I must admit, the Washington Examiner has been a wonderful source for blog fodder lately.
A recent edition included a story about a reporter, Ross Barkan, who just left the New York Observer. In the article, Barkan told T. Becket Adams that “a buildup of a variety of factors” prompted his decision.
Even so, Barkan’s resignation came soon after the Observer — or more accurately, its editorial board — endorsed Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. The timing prompted widespread speculation that the endorsement was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
“The endorsement definitely did not unfold like I thought it would, given that we are so closely tied to Trump,” Barkan told the Examiner.
Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is the publisher of the Observer. So it really shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that the publication backed the controversial candidate. And speaking as someone who was a newspaper reporter for more than 21 years, it really isn’t a big deal. Editorial boards endorse candidates all the time. The only time it constitutes a breach of journalistic ethics is when the board actively tries to influence the way reporters cover the political process.
Crossing The Line
What is far more disturbing is the number of published reports that Kushner and the Observer’s editor-in-chief Ken Kurson, actively participated in the preparation of a speech Trump made in March.
As Barkan so aptly put it: “The editor-in-chief should not be reviewing a speech for a presidential candidate, not matter who that presidential candidate is: Trump, Bernie, Kasich, I don’t care.”
I absolutely agree. If it is true — and at this point there doesn’t seem to be any reason to believe it isn’t — it is at best a blatant conflict of interest. At worst… Well, there’s just no polite way to put it, so I will leave it up to your imagination.
If it is true — and I only say if given Mr. Trump’s propensity for suing people and his followers’ propensity for physical violence — it is disgusting and disappointing. But again, it is hardly surprising.
In my 20-plus years working at community newspapers in three states, I had a few good editors. They worked hard. They played by the rules. They actually believed in fairness, accuracy and objectivity. (Yes, I’m serious. You can stop laughing now.) They were good mentors, good people and good friends.
I also worked for some really, really, really, bad editors. (I’m not kidding. They were horrible.) As far as I could tell, they really only cared about only two things:
- Using the newspaper (and its staff) to advance their own political philosophies and agendas.
- Getting the story first — at any and all costs.
Lest you think I am exaggerating, I assure you that isn’t the case. I could give specific examples. I could tell stories that would make you cringe. I could give blow-by-blow accounts of behavior that I witnessed, recount conversations in which I was personally targeted for standing up to these workplace bullies and so forth. But we all know that wouldn’t be very smart, so I won’t go there.
The Worst Job In America
Given everything I’ve told you — and what I’ve left unsaid — does it really come as a shock that “newspaper reporter” just ranked as the worst job in America for the third year in a row?
Reasons given for this dubious distinction in an article republished on time.com, include an average salary of $37,200 and projected job growth in negative numbers.
An average salary of roughly $37,000? That’s rich. In my 20-plus years on the job I never made more than $28,000 per year. On the other hand, an average work week was at least 50 hours. More often than not, I worked more than 60 hours per week. Obviously, I didn’t make any overtime.
All of that being stated, the job was rewarding in other ways. I won 11 Virginia Press Association awards and one New York Press Association award. More importantly, I won the respect and admiration of readers and sources.
And once upon a time, I actually loved what I did.
At the time, that made it all worthwhile.