Our View: Newspapers should avoid conflict

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On Thursday, Christina Currie, assistant editor of the Craig Daily Press, officially stepped down as president of the Craig Chamber of Commerce.

Currie resigned from the Chamber at the request of the newspaper.

At issue was a potential conflict of interest.

The decision to ask Currie to resign came after long deliberation and some debate. Daily Press staff in almost every department volunteer in community organizations. Currie, who volunteers with many Moffat County organizations, was reluctant to leave the Chamber.

World West LLC, the newspaper's parent company, encourages its employees to participate in the communities where they live and work. But sometimes community involvement can get tricky for journalists.

Currie always disclosed her position with the Chamber to the public and refrained from writing about the organization for the Daily Press. The decision to ask Currie to leave the Chamber in no way was a reflection on her professionalism and ethics.

As the newspaper deliberated the issue, there were two recurring questions: How does a reporter in a small town get involved in nonprofit organizations without creating a conflict of interest? Why is it OK for a publisher of a newspaper to serve on some boards and not reporters?

As we reported in the story, most newsrooms and journalism trade groups have strong and clearly worded policies about reporters' affiliations with groups.

The Society of Professional Journalists says journalists should avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived, and remain free of associations and activities that could compromise integrity or damage credibility.

Do newspaper readers in small towns deserve less than readers in big cities? We don't think so.

Not all nonprofit organizations are created equal. The Chamber is charged with being an advocate for business. A chamber of commerce can and should be one of the most influential organizations in a community in its efforts to attract and retain business. Chambers sometimes take controversial stances on issues.

Fair or not, readers may not think that both sides of the issue would get fair coverage with the president of the Chamber among the newspaper's reporting staff. We don't want readers to think that.

As for publishers getting involved, it's important to note that newspapers have two functions -- they're journalistic organizations and businesses. Publishers represent the business side of the operation. Although they ultimately control the newsroom, good publishers are able to separate those two functions.

We think Daily Press readers want and deserve a newspaper that strives for integrity and credibility and avoids even the appearance of conflicts of interests.

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