A Middleton fire district commissioner denied his wife broke any journalistic ethics codes after failing to disclose her relationship to the agency in her publication.
Middleton Rural Fire District Commissioner Tim O’Meara, married to Middleton Gazette publisher and staff writer Becky O’Meara, told IdahoReporter.com his wife didn’t need to disclose the connection.
“As for as my wife not disclosing the fact that we are married in her story it was not relevant to the story,” O’Meara said.
He also censured IdahoReporter.com for not knowing he’s married to the Middleton Gazette publisher.
“If you did not make the connection that we are a married couple and have been for 30 years you really should get out more, and be part of this community,” he wrote in an email.
His defense comes after IdahoReporter.com revealed the connection this week and questioned if Mrs. O’Meara's lack of disclosure represents a breach of journalistic ethics.
The Society of Professional Journalists suggests in its code of conduct that journalists avoid all conflicts of interest if possible. If they cannot be avoided, reporters should disclose conflicts, the journalism training group says.
Fred Brown, one of the society’s ethics experts, confirmed Mrs. O’Meara should have let readers know about the connection. “Writing about an entity whose officials include someone you're married to qualifies as a conflict of interest,” Brown wrote in an email to IdahoReporter.com.
The rules aren’t requirements, though, and journalists can decide to obey them or not. “There's no requirement that the news media disclose conflicts of interest, but it certainly is the ethical thing to do,” Brown said.
In the December 2014 issue of Middleton Gazette, delivered monthly to nearly all city residents, Mrs. O’Meara penned an article explaining the defeat of a temporary levy override, which voters killed at the polls in November.
While the Middleton Gazette presented the article as news, the piece’s tone revealed more than a simple retelling of events.
“With 948 more voters in this election versus 2012, we can only assume some of these
new voters and some previous ones were uninformed on the issue and didn’t bother to educate themselves and know what they were voting against,” O’Meara wrote, slamming dissenting voters.
Brown thought the article, provided to him in full by IdahoReporter.com, offered more than news in its words and lines. “As for the tone of the article, it does indeed read more like an opinion column,” Brown said, adding that the article could simply reflect small-town culture.
“But I have observed over the years that many news outlets in small markets take a more personal approach in their coverage,” he explained. “This certainly is an example of that.”
Mr. O’Meara said the news article was meant to convey a message to readers. “If you felt scolded by her story then you got the point she was trying to make,” Mr. O’Meara said.
Mrs. O’Meara did not respond to multiple emails on the issue.
The Middleton Rural Fire District’s temporary levy expired Dec. 31, 2014, dropping property taxes slightly for property owners who lives within the agency’s boundaries.
The town of just less than 6,000 residents stands fiercely divided on the proposal. The fire agency’s supporters warn families could suffer from slower response times and higher home insurance premiums if voters don’t approve the two-year override.
Critics want a clear accounting of the agency’s finances prior to giving the agency the tax hike it wants.