Public Officials Should Not Be Reporters

It is a simple principle that public officials should not be newspaper reporters on their own meetings and actions. For readers, reporters, editors, publishers, and public officials this should be obvious.

Worse: public officials should not be newspaper reporters when their roles as public officials are not expressly identified. 

A Whitewater-area newspaper and a Whitewater school board member ignored this simple principle in an online story from the Daily Union entitled Fountain new principal of Whitewater Middle School.  The story has a byline from school board member Tom Ganser. (See also a screenshot of the newspaper’s online story.)

It’s right – of course – to welcome a new school principal, and it’s right to report about his hiring.

It’s not right – and never will be – for a newspaper to use a school board member to report on the hiring, especially when that school board member voted on the hiring and his status as a public official is undisclosed in the story.

I’m not a reporter, and do not want to be (blogging suits me, as pamphleteering suited our forefathers during America’s formative years). I am, however – like so many others – someone who grew up in a household with newspapers and books, where reading carefully and widely was expected.

The Daily Union’s editor (Spangler) has a history of allowing conflicted reporting that looks more like warmed-over press releases for public officials or connected business groups: 1, 2, 3.

A newspaper story about a public employee should come from someone other than a public official (especially one sharing in oversight authority).

Americans – including residents of small towns – have no need to compromise on the standards that make our country great and admirable.

If newspapers now bemoan their economic straits, then they should look to the unnecessary compromises and concessions that they have made to principle.

Whitewater deserves better.

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4 years ago

The conflict of interest principle you mention is so obvious it’s disheartening anyone has to mention it. This is something a newspaper should avoid in all cases.

These are the basics!