SEJ President’s Report: SEJ — Supporting Journalism, Journalists and the Organization During Coronavirus
Dear SEJ members,
The coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc on….everything. Right when the public needs accurate information the most, journalism has been hit particularly hard. Yet environmental journalism remains essential, especially since the pandemic continues as we enter hurricane, cyclone and wildfire season, and an atmosphere of deregulation persists. Yet impacts on publications are translating to staffing cuts, furloughs and slashed freelance budgets. The Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ), committed to strengthening the quality, reach and viability of journalism across all media to advance public understanding of environmental issues, is continuing to do everything it can to ensure that our 30-year-old organization can and will carry on its important work. We were fortunate to enter 2020 on solid financial footing. Now, we are preparing to manage the pandemic’s long-term disruptions. Here’s a brief update on all we’re doing to stay ahead of the impacts:
|Photo: Ashley Garmon
The good news is that SEJ's revenue for the year-to-date is in line with what was originally budgeted, and we have been able to keep all staff and contract positions in place and programming strong.
But we’re all bracing — and preparing — for the rest of the year and beyond. Fiscal uncertainty prompted SEJ's decision to apply for funds from the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, the fund established under the federal CARES Act to help businesses and organizations cover payroll expenses during the coronavirus crisis. On May 9, the SEJ Board of Directors voted to authorize Executive Director Meaghan Parker to accept the loan, in recognition of the current economic uncertainty facing the organization. Last week, we received the $70,000 loan.
This, like so much these days, is unprecedented.
Like all PPP loans, the loan carries an interest rate of 1 percent, and has no fees or prepayment penalties. Also, if certain conditions are met, the loan will be forgiven. SEJ will strive to ensure maximum loan forgiveness by maintaining staff levels as required and tracking eligible expenses during the eight-week loan forgiveness window. The SEJ board believes that accepting this funding serves the exact purpose of the program: to keep people employed and the work of our organization thriving.
We anticipate other changes in SEJ’s fiscal forecast due to the pandemic’s impact on SEJ's annual conference, which provides significant revenue through earned income from registrations, exhibits and ads — as well as program income through foundation grants and sponsorships. Our staff and organizers are monitoring the situation on a daily basis, and holding active discussions with 2020 conference sponsors and foundation partners about the next steps. SEJ has identified strategies that we hope will recoup as much budgeted income as possible while mitigating risks, and most importantly, protecting your health and safety. Stay tuned for an upcoming announcement with more information.
We had expected that revenues generated by the annual conference, as well as foundation grants, donations and membership dues (typically received in the fall), would comprise more than 40 percent of SEJ's 2020 income. Now all are uncertain. The stock market's volatility could also affect foundation grantmaking in 2021, which eventually may put some of our mission-driven programming in jeopardy.
Partnerships and cross-organization cooperation are paramount now. SEJ leaders are actively taking part in information and resource-sharing among numerous journalism organizations, such as in this webinar hosted by the PowerShift Project.
But SEJ, like many nonprofits, faces deeply challenging questions. How do we keep our programming strong with uncertain revenue? Should we participate in other loan programs as they are rolled out? Under what conditions would we ask donors to release the restricted funds in our endowment? We are exploring these difficult questions, but there are no easy answers. The board welcomes your thoughts, concerns and suggestions as we strive to keep SEJ nimble and adaptable in these unsteady times.
Supporting journalism and journalists
In spite of all these challenges, SEJ programming remains vital and strong:
Last month, we tailored our long-standing Fund for Environmental Journalism to fit the moment, with a new rolling deadline for proposals. This week, we’re happy to announce that we’ve doubled the funds available! Apply now for rapid response grants to support your stories on six topics: climate, conservation or environmental health in North America; water in the United States; oceans and coasts globally; and the Mississippi River Basin.
We’ve established the SEJ Members in Need fund, so that members facing financial hardship have the option to waive membership renewal fees and stay connected to the SEJ community. Thank you to everyone who has contributed so far to the fund. If you are able to help, please donate here.
If you're looking for work, SEJ can help you with your job search. Check out the SEJ Job Board, get on the members-only SEJ-Mail list for job and fellowship postings, and join members-only listservs for peer-to-peer networking and job leads.
We’ve adapted our webinar series to the current moment. Recent events addressed how journalists can best cover the COVID-19 crisis and what’s the latest with environmental rollbacks under the current administration. Register now for SEJ’s next webinar on May 27: “Complex Emergencies and Climate Change in the Era of COVID-19.”
The entry period for SEJ’s Awards for Reporting on the Environment recently closed with a record-breaking number of entries. It’s a testament to the growing strength of environmental journalism and the importance of SEJ’s recognition of the best stories out there that educate the public on the most pressing environmental issues of our time.
The heavy toll from the coronavirus pandemic will continue to make the future challenging for all of us as individuals and professionals, as well as for SEJ as an organization, but we will continue to adapt and respond. In the meanwhile, I wish you all good health and shall be in touch again soon with more information as we have it.
SEJ Board President