Journalistic objectivity

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There’s certainly no law against running a newspaper and holding public office. But the trend goes against ethics practices at larger, urban dailies, where journalists are warned to keep a certain professional distance from the institutions they cover.

To maintain their objectivity, integrity and reputation, daily newspaper reporters are discouraged from serving on public boards, writing about their friends or business partners, or accepting anything larger than token gifts. Written conflict-of-interest policies suggest serious penalties for even the appearance of personal gain. But when a political figure joins the press or owns a paper, any semblance of watchdog objectivity risks getting thrown out the window.

On the surface, and mostly recently the People and Places paper in Schiller Park seemed to keep out of the political scene when reporting news. I will admit I do not read the paper because it doesn’t cover the issues I want to read, and It is more of an events paper then a news paper anyway. Writing more about upcoming and recent events then news in and around our community. There is aspects of news to be sure, but only to a certain degree, and during the past April election no political news in any way. Would the people trust it as an honest unbiased news source anyway? Does the fact that the owner is also the Mayor weigh in on how people view the information shared?

Journalistic objectivity is a significant principle of journalistic professionalism. Journalistic objectivity can refer to fairness, disinterestedness, factuality, and nonpartisanship, but most often encompasses all of these qualities. Is this lack of political involvement by People and Places just an example of disinterestedness, or a failure in nonpartisanship reporting?

We all know news outlets often avoid subjects that do not suit their bigger purpose, but in the case of larger news institutions we as the readers have other avenues to fill in the blanks. What happens when your town only has one paper, and that paper has decided to not share news about one subject or another? What affects do those actions have on the community of that same town, and what avenues do the readers have to fill in the holes left by the lack of information shared by the towns one and only news source.

This past April brought a general election to the Schiller Park area. The campaign signs came out, speeches were made, fund raisers, campaigners knocking on doors, promises, and even some mud was slung. Normally a local news paper would be involved with reporting these events, or at least allowing the parties involved to have an outlet to share their views with the voting population and In the past this was the case in Schiller Park. The 2013 general election had more then a few letters to the editor posted by all sides of the campaign in the People and Places paper. But not this last election, why?

During the 2015 election the population of Schiller Park had word of mouth, and social media as their only sources of information. The people running for office on both sides were limited in their abilities to share their feelings or beliefs. It created a wall that separated the different sides of the campaign from the voters, and effectively limited who each side could reach with their message.

Did the editor of the local paper (People and Places) just want to stay out of it because she is also the Mayor of Schiller Park? Did she just want to remain neutral in the face of growing political criticism? I personally don’t think that staying out of something is staying neutral and in this case the choice of neutrality was to many a clear sign of actually taking a side. By taking a neutral no news stance some of the people running for office could no longer reach a large portion of the voting population that relly only on the paper for their news and information.

I think reputable news outlets have a responsibility to report the news fairly and unbiased. When the news outlets stay out of a situation it is the same as avoiding what I feel is their responsibility to report what is honestly and truly happening in the community. If the editor truly wanted to stay out of politics or keep the paper neutral during her time as mayor maybe People and Places should have been temporarily handed over to someone not so invested in one side or the other. It would have shown many how important integrity is to the paper and its staff.

In closing, no it is not illegal to operate a news paper and hold political office at the same time, but is it ethical.

During the 2013 election the People and Places paper didn’t have any issue with posting letters to the editor from candidates, and individuals involved with all sides of the campaigns, yet this past election saw not a single letter to the editor from any political party. Shortly after the election the moratorium on publishing political letters to the editor was lifted and these letters were posted by both winners and losers of their campaigns. Some of the letters published being more disrespectful and damaging then anything I could imagine the candidates would have submitted during the election, and these actions by People and Places did nothing but strengthen people’s feelings of one sided reporting even if it was not reporting anything at all.

So why the silence during the election? Was Mayor Barbara Piltaver keeping her professional distance by not reporting political news during the April elections? Or did she choose a side by limiting the other sides ability to reach key voters? We will never know and many of us are very interested to see how the next set of elections are represented by Schiller Park’s only news paper considering its editor and owner is up for re-election herself.

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