February 03, 2008

Colorado Caucus: Denver Post, Rocky Mountain News Issue Caucus Policies For Journalists

"If you think you will be compromised as a journalist or you want to write about candidates or politics down the road, I urge you not to caucus"--Denver Post editor Greg Moore

Given the public nature of caucusing, Rocky Mountain News honcho John Temple has effectively barred any of the paper's staff from attending Tuesday's caucuses:

This is a reminder about our policy on political activity.


Journalists and others working in newsrooms must abide by a more restrictive standard (than non-journalist employees), given the disinterested neutrality from which news organizations must work. They must not serve in elected or politically appointed positions. They must not participate in political fund-raising, political organizing, nor other activities designed to enhance a candidate, a political party or a political-interest organization. They must not make contributions of record to political campaigns nor engage in other such activity that might associate an employer's name with a political candidate or a political cause.

Because caucuses are party activities that involve expressing your political position in public, you should not attend them, unless you’re covering them for the Rocky.

I would be happy to discuss.

Most journalists seem to fall into one of two categories--those who claim "disinterested neutrality" while pushing their agenda unabated, and those who simply push their agenda without paying any lip-service to the "objective" journalist position. These journalists believe that they are activists first and reporters second.

The Denver Post has a more "nuanced" caucus policy, but still restricts those in any department that may even remotely be responsible for coverage some aspect of the coming election cycle:

With the Colorado caucuses approaching, there have been some questions from staff about participating.

This is a very difficult issue, so I want to offer the clearest guidance I can.

While attending a caucus could raise questions about your impartiality as a journalist, I realize it is a right to participate in our democratic process.

So, with certain exceptions, we will not prohibit folks from attending the caucuses.

Honestly, I would prefer you didn't. Caucuses are fundamentally different than primaries because of the public nature of the declaration in a caucus. A number of newspapers have barred all employees from participating in caucuses. I think that is defensible. But I wanted to find an alternative.

Anyone who might want to attend a caucus, please review the political involvement section of our ethics policy. And If you do attend, keep in mind that while exercising your right many may see you as representing The Post. Unfair as that may be, it is a fact. So be careful to conduct yourselves well in these small gatherings. A simple raising of the hand would seem adequate to me.

While some of you may participate in the caucuses, you will NOT be permitted to be a delegate to any county, state or national convention. I hope you recall that all vacations and leaves are cancelled as we ready ourselves to cover the Democratic National Convention. There will be no exceptions.

Barred from even participating in caucuses are all city, suburban, state and national political reporters and editors; those covering political races; the metro, business and TV columnists; anyone who leads a department or oversees a section; the team leaders and writers for the anchor team; all members of the breaking news team and online operations and all editors at the ME level and above.

These exceptions, as best I can determine, will address those with authority to influence coverage and play of stories and those most likely to write about partisan candidates and issues during this exciting political season.

I am trying my best to be sensitive to individual rights while at the same time protecting the credibility of the paper and our ability to continue to cover politics as best and as fair as possible.

If you think you will be compromised as a journalist or you want to write about candidates or politics down the road, I urge you not to caucus.

I believe we all understand that working for a newspaper requires sacrifices many others in the work world don't have to make.

Lastly, for anyone planning to caucus, please inform your department head or Gary Clark in advance. We need to know.

Thanks and I hope this helps.

While it is a reasonable assumption that most Denver reporters have a political opinion (and they are perfectly entitled to it), Westword reporter Michael Roberts rightly identifies what is at stake:
Given the caucus set-up, Posters who attend one party's caucus or another will be letting others there know at least something about their ideological predilections. For an organization that prizes objectivity, that's a problem -- one with which Moore and his peers must contend whether they like it or not.
And they probably won't like it one bit.

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