Open letter to Newport Daily News: Tax advocacy is conduct unbecoming a journalist

Reproduced for purposes of comment and criticism, which fall squarely under Fair Use. Click image to embiggen. Original viewable here.

In an online posting, the publisher of the Newport Daily News announced that the paper was offering free space to businesses opposing Gov. Chafee's proposed tax plan.

"Since so many small businesses in Rhode Island would be affected, we'd like to help be the voice for those businesses," publisher William F. Lucey III says on their web page.

Attached below is the letter I sent in response.

Dear Mr. Lucey...
Whatever happened to the canons of journalism?

I am shocked at the behavior of newspaper groups throughout Rhode Island who have taken it upon themselves to offer free space to those opposing Gov. Chafee's tax plan. And I am particularly troubled that Aquidneck Island's local paper would jump on board the anti-tax bandwagon.

Of course, you have the right to craft and share an editorial position. But actively organizing opposition dangerously blurs the line between editorial and advocacy in a way that, I feel, threatens basic journalistic objectivity.

In case you've forgotten, here's a link to the current version of the canons, the Statement of Principles of the American Society of Newspaper Editors:

I call your attention, in particular, to Articles I, III, and IV.

Newspapers do not exist to serve businesses. You are supposed to serve the public.

Best Regards.
-John G. McDaid

In case you don't want to click through, here's the relevant section of Article I: "Newspapermen and women who abuse the power of their professional role for selfish motives or unworthy purposes are faithless to that public trust."

And Article III: "Journalists must avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety as well as any conflict of interest or the appearance of conflict. They should neither accept anything nor pursue any activity that might compromise or seem to compromise their integrity."

And Article IV: "Every effort must be made to assure that the news content is accurate, free from bias and in context, and that all sides are presented fairly. Editorials, analytical articles and commentary should be held to the same standards of accuracy with respect to facts as news reports."

Editorial note: For those who intend on calling me to task for the opinions presented in these pages: I am not a newspaper, I am a citizen journalist, and on my masthead is my slogan. Transparency is the new objectivity.