A UC Berkeley alumni magazine is reporting that the San Francisco Chronicle‘s editor sent an email prohibiting newsroom staff from attending this Saturday’s Women’s March.
Maria Gaura of California Magazine reported in-depth on the email, in which Chron Editor-in-Chief Audrey Cooper wrote that “No newsroom employee, regardless of job function or title, can participate in political demonstrations of any sort. … This is effective immediately.”
Gaura noted that violating the paper’s ethics policy is “a potential firing offense.”
The editor did not respond to Gaura’s request to discuss the email or the Chron‘s policy, but Cooper did send a written statement, part of which included: “Certainly, ethical discussions always involve shades of gray. My job is to help our newsroom serve our readers and the public by providing fair and accurate news coverage. That includes helping us avoid actual or perceived conflicts of interest.”
Gaura also reported that KQED and the Bay Area News Group have not prohibited editorial staffers from attending Saturday’s events.
As a newsroom editor going on fifteen years, I of course have some strong opinions about Cooper’s email.
Most editors will agree that ethics policies are critical. We don’t want writers fabricating quotes. We don’t want photographers crossing the line with the manipulation of pictures. We especially don’t want the City Hall reporters canvassing for a candidate during election season or organizing protests.
But I would argue that traditional media’s concepts of impartiality often are more than simply antiquated — they even fuel declines in readership.
Readers want and embrace insight, and — forbid! — opinion from reporters and editors. Such perspective is an essential ingredient at alternative-weekly papers, of which there are more than 125 in this country. Editorial staffers at these papers understand that impartiality and fairness are not the same thing — and readers welcome this sophisticated, sensible, real-talk approach to news-gathering.
Telling reporters not to attend the Women’s March — especially when these very staffers attend other “political” events such as Pride — isn’t an ethics policy. It’s not commonsense. It’s smoke-and-mirrors — and it’s insulting to readers.