The first rule of journalism has always been fairness, giving both sides an opportunity to be heard in a single story. However, for some reason, we often see fewer reporters committing to being objective in their work. A perfect example of the decline of this practice comes from Mike Patrick, managing editor of the Coeur d’Alene Press.
Patrick recently wrote an article about Coeur d’ Alene school board chair Jennifer Brumbley not seeking re-election. Patrick noted that Brumley’s decisions for withdrawing from the race stemmed from fiscal oversight, curricular decisions, and politics.
Patrick wrote that Brumley strongly supports three of the four candidates but said she wouldn’t endorse Lesli Bjerke because she is affiliated with the Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF) and John Birch Society (JBS). Patrick never explains why these affiliations should raise a concern for voters. Both groups support limited government. Why is that a problem? The story presents no clues.
Patrick did not mention if he asked for comments from Bjerke, IFF, or JBS. We know that no one called us to ask if Bjerke is actually “affiliated” with IFF or why someone should be concerned about it. One can only come to a conclusion that Patrick either failed to do his job correctly or decided to follow the trend that fairness in journalism no longer holds any importance.
Moreover, Patrick doesn’t even have the decency to write a sentence or two of Bjerke’s career accomplishments to keep his article somewhat neutral. Patrick could easily have informed his readers that Bjerke is a former elementary school teacher and has a Master’s degree in education administration. She also served two terms as a school site member for North Park Elementary in Valencia, California. Bjerke has also been a part of numerous committees, work groups and has participated in many volunteer activities.
If Patrick had just written half of these career benchmarks, maybe his readers would have a different perspective of Bjerke — instead of a one-sided belief by someone who already has a biased opinion about her.
A single-source story has long been considered a no-no in journalism, and that’s especially true if the story seeks to hold another person or organization in a bad light. In this case, the level of bias presented by the Coeur d’Alene Press’ managing editor speaks volumes about the newspaper’s regard for fairness.