People may be impressed when they see “editor in chief” under my name, but without the team of writers and editors behind me, the newspaper would never make it from the Oracle’s computer screens to your hands. I place full faith in their abilities, and that’s why, as campaign season begins, I have no problem removing myself from Student Government-related coverage.
No, I’m not shirking my duties as editor. I make this move in the interest of continuing the Oracle’s tradition of transparency as stewards of information because I am in a relationship with SG Senate President Nathan Davison, who is running for student body president. In order to prevent bias – perceived or otherwise – Managing Editor Victoria Bekiempis and Associate Editor Eric Moeller will deal with all SG-related coverage.
I have deferred judgment to them in order to protect the integrity of the Oracle and ensure that my relationship does not affect or color the quality of its coverage. The Oracle is committed to reporting in a fair and accurate manner, and I see it necessary to remove myself from any area of my job in which my personal life intersects my professional life.
My decision to recuse myself hasn’t been made solely because of the upcoming elections, however. Since entering this relationship, I have not covered anything involving SG, nor have I assigned or edited stories regarding the organization. In light of the elections, however, I feel that you, the readers, have the right to know how the Oracle is handling this situation, and that we remain committed to transparency within our publication.
Because this issue doesn’t just affect me, I have consulted a variety of individuals to form the most ethical basis for dealing with it. In addition to speaking with the Oracle editorial board, I sought advice from the Oracle’s adviser, Jay Lawrence; Bob Steele, the Nelson Poynter Scholar for Journalism Values; and Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell. Steele, who works for the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, regularly consults newsrooms across the country on ethical issues, and Howell faced a similar situation when she served as City Editor of the Star Tribune while her husband was Democratic majority leader in the Minnesota Senate.
In a Washington Post column called “Steering clear of conflicts,” she said that during this time, the publication selected an assistant city editor, who reported to the managing editor instead of Howell, to handle political coverage. Because of her experience, Howell was able to offer tips on how to balance this lifestyle on personal and professional levels.
“Don’t go near any news decision to do with Student Government,” Howell wrote in an e-mail. “Then I would have a relationship talk with your guy and tell him not to tell you anything that is highly newsworthy, because it will drive you crazy not to be able to put it in the paper.”
When I became an associate editor of the Oracle last summer, Davison and I formed work-related boundaries in a vein similar to that of the movie Fight Club. Rule No. 1: Don’t talk about work. Rule No. 2: Don’t talk about work. Need I divulge Rule No. 3?
This tactic falls in line with Howell’s recommendations, and this column echoes the sentiments Steele expresses on a regular basis.
“Competing loyalties have to be managed so that they don’t become conflicts of interest,” Steele said. “That’s why it’s important to build checks and balances that encourage transparency and accountability.”
When it comes to SG, and especially the elections, Oracle staff writers and correspondents have been instructed to talk exclusively to Bekiempis or Moeller. Everything from developing headlines, editing SG articles and even selecting where SG stories will be placed on the newspaper’s pages will be their decision.
The same rules will apply to editorials. Though everyone on the board has an equal vote, I will recuse myself from editorials involving SG or the elections so that the other members feel free to discuss any issue they wish. Also, the Oracle will not endorse a candidate for the presidency, which – potential conflicts aside – the Oracle hasn’t done in years.
While this stance reduces my obligations as editor in chief, I feel it is the fairest way to handle the issue. It will in no way hinder my ability to serve as editor. SG is only one of many facets of university life that we cover at the Oracle, and I plan on devoting my energy to those other aspects while Bekiempis and Moeller focus on the elections.
If you have questions or concerns regarding this issue, I will be happy to address them. Feel free to write a letter to the editor or, if you’d prefer to speak to me directly, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Candace Braun is a junior majoring in mass communications.