glossary: July 2007 Archives
Extreme gatekeepers are censors, preventing the publication of information that could be unflattering to powerful people (such as the owners of a news organization, or the dominant political party). For instance, in order to keep the U.S. leadership from looking weak during the build-up to World War II, reporters kept silent about the fact that FDR used a wheelchair.
In a more moderate form, gate-keepers are the editors who keep the news media from choking on stories about lost puppies, yo-yo tournaments, and celebrity sex scandals; who agree not to publish the names of certain crime victims (including children and the targets of sexual assault), even though those names may be available in public documents; and who ensure that someone covers the routine stories about zoning law changes and city council meetings, whether politicians who campaigned on certain problems actually kept them, etc.
Like other forms of journalism, an editorial uses quotes, facts, and logic to inform readers, and its content is still covered by ethical principles (see "libel" and "privacy"). Unlike most journalism, an editorial presents an opinion, which means advocating one solution over the solution offered by your political opponents.
Opinions that the editors express on the editorial page should stay there -- they should not affect the news coverage (see "objectivity"). Individual reporters shouldn't slant their stories to reflect or rebut editorial opinions.
You can [get intimate with] an elephant if you want to, but if you do you can't cover the circus. -- The (Abe) Rosenthal Rule
A conflict of interest arises when someone who is
expected to act impartially has a personal stake in an issue (emotional, financial,
etc.). In every case, a conflict of interest is a real problem -- even if nobody misbehaves.
Thus, a lawyer who has defended a client in the past cannot be hired to prosecute that same client; a surgeon should not operate on a family member, and a reporter should not cover any news story in which he or she has a personal involvement.