Newspaper has abused its position

Question: The S-R has abused its position with respect to RPS/Citizens Realty property interests coverage since well before the dates covered in your recent series. For that reason, if the paper wants to hasten the process of encouraging renewed confidence in its reporting, I think it should take a broader look at the nature of its past reporting and the nature of its continuing conflict. The conflict isn't just with RPS, but with all other economic interests of the publisher. No matter how good a human being the publisher is, this is a problem that will arise again, and will prevent the paper from being as respected as it should be by both readers and potential employees.

So, it's good that you've created this "Ask the Editors" vehicle, but at some point I belive you need to overtly address how you've dealt with conflicts in the past, and how you will deal with them in the future. In thinking that through, maybe it's better to confess that conflicts will occur, and that the reporting may be slanted, and admit it, unless there's going to be some strong safeguard for reporters who may write articles damaging to the publisher's other interests. --Bob Douthitt, Spokane

Answer: As we said in our recent RPS series, "Paying to Park," we'll eventually bring in an independent ethicist to review our journalistic performance re: River Park Square. We'll leave it to the reviewer to establish the appropriate time frame. As to the larger question: The owners of this newspaper are involved in a number of enterprises. Many of those enterprises work to the benefit of the community -- not to mention the Cowles family's incredibly generous and ongoing charitable work acknowledged by even their harshest critics. So, unless the family decides to divest itself of the newspaper or keep the newspaper and divest itself of other interests, the newspaper staff will have to cope with conflict-of-interest issues, real and perceived.

As we stated in the RPS series, the news staff now operates independently, applying the same coverage standards to the owners as to other businesses in town. There is no prior review of stories. Reporters are answerable to the editor, not the publisher. But our harshest critics will never be staisfied with our policies and procedures. And believers of the most outrageous conspiracy theories or bizarre financial manipulations will always believe we're covering up. For those folks, I will never provide a satisfactory explanation. -- Steve Smith, editor

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