EDITORIAL: Newspapers, reporters should stay on the sideline and report the news
At different times through the years we have expressed our dismay when we see hometown reporters from another publication engaged in political activity that slants news in a certain direction.
This week, we witnessed this happening again when The Liberty Hill Leader became fully engaged in a political action, and then showed up to report the story.
The editor signed a petition attempting to force the City of Liberty Hill to call a tax rollback election. The petition was her second to sign in 2014 — the first being one that effectively stopped the City from obtaining low interest financing to build water lines.
While newspaper editors and reporters have the right to sign anything they want, they certainly then have the absolute obligation to not report on issues in which they involve themselves. It is highly unethical and at the height of unprofessionalism to sign a petition to cause a political outcome—and then show up at city hall to report on the situation you helped to create.
Certain occupations and professions are a one-way bridge to the other side. There are certain things that we expect from those who serve in the public’s interest. Religious leaders, physicians, law enforcement officers, teachers and many others are typecast in their roles in our lives – and rightfully so. We hold these professions to a higher standard because we depend on their professionalism.
Journalists and newspapers are held to a higher standard as well. And we should be. When we report a story, you should have faith that it is accurate, that we are not engaged as actors in the issue that we are reporting on. Reporters are not allowed to join political causes or participate publicly in any issue that would jaundice our ability to bring you the truth.
Readers and advertisers depend on that separation when seeking information. Subscribers and advertisers invest in the local newspaper and don’t want to find a conflict of interest embedded in its stories. Instead they expect to read a professional account of what happened and how it may impact their world.
Advertisers spend their business dollars with the expectation that the newspaper will bring honor to their business relationship, that the news product will be true and that opinions and editorials will be clearly labeled for the reader’s information. Advertisers should not have to worry that a news organization will openly participate in local politics and inadvertently make political enemies for their business. Advertisers should not have to worry if those covering the news will bring a personal bias to the story.
Referees and umpires cannot have a vested interest in the outcome of the game.
The public’s interest cannot be fulfilled if those who report the news are actively engaged in attempting to make something happen. Reporters have to tell the story, get the facts, find various perspectives that lead toward a central truth and deliver that product to the readers. The truth still matters. Professional standards still matter. Even in a small town like Liberty Hill.
While it’s true that newspapers and reporters often make folks upset and angry, that role of the professional chronicler cannot be cheapened by participating in petty political paybacks.