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Deja Vu - We acknowledge an error in judgment was made

Original post made by Deja vu on May 6, 2011

This post from the Measure G campaign in 2009 is worth repeating:

We acknowledge an error in judgment was made
Publisher's blog, posted by Gina Channell-Allen, president of the Pleasanton Weekly, on Apr 7, 2009 at 10:42 am
Gina Channell-Allen is a member (registered user) of PleasantonWeekly.com


As was noted in a Town Square forum by frequent poster "Stacey," the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics includes being "honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information"; being "free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know"; and treating "sources and subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect," which falls under the standard "minimize harm."




These are the standards thousands of journalists embrace and hold dear - myself and my staff included.




An error in judgment was made this week and we failed to "minimize harm" to three individuals when they were named in an editor's blog Monday. This is a violation of our policy as well as a breach of the journalistic ethical code to "minimize harm."




Another standard of practice in the aforementioned Code of Ethics calls for journalists to be "accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other," which means that when mistakes are made, we admit them and correct them as soon as possible.




Editor Jeb Bing realizes he made a "terrible mistake" by "outing" these individuals. When it came to my attention, I removed the names immediately and eventually took down the blog. Jeb made error in judgment. I will not be the one to cast the first stone because I have made errors in judgment in my career, too.




I came to the Pleasanton Weekly because I have a passion for community journalism and believe local news is important. One positive thing about community journalism is that readers take ownership of the content and publications. In other words, they are not hesitant to pose a question or call us on the carpet. While Monday morning I was a little harried by the onslaught of emails, phone calls and such, reflecting back now I'm glad so many people felt at ease to call this to my attention.




Another positive that came out of this is the editorial staff had an opportunity to review our coverage and assess our success with restricting posts on Measure G or lack of success to be more precise. In the past, the editorial staff of the Weekly has shut down forum topics completely because of harsh comments on sensitive subjects, such as teen suicides and the DUI crash that led to the death of Laurel Williams. Other than that, aside from a few inappropriate comments here and there, the Weekly's moderating of the forum has been fairly light. We began to edit comments to say why they were censored, to help readers understand why it was being removed.




We monitor the forum as much as possible both during the workday, as well as on our personal time in the evenings and on the weekends. It is our goal to provide a place for discussion, with the idea that anyone should be able to contribute.




When things begin to get out of hand, whether it be name-calling, comments going off topic, or an excessive number of comments on a single thread, we have seen fit to set some restrictions. We had hoped it would help guide civil discussion to focus on the issues at hand.




Topics regarding Measure G have been the most popular since the debut of Town Square two years ago. As comments veered away from civil discussion, instead of shutting down topics completely, we thought we would see what might happen if we required people to register to comment. We thought if people took the extra step to register, they might think twice about what they were about to put out to all of Pleasanton. (Forums are quite new and have no best practices for us to refer to; it is ever-evolving.)




Needless to say, the experiment was not successful. Therefore, we will not restrict the threads to registered users going forward, with the understanding that commentors may be edited and must adhere to our terms of use.




My staff and I are grateful for the feedback from our readers and posters because it helps us navigate what is becoming the future trend of newsgathering.




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Comments
Posted by anonymous (yeah right), a resident of the Another Pleasanton neighborhood neighborhood, on Apr 7, 2009 at 11:48 am

Ms. Channell-Allen,


Thanks for your comments. However, Jeb's "terrible mistake" deserves more than a "gosh, we all do bad things".


He REQUIRED users to register in order to comment. Your policy GUARANTEED that no personal data would be released and that you would "minimize harm" to every individual. He DELIBERATELY defied that policy and publicly posted names. Seems like the only one here who will have their harm minimuzed is Jeb.


If I were an advertiser in the Weekly I would think seriously about renewing my contract with a paper that has become so controversial. Not controversial in your coverage of subjects, that is probably a good thing. But a paper that requires registration only to post private information is a paper that can no longer be trusted. My advertising dollars would certainly move elsewhere.


Sorry to say that your support of Jeb, and his lack of personal apology, is a big mistake.



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Posted by Amazed, a resident of the Vintage Hills Elementary School neighborhood, on Apr 7, 2009 at 12:06 pm

Ms. Allen's post glaringly omitted what, if any, actions will be taken in light of this incident. This wasn't a low- or mid-level staffer - it was the editor. Your credibility has been shot - what are you doing to repair it?

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Posted by resident, a resident of the Another Pleasanton neighborhood neighborhood, on Apr 7, 2009 at 12:28 pm

Ms. Channell-Allen,




While I commend you for your acknowledgment of the error in judgment mentioned, I feel strongly that your semi-apologetic letter does not go nearly far enough in addressing the legitimate complaints of the community. The "mistake" was a transparent attempt to silence those with an opposing opinion to the heavily implied position of your organization through intimidation. The clear and intentional implication is that anonymously voicing opinions, concerns, and information on this obviously volatile and emotional subject may have severe and irreparable consequences, as you may be forced to defend your thoughts throughout your community. And the Pleasanton Weekly has no possible way of knowing how much harm that position could potentially inflict on any individual. It is hard to view this "mistake" as anything but a successful method of minimizing the discourse while your paper continues promote passage of the parcel tax. Publishing an eloquent version of "Opps, my bad" does not restore credibility. It is just a simplistic way of responding when one is caught in an indefensible position.

Comments (2)

Posted by money madness, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 7, 2011 at 9:53 am

Who is Cholo?


Posted by resident, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 11, 2011 at 5:10 pm

The failed experiment continues. The editor won't put his own name on his latest angry diatribe, but you have to log in to comment. And we know where that leads.


If you were a member and logged in you could track comments from this story.

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