Magazine article Editor & Publisher

To Tell or Not to Tell

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

To Tell or Not to Tell

Article excerpt

Texas reporter takes concerns public, loses job

When reporter Chelsea Jackson disagreed with her publisher at the Marlin (Tex.) Democrat about coverage of the local school district, she wasn't content to just spout her opposition within the newsroom walls.

Believing her complaints of ethics problems at the rural weekly newspaper fell on deaf ears there, Jackson went to a TV station in nearby Waco, which chronicled her allegations that the paper was ignoring important issues and allowing school district officials to influence stories.

After the first TV story ran, Jackson says she was demoted. When she appeared on TV again, the newspaper fired her.

"I asked her not to speak to the TV media, and my request was ignored," says publisher Lois Cooper, who has run the 3,200-weekly-circulation paper since February. "I take this place as sacred as a doctor's office. It doesn't need to be publicly proclaimed on TV."

But Jackson, 23, says she believed the newspaper's actions were ethically wrong. "I have to live with myself and do what's right," says Jackson, who is a community college student and mother of two toddlers.

Jackson's situation raises a common ethical question among journalists: When does a reporter have the right to challenge a publisher's news judgment, and what are the consequences?

"A community has the right to know how a newspaper is treating its employees," says Bob Jensen, a journalism professor at the University of Texas in Austin. "But the newspaper has a right to fire her."

Keith Woods, a media ethics instructor at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Fla., agrees. "Journalists must police journalism," he says. "But it is very odd for a reporter to go to the competition and complain about their newspaper."

Jackson says she first confronted Cooper late last spring with two objections related to the newspaper's coverage. …

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