Column: R-E moves to eliminate conflict of interest in mayor's raceRepublican Eagle Reporter Ruth Nerhaugen informed management the same day her husband filed for Red Wing mayor. She knew that the newspaper needed to take immediate steps to address conflict of interest.
By: Anne Jacobson, The Republican Eagle
Republican Eagle Reporter Ruth Nerhaugen informed management the same day her husband filed for Red Wing mayor. She knew that the newspaper needed to take immediate steps to address conflict of interest.
We determined that she will avoid covering any stories dealing with this race, other city races and city government. We notified readers immediately by including a statement to this effect in the story announcing Stan Nerhaugen's candidacy.
We're especially concerned about public perception, and Ruth Nerhaugen knows she cannot campaign for her husband. In the event she decides to campaign, she will take a leave of absence.
In the newsroom, she will refrain from any involvement in the editing or layout of news articles involving the campaign. She will excuse herself from any discussions on city election coverage, because we don't want other candidates to feel her husband has an "edge" or inside knowledge of the questions we will pose to candidates.
The potential for a serious conflict of interest still exists; our solution certainly isn't perfect. It also will burden our other three staff writers, but everyone agrees this is necessary to report this election in as fair, objective and balanced a manner as possible.
All newsroom employees have the responsibility to recognize and not engage in activities that result in a conflict of interest. They also must refrain from actions that might compromise the integrity of the newspaper.
R-E reporters and editors for that reason don't engage in politics: They cover politics.
R-E reporters and editors cannot seek public office, work on or advise political campaigns for candidates or advocacy groups, make donations to political parties, sign petitions for candidates or actively take part in political events or demonstrations.
R-E management and that of its parent company, Forum Communications, know that reporters and editors live, work and play in the communities where they work.
The fact is we are community journalists. By that definition, the potential for conflicts of interest exists and, as hard as we try, we can't always draw an absolute line between our professional and personal lives. But we try.
Our company also acknowledges that spouses have individual rights regarding political and civic involvement. The newspaper certainly doesn't seek to infringe on those rights.
In the case of the Nerhaugens, the newspaper has asked her to be conscious of the appearances that can come from a spouse's public statements or actions. To maintain our credibility, it's important to avoid even the appearance of bias or favoritism.
The newsroom staff meeting about this issue produced good discussion and gave us time to reflect on our ethics pledge. Here is a section from the pledge about the need to act independently:
* Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
* Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
* Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.
* Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
* Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.
* Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.
People can read the ethics pledge in its entirety at http://www.republican-eagle.com/articles/index.cfm?id=51976§ion=Opinion
Anytime readers believe someone in our newsroom has a conflict of interest or has failed to act independently, we ask them to call the newspaper. They can reach me at (651) 301-7870, General Manager Michael Kuehn at (651) 301-7805 or Publisher Steve Messick at (651) 301-7801.
We sincerely hope that you won't have to call. If you do, however, we will take your concerns seriously and will work to correct any problems.