Saturday, June 23, 2007

Copy Editors and Donations (Part II)

Media Matters looks deeper into the issue of journalists contributing to political campaigns and notes a remarkable number of contributions by copy editors and other non-reporters. (I was surprised to see two people I know on the list.)

It also notes the relative lack of attention to a report about the rightwing domination of talk radio, no surprise to anyone who flips through radio settings.

On the propriety of donations by journalists: there seems to be almost a generational difference here. Many of us came into the business in an age when political donations by newsroom people was completely unacceptable. Many reporters and editors shied completely away from anything that would appear to show political leanings; some didn't even vote, or if they did, were careful to register as unaffiliated voters. But things have changed, obviously. We have former politicos dominating cable TV, not even trying to disguise their political agendas but often calling themselves journalists; we have savage attacks on talk radio creating political firestorms and we have the internet and bloggers.

So if a designer with no journalism background--you know, the designers who come out of art departments where they view the newspaper as just another forum for their art, not as journalism or anything even remotely like a sacred trust--or a sports statistician or a features copy editor whose job is to edit food pages--is giving money, is that a bad thing?
For example:
(D) Albany, N.Y., Times Union, Greg Montgomery, graphic design editor, $500 to the Democratic National Committee in September 2004; $725 to, which opposed President Bush, in 2004; $1,600 to John Kerry in 2003-2004; and $250 to Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., in 2006.

Montgomery said he doesn't think of himself as a journalist — he designs covers for magazines and feature sections and does the occasional news graphic or map. He said the paper has no written policy on political activity. When he gave, he said, "I thought that was a particular point in time when it was time to stand up and be counted." As for any future donations, he said, "It's a moot point, because I'm out of money."

Or here's another:

D) The Lincoln, Neb., Journal Star, Paul Fell, editorial cartoonist, $450 in 2006 to Maxine Moul, Democratic candidate for the House.

"For your information, I did contribute the amounts listed to the Maxine Moul for Congress campaign in 2006," Fell said in an e-mail. "I am a freelance cartoonist, who contracts with the Lincoln Journal Star to draw three editorial cartoons a week.

"They don't pay me enough money to be able to dictate how I conduct myself in political campaigns. I generally do not donate to political candidates, but Maxine Moul is a longtime friend and former newspaper publisher where I got my start as a cartoonist back in 1976.

"Frankly, I don't give a rat's ass what the Lincoln Journal Star or their parent organization, Lee Enterprises, policies are on allowing newsroom staff to give to candidates and parties. I do not believe they did disclose my donations. That's their problem, not mine."

I admit to pangs of discomfort with their actions but don't know. If you think your country is on fire, do you see a contribution as a way of putting the fire out?

And if you work for a media company that has endorsed only members of one party for president, is your measly contribution to someone in the other party really wrong?

As TV, radio and the internet blur the lines between commentary and reporting business interest and journalism, are newspapers getting touchier, demanding more and more purity?

Remember the late Abe Rosenthal's quote (paraphased a bit in this Los Angeles Times story by Tim Rutten:
I don't care whether my colleagues sleep with elephants, so long as they don't cover the circus.

One thing to know: check those ethics papers they tell you to sign at work. Know what you're agreeing to.

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