Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Editorial: A 'Spokesman' Review

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Editorial: A 'Spokesman' Review

Article excerpt

Ethical challenges appear in many forms at newspapers. A leaked document the government says could threaten national security if made public, for instance. Or inside information about an ongoing hostage situation. For The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash., it was a failed parking garage at a downtown shopping mall.

The furor that this star-crossed structure stirred among Spokane politicians, merchants, bankers, investors, and voters may be a little hard to understand from the outside. When S-R political reporter Jim Camden ran down the tangled history of the garage at River Park Square, he told us -- and this may sound funny if you're in a big city -- the fundamental problem was the garage charged too much: a buck and a half an hour. From this and other miscalculations were spawned nearly two dozen lawsuits; taxpayers and investors alike believed they had been ripped off by this private/public project.

For the S-R, the 12-year River Park Square controversy was even more basic, but much more conflicted: The mall and garage were developed and owned by the paper's family proprietors, the Cowles Publishing Co.

In the poisoned political atmosphere of those years, the S-R was the target of dark suspicions and unfair accusations. But as Editor Steve Smith acknowledges, the paper deserved plenty of criticism. "We did not do our job," he tells E&P. "We were not as aggressive as we should have been."

As the paper itself disclosed in 2004, S-R reporters had six years earlier obtained documents that laid out lease terms that anti-mall forces were fighting to make public. …

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