IN THAT AWKWARD SPACE WHERE WORK AND LIFE COLLIDE
Sunday, December 26, 2004
By ALLISON WALZER firstname.lastname@example.org
AN EDITOR once gave me a glib response for any reader calling to complain
about an article about himself or herself in the newspaper.
"If you don't want to read about something in the paper," I was counseled
to say," don't do it."
I never took the advice. It sounded just a bit harsh -- even for me.
But the words come back to me from time to time and sometimes, when a caller
is particularly nasty, I'm greatly tempted to use them.
Now the advice has become personal and I'm reminded of it each time I read
an article about my husband and me as we thread our ways through the courts
because of a lawsuit
We're not really lawsuit kind of people so this was a big step for us. And
I'm not going to use this space to argue my side of the dispute. That would
be the wrong use of my position.
Suffice it to say, I now know even better how it feels to see parts of your
life in the pages of the newspaper. I know the power of the adjective and
the clunk of the "no comment." I feel more personally the support and the
loss of privacy in a community where too many people know too much about
you. Or think they do.
The suit is against Steve Flood, our county controller. And even though the
dispute is not over a grand sum of money, it does pit two public figures
against each other. Weird to think that one of them is me.
But that makes it news.
And as the legal tangle goes on, it has meant that I totally distance myself
from anything regarding Mr. Flood. Anything.
When a SAYSO that mentions Flood's name is sent to my computer directory
-- I am usually the first edit on SAYSO calls -- I forward it, unread.
In our newsroom budget meetings, I completely abstain from conversations
involving Flood to the point that I won't even read his name on the budget
list of stories for the day. Traditionally, I read the story names and each
editor describes his or her team's stories. If Flood's name is on the budget,
I stay quiet -- someone always pops in to continue the budget conversation
about a person I can't mention.
If a discussion ensues, I leave the conference room or the area of the newsroom
where people are talking.
It was uncomfortable at first but now it's become normal.
This week, as Flood made his way back onto the front page, I'm out of the
loop with the decision-making.
If the juvie center story reaches lawsuit territory, it could become even
weirder: Flood and I could end up on the same side of a legal battle, reinforcing
the divide between personal and professional.
It's the first time in my career that I have been forced to absent myself
from conversations because of a conflict of interest.
It is not the first time conversations have stopped upon my arrival -- you
know how that is when you're the "boss" -- but it's the first time because
of a conflict.
We have other conflicts in the newsroom: the son of our managing editor was
a key player on the Meyers football team so that editor didn't participate
in discussions about Meyers coverage. Our publisher is active in community
charity work and has to stay quiet or absent himself from some conversations
It's a first time for me. I've intentionally stayed away from community organizations
and political campaigns. I won't sign a petition on anything. There are some
rights you give up when you become a journalist it's much easier to acknowledge
that and move on.
We know we'll never rid all conflicts from the newsroom -- they come with
living in the community.
Our guiding principle is disclosure: to our readers and to other editors
who can then jump in.
Perfect it's not, but it's the best we can do.
They haven't invented conflict-free bubbles for journalists yet. And who
would want to live in one anyway?