Monday, April 02, 2012

Here's a thread for your Wisconsin recall comments

Gannett Bloggers continue to debate last week's disclosure that 25 of 223 Wisconsin news employees had signed petitions seeking a recall of Gov. Scott Walker. The debate touches on newsroom ethics, freedom of speech, and the lengths to which employers can dictate workers' off-the-job activities.

I'm offering this thread for comments on this subject exclusively. Please post your replies in the comments section, below.


  1. Stupidest arguement/debate in some time. You don't sign petitions or even put a bumper sticker on your ride that even gives the appearance of bias. This is basic journalism. This is why people don't trust us. This is why there is a company ethics policy that you sign every year.

    The Gannett 25 are not martyrs. They are in the wrong. There is no gray area here. The damage they have done to both their papers and Gannetts's rep is incalculable.

  2. You DO chuck certain rights when you sign on for employment at just about ANY organization. Most of the rules exist for a reason.

    If you're a broadcaster, you're not going to be on the air long if you use the phrase "He's an idiot" as an aside when your mic is open. Moreso if the phrase is "He's a FUCKING idiot". Not to be confused with Ernie A's classic "Keep plucking those chickens!" First Amendment ain't going to save you.

    Here in Phoenix, members of the police department are FORBIDDEN from having anything to do with the campaign for mayor. They certainly CAN VOTE - the ultimate freedom of expression in this country.

    The Wisconsin 25 were arrogant fools. "No one's gonna know . . . " They can still VOTE. But if they want to be involved in politics, let them get a PR gig shilling for the people they're supposed to be "watching". As so many other journalists have.

    As for bradblog (and, judging by some posts, some unionistas), it is quite a leap of logic to state that NOT signing the recall petition is a show of support for Gov. Walker. By that same logic, EVERY journalist who is a union member MUST be assumed to be pro-recall.

  3. At least now there is some truth in advertising. Instead of journalists telling the story as in Joe Friday "just the facts 'mahm," the readers realize that what they are being told is from the perspective of those who want Walker kicked out of office.

    People have the right to state an opinion. They don't have the right to be trusted in what they tell us after they express that right by signing a petition.

  4. I'm sorry but journalists not signing political petitions has been a rule for as long I've been a journalist, almost 30 years now. I see evil in almost everything Gannett does. But in this instance G is right. I don't know what punishment is appropriate the petition signers screwed up.

  5. Let me largely repeat what I said before, only correctly:

    If this petition had been signed against a liberal Democrat governor, (oh, say by FoxNews or WSJ employees) then these journalists would have been burned at the ethics stake in journo world, on Romenesko & in the NYTimes. I doubt Shafer would be writing to "free the Gannett 25."


    For those arguing for "truth in advertising," see if the shoe fits on the other foot.

    Being impartial in journalism doesn't mean you don't hold opinions or never express them. Newsrooms are full of opinions. But it means you don't speak publicly about them and hopefully work hard to make sure your coverage does not reflect your bias.

  6. Tuesday is election day. I'm going to vote, then I'll go to work and write unbiased headlines, just like I always do.

    It's that simple.

  7. A recall petition isn't a campaign. It's a request for a vote, and it doesn't bind the signer to vote any particular way.

    A recall petition can be signed only by registered voters, just like our signatures when we enter the voting box.

    The "public" element of the name on the list is no more or less public than the voter registration histories of people who vote in primaries, which expresses their membership in a party. I have seen for myself that several people in my Gannett newsroom vote or have voted in primaries. Not only have they not been punished all these years, some were promoted to management.

  8. I was faced with a similar dilemma once in a local referendum petition that was critical to my taxes.

    I opted not to sign, only because I had a role in which I was sure to be part of the overall coverage.

    I did not interpret the ethics policy to prohibit me, if I had no role in coverage, from voting on a question of my taxes skyrocketing. The petition for that ballot was unexciseable in the process by which I could cast my vote.

    I think the burden of proof, in the spirit of America's judicial system, should be on Gannett in each instance of punishment. Editors should prove the person's signing actually affected ethical work that journalist produced. Gannett's punishment is pre-emptive of the so-called crime.

    Furthermore, the letter the editors allegedly each wrote stated none of the 25 had compromised ethics or were in any position to do so. So, I don't get why Gannett picked this battle.

  9. Why, exactly, was anyone's signature on the recall petition newsworthy in Gannett's view?

    Do Wisconsin judges take an oath of office giving up their right to make independent choices for themselves as voters?

    The Gannett letter seems to say G has egg on its face for the 25 only because it wrote a story about 29 judges who signed the voter petition. Are their really any readers who are so delusional to think that judges and journalists don't vote, and that in each case they chose one partisan or the other?

  10. I vote equally for R's and D's. I'll be damned if I'm going to let Gannett or anyone try to label me if they have cause to suspect the way I voted in any one particular vote.

    My impartiality is absolute and so are my ethics. Signing a petition wouldn't compromise my integrity. Maybe it's time for Gannett to use its bully pulpit to say that instead of apologizing for ethics violations that it says didn't happen.

  11. Jim, I think it's voter rights, not freedom of speech, that is the underlying legal question. It's an important distinction, I think.

  12. This won't be a problem when Gannett completes its continued draconian layoffs and hires cheap Philippine labor to report by Skype and edit by telecommute. There's no risk filipinos will vote in American politics. That will be so much better for Gannett's reputation among politicos, won't it?

  13. 10:29, you have been eating too many tainted crackers.

    This was actually a decent discussion before you showed up.

  14. In states with closed primaries voters have to register as Democrats, Republicans or Independents which are public records. How would that scenario come into play here?

  15. 10 a.m. Gannett picked this battle as a preemptive strike since they were afraid the Tea Party ilk would use it against them somehow. That, plus the fact that the Walker regime is anti-union (like Gannett) and most of the papers had endorsed Walker.

    As a side note, it was amusing to see how many astute readers mentioned the plagerism angle on the columns allegedly written by each site's top dog.

  16. Never underestimate how ignorant of the facts some people are. Not everyone who works at a newspaper went to J-school and had this stuff beat into their heads. I bet if your asked at my paper, 50 percent wouldn't think there was anything wrong with signing that petition. But then, there's people here who didn't think anybody worked on the weekends anymore and people who "just had no idea there were so many people working nights still."

  17. CX for the previous post....I bet if you asked...
    I really should put my glasses on more.

  18. Remember the Fiesta Bowl fiasco? I think the 25 should get President's Rings, too!

  19. 12:44 PM - Charges of "plagerism" (sic) are hard to take seriously for self-evident reasons.

  20. Does anyone actually think newspapers are not biased? Good gosh, I've read comments on political stories where the first comment accuses the paper and the reporter of right-wing bias with the next commenter accuses the paper of a left-wing bias. The ethics Gannett and other papers want to hold their reporters to is nothing more than puffery to try an impress a readership that has long since moved on.

  21. Under normal circumstances with a normal company, I'd agree that the journalists shouldn't have signed the petition.

    But Gannett isn't normal, at least at the top. They have numerous conflicts of interests themselves. Publishers are frequently members of the Chamber of Commerce,yet the papers cover them. Newspapers sponsor events, and then cover them. How's that not a conflict of interest?

    If Gannett truly wants its employees to believe that they want the news covered impartially, then Gannett's executives have to take the lead. Otherwise, anything they say will lack credibility and smack of hypocrisy.

  22. I take the plagiarism feedback seriously. That was strange, and embarrassing, that editors tried to pass off the same quotes as their own, and at least one ungrammatical one at that. They even wrote that none of the supposed sinners actually was in a position to sin, which also must have seemed strange to readers.

    They couldn't have embarrassed us all in a worse, more obvious way, while chastising subordinates for something I think most readers didn't know or think was wrong.

    Personally, I have no signature-worthy opinions about much of anything, so I like having the "I can't as a journalist" excuse to get away from activists. I didn't think there was a hard-and-fast directive that I couldn't sign a voter petition where I'm a bona fide, affected constituent.

  23. Proven leadership.

  24. Liberal media bias must be a term unfsmiliar to you. and no one blames the 25 with lousy products. save that arguement for another thread. it doesnt work here.

  25. I agree with posters 10:00 to 10:26. Since when do you give up your rights as a citizen, which includes voting and signing a petition?
    The caveat should be if you are covering the race/issue in question, then I would interpret the Ethics policy to require you to disclose that fact to an editor and opt out of covering that issue to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. That is common sense.
    I agree that burden of proof remains with Gannett and the critics of the "25" as to whether they showed bias in any coverage of the recall or the Governor. That is the litmus test. If they didn't or did not write any articles about the recall or the governor, then this is much ado about nothing.
    There is a reason some of us choose to live outside our papers coverage area and this is a prime example.

  26. As one of the few non-journalists still clinging to the quaint and quickly fading notion that independent, straight, impartial factual reporting can play an important role in democracy, I'm disheartened by those who excuse or minimize this incident.

  27. No, the "burden of proof" is not on the editor or reader to show actual bias. It's a well-established ethical principle, applicable to any field or profession, that when it comes to potential conflicts of interest, a practitioner must take care to avoid the mere appearance of a conflict.

  28. Participating in a scheduled election is a civic duty. An all-but-unprecedented campaign to overturn an election — on purely ideological grounds — is an overt, aggressively partisan act. By no stretch is this a close call. Those who claim otherwise are being obtuse. As Howard Kurtz put it, he "can't fathom" that a journalist would fail to see this.

  29. Wisconsin State Journal, Madison (Lee Enterprises) revealed six staffers signed petition.

  30. 10:43 and others with similar remarks are dead-on correct. Kurtz is right as usual. If you can't see this, then I really question whether you should be a journalist at all. Why give the public and public officials ammunition to attack us as being politically biased any more than they already do?

  31. I'm reposting the following comments, which originally appeared on another thread:

    9:11 wrote: So according to a meeting in Wisconsin yesterday, if you work for Gannett, your spouse can not put up a political yard sign in your yard.

    Channel your inner Hawkeye Pierce and sing along, "When Gannett says we, we is the master race, we go pfft pfft in Gannett's face."

    9:33 wrote: I don't live in Wisconsin and am not a journalist but I've been married to one for more than 36 years. We have never had a political sign in our yard or a partisan bumper sticker on our car. I sign petitions, he does not. No political contributions come from our joint accounts. It is basic journalism principles, pure and simple.

    9:47 wrote: How about this for a yard sign. "The Smith family endorses Joe Blow for Governor"?

    10:23 wrote: 1. Most readers have already formed an opinion on whether your paper is liberal or conservative and by the fact that you work there are of the same political slant as the paper (which may be ridiculously wrong).

    2. Most readers have no clue where reporters live. And a reporter's neighbors probably already know the reporters political views so a yard sign isn't going to make any difference to them.

    Just a thought based on living in the real world.

    10:28 wrote: 10:23 - I'm not buying it. Perceptions can be powerful. For journalists, managing even the appearance of bias is important.

    11:16 wrote: I worked on the advertising side, and never felt comfortable stating political views publicly, signing petitions, etc. I felt the same responsibility on the ad side!

    11:25 wrote: My Lord,if you walk through the parking garage in Phoenix,you'll lose count of the Obama stickers on cars.

    11:36 wrote: So if a family isn't allowed to have a political sign in their yard, does that mean that management can't put Green Bay Packers bumper stickers on their cars?

    Keep in mind, many of those who defend the petitioners are also the type to shriek about a flag lapel pin because it might mean you're biased toward America.

  32. 1:54 AM nailed it and those arguing differently should be sacked starting with 2:21 AM.

    In all seriousness, credibility and impartiality are highly valuable assets, something that should not be squandered because a few are so incapable of seeing why it’s critically important to maintain.

    Their ignorance makes one wonder how they’ve made it through so many employee cuts, though now that they’ve been exposed, one hopes they’re next as views like theirs only damage newspapers even more.

  33. Ever wonder if we're giving readers enough credit for being able to discern what's biased reporting and what isn't?

    Isn't the "let's pretend where not biased" just a big ol' charade that we should call an end to?

    And perhaps we should refrain from putting editorials in the paper because those seem to color the entire paper, according to readers.

  34. 12:26 - I agree with you! Gannett is different than Fox News or MSNBC.

  35. So the Appleton signers included a couple people on the copy desk, three guys from sports who do mainly pagination, a features/religion writer, a graphic artist and a couple photo dept. managers. (I still wonder why there are two managers in a photo department with 2.5 shooters, but that's another story).
    The signing is less of a conflict than a former EE who served as an officer of the minor league baseball team and dictated coverage, or publishers who serve on boards that are more political - like the anti-worker Chamber of Commerce or even the United Way, which is political in its own right with decisions to fund or not fund organizations that are faith based, or organizations like Planned Parenthood or even the Boy Scouts, with their admitted anti-gay credo.
    When the Editorial Board, i.e. publishers and editors, take stands on political issues and candidates, maybe full disclosure is warranted, rather than slappping a few worker bees on the hands for evercising their rights.

  36. Anti-worker Chamber of Commerce?

    With all due respect 3:49, you’re obviously clueless to many things including the harm that’s been done and why more than just newspapers have enacted codes of conduct and standards of ethics.

    Here’s hoping your name is added to the list of those who should go in the next round of cuts, then you can openly express your political views in any manner you like, that is if your future employer doesn’t have rules of their own, many do.

  37. In a new post, blogger Jim Romenesko notes that The Wall Street Journal just distributed a reminder memo about restrictions on partisan political activities by members of the news staff.

    The policy touches on the role of spouses, too:

    "While these restrictions do not expressly apply to an employee’s spouse, significant other, or family members, all news personnel and members of senior management with any responsibility for news should avoid the appearance of bias. For example, if both an editor’s name and a spouse’s appear on their checking account, they should consider whether a contribution to a campaign would be reported as a contribution by both, and not just by the spouse."

  38. I guess other news organizations had reporters signing petitions, too.


Jim says: "Proceed with caution; this is a free-for-all comment zone. I try to correct or clarify incorrect information. But I can't catch everything. Please keep your posts focused on Gannett and media-related subjects. Note that I occasionally review comments in advance, to reject inappropriate ones. And I ignore hostile posters, and recommend you do, too."

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