Ethics matter in community papers | Publisher's Column
February 26, 2013 · Updated 3:43 PM
I believe in community newspapers.
It’s from the local newspaper, you will learn about births, deaths, high school sports, weddings, engagements, anniversaries, what’s new in business and much more. That’s the sort of news that keeps your hometown homey. Those are the articles you clip from your newspaper and hang on the front of your fridge with a magnet.
From your newspaper you also learn what your government representatives are up to, election news and where crime is happening.
Information is power. By keeping informed, those who read a newspaper have more of an opportunity to influence decisions and change. You have the ability to protect yourselves and remain vigilant. Ignorance is not bliss.
Unfortunately, it’s easy for some to take their local news for granted. Sometimes people forget that a real newspaper employs professional reporters who are bound by a strict code of ethics. News articles aren’t a means of expressing the writer’s personal thoughts and opinions. It’s a reporter’s responsibility to gather facts, contact appropriate sources, air both sides of an issue and present sometimes complicated information in a cohesive, readable format.
By presenting the facts as they’re available, a good newspaper empowers a reader to make up his or her own mind about an issue. A newspaper must respect and trust its readers in that way.
To report the news, a local newspaper functions as a business. In addition to reporters, there are other staffers who keep the operation functioning like clockwork. There’s advertising consultants, customer service, design and production and distribution employees. Advertising not only covers the costs of producing a newspaper, it keeps local businesses that advertise thriving and growing. It’s a win-win relationship that has proven successful decade after decade.
However, the business side and editorial side should never cross lines. Advertising consultants must not trade advertising for articles, and reporters don’t write articles in exchange for advertising. Accepting gifts from sources and advertisers is not allowed. Ethics matter.
There are other publications that describe themselves as newspapers, but consistently trade “positive” coverage for advertising. To describe themselves as newspapers is both a misnomer and an insult to any true journalist and community newspaper that subscribes to a code of ethics.
Being a good newspaper means that not everyone will be happy with articles you publish. However, as a good editor once told me, a reporter must be able to look his or her sources in the eye at the grocery store.
That is my commitment to every reader — to present news that you might not like, but to do it fairly and accurately. Those are the basic tenets of good community journalism.
• Keven R. Graves is executive editor and publisher for the Whidbey News-Times. He can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org