by William Skink
It’s such a nice idea, reporters working on behalf of the public. Not corporate shareholders, or advertisers, but us, the public. At least that’s what former Missoulian editor, Steve Woodruff, would like you to think as he demands support and respect for the Missoulian in its fight with the Sheriff’s department:
Because the Missoulian has shown remarkable restraint, local readers may not be aware of the pressure the Missoula County Sheriff’s Department has exerted in an attempt to control the newspaper’s coverage of the sheriff and his department. But the Department’s attempts to control who covers the sheriff and how they do it have achieved national prominence thanks to influential journalism blogger Jim Romenesko.
I was a longtime Missoulian editor and reporter, so it should not surprise anyone when I express praise for the Missoulian for refusing to yield to pressure from the sheriff – or any other politician seeking to dictate news coverage. But the paper deserves support and respect from the broader community in this matter, too.
Let’s set aside whether I, you, the sheriff or anyone likes this or that they read in the newspaper. That’s beside the point here. What’s important is that the paper and its staff work for us – the public. If it serves us well, we’ll read and subscribe. If it doesn’t sufficiently serve us, we’ll look elsewhere for news.
A newspaper wouldn’t be worth the paper it’s printed on if it simply served up what those in power wanted, just the way they wanted.
I wish politicians would spend more time doing their jobs and less time worrying about how they come across in the media. But that’s not going to happen.
All the more reason to appreciate journalists and media outlets with the backbone to keep doing their level best for the public, even when those in power don’t like it.
This is obviously extremely biased, but luckily Steve brings attention to Jim Romenesko’s national media blog, where the point of view of the Sheriff’s Department isn’t just “set aside” but given some space to explain the Sheriff department’s grievances:
Missoula County (Montana) Sheriff’s Department public information officer Brenda Bassett claims Missoulian reporter Kate Haake has misquoted her colleagues, and “often fails to give us adequate times to respond to her inquiries and/or will try to contact multiple people within our office in an attempt to get more information than what she can legally be given. In the past, she was been quite successful at it.”
So, it appears she’s an aggressive reporter.
The context still missing is this: the Sheriff’s Department has been in open turmoil since before the recent elections. There have been criminal charges, multiple lawsuits, and the Missoulian has covered all this. The reason this context matters is because clearly members of the Sheriff’s department have acted poorly. Has part of that bad conduct been to use the media in an unethical way to gain advantage, politically? Is that a contributing factor in this reporter getting information she shouldn’t have legally been given?
I’ve had a few conversations, and it’s not just the Sheriff’s Department that has had concerns over this reporter’s reporting. It might be worth considering that the Sheriff’s Department—who also work on behalf of the public because we actually pay them—have legitimate concerns about the media’s role in worsening the rift the new Sheriff is obviously still dealing with.