Editorial: Newspapers’ job not to serve as PR firm

By on July 30, 2009

We received some interesting feedback due to a story published on page 8A of the July 23 edition of the Elburn Herald, “Code change allows liquor license for space village president owns.”

What made it interesting was that for some, the feedback demonstrated a lack of understanding of the purpose of a community newspaper and the facts relative to this situation, or a perception of some of those involved that we have a bias that led us to write the story in the first place.

We feel that it is important for our readers to understand not only why we do what we do, but to understand how our community journalism mission applies to this specific situation.

First, our job as a community newspaper is to report what happens in our community. It can consist of stories that may be heart warming or heart wrenching. It may be an edition full of arrests and crime, or of fundraisers and examples of residents helping each other. We are not here to make anyone look good or look bad, it is the situation itself that determines that.

If those involved in the situation reported in both the July 23 and July 30 editions feel that the act of reporting what happened is inherently biased, then you do not understand the purpose of a community newspaper. We are not here to be the village’s, or anyone’s, public relations firm; and we are not here to make anyone or any group look good or bad. We are here to let our readers know what is happening in their communities

The average reader could conclude that the officials involved tried their best to avoid a conflict of interest and acted in a manner to remain beyond reproach. Likewise, the average reader could also conclude that officials used their positions for personal gain; that the building would not have sold when it did if it were not for the influence inherent in officials’ positions. The fact that the average reader could read the same set of facts and reach different conclusions means there is the existence of gray area in this situation.

One of the individuals providing feedback argued that if one were to remove the names and titles of those involved, the same result would occur, that everything would have happened in the same way and in the same timeframe as happened in this situation.

While that may arguably be true, it is also irrelevant to our coverage.

It is irrelevant because stating what, how and when something happened does not change the what, how or when something happens.

It is not the act of reporting that created a possible negative perception of what occurred, it is the event or situation being reported on.

If you do not want a negative perception to occur, you should act in a manner that does not allow for a gray area to exist.