There are many ethical dilemmas in Journalism. Pam Queen, the Managing Editor of the Dominion Post shared her thoughts on the topic. As managing editor she explained that she was trained to be aware of how these ethical issues can come up, and with that training she has avoided them.
“Though Morgantown is growing, it is still a small community and working for a community newspaper, in a community that I grew up in, I know a lot of people,” Queen began.
She explained that these people range from school teachers to county commissioners to the sheriff, all people that have either grown up in Monongalia County or have been here for a long time.
“I knew them before I worked for the newspaper,” Queen explained.
As a newspaper reporter, before she was managing editor, she often had to use these people as sources for her stories.
“I had to cultivate these sources, and others so they knew they could trust me to be honest and fair in my reporting,” Queen stated.
As she established those relationships, she also had to make sure that those people knew that if an issue that reflected on them negatively were to come to light, she’d have to ask the hard questions and report on that story, too.
“When I was assistant managing editor, The Dominion Post I learned that a local nonprofit entity that got money from the city and county for specific projects, had used that money improperly,” Queen explained.
The Dominion Post then got the proper documentation to prove this, and followed up by doing several stories until the group had to reorganize and return that money. She would not name the nonprofit, as this issue happened several years ago and the organization now has a new board and its members are working hard to turn things around.
“There was never a question of whether we’d do that story or not, but there are a few people from the old board that are still not happy that we made public their bad decisions,” Queen said.
She told me that at least one of those concerned board members confronted the publisher about it and another confronted her about it in church. Although she thought this was inappropriate, she tried to talk to him calmly and explain why they made the hard decision to write those stories.
“Part of our mission is to bring to light to how public money is spent. Because funds for this organization came from Morgantown and Monongalia County coffers, we had not only a right but an obligation to follow it and see that it was spent properly. When it wasn’t, we had no option but to let the public know what happened to its money.”
This is a great example of the ethical dilemmas that journalists, and editors may face when reporting on controversial or scandalous issues. She also gave a great example of how the close sources or subjects of a controversial article may come back to try and haunt you, even in places as private as church.