Transparency spreads

Amazingly the public editor of the Akron Beacon Journal, Mike Needs, calls for reporters and editors to post personal disclosures of political and religious affiliations and more:

An old-school editor once told me he refused to vote or go to church.

Why? He said he wanted to avoid even the perception of a conflict of interest. He and the newspaper could never be accused of favoring a particular church or political party if he held no formal connection to either.

Frankly, I think it was more his being jaded about religion and cynical of politicians.

His policy came to mind during a call last week from a Stanford University student, who asked to interview me for his graduate project. His opening question: “Should a newspaper post bio pages for all its reporters?”

I surprised him when I replied, “Yes, there is more to gain than there is to lose by doing that.”

A big buzzword among newspapers these days is “transparency,” as in showing you the inner workings of the newsroom. Here’s the theory: By giving you insight into controversial decisions, newspapers hope you will be more inclined to accept the reasoning and less likely to assign incorrect motives.

But detailed reporter bio pages go many steps beyond simple “transparency.”

The interview continued.

How much information would I consider appropriate? Again, I shocked him. Political and religious affiliations, education background, media experience, active membership in organizations, and any involvement in causes or campaigns that could have any influence on a journalist’s news judgment.

Not only that, I’d do the same for any editor involved in news decisions….

Couldn’t agree more. Here is my disclosure page. But see also the discussion at the Museum of Television & Radio Media Center’s recent event, where responsiveness was seen by many to be just as important as transparency. Fine. I’ll take both.