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Radio, newspaper, and my ethics

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by CanzanoJohn, Aug 21, 2007.

  1. CanzanoJohn

    CanzanoJohn New Member

    I love this site. Seriously. Used to drop in all the time. I've always respected the great many of you who post here, and stick your necks out, and debate/stir/discuss, etc, anonymous or not. And I respect the opinion of anyone who thinks my decision to do a radio program on KXL-750 in Portland is complicated/lousy/wrong/right/inbetween/whatever.

    I just caught up on the reading, and initially, I shared some of the same concerns that many of you have. There was also some disturbing stuff posted that was just flat untrue and disappointing. I spend a great deal of time struggling against my limitations, but ethically, I can look myself in the mirror.

    I went into discussions with the Trail Blazers flagship radio station with serious reservations, and questions, and some big-time doubts to whether a station owned by Paul Allen's holding company (even as I was told he hasn't ever been in the building) was willing to do what was necessary to make me feel good about this.

    I love The Oregonian.

    Needs to be said.

    It's a writer's paper. I work for good people, and with some of the most talented people in the business. I've turned down other opportunities to stay here. I'm lucky to be working at a shop that gives me the room to fall flat on my face as often as I'd like.

    As a columnist, I'm paid to share my opinions. I comment in the newspaper. I previously did a radio show at another station. The Oregonian asks me to blog on Oregonlive.com. It asks me to appear on the Blazers flagship television station, some weeks. They've marketed me as a bobblehead, which ultimately ended up on the shelves of a Goodwill. Given the opportunity to take the column to the state's largest radio station, and essentially perform a two-hour advertisement for our newspaper, and extension of my column, I'd be dumb not to consider it.

    I spent a couple of weeks researching complex situations involving columnists and newspapers and radio stations --- the Cubs/Tribune Co., Time-Warner/Braves, and flagship stations in Detroit, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Kansas City, Salt Lake City, Seattle, among other places. I found that the KXL/Oregonian situation, while complex, wasn't exclusive. Or unique. The purists are going to hate this, but in sports, we're writing books with people we cover, and columnists (not beat writers) are doing shows in which GMs are paid guests, and we're doing shows on flagship stations, some of which are owned by the teams.

    In the end, what we have to stand on is our body of work.

    Judge me on mine.

    I'll live with that.

    I insisted on 100-percent control of content, in writing, from the radio station. I insisted that I not be paid as an employee of the station, but as an independent contractor. I insisted that the Oregonian be granted access to the same content that will be aired by KXL... including a live stream of the show on the newspaper's website so there was no unique content on the radio. I insisted that KXL promote me by using "The Oregonian" in all references. I insisted that if the show ended at any time for any reason I would be paid for the entire duration of the contract. There were some other safeguards installed as well. The deal was one-sided in my favor. It had to be or I wouldn't have done it.

    Still, I knew purists were going to hate it. And that's fine. I'm confident. I know I can be me on the air. I have to be or I'd quit this business and buy a tractor or something.

    After exploring this radio thing, I felt confident that I could be myself, autonomous, uncensored, and free to give opinions, do a show, and promote our newspaper. And the management of The Oregonian must have shared that confidence because they've been supportive. The local weekly porno tab took a jab. Didn't bother to talk with me. That's fine. I saw it coming. I get it.

    The newspaper isn't playing situational ethics here. They recognize the difference between a columnist and a beat reporter. They recognize they pay me to write, report and share opinion. They've asked me for copies of the contract. They've insisted on some provisions for their comfort. We've acted with transparency. That's the best I can offer.

    Maybe that helps you. Maybe it doesn't.

    My colleagues at The Oregonian know that if the Blazers or anyone else ever attempted to steer my thoughts, or pressure me, it would be an amazing, unforgettable 10 minutes of radio. I respect the concerns of those who see this as problematic and have had healthy discussions with several of them, but in the end, my work will have to speak.

    If you think I've gone soft, call me on it. My readers will. If you think I've sold out, hammer me. My readers will.

    I stand on my record at several newspapers and this one as a tough journalist who pulls no punches, regardless of the circumstances, including when I am wrong. I know that I must be as pure as Caesar's wife when it comes to that reputation. And I assure all of you you that I will never intentionally do anything to embarrass my newspaper or my colleagues, or by extension, this profession. This is something I want to do and have fully discussed with my editors, who have been most supportive. Should a conflict ever arise between me as a journalist and me as a radio show host, I will solve it quickly and forthrightly to protect and preserve my primary and most important job.

    Sorry for the length.
     
  2. Tom Petty

    Tom Petty Guest

    john - you and others on this board seem to interpret this topic as a personal attack. it's not.

    i'll speak for myself when i say i don't care how much i trust or don't trust you as a person or a professional. instances such as these can't be taken on a case-by-case basis.

    you are giving readers/listeners several reasons to question your ethics because of your actions.
     
  3. Simon_Cowbell

    Simon_Cowbell Active Member

    This sounds like the deep conscience saying there's something amiss.
     
  4. Joe Williams

    Joe Williams Active Member

    You know, John, that is one big, long-winded rationalization.

    "In the end, what we have to stand on is our body of work." . . . That and our professional conduct and standards.

    "Given the opportunity to take the column to the state's largest radio station, and essentially perform a two-hour advertisement for our newspaper, and extension of my column, I'd be dumb not to consider it." . . . Should have tried this instead: "Given the opportunity to take a stand that tells the Trail Blazers, the city of Portland and a journalism community that sees sportswriters as only half-assed journalists at best because of these cozy, wink-wink arrangements, that . . . we . . . can . . . not . . . be . . . bought, I'd be dumb to consider it at all."

    "... columnists (not beat writers) are doing shows in which GMs are paid guests, and we're doing shows on flagship stations, some of which are owned by the teams." . . . Just say no. Walk away. The best columnists pride themselves on being reporters first. Not ex-reporters. And there is no tenure track in newsrooms, though plenty of editors forget that.

    "I insisted that I not be paid as an employee of the station, but as an independent contractor." . . . Distinction without a difference. The station still can drop you like a bad habit if it doesn't like what you say one day, and you know it and have $80K (or whatever the # is) at stake, and the readers/listeners know THAT.

    "They recognize the difference between a columnist and a beat reporter. They recognize they pay me to write, report and share opinion." . . . Glad you see that a columnist still should report. But as long as you "report," you, your work and your paper can be compromised by a financial arrangement with a news source (Allen). You say that won't happen -- which never, ever has been good enough (the paid individual's word) as the acceptable standard in our profession.

    "I work for good people, and with some of the most talented people in the business." . . . No matter how many times you cite the sports reporters at your place on your blog, you chasing this time-intensive and extremely well-paying second job, with disregard for the ethics of journalism, means you are not a team player. You are perpetuating a class system of haves (columnists) and have-nots (reporters), the rich getting richer and a second set of rules for John Canzano compared to the beat schlubs at the Oregonian. Want to put out a one-man section? That's how you're acting.

    " . . . but in the end, my work will have to speak." . . . No, you've made that determination. Your actions, in declining this tainted relationship, could speak volumes right now but you choose to put reputation and ethics second (and third).

    "I assure all of you you that I will never intentionally do anything to embarrass my newspaper or my colleagues, or by extension, this profession." . . . Everyone who gets himself into a shady ethical situation claims this. But it's not that person's, or your, call. It's the appearance. And it's the chance of unintentional influence, knowing who butters your bread on the radio job, or at least opening yourself and the paper -- and the profession -- up to smirking dismissals of "he's in the owner's pocket." You doth protest too much here, buddy.

    "This is something I want to do..." . . . Right. We get it. For the money. We all want that sort of money on the side, with bosses who look the other way. Cops who take bribes want to do THAT. Doesn't mean it's right.

    "...have fully discussed with my editors, who have been most supportive." . . . A) Shame on them. B) Are these the same editors who ceremoniously whacked the news reporter for parking his car free in some guy's lot, apparently an ethical felony compared to your perfectly good journalistic conduct?

    "If you think I've gone soft, call me on it. My readers will. If you think I've sold out, hammer me. My readers will." . . . But are you listening, John? Or are you simply justifying?

    "Still, I knew purists were going to hate it. And that's fine." . . . Trying to divide and conquer. Sure, go ahead and label those who stand on the side of ethics as some sort of extremists. Purists. As opposed to . . . ?

    "I respect the concerns of those who see this as problematic and have had healthy discussions with several of them..." . . . Just to head off the "John used his name" and "you guys are anonymous" gripe, let's remember that no one here (except for someone posting alleged facts about past transgressions that might or might not be true) dislikes John the person. But we have a big problem with his rationalization and excuse-making in pursuit of a second paycheck. It undermines his first job, which is about WAY more than a paycheck. Some of us have good rapport with John and don't want that to suffer over a matter of principle that we can't control (only John and his bosses can).

    Besides, this is one of those issues where an objection or concern from the least-known Joe Blow among us is the very point. If anyone is given an opening to question a newsman's ethics, then it's a problem. Not just for John, not just for the Oregonian but for many of us who do what he does. Way to grease the slippery slope, my man.
     
  5. Jim_Carty

    Jim_Carty Member

    John,

    There are also columnists out there who turn down the chance to write books with the people they cover and who would never do a show where a GM, coach or player they cover is paid to appear. The flagship station thing isn't necessarily much of a deal, unless the station is owned by the team or the guy who owns the team.

    I respect and enjoy your work tremendously, but you're wrong if you think this won't compromise you in the eyes of many of your readers. Even if you don't change a single word in the column or opinion on the air, there's a clear conflict here, and that conflict will change how people look at your work and leave nagging doubts in many minds about how you do the job.

    No explanation or oath of transparency and/or honesty will change the perception.

    I believe you're very sincere in everything you write above, which makes it all the more painful to watch you go through with something that's going to change how you and your work are viewed.
     
  6. playthrough

    playthrough Moderator Staff Member

    John, for what it's worth, thanks for coming in and posting.
     
  7. CanzanoJohn

    CanzanoJohn New Member

    Jim, Joe, play, Tom, Simon: I appreciate that you posted, and respect where you're coming from.

    With all due respect, I get about 500-600 emails a day from readers. I keep reading about the "perception" of readers on these threads... yet even after Poynter, and the weekly slam job, the only emails I'm receiving from readers at all are, "What time is the show on?"

    Readers don't care.

    They'll judge me on my work.

    I get that it makes some of us uncomfortable. Totally respect that. I'm comfortable with the conditions I've arranged, as is my employer. If I were a beat writer, covering the team every day, or if I were a political columnist, maybe I'd feel very differently.
     
  8. Jim_Carty

    Jim_Carty Member

    John,

    Just curious, why might you see it differently if you were a political columnist?

    And I appreciate the fact you're willing to discuss this, a lot of people wouldn't be. This is important in our little world, but it's not life and death. I hope it works out best for you, regardless of our difference of opinion.
     
  9. Joel_Goodsen

    Joel_Goodsen Member

    It is admirable that some of you on here are holding on to this romanticized idea of what journalists are and aren't, but unfortunately it is also unrealistic.

    These days -- when newspapers regularly fire, lay-off, downsize, job shift and put people out of work to save a buck, when they continually compromise their integrity to get into bed with organizations and corporations they are covering to make a buck, when they've made it clear that the bottom line is more important than anything journalisticly related -- journalists are forced to and would be irresponsible NOT to make as much money as they can no matter how much some pinhead wannabe journalism professor might think it is blood money.

    It has to be about the bottom line for individuals now that newspapers have made it clear that the bottom line is all that matters.

    I think there are obvious no-no's but not nearly as many as there used to be when newspapers cared about delivering the news and journalism ethics.
     
  10. GuessWho

    GuessWho Active Member

    Just out of curiosity, Joel, are you a newspaper journalist?
     
  11. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    John,

    Thanks for posting.

    Bottom line, the way newspapers are going, I don't blame anyone for trying to branch out, make a buck, maybe make themselves more rounded and employable.
     
  12. CanzanoJohn

    CanzanoJohn New Member

    Despite what some want us to believe, I do think we play by different rules in sports. I don't think a newspaper would be in the business of ownership of a political party... or align itself in a business relationship the way we do with the teams we cover. The Tribune Co. owns the Cubs. I don't have a problem with the perception of conflict of interest there, because I'll judge the Tribune on its coverage of the team, as will readers. That doesn't happen anywhere but in sports.

    We print posters of players, teams, and run house ads "CONGRATULATIONS (FILL IN THE BLANK) FOR WINNING THE BIG ONE!" that would deeply trouble people if this wasn't sport.

    I don't see political columnists doing radio shows on party flagships. They're not routinely writing books with politicians, basically a business arrangement. Just doesn't happen. But you have sports columnists in every major market in the nation doing shows on flagship stations, several of which are owned by the teams, either in full or through some phony setup corporation. Also we have a newspaper owning a team. I'm not breaking ground here. But I get why it troubles some of us. I mean that with total respect.

    This is going to infuriate some of you, but we do a lot of talking about how we need to evolve as an industry... or risk dying... yet when it comes to seizing a platform that brings in new readers, promotes the product, serves as an opportunity for non-industry people to understand what's behind the newspaper, etc. are we willing to do what's necessary to evolve?

    I get the ethical issue people see here. No way around that. I can't change your minds with anything other than my body of work. It's going to have to speak for me. But I posted here out of respect, and because I wanted you to know I shared some of those concerns and went to great lengths to make sure I had autonomy.
     
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