I submitted my resignation to the Urban League today. After contemplating the issue for the past several days and talking it over with some colleagues, I decided that was the best course of action.
I think an editor can, and perhaps should, serve on community boards. I will continue on the Juvenile Court Assistance Board, at least for the time being. In this case, however, I thought there was potential for a real, as well as perceived, conflict of interest.
Reporting by Hayes Hickman and Cynthia Yeldell of the News Sentinel has, I believe, been a factor in the decision to change the administration of the Empowerment Zone loan pool. http://www.knoxnews.com/kns/local_news/article/0,1406,KNS_347_5300638,00.html I trust that the Urban League will handle this job well. But it will be incumbent upon the News Sentinel to follow through on its watchdog coverage of the program, and I could have found myself wearing two hats that didn’t match.
By the way, I remembered another non-profit organization of which I am a board member. It slipped my mind because it is so close to my heart. I’m on the board of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, http://www.tcog.info/ and the News Sentinel is a charter member of the organization. I’m confident there will be no conflict of interest between TCOG’s “shine the light” mission and this editor’s.
Newspapers often are criticized for printing only bad news. That’s far from true, as a glance through any day’s paper will show. But bad news does stick in the mind, and it does get read.
Witness our recent stories about the carjacking and murders. Here’s a rundown of our 10 most-read stories on KnoxNews.com last week, seven of which were related to the case:
1. Bloggers react to double-murder. Jan. 14.
2. Details of double slaying emerge. Jan. 13. Satterfield/Jacobs
3. iPhone pairing of icons study in contrast. Jan. 14. AP.
4. Carjacking details revealed. Jan. 13. Satterfield.
5. Marshal: Man shot, burned; woman raped. Jan. 11. Lakin/Jacobs.
6. Grand jury considers double slaying case; blame game begins. Jan. 17. Satterfield/Jacobs.
7. Tribute to Channon Christian on YouTube. Jan. 16.
8. Missing woman found dead in N. Knox house. Jan. 10. Jacobs.
9. A Civil War site discovered? Jan. 17. Brown.
10. Barricaded intruder kills girl, self. Jan. 16. AP.
We came under criticism for that top story, by the way, which was just a list of links cobbled together by our Online Department because of the interest the story was generating and the activity in the Blogosphere. http://www.knoxnews.com/kns/local_news/article/0,1406,KNS_347_5279858,00.html Initially there was a link to a site that we later determined to be overtly racist. We took that link down. We left up other links up, though, that raised the issue of race and, arguably, reflected prejudice.
Was that wrong? Perhaps, but it did shed light on undercurrents that don’t seem to run too deep in our society and can surface abruptly when horrible incidents such as this occur.
Brian Hornback, GOP county chairman, accuses me of conflicts of interest on a recent post on his blog headlined “Jack ‘Conflicted’ McElroy.” http://brianhornback.blogspot.com/2007/01/jack-conflicted-mcelroy-of-knox-county.html
“Why would I refer to Jack McElroy, the E.W. Scripps Editor of the daily newspaper aka Knoxville News Sentinel? Because he serves on all kinds of boards of non-profits but of course he has no conflict. Yeah Right. Jack needs to do what the E.W. Scripps publisher (Bruce Hartmann) did with his board position at South College. Resign. Resign from everyone and then you will not have a conflict.”
That may not be a bad idea.
To clarify, I serve on two boards, the only two I’ve served on in five years in Knoxville.
One is the Juvenile Court Assistance Board. I went through the Leadership Knoxville training, and the program requries a community-service project. To build support for juvenile court, my team created JCAB and it has continued in its mission. I resigned from the board last year during the debate over who should be the next Juvenile Court judge. I was asked by members of the board to return, and I agreed to do so for a one-year term.
The second is the Urban League board. I joined two years ago because I thought it would be a good way to make a contribution to the community. Last week, I contacted the director after learning that the Urban League was considering taking over the troubled empowerment zone loan program. I told her I was concerned about a conflict of interest emerging as the News Sentinel continued to cover the program. We agreed to talk again this week about whether or not I would be resigning.
In a broad sense, I am “conflicted” about whether a newspaper editor should ever serve on any non-profit board. I would like to support worthy organizations, but I have now run afoul of accusations of conflict of interest both times I have joined a board. Perhaps Brian is right and I should not participate on any.
I’d be interested to know what people think.
The buzz in the newsroom today was over news that the E.W. Scripps Co., which owns the News Sentinel, has been evaluating alternatives for its newspapers. The company’s stock jumped a bit, and speculation in the newsroom turned toward the possibility of newspapers being sold.
Scripps is a diversified media company. Its category-television division — Knoxville-based Scripps Networks — has seen fantastic growth over the past decade. The newspaper division is among the leaders in that industry group, but it’s an industry that has been troubled in recent years.
Clearly, as wise managers, Scripps executives should be examining all alternatives to bringing value to stockholders. But Scripps is still controlled by the Scripps family trust, which includes a newspaper-ownership requirement. Also, the comments made by the company’s CFO to analysts don’t specifically speak to the possibility of an outright sale. The remarks were more directed at the possibility of splitting the company into newspaper and non-newspaper components. http://poynter.org/forum/view_post.asp?id=12201
It’s a reminder, though, that we are in a rapidly changing business, and 2007 promises more realization of that famous Chinese blessing/curse: “May you live in interesting times.”
There’s no question this is a tough time for the newspaper business. Just ask the folks at the Philadelphia Inquirer, where this week 68 newsroom employees were being laid off. http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/business/16370474.htm
But perhaps the news is not all grim for traditional media. A recent survey by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Strategic Public Relations Center and Ketchum found that consumers still depend heavily on newspapers and TV news for information, with nearly 70 percent relying on their local newspapers.
The survey seems to confirm what I’ve long observed. People today are swimming in a sea of media. Newspapers aren’t going away, they’re just not alone anymore in an increasingly crowded ocean.
The survey asked about credibility, too, and the news was nothing to boast about. Respondents gave local papers a credibility rating of just 7.2 out of 10. True, that beat the rating for blogs: 5.2. But the credibility winner was local TV news, with a score of 7.4. So we’ve still got plenty to work on.
A press release telling more about the survey is attached as an extended entry..
I got back from vacation today and was greeted with a pleasant e-mail from Jack Lail, our online yoda. KnoxNews.com page views were up 22 percent in 2006, and unique visitors to the Web site were up 40 percent.
On average, page views increased by nearly 1.3 million a month.
Our best month? October, with help from the Vols and a Sweet 15 birthday party.
Lail messaged me with another interesting tidbit only tangentially related to the newspaper business. Can a kid fit inside a newspaper vending box? Apparently so. http://www.stupidvideos.com/video/stunts/I_fit_in_a_newspaper_stand/