Keeping your trust, trusting your judgment

Posted: Wednesday, October 03, 2001

I decided to let the local election run its course before commenting on the Empire's Sept. 27 article about the criminal histories of the candidates.

In commenting now, I will address the broad considerations that come into play in any election campaign and the guidelines that were applied in covering the campaigns for Juneau Assembly and School Board.

Steve Reed is managing editor of the Empire. He can be reached at

Our guiding principle is the trust we place in an informed electorate. We trust you to be fair and wise in using the information we provide.

A community newspaper is obligated to look beyond press releases and public statements issued and voiced by candidates and their supporters. You deserve to know if a candidate's claims and promises are consistent with the candidate's track record.

Candidates may excuse their own misdeeds as no big deal. We believe that decision is best left to the voters. Sometimes you will agree with the candidates. Sometimes you won't.

We hear from angry readers who feel we've provided inappropriate information. But we cannot function as an extension of the candidates, telling you only what they want you to hear. Nor can we filter information to reinforce your preferences.

When readers complain about our coverage, it may be because you've learned something disappointing about your favorite candidate. Human nature being eternal, it's easier to blame the messenger. We know, too, that some readers accept our reporting of unflattering revelations about some candidates, but not about others. We try to be consistent in our treatment of all candidates.

It's a simple fact that spousal abusers, petty thieves and chronic deadbeats - people with checkered pasts and questionable motives - sometimes run for public office. Therefore, the newspaper sends a reporter to examine the courthouse files. The reporter also asks the candidates to disclose their personal histories.

Every candidate with a skeleton in the closet faces a choice: Who opens the closet door - the candidate or the press?

We gather information and present it to you. You study the facts, just as we do. You express your decision at the polling place. We express ours in an editorial column - and nowhere else. The Juneau Empire is an independent newspaper, as we proclaim in every edition.

We don't partner up with candidates behind your back.

We don't use our reporters and our news pages to help or to hurt anyone's campaign.

We don't withhold what we find in consideration of personal friendships or because of advertising relationships or because of whom we want to endorse.

Ethics and tradition demand that we report the news fairly and accurately. Fairness extends to readers and to the people who are the subjects of our stories.

As for last week's article about the alcohol-related records of three Assembly candidates:

We believe those who seek public office must be held to high standards.

Last week, we did not know what we would find in the courthouse files or what the candidates would reveal in response to our questions. We weren't out to get anybody.

The facts were presented as fairly and accurately as possible. The article was not one of the two more prominently displayed "above the fold" in that day's Empire. One of the headlines and the first sentence of the article reported that three candidates said they learned lessons from their alcohol-related missteps.

Each candidate was permitted to explain the circumstances of his offense. We didn't publish our findings first and then go looking for comments.

The article made clear that the offenses occurred as long ago as 27 years and no more recently than seven years ago.

The article noted the relevancy of alcohol-related offenses: In August, members of the Assembly considered local compliance with a state law that lowered the blood-alcohol content for drunken driving.

The article quoted a representative of an advocacy group saying: "We all make mistakes. I don't think many of us have the right to point fingers." That quote was reprinted in large type in a box inside the article.

The fact that the Empire subsequently endorsed two of the three candidates cited in the article suggests we didn't play favorites on the news pages and that we didn't punish candidates editorially for alcohol-related offenses.

We believe you trust us to deliver information about candidates just as we trust you to deal with the information.

For us, the only thing worse than generating complaints for reporting a story would be to lose your trust for not reporting it.

Managing Editor Steve Reed welcomes reader feedback. He can be contacted at

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