For consideration by the SPJ Board of Directors

Participatory Standards
at Society of Professional Journalists events


The Society of Professional Journalists is committed to a safe and collegial environment for all involved with SPJ events, regardless of format or location. SPJ defends free speech, encourages robust debate and champions the free flow of information. SPJ also expects participants at SPJ events to treat others with respect and dignity.

SPJ’s standards prohibit behavior that others would reasonably perceive as knowingly harassing or humiliating others. SPJ prohibits discriminatory conduct related to age, race, ethnicity, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, physical ability or appearance, religion or political ideology.

These standards apply to all in-person or virtual events and meetings sponsored by or affiliated with SPJ at the national and regional levels (collectively, an “SPJ event”). Professional chapters, campus chapters and communities are encouraged to follow these standards.

By participating in an SPJ event, all participants — including members, guests, vendors, speakers, elected leaders, committee members and staff — have agreed to follow these standards.


Expected Behavior

Every participant at SPJ events has the right to enjoy their experience without fear of harassment or discrimination.

– Be considerate, respectful and collaborative.

– Demeaning, discriminatory or harassing behavior and speech will not be tolerated.


Unacceptable Behavior

Unacceptable behavior includes, but is not limited to: criminal behavior, intimidating, threatening, harassing, abusive, discriminatory, derogatory, demeaning or disorderly conduct, or possession, use or distribution of any illegal substances.

Harassing conduct can take many forms and may include, but is not limited to: slurs; offensive jokes, statements, gestures, photographs, drawings, cartoons or pictures unrelated to newsgathering; assault; impeding or blocking another’s movement or otherwise physically interfering with activities; conducting unwanted audio or visual recordings unrelated to newsgathering; violating personal space; engaging in leering, stalking, staring, intimidating or threatening behavior; or making offensive comments, including in the form of emails, telephone calls, voicemails, text messages or social media.

Sexually harassing conduct may include all of these prohibited actions, as well as other unwelcome conduct, such as requests for sexual favors, conversation containing sexual comments, physical contact, lewd or offensive behavior or language and other unwelcome sexual advances. Sexually harassing conduct includes such behavior by a person of any gender toward a person of any gender.

SPJ reserves the right to determine what constitutes unacceptable behavior.


At an event

If you feel threatened with or in immediate physical jeopardy during an in-person SPJ event, call 911 or contact building security. For immediate assistance, you also should alert an SPJ staff member, event organizer or meeting chair.

SPJ leadership may take immediate action at an SPJ event to deal with those who do not meet minimal expectations of appropriate behavior. For minor infractions, SPJ’s executive director, the event organizer, or meeting chair can issue a warning or remove someone from the immediate panel or meeting. For more egregious, threatening or repeated infractions, the executive director or event organizer can expel the alleged offender from the remainder of the SPJ event.


Complaint process

This policy establishes a Participatory Standards Committee (PSC) to ensure due process for SPJ members. It can convene when someone’s conduct is called into question.

The website, spj.org/participatorystandards explains how to file a complaint.

A person at an SPJ event who feels they have been directly affected by unacceptable behavior can file a complaint at spj.org/participatorystandards. SPJ leadership also can refer a person to the committee.

After a formal complaint is filed, three members of the SPJ Participatory Standards Committee (PSC, as further defined below) will have three weeks to review the written complaint on the form as well as written and oral statements provided by the complainant, the accused and any potential witnesses.

Penalties will be levied after a majority vote of three members of the PSC. Penalties may include:

Warning: A warning may be issued to anyone subject to the standards.

Suspension: A subsequent action by a person who had received a warning, or anyone found to have committed any verbal or physical offense that the PSC finds rises to a more severe level, may be issued a suspension. A suspended member cannot attend or participate in any SPJ event. The suspended member cannot run for, vote in, or serve in any SPJ national or regional elected or volunteer role up to one calendar year, at the discretion of the PSC. The member will not be required to pay dues during the suspension and can retain good standing with SPJ when the suspension ends, as long as they do not commit any further infractions.

Expulsion: SPJ can permanently expel any member who violates the standards, and/or if the PSC determines that the individual’s behavior will cause fear or concern among attendees at SPJ events. Anyone expelled cannot continue as a member or rejoin SPJ, and will no longer be allowed to attend any SPJ event. An expelled person cannot run for, vote in or serve in any SPJ national or regional elected or volunteer role.


SPJ Participatory Standards Committee

The SPJ Participatory Standards Committee (PSC) will meet only after a formal complaint is received through spj.org/participatorystandards. All committee members will be required to complete training before participating in an investigation. SPJ’s executive director will be responsible for providing training materials

The PSC will be comprised of eight members. They are SPJ’s:

– Executive Director
– National president or vice president
– Regional Coordinator who represents the region in which the accused resides.
– A board member to be appointed by the board at the beginning of each term.
– Membership Committee Chair
– Ethics and Standards Committee Chair
– Diversity and Inclusion Committee Chair
– Bylaws Committee Chair


After a Complaint is Filed

Members can recuse themselves for any reason. They shall recuse themselves to avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. A PSC member who files a complaint must recuse themself from the PSC for that matter. A party in a complaint can request that any member(s) be recused; a vote of the other PSC members regarding the request for recusal will be binding.

Copies of the complaint will be sent to PSC members and the accused. The PSC will select three members who will investigate and determine whether a violation occurred. Those three members will be selected based on availability in the order of the members listed above.

The three PSC members will have three weeks to review the initial complaint, as well as oral and/or written responses provided by the complainant, the accused and any potential witnesses. Additional time may be taken by the committee if needed to ensure a fair and thorough investigation; however, timeliness should remain a priority to ensure the safety and well-being of all SPJ members.

The complainant, the accused and all potential witnesses will have the opportunity to speak directly to the three PSC members. The three PSC members will vote, and a majority vote (at least two votes) will determine whether an infraction has been committed. If an infraction is found to have occurred, a majority vote (at least two votes) will determine what penalty should be assessed. The three PSC members will inform the complainant and the accused of their decision and provide them summaries of the evidence.


Appeals Process

After the decision is made, either the complainant or the accused will have two weeks to file a written appeal through spj.org/participatorystandards or send to the SPJ headquarters.

Appeals must be based on substantive or procedural errors that occurred during the investigative process. The appeal must include at least one of the following criteria that may have substantially affected the outcome:

1. New or newly discovered information.
2. Evidence of a procedural or judgment error.
3. There was a previously undiscovered conflict of interest or bias on the part of any of the three PSC members.

Appeals received by the SPJ executive director will be forwarded to the entire PSC, as well as the opposing party. Upon notification, the opposing party, and the members of the original committee, have two weeks to respond in writing to SPJ headquarters. Those responses will be shared with all involved.

The appeal will be reviewed by the remaining members of the PSC who were not involved in the initial decision and were not otherwise recused. The chair of the Appeals Panel is the highest-numbered PSC member not involved in the original decision.

The Appeals Panel will have three weeks to review the original decision. It can take more time as needed; however, timeliness should remain a priority. It can consider additional new evidence as it deems necessary.

The panel will decide, by a majority vote, whether to uphold the original decision or to issue a new decision. A tie vote will uphold the original decision. The Appeal Panel’s decision is final.

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