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How involved should journalists get in local politics?

by on March 26, 2012

Twenty five Gannett newspaper employees apparently signed Gov. Scott Walker recall petitions in Wisconsin. They are now being disciplined. What do you think? Are we dealing with a conflict of interest here or not? What do you think of the “petition signing = casting a vote in an election” argument?


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  1. Journalists are citizens with the right to vote, which is protected under the U.S. Constitution. A petition is a form of free speech, which is ALSO protected under the U.S. Constitution. But before I go any further into this argument I feel like i need more information about the nature of the discipline. What sorts of positions did these journalists hold? There’s a big difference between news reporters who sign a petition and ed-op columnists who sign a petition….

  2. M Sylvain permalink

    I do not think that simply signing this petition is a conflict of interest, I see it as similar to voting in an election. If the journalists were the ones who started the petition, and actively advocating for the recall of Gov. Scott Walker, then that would be a conflict of interest. When reading the Green Bay Press-Gazette’s article on the topic, I felt like this situation was being blown out of proportion. The biggest problem that I had with the article is that I couldn’t figure out what area of the paper the 25 employees covered. Were they sports writers, arts and features writers, or what? I think that if one of these employees covered an article about the petition, or wrote an article about Gov. Scott Walker, then it would be a conflict of interest. As far as I am concerned, that wasn’t the case. I could care less if someone had an opinion and signed a petition, as long as they weren’t imposing that opinion into their writing. “A number of the journalists told their editors they did not consider signing the petition a political act.” If so many of these journalists did not realize it was unethical, it is clear that it is something that was never addressed, and thus, perhaps not a huge issue on the ethical scale.

  3. I do not believe the 25 journalist who signed the petition created a conflict of interest. In addition to being journalist these individuals are citizens of Wisconsin. Just as they had the right to vote Gov. Scott Walker into office, in my opinion they have the same right to sign a petition to have him removed from office if they feel he is not doing his job correctly. Currently in my city (Lawrence Ma) we are in a similar situation. There is a petition circling the city calling to have our mayor removed from office. If I were a reporter on our local paper (The Eagle Tribune) who has been covering the story on the re-call of the mayor I would sign the petition. I feel as though the choices the mayor is making and how he is poorly running the city directly effects my lively hood, and in many way my employment.I do not believe being an objective, transparent, and neutral reporter is not achieved but ones sacrificing his or her constitutional rights. I think journalist may be the biggest advocates for our 1st amendment rights, so it would seem odd to limit their own.

  4. faye34 permalink

    I read from Gannett Co., Inc.there are 13 US Community Publishing news organizations in the state of Wisconsin. Three of the 13 were noted in the March 25, 2012 piece titled, “Wisconsin Journalists signed Gov. Walker Recall Petitions.” It seems as Romenesko stated, “Many of the passages are identical,” is true. Please glance at them with the times noted.
    President and Publisher of Green Bay Press-Gazette Kevin Corrado published a two-page column at 11 p.m. on March 23d. Meanwhile, Pres. and Publisher of The Post-Crescent of Appleton Genia Lovett and “General Manager and Executive Editor” of The Fond du Lac Reporter Richard Roesgen published at 12:34 a.m. and 10:15 a.m. on March 24, 2012 respectively. Allen Hicks, editor and general manager of The Daily Tribune of Wisconsin Rapids, wrote a column too on March 23 at 11 p.m. along with I found The Code of Ethics was at the bottom of his Daily Tribune web site. I did fact check the six out of 32 ethics were cited accurately also.
    However, the Gannett Co., Inc. Press Release on Feb. 20, 2012 “announced Richard Roesgen has been named president and publisher of The Daily Advertiser in Lafayette, LA, and the Daily World, in Opelousas, LA, effective March 19. Roesgen formerly was general manager/executive editor of The Reporter and Action Publications in Fond du Lac, WI. He succeeds Ali Zoibi, who is retiring.”
    Therefore, it seems quite funny that Roesgen could have a piece published four days after he ‘worjked out of state’ along with that it is identical to a woman who published ten hours earlier. That alone seems to fail the March 20, 2008 Principles of Ethical Conduct for Newsrooms.
    With all facts aside, I understand the concern Gannett Co., Inc. has with voting journalists.
    My only example to give for the non-believer of ruling is it would not behoove an abortion clinic to have workers spit anti-abortion lingo to its patients. I never thought of this predicament before. It’s better to learn in training than on the job and loose.
    None of the 25 of 223 journalists with his/her titles were named nor did the reader learn from which of the 13 newsrooms either were invited to leave.

  5. hgalvs permalink

    If anything, these journalists did a service to readers by signing the petitions because now it potentially adds more context to articles these journalists may write about politically-related subjects. I also agree with the various classmates above who’ve expressed that journalists are also citizens with rights. It is an ironic concept to strip thousands of journalists-traditionally considered keepers of democracy, as we’ve seen seen in the Watergate reading- of their basic constitutional right to free speech. What kind of democracy is that?

  6. I don’t think there is a conflict of interest involved in the signing of the petition. Old-school traditional journalism may have thought so, but journalism is evolving with today’s evolving society. No journalist can be as objective, bland, or black and white about ethical rules. If no one is hurt in this case, then I don’t see a problem with it. Journalists shouldn’t have no rights that every other person has.

    A journalist can still report and write professionally even if they signed one petition. It does not mean they are the reporters that need to report on this governor or if they are as professional as the rulebook likes to say all journalists should be, then that reporter can sign a petition and still report on the governor.

    I think it depends on the person. A reporter is a person, and each person operates differently than the other.

  7. I agree with many of the other students’ blog posts on the subject in the sense that journalists are citizens too and therefore have the right to sign the petition under the constitution. I think that even if a journalist is covering the beat that is relevant to the petition it is still OK to sign the petition. If a journalist has a vast amount of knowledge on the subject and he/she chooses to sign the petition there must be a valuable reason why. I think it would be worth contextualizing the situation in an article and showing readers why the petition is taking place. I believe it is possible to do this without sacrificing accuracy or acting independently. As Jay Rosen stated “our views do not come from nowhere.” It is important to keep in mind as a journalist that our number one priority is to service the public and to provide the information so that readers can make the best decision possible. There is of course a fine line between contextualizing a subject, where the information leads in one direction and having an agenda you are trying to enforce. It is a slippery slope and that is why it is extremely important to be able to back up your actions as a journalist with a thorough thought process.

  8. First of all, there is in fact a difference between casting a vote in an election, and signing a petition. The petition is a public document that readers have access to, whereas a ballot in an election is private. (Technically, the fact that a person voted can be looked up, but not who they voted for.) In this regard I understand why the editor may have worried about reporters exposing to the public exactly how they felt on a political matter. However, I certainly feel that the reporters have every right to sign the position. They are citizens of the state and the decisions made by politicians effect them just as much as any other citizen. This does not mean that it is necessarily a good idea however, and I think that each reporter has to decide for themselves if that is a risk they are willing to take: How much transparency are they willing to give to their readers? I think what their beat is, or what stories they had recently covered, or were to cover in the future should be examined before they make such a decision. Still, I feel it is their decision to make. Furthermore, I can understand the editor feeling that disciplinary action may need to be taken on the reporters, considering that he or she has most likely been the student of hard news and objective or “opaque” reporting in which reporters are not traditionally allowed to expose any of their own ideas.

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