Readers expect their newspaper to report impartially, without fear or favor, as the famous saying goes.
The principle is one of four cornerstones to the Society of Professional Journalists' code of ethics: Seek truth and report it; minimize harm; act independently; and be accountable.
Of course, none of this is black and white. We all live in our community and care about its well-being. Thus, can any of us truly act independently when we're considering the news? As journalists, we're trained to seek out all sides of an issue and to guard against improper influences to our coverage, but we can't claim to be entirely objective. Rather, we work to recognize our biases and to take steps to deal with them.
When conflicts are unavoidable, the SPJ code advises we should disclose them. That is how our ethics board decided we should proceed with an issue brought before us this month. Victoria City Council member Denise Rangel called to ask whether the newspaper would object to using a family photo in her re-election campaign ads. Understandably, family photos are a favorite of political candidates.
Rangel asked us because she is married to longtime Advocate sports reporter Mike Forman. In relatively small communities, such situations are unavoidable. Because Forman does not cover city government, this conflict has been largely a non-issue. Forman talks a lot around the newsroom about high school sports, but I've never heard him even once bring up city politics.
Our ethics board has discussed before how we try to separate our news coverage from our personal lives. The biggest challenge usually is trying to explain this separation to our friends and neighbors. "No, George, we can't put your photo on the front page just because you live next door."
Most people get it, though. We all want the newspaper to make decisions based on the value of the news and not some hidden agenda.
Our ethics board decided Forman being shown in Rangel's campaign ad actually could help to disclose the conflict for those who might not know they are married. This blog serves to further underscore and explain that point.
If you think we're not reporting on Rangel fairly in any way, we hope you will let us know. She is being challenged in the May 12 election by Emett Alvarez.
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