SEJ Membership Eligibility Policies

Membership Eligibility Policies of the Society of Environmental Journalists

Approved by the SEJ board of directors 1/10/98, revised 7/18/98, rewritten 7/13/02, rewritten and approved 7/31/10, rewritten and approved Nov. 21, 2020.

I. Purpose and Principles

The Society of Environmental Journalists is a journalism organization, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to strengthen the quality, reach and viability of journalism across all media to advance public understanding of environmental issues. These membership policies are designed to uphold SEJ’s identity and integrity while maximizing participation by journalists, educators and students. The SEJ board, its membership committee and SEJ staff implement these policies in accordance with the SEJ Bylaws to determine prospective and existing members’ eligibility for one of five classes of membership — ACTIVE, ASSOCIATE, ACADEMIC, STUDENT and HONORARY.

SEJ shall seek to keep SEJ's membership as open as possible, in accordance with SEJ’s Bylaws and these policies, and in pursuit of SEJ’s mission: To strengthen the quality, reach and viability of journalism across all media to advance public understanding of environmental issues.

The purpose of the Membership Eligibility Policies is to provide guidance to SEJ’s board, membership committee and staff when reviewing applicants and renewing members. SEJ first looks to determine whether the applicant or member qualifies for membership, and if the answer is yes, then looks to determine their appropriate category of membership. The policies also provide guidance and transparency for nonmembers who seek to determine their eligibility before applying for membership, as well as for members who, because of job changes, want to see if they still qualify.

II. Use

   A. Eligibility

       In determining eligibility of applicants and renewing members, SEJ’s board, membership committee and staff responsibilities are:

  1. For ACTIVE and ASSOCIATE categories, to confirm that the individual is creating original and independent works of journalism;
  2. To not consider the quality of the individual’s work with respect to eligibility;
  3. For ACTIVE, ACADEMIC and ASSOCIATE categories, to confirm that the individual is not engaged in paid lobbying concerning environmental issues;
  4. For ACTIVE, ACADEMIC and ASSOCIATE categories, to confirm that the individual is not engaged in paid public relations work concerning environmental issues;
  5. To confirm/ensure that the individual as well as their employer meet SEJ's standards for journalistic integrity and independence.

   B. Category

      In determining the correct category for applicants and renewing members, SEJ’s board, membership committee and staff will:

  1. Assign ACTIVE membership only to individuals (staff journalists and freelancers) primarily engaged in journalism for News Organizations or with News Outlets that do not lobby or do public relations work on environmental issues (other eligibility criteria may apply);
  2. Assign ACADEMIC membership only to full- or part-time faculty members of universities, colleges, high schools or other schools (other eligibility criteria may apply);
  3. Assign ASSOCIATE membership to non-faculty staff of universities, colleges or other schools, as long as their job responsibilities do not include lobbying or public relations work concerning environmental issues (other eligibility criteria may apply);
  4. Assign ASSOCIATE membership to journalists on staff or primarily freelancing for organizations that do lobbying or public relations work on environmental issues, as long as they, themselves are not doing paid lobbying or public relations work on environmental issues; or to individuals working in fields that are closely related to journalism such as journalism associations or the Poynter Institute. (Other eligibility criteria apply.);
  5. Assign STUDENT membership to students enrolled in and pursuing a degree or diploma in a university, college or high school (other eligibility criteria apply). Journalists who return to school while continuing their journalism work, or journalists on a fellowship, can be Active-category members as long as they have not applied or renewed at the Student rate (other criteria apply). Applicants and renewing members paying the Student rate are eligible only for the Student category, as long as other criteria are met;
  6. Allow members to retain their category of membership upon full retirement, assuming other eligibility criteria are met;
  7. For each of these tasks, membership qualification and category decisions must be based on the wording of the Bylaws and the definitions and directions spelled out in these policies, which are grounded in the Bylaws.

Jump to:

III. Membership Category Descriptions

Active
Academic
Associate
Student
Honorary

IV. Definitions:

Employer
Journalism
Lobbying
Public Relations
News Organization
News Outlet

V. Procedures for Denial, Termination, Non-Renewal and Reclassification of Membership

Cause
Non-Renewal
Arrears
Applicants
Retired Members
Board Authority

III. Membership Categories

   A. ACTIVE Members

ACTIVE members may not do paid Lobbying or Public Relations work on environmental issues.

ACTIVE members are:

  • staff journalists whose paid work time is more than half Journalism* AND
  • work for a News Organization*

OR

  • freelance journalists for whom Journalism for News Organizations or News Outlets that do no lobbying or public relations work on environmental issues is more than half of their paid work time*

*as defined in Section IV

E.g., if an applicant or member has two or more jobs, but spends a majority of work time doing Journalism for News Organizations, they would qualify for ACTIVE membership assuming other criteria are met.

E.g., semi-retired individuals working part time as journalists for News Organizations or News Outlets of organizations that do not lobby or do public relations work on environmental issues as defined in Section III, and are not working another job for hours that exceed journalism work, qualify for ACTIVE membership, as long as other eligibility criteria are met.

   B. ACADEMIC Members

ACADEMIC members may not do paid Lobbying or Public Relations work on environmental issues.

ACADEMIC members are:

  • full-time educators on the faculty of a college, university or high school

OR

  • part-time faculty who meet other criteria for membership

Note: Other university staff are not eligible for ACADEMIC membership, but may qualify for ASSOCIATE membership if their jobs do not involve public relations or lobbying as described in Section IV.

   C. ASSOCIATE Members

ASSOCIATE members may not do paid Lobbying or Public Relations work on environmental issues and must contribute to the attainment of the objectives of the Society, in the majority opinion of the Board of Directors or its designee(s).

ASSOCIATE members are:

  • journalists for whom Journalism is less than half of their paid work time*

OR

  • journalists doing editorially independent work for News Outlets* owned by organizations that do lobbying or public relations work on environmental issues

OR

  • individuals working in fields that are closely related to journalism, such as journalism membership associations like SEJ or journalism education organizations such as the Poynter Institute.

*as defined in Section IV

E.g., if an applicant or member has two or more jobs, but spends fewer work-time hours doing journalism, then they would qualify for ASSOCIATE membership, assuming other criteria are met.

   D. STUDENT Members

STUDENT members are:

  • individuals enrolled in and pursuing a college or university degree or a high school diploma AND
  • will contribute to the attainment of the objectives of the Society, in the majority opinion of the Board of Directors or its designee(s)

   E. HONORARY Members

HONORARY members are:

  • appointed by the board to recognize outstanding and distinguished service to SEJ
  • exempt from eligibility policies that apply to other membership categories
  • do not vote in the annual board election

Nominations for HONORARY membership may come from any SEJ member and shall be considered at one board meeting and voted on for approval at a following meeting.

Access of HONORARY members to SEJ programs and services may be limited at the discretion of the board.

HONORARY membership status may be revoked at the discretion of the board.

IV. Definitions

SEJ’s membership committee and staff employ the following terminology in their interpretation and implementation of these policies:

A. Employers are individuals or organizations who exercise editorial control or influence over the journalism process. Employers may include the individuals or organizations that hire journalists as staff, on a freelance basis or on contract. Individuals and organizations that financially support a News Organization or a work of journalism are also considered employers in the absence of a verifiable editorial firewall or transparent disclosure of financial relationships.

B. Journalism is a discipline of collection, investigation, verification, interpretation and communication of facts that provides information needed by the public to make important personal, professional and social decisions. Journalism seeks to gather and convey a fair, accurate and independent account of the meaning of that information as transparently as possible, free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know. Journalism may reveal corruption, illegal or unethical behavior or other social ills, and may at times advocate for reforms. However, its discipline of fairness, verification and independence is what separates journalism from other modes of communication such as propaganda, public relations, lobbying, fiction or entertainment. That discipline also underpins journalists’ credibility and enables them to serve as an independent voice.

C. Lobbying is paid work primarily designed to influence legislation, government regulations or public policy on behalf of a person, business, organization or government, related to the environment.

EXCLUSIONS: This definition does not apply to:

  • journalists promoting news stories
  • journalists advocating on behalf of the practice of journalism or journalists
  • students with campus employment, internships or jobs related to a student’s education
  • volunteer work, including involvement in issues of public policy, for example, through the organization of educational meetings, distribution of educational materials or other efforts at educational public outreach
  • voluntarily contacting lawmakers or public officials and advocating for matters of public environmental policy
  • lobbying related to non-environmental issues

D. Public Relations is paid, professional work promoting the views, activities or interests of a person, business, organization or government, related to the environment. Unlike journalism, public relations is not editorially independent. It can involve media work such as:

  • creating, developing and issuing press releases
  • organizing and carrying out news conferences
  • serving as a liaison with journalists
  • pitching or promoting stories to the media
  • writing or posting organizational information in newsletters, blogs, websites and social media
  • creating paid sponsored content developed to promote products, businesses, individuals or political agendas related to the environment

EXCLUSIONS: This definition does not apply to:

  • journalists promoting news stories
  • journalists advocating on behalf of the practice of journalism or journalists
  • students with campus employment, internships or jobs related to a student’s education
  • volunteer work, including involvement in issues of public policy, for example, through the organization of educational meetings, distribution of educational materials or other efforts at educational public outreach
  • public relations work that is done as a volunteer, or not on an environmental topic

E. News Organizations are distinct corporate or operating entities dedicated to producing journalism. They may advocate for particular positions or issues (e.g., editorials and opinion pieces), but they do not engage in lobbying or paid public relations work relating to the environment, other than on behalf of the interests of journalism itself. News Organizations must also be transparent in their connections, financial and otherwise, to entities with a private interest in the issues being covered, and maintain structures and policies that protect their editorial independence from the influence of such entities.

F. News Outlets are journalistic products that are available to the general public via print, online, television or radio, free or available through subscription or unrestricted membership — that is, membership open to anyone. News Outlets can be sources of news from News Organizations as defined above. News Outlets can also be affiliated with, or funded by, organizations that are engaged in lobbying or public relations work on environmental issues.

E.g., The New York Times is the News Outlet of a News Organization that does not engage in lobbying or public relations work on environmental issues. Sierra Magazine, an enterprise of the Sierra Club, is an example of a News Outlet of an organization that does lobbying and public relations work on environmental issues.

V. Procedures for Denial, Termination, Non-Renewal and Reclassification of Membership

Applicants will be notified promptly if their application for membership is denied. Members will be notified if their membership is to be reclassified or not renewed based on ineligibility due to a change in jobs or job duties, or if their membership is to be terminated for cause.

A. Termination for Cause

Membership may be terminated for cause if a member has failed to be honest and complete in filling out application forms or in answering annual surveys and other inquiries, misrepresented their job status, or otherwise violated rules or policies of the organization, including but not limited to intentional misuse of online services such as an SEJ listserv or member directory.

Opportunity for a Hearing: If within 60 days of notice by SEJ, a member facing termination for cause requests a hearing, as stipulated in the bylaws, the hearing shall be conducted before the Board of Directors at the subsequent board meeting, if possible, but no later than the second board meeting following the date of the original termination notice. The member has a right to bring an attorney or other representative to the hearing. The member bears the obligation for their own travel and other expenses related to the hearing, including the cost of legal counsel. Whether or not a hearing is conducted, the final decision shall be made by the board members present at a legally constituted meeting, with a two-thirds majority vote necessary to terminate a membership for cause.

B. Non-Renewal/Reclassification of Membership

Members must report any employment change that could affect their membership category or eligibility. Members who become ineligible for SEJ membership, or who are subject to a change in membership status based on a change in jobs or job duties, shall have the opportunity, within 30 days of notice by SEJ, to present countervailing written evidence prior to any final decision by the board or its designee (typically the SEJ membership committee). Non-renewal or reclassification of membership is an administrative action, enforcing the eligibility provisions of the bylaws and related membership policies. It is not to be confused with termination for cause or for non-payment of dues. In cases of membership non-renewal/reclassification, the board is not obligated to conduct a formal hearing beyond extending the opportunity to submit written evidence. However, any member is welcome to attend any SEJ board meeting (at their own expense) and will be accorded reasonable opportunity to be heard on membership issues or other matters.

C. Non-Payment of Dues

Members whose annual dues remain unpaid after the due date are no longer considered members in good standing. Dues delinquent members will continue to receive benefits of membership and be carried on the books as members for a grace period of six months, but may not run for board service or vote in the board election. After dues are delinquent for six months, SEJ staff shall drop the member from the membership rolls.

D. Non-Member Applicants

New applicants to SEJ may appeal membership committee decisions to the SEJ board of directors, in writing, within 60 days of notice of the membership decision. The SEJ board will consider that submission at the subsequent board meeting, if possible, but no later than the second board meeting following the date of the original membership decision. As with non-renewal/reclassification of membership (see Section V.B.), reviewing a new applicant is an administrative action and the board is not obligated to conduct a formal hearing when considering appeals from new applicants.

E. Retired Members

Retired members retain the membership status held at the time of their retirement so long as they do not do public relations or lobbying work related to environmental issues.

F. Board Authority

The SEJ board retains full authority to determine an individual’s eligibility for membership.

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