Potential Ethics Violation: Web Site Makes False Report, Fails To Correct

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"It is not true that four or five commissioners asked me to put it on the agenda. Only one commissioner asked me to put it on the agenda, and four asked me not to."

Cannon County Executive Mike Gannon said those words at the end of a special called session of the Cannon County Commission on February 18.

Gannon was referencing a report on a local web site that stated a number of county commissioners had requested the matter of a budgetary transfer request by the Cannon County Election Office be placed on the agenda for a special called meeting of the commission that night.

To date, the Web site has not:

1) Told its readers that the information about the number of commissioners who requested the matter be placed on the agenda for the meeting is either correct, or incorrect.

2) Provided any evidence that the statement was accurate.

Absent either of those having occurred, it is reasonable to conclude that only one county commissioner requested the Election Commission item be placed on the agenda, and the writer of the report stated a falsehood. (See Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics below),

Why the writer would see the need to do so is unclear. Could it be that this same person who purports to only have the interests of the citizens of Cannon County at heart have a specific agenda to unseat Gannon as county executive, for whatever reason, at any cost — even the truth?

According to Gannon, the writer of the report and editor of the web site which states it covers Cannon County news has never requested or conducted an in-person interview with the him.

Apparently unwilling to acknowledge the journalistic inaccuracies, the writer instead turned to innuendo to further the campaign against Gannon, and brought the Cannon Courier into the matter.

The writer posted an article "Potential violation: Report not on the commissioner's agenda" in which a representative of the state comptroller's office is quoted as saying, "In my interpretation of the law, only those things that are on the agenda for a special called meeting can be discussed, and you cannot go outside of those parameters."

That's all well and good, but the only trouble is, there was no discussion of any item that was not on the agenda. There was no action taken by the commission on any item that was not on the agenda. Neither the county executive nor the commissioners went outside of the parameters for a special called meeting.

Gannon simply made a report — about a falsehood reported by the writer in question. He made that report after the two items which were on the agenda were discussed and acted upon.

In the same article, the writer states it is unclear whether local governmental entities pay to advertise their meeting notices in the Cannon Courier. To make it clear, they do pay to do so, and have done so for years, if not decades.

The reasons they pay are many, and valid. Advertising in the Cannon Courier reaches more people than any other media outlet in Cannon County — for years in print, and now in print and online. That's not a boast on our part, just a fact. We don't solicit their business; they came to us because they know we give them the biggest bang for their advertising buck.

We charge because we are a business, we provide a service, and there are expenses involved in doing so. Paper, printing, production, posting online, mailing, etc., does not come free to us.

We suspect the writer's agenda may be to operate a Web site for the county, at a fee of course, and thinks that getting Gannon out of the picture and putting people in office who may be more favorable to her would make doing so easier. Internet domain name records show that she has already purchased several names with the words "Cannon County" in them, yet to date she has made no use of those purchased names. What is she waiting for — an election?

Additionally, to address concerns expressed by the editor of the site and the cowards who post behind anonymous screen names about this reporters coverage of the activities of county government, I am happy that I have been able to begin the process of building useful, informative relationships with those currently in leadership positions, as well as those who may be hoping to take their place.

To the best of my knowledge they all understand what the job of a newspaper is, and that sometimes the articles about them or the activities of their office will not be especially positive. They understand that goes with the territory of both my job, and theirs.

And while we will express opinions on the issues that matter to Cannon County, we will not choose sides in political races. To do so would be unethical.

Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics

Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist's credibility. Members of the Society share a dedication to ethical behavior and adopt this code to declare the Society's principles and standards of practice.

Seek Truth and Report It
Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.

Journalists should:
— Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.
— Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.
— Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources' reliability.
— Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchange for information. Keep promises.
— Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.
— Never distort the content of news photos or video. Image enhancement for technical clarity is always permissible. Label montages and photo illustrations.
— Avoid misleading re-enactments or staged news events. If re-enactment is necessary to tell a story, label it.
— Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information except when traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public. Use of such methods should be explained as part of the story
— Never plagiarize.
— Tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so.
— Examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.
— Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.
— Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.
— Give voice to the voiceless; official and unofficial sources of information can be equally valid.
— Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.
— Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.
— Recognize a special obligation to ensure that the public's business is conducted in the open and that government records are open to inspection.

Minimize Harm
Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect.

Journalists should:
— Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.
— Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.
— Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.
— Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.
— Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.
— Be cautious about identifying juvenile suspects or victims of sex crimes.
— Be judicious about naming criminal suspects before the formal filing of charges.
— Balance a criminal suspect’s fair trial rights with the public’s right to be informed.

Act Independently
Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know.

Journalists should:
—Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
— Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
— Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.
— Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
— Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.
— Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.
— Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; avoid bidding for news.

Be Accountable
Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other.

Journalists should:
— Clarify and explain news coverage and invite dialogue with the public over journalistic conduct.
— Encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media.
— Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.
— Expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media.
— Abide by the same high standards to which they hold others.
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Members Opinions:
March 01, 2010 at 7:48am
Journalists Code of Ethics is one of the biggest jokes I have heard lately. The "Code" is trotted out when it is convenient, the question you raise about an unnamed "Local Web Site" maybe legitimate but I cannot help but wonder if your reason for raising the question is genuinely related to your concern over journalistic code of ethics. Sorry I threw-up in my mouth on that code of ethics bit maybe it is not as funny as I thought.
March 01, 2010 at 8:01am
Most journalists, and people, do not need a "code" to go by to act and behave ethically. It just comes naturally.
March 01, 2010 at 10:46am
The ethics violation was her reporting that a number of commissioners had requested the item be placed on the agenda, which is not true. And if you read anything about "political endorsement" in this article, you are reading something that is not there, much like she reported something that was inaccurate.
March 01, 2010 at 12:08pm
Competion makes the world a better place, GO WIRE.
March 01, 2010 at 6:31pm
Anyone who can sleep at night when they have spent the day trying to destroy the reputations of good and honest people has serious problems. My only hope is that one day, very soon, someone will sue her and shut it down.

As for "Mingle 47's" comment about this being a political endorsement, they should maybe read the unnamed so-called journalist's webside. There, she will find plenty of political endorsements for everyone from Darrell Young to Rebecca Parton. Don't fool yourself, she has her favored candidates and makes no attempt to hide it.
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