Objectivity and Disclosure
The recent debate involving the US Chamber's part ownership of the Madison County Record is an interesting display of professional (and amateur) journalists' views on objectivity. Last week, the Washington Post "broke" a story about the US Chamber's involvement in the new Madison County newspaper. Since then, several colleagues of the Record - from both print and Internet mediums - have expressed opinions on the relationship.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch weighed in on its new opponent from Edwardsville, saying: "Conflicts of interest - especially a whopper like this one - should always be disclosed." T. Evan Schaeffer, of Notes from the (Legal) Underground, says in a posting yesterday that he hopes the" coverage continues until the Record discloses on its front page that it's nothing but a paid advertisement from tort reformers." Reason Online has posted an opinion on the topic, citing Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" as counterpoint in the evolution of liberal interests also mounting untraditional media campaigns.
I enjoy the coverage that the Madison County Record publishes, especially the articles detailing recent lawsuit filings. While disclosure is an important factor in journalistic objectivity, so is balance - and not one of the sources above credited the Record for its outreach to guest editorial writers with differing opinions, including top-of-the-food-chain trial lawyers like Randy Bono and John J. Hopkins. While the paper's editorial and ownership leaning might be evident, the Record has aired opinions from all sides.
I'm pleased to hear a renewed interest from newspapers and lawyers about objectivity and the media. Madison County has its own Michael Moore-like movie crew "covering" the judicial elections and the reform debate - yet there has been no investigation or disclosure as to who is funding the video project? Maybe we should see who is paying the bills for a three person video crew to spend a couple months in Madison County - at least before they hand out their movie to local schools and libraries?