SPJ national board members are not supposed to endorse or campaign other candidates. I think that’s long been an unwritten rule, but not always followed.
This year, it’s spelled out in a newly drafted set of campaign guidelines. The pertinent section is: “5. Current national SPJ board members should remain neutral in all elections.”
Notice the wording – “should remain neutral” rather than “shall not campaign.”
I asked SPJ President John Ensslin about the guideline on Saturday. I wanted to know about gray areas, such as whether board members can “like” or “friend” candidates on Facebook or follow them on Twitter.
Ensslin said the guideline for board members intentionally was left broad.
I asked if that was out of concern for infringing on board members’ free speech. He said it was.
I have heard different sides of the debate. Some people think board members, who hold positions of power within SPJ, shouldn’t influence elections. Others says it’s unfair and possibly at odds with the First Amendment to prevent anyone – board member or not – from expressing his or her views about SPJ candidates.
Thus, we have “should remain neutral.”
The board of the SDX Foundation – the nonprofit arm of SPJ that supports educational programs – hasn’t settled on a stance for advocacy and neutrality in SPJ elections.
The answer to the Facebook and Twitter question, by the way, is: It’s OK for board members to connect to candidates on social media.