On Sunday, Gannett’s Wisconsin team broke the news that 29 Wisconsin judges had signed a petition to recall Gov. Scott Walker. Today, in an embarrassing follow-up, the paper’s publisher reports that 25 Gannett reporters apparently signed the petition as well. So, thanks for ruining it for the whole news team, guys:
In the interest of full transparency, we are informing readers today that 25 Gannett Wisconsin Media journalists, including seven at the Green Bay Press-Gazette, signed the recall petition. It was wrong, and those who signed the petition were in breach of Gannett’s principles of ethical conduct.
It is little consolation to us that none of the editorial employees who signed a petition has any involvement in our news or political coverage or decides how those stories are developed and presented. None of the employees serve on the investigative team. Had they been directly involved, we would identify them.
The paper’s publisher really beats himself and the staff up in the apology today, which makes you wonder – if this lapse was taken so seriously by Gannett, why wasn’t it disclosed along with the initial story on the judges yesterday? You would imagine the Gannett i-team noticed that some of their fellow reporters’ signatures were on the list when they were first reporting the story. Waiting a whole day makes it look like the paper was forced into disclosing it, even if that wasn’t actually the case.
But it’s hard to get too worked up over this. When it comes to ideology and journalism, Jay Rosen seems to have the most reasonable philosophy. Having strong political opinions doesn’t preclude someone from being a quality reporter, and acknowledging those political opinions is probably a good step toward building trust with the public. At the same time, these journalists who signed the petition were in violation of Gannett’s own ethics rules. And considering the fact that Gannett was reporting on the potential ethical lapses of public officials, that blunder certainly undermines its credibility.