the commitment to objectivity.
“I’m not individually accepting money,” said Lee, who is also the senior assistant sports editor at The Boston Globe. “We accept the money as a group. It doesn’t compromise my ability to report a fair story.”
Find Dominique on Twitter @dominiquefong. Voices staff writer Elizabeth Gyori contributed.