Seattle Times Executive Editor David Boardman vows to readers in a Sunday column that the newsroom remains impartial, despite business-side ads supporting a Republican candidate and a gay marriage referendum:

Dr. Hanna Egstrom’s email was reflective of dozens we’ve received: “As a longtime Seattle Times reader, I find myself sadly dismayed … This is not an issue of whom is being supported, it is that they are being supported. I would be equally upset if you were running ads for the opposing candidate. As a citizen, I rely on newspapers for information regarding the world we live in. How am I supposed to believe that the Times is unbiased… ?” …

Balance is not a value we stress, as it is a largely artificial construct that can amplify foolishness. But impartiality is a fundamental goal, and we make every effort to check and challenge our own beliefs and biases as we seek out facts and truth.

I’m confident we do a pretty darn good job of achieving that impartiality, though certainly not a perfect one. My best measure of success is the uncannily even breakdown in the complaints I receive about our reporting being politically biased.

For every caller labeling us “a liberal rag,” there is one for whom we are “right-wing fascists.”

The concerns expressed by some of you over the past few days are of a far different character, and I take them far more seriously. Consider this note from Craig Mayhle, another longtime subscriber: “I have nothing against either the candidate or cause the Times has decided to commercially promote. It is the act of the commercial promotion itself, by one of my primary local news sources, that I take issue with. It undermines my ability to fully trust the paper as an objective and evenhanded dispenser of the broader news.”

To Mr. Mayhle, Dr. Egstrom and others with similar concerns, I offer this solemn promise: In these two races, as in everything else we do, we will strive to be fair, accurate and thorough. We will continue to ask probing questions of both sides. We will continue to fulfill our mission to serve this community through strong, independent journalism that makes a difference.

Disclosure: Boardman is a member of Poynter’s National Advisory Board.

David Boardman, The Seattle Times

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  • Anonymous

    Not sure why my previous comments have been deleted, perhaps they were too long, so I’ll try them as a blog post elsewhere. In brief, the Seattle Times is the only print daily left in Seattle, which makes the issue of its perceived journalistic integrity all the more important to the role it plays in the health of our community’s public discourse. The ad donation to GOP candidate McKenna makes the paper one of the three largest contributors to his campaign for governor. This has caused many in Seattle to perceive bias, and to cancel their subscriptions, further decreasing readership numbers. If the ad donations were made in hopes of boosting future political ad revenues, wouldn’t ad revenues overall be undercut if the readership numbers they are based on are down? It seems unlikely any tax deduction for the business expenses associated with this marketing experiment would be large enough to offset declining revenues from lowered ad rates and subscription payments. Perhaps the Blethens thought the donation to R74 would offset their donation to McKenna. However, both are troubling in terms of blurring the line between editorial and news content, as far as many readers are concerned. It’s a sad time for Seattle readers.

  • Anonymous

    Not sure why my previous comments have been deleted, perhaps they were too long, so I’ll try them as a blog post elsewhere. In brief, the Seattle Times is the only print daily left in Seattle, which makes the issue of its perceived journalistic integrity all the more important to the role it plays in the health of our community’s public discourse. The ad donation to GOP candidate McKenna makes the paper one of the three largest contributors to his campaign for governor. This has caused many in Seattle to perceive bias, and to cancel their subscriptions, further decreasing readership numbers. If the ad donations were made in hopes of boosting future political ad revenues, wouldn’t ad revenues overall be undercut if the readership numbers they are based on are down? It seems unlikely any tax deduction for the business expenses associated with this marketing experiment would be large enough to offset declining revenues from lowered ad rates and subscription payments. Perhaps the Blethens thought the donation to R74 would offset their donation to McKenna. However, both are troubling in terms of blurring the line between editorial and news content, as far as many readers are concerned. It’s a sad time for Seattle readers.

  • Anonymous

    The especially sad thing about this is that Seattle is not New York; the Seattle Times is the only print daily we have left. Following several years of a Joint Operating Agreement, The Time’s rival paper, The Post Intelligencer, became online only in ’09, and is unable to provide anywhere near the content it used to have. People in Seattle always knew the PI leaned left, and the Times leaned right, that they tempered each other, and that “the truth” could often be found somewhere in the middle. There is no broad, strong counterpoint to the Seattle Times left on Seattle issues, though we do have some great small papers. Statewide, we have several other papers with both print/online presence, and the beefier newsrooms than our poor Post Intelligencer, so perhaps we can find some counterpoint to the Times there.

    I would love to have some bright journalism grad student analyze The Seattle Times coverage of this gubernatorial race between Rob McKenna and Jay Inslee before the free ad campaign began. It is true the Seattle Times endorsed Barack Obama again, as well as the Marriage Equality referendum, R74, in addition to endorsing Mr. McKenna. However, many here in Seattle were already noting how hard they seemed to be pushing for Mr. McKenna in the content pages, and were very dismayed by what seemed to them, quite biased coverage.

    One wonders how the Times could ever hope to measure the impact of the free ad campaign in such a way that it would be persuasive to political consultants newspaper that ads pay off in votes. Further, if their free ads are successful in bringing about Mr. Inslee’s defeat, won’t that make it even harder to persuade readers the paper’s political coverage can be trusted to be unbiased? No matter the outcome of the governor’s race, I don’t know if a Blethen family-owned Seattle Times will ever recover from the perception they jumped the shark in terms of partisan support for a GOP candidate.

    Like Mr. Johnston, below, I find taking this huge risk with perceptions of journalistic integrity deeply puzzling, especially as so many people are turning away from newspapers already. So the way to get more readers, especially in fairly liberal Seattle, is to make the paper one of the biggest contributors to the GOP’s candidate for governor? I also wonder if the Seattle Times will be taking a business expense deduction of their taxes for this “marketing experiment.”

    I don’t know if the Blethens are surprised by the public reaction to all of this. Perhaps they thought their free ads for McKenna would be zeroed out by their free ads for R74, the Marriage Equality referendum. It would be fair to say, I think, that most who support R74 do not support McKenna, who is against gay marriage, among many other progressive issues (He joined the suit against the ACA, against the wishes of Gov. Gregoire, (Dem), and a Democratic majority in both houses of our legislature, and now wants to “negotiate” with the federal government whether Washington State will accept Medicaid Expansion funds.). However, the donation to R74 is troubling as well, because it also blurs the line between the news and editorial departments. At least it is nonpartisan. (From what I understand, the last time the Times gave free ad space for an initiative or referendum, it was for an anti-affirmative action measure, back in ’98 or so.).

    So, while it is true it is Mr. Blethens paper to do with as he wishes, the people of Seattle don’t have to buy it or read it.

  • Anonymous

    What’s wrong with readers simply deciding, based upon their own personal beliefs about the issues the now-obviously-biased newspaper supports?

    Answer: Nothing!

  • Anonymous

    What an interesting development at one of the few major newspapers owned by a family instead of a publicly traded corporation where hired help run the often tepid editorial page.

    If anyone thinks Frank Blethen, the controlling owner, tells his reporters what to write they just have not read the SeaTimes or worked at a major newspaper. The SeaTimes remains a superb newspaper (I check it online every few days) compared to many others of its size. Its long history of solid (and often very expensive) investigations has received too little attention (like its exposes of high school coaches who could not keep their hands off the students but just got moved to new jobs at new schools and of stock manipulations by some big local companies.)

    The curiosity here — why did the newspaper place an ad in its own pages rather than Frank (or perhaps the Blethen family) buying the ad with their own money? Reporters covering this should focus on that question as it may lead to some interesting insights about campaign finance laws, Blethen family finances and Frank’s views on stewardship as publisher. Care to chime in here, Frank?

    Just as curious is the reason for the advertisement, since the editorial page is Frank’s to do with as he pleases. It is, after all, his newspaper and Frank has taken many clear stands over the years. Is there some lesson here about the relative impact of editorials and ads? Or was this just a way to draw attention by doing something way outside the box that was sure to be perceived by some as outrageous? That is, was this a publicity stunt?

    That readers think publishers tell reporters what to do is not surprising because in much of Corporate America people are told exactly what to do. And in many organizations workers are also told to never question authority under threat of dismissal. At every newspaper I worked for, and many others where I asked questions of staffers, the culture is that the lowliest member of the staff can challenge those above on issues from clarity to ethics to news play to what defines the news report. Too bad those values do not permeate the rest of business, especially at legal and accounting firms re-organized in the last two decades as LLPs, an economically vicious form of entity that inherently discourages questioning suspicious behavior.

    So, Frank, what do you say?

  • Larry Maxcy

    Mr. Boardman, I think, misses the point. There is nothing suspicious when a newspaper runs an ad for a political candidate. But there is something suspicious when a newspaper creates an ad for a political candidate. The reaction of the reporters should carry a message. They know their work will not be received as straight when their paychecks are signed by the people who created the political ad.