Word of Mouth not honorable journalism

My turn

Posted: Friday, February 02, 2001

The column also allows wildly inaccurate allegations to - in effect - be interpreted by the reader as fact, simply because the allegations take the form of ink on paper.

On the last day of 2000, the Juneau Empire printed a very important editorial entitled "Working on your behalf." The crux of the editorial was that the Empire tries hard to publish factually correct stories which accurately portray important events that occur in Juneau.

In addition, the Empire editorial vowed to adhere to journalistic standards that form the foundation of excellence in day-to-day news reporting. The editorial also stated that: "We will express opinions (on the editorial page, not in our news articles) with which you will disagree."

So far, so good.

All of us can agree with the premise that good journalism should be a cornerstone of the Empire's news reporting, and that the editorial staff should print its opinions in an open and candid manner, whether or not those of us who read the newspaper agree with those opinions.

However, while the editorial floated many lofty newspapering objectives, I believe the Empire's practice of publishing the Word of Mouth column blows gaping holes in the editorial's journalistic credo. It seems to me that if the Empire is truly interested in journalistic integrity and is, as the editorial clearly states, working on Juneau's behalf, it should take one significant action to prove it. That action would be to cease publishing the Word of Mouth column.

Word of Mouth represents the antithesis of journalistic excellence which was espoused in the Empire's editorial. Every opinion expressed in Word of Mouth is unattributed, which violates the most sacred, fundamental tenet of honorable newspapering.

The net result of cloaking the Word of Mouth opinions in anonymity is that leaders in this town have suffered character assassination at the hands of cowards who do not have the courage to tie their name to an opinion. The column also allows wildly inaccurate allegations to in effect be interpreted by the reader as fact, simply because the allegations take the form of ink on paper.

Half-baked opinions and often simply stupid comments find life in the warped journalism of Word of Mouth. In addition, the column has served as a soapbox for the complainers and whiners who always seem to clutch negative views on every issue facing this community. Put simply, Word of Mouth serves no useful purpose and has no place in Juneau's newspaper.

At least for this subscriber, Word of Mouth is offensive, journalistic trash and seriously corrodes the newspapering halo which the Empire donned in its Dec. 31 editorial. For me the test is this: Is the Empire truly working on our behalf? If Word of Mouth continues to be published, the answer is clearly "no" and demonstrates that the Dec. 31 editorial was puffery and hot air packaged by the editorial staff as honest opinion.

Jerry Reinwand was chief of staff during Gov. Jay Hammond's second term and served the same position for U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski in the senator's Washington, D.C. office. He is now a lobbyist and businessman in Juneau.

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