By Gina Channell Wilcox
We acknowledge an error in judgment was madeUploaded: Apr 7, 2009
As was noted in a Town Square forum by frequent poster "Stacey," the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics includes being "honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information"; being "free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know"; and treating "sources and subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect," which falls under the standard "minimize harm."
These are the standards thousands of journalists embrace and hold dear - myself and my staff included.
An error in judgment was made this week and we failed to "minimize harm" to three individuals when they were named in an editor's blog Monday. This is a violation of our policy as well as a breach of the journalistic ethical code to "minimize harm."
Another standard of practice in the aforementioned Code of Ethics calls for journalists to be "accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other," which means that when mistakes are made, we admit them and correct them as soon as possible.
Editor Jeb Bing realizes he made a "terrible mistake" by "outing" these individuals. When it came to my attention, I removed the names immediately and eventually took down the blog. Jeb made error in judgment. I will not be the one to cast the first stone because I have made errors in judgment in my career, too.
I came to the Pleasanton Weekly because I have a passion for community journalism and believe local news is important. One positive thing about community journalism is that readers take ownership of the content and publications. In other words, they are not hesitant to pose a question or call us on the carpet. While Monday morning I was a little harried by the onslaught of emails, phone calls and such, reflecting back now I'm glad so many people felt at ease to call this to my attention.
Another positive that came out of this is the editorial staff had an opportunity to review our coverage and assess our success with restricting posts on Measure G ? or lack of success to be more precise. In the past, the editorial staff of the Weekly has shut down forum topics completely because of harsh comments on sensitive subjects, such as teen suicides and the DUI crash that led to the death of Laurel Williams. Other than that, aside from a few inappropriate comments here and there, the Weekly's moderating of the forum has been fairly light. We began to edit comments to say why they were censored, to help readers understand why it was being removed.
We monitor the forum as much as possible both during the workday, as well as on our personal time in the evenings and on the weekends. It is our goal to provide a place for discussion, with the idea that anyone should be able to contribute.
When things begin to get out of hand, whether it be name-calling, comments going off topic, or an excessive number of comments on a single thread, we have seen fit to set some restrictions. We had hoped it would help guide civil discussion to focus on the issues at hand.
Topics regarding Measure G have been the most popular since the debut of Town Square two years ago. As comments veered away from civil discussion, instead of shutting down topics completely, we thought we would see what might happen if we required people to register to comment. We thought if people took the extra step to register, they might think twice about what they were about to put out to all of Pleasanton. (Forums are quite new and have no best practices for us to refer to; it is ever-evolving.)
My staff and I are grateful for the feedback from our readers and posters because it helps us navigate what is becoming the future trend of newsgathering.