West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder says writing for the paper “will be an opportunity to share more information about West Valley City or other topics I care passionately about with a large audience.” (The mayor and his colleagues recognized L. Ron Hubbard Day earlier this year.) One reader questions the paper’s decision to give space to the mayor:
The Deseret News may be on a slippery slope with this initiative.
Where does public information end and propaganda or political campaigning begin?
What about citizens who disagree with what their elected officials are doing? Will the Deseret News give them equal space in order to present their arguments?
Deseret News CEO Clark Gilbert‘s memo is after the jump.
Deseret News CEO Clark Gilbert’s memo to staff
There was some discussion during the last few weeks over whether political figures should be allowed to contribute through Deseret Connect. Our historical policy was that we would allow this as long as we / they were transparent and by limiting what someone wrote to commentary rather than reporting news. We would also limit this to online publication, unless we ran an op-ed from a political figure in print. There are patterns for this in other news areas. For example, The Washington Post’s “On Faith” section allows religious leaders to contribute perspectives on faith, even though these contributors clearly have their own perspectives and positions—in other words they are not impartial, but transparency and context make it work.
Nevertheless, as we discussed this with some of our team in the newsroom and at Deseret Connect, we feel the best approach going forward would be to have a policy to not allow people holding a political office (or those actively running for office) to write for us while they are in those roles. In the end, this was less about conflict of interest, which we felt was managed through transparency and context. The specific challenge with active political candidates is an unintended risk of implied endorsement. We will, of course, continue to seek thoughtful contributors in many other settings through Deseret Connect. Transparency, quality, and trust will continue to be the hallmark of Deseret Connect and I appreciate the thoughtfulness the team has showed in responding to feedback.
Know also, we will continue to embrace our civic role in electoral politics providing citizens with information, insight and analysis that will help them make decisions on candidates and key issues. Thus, from time-to-time we will continue include op-ed contributions from elected officials who we believe benefit our audience.
All my best,