Knowing when to own up to a mistake
May 5, 2022
As the editor of the Shelton-Mason County Journal, with the knowledge that 2022 was a major local election year - nearly all countywide offices will be on the ballot - I made a decision at the start of the year to keep the newspaper neutral to the best of my ability.
I asked my reporters to use secondary sources whenever possible instead of those who were up for re-election, unless that person was speaking directly in their official capacity instead of a candidate. That's an important distinction because it's not always clear which is which, and so I chose to err on the side of caution.
In last week's edition of the Journal, I messed up.
The League of Women Voters of Mason County hosts regular meetings with speakers on topics important to the group. The League has been consistent in communicating with the Journal about when its meetings are - generally on Zoom, and the paper has generally covered those meetings. I usually task freelance reporter Kirk Boxleitner with them. He lives outside of the county, so his assignments are generally those that can be done remotely.
Boxleitner sent me his story last week. I edited it, as did my copy editor and the rest of my staff, and it ran last week.
That's where I messed up.
The speaker the League chose for the meeting was a candidate for public office, and not just any office, but one of the most high-profile races in the county. While the candidate is registered with the Public Disclosure Commission and has signs up around the county, it didn't click with me that the speaker was the same person.
Needless to say, the candidates' potential opponents were upset and for good reason. As editor, I have chosen not to run candidates' announcements for office, letters to the editor or other news releases until later this summer.
I made that decision for several reasons. Chiefly among those is the sheer length of the election season and the volume of races and candidates. Most weeks, I could fill the entire Journal with nothing but political news, but that would squeeze out the ability to report on other important news. Many people also don't want to read about politics for eight to 10 months.
At this point, there are technically no candidates in Mason County. Most people running this year have filed required paperwork with the state's Public Disclosure Commission and sent out news releases, but the period to file as a candidate for a race in the county or multicounty legislative districts is May 16-20.
Once the May 20 filing deadline has passed, I intend to run a complete list of all races and all candidates in the May 26 edition of the Journal.
Once that is complete, the Journal will begin running question-and-answer stories throughout the summer, giving every candidate in every race an opportunity to reach the Journal's readers before the Aug. 2 primary. We'll also open the Letters to the Editor section to letters about the races, including those who endorse or oppose individual candidates and initiatives.
Getting back to last week's oversight of running the story in the Journal, we have removed it from our website and future coverage of League of Women Voters meetings will be decided case by case.
While the ultimate oversight is the Journal's responsibility, I find it disappointing that the League did not disclose in its marketing of the event to us or the public that its speaker was a candidate for public office. It's disingenuous and calls into question the league's reasoning for choosing a speaker running for office over other countless others who are considered experts on the topic in our region.
As a member of the free press, I demand accountability and transparency from government officials. As the editor of the newspaper of record for Mason County - a news source older than the state of Washington - it is only fair that our readers hold me to the same standard.
■ Justin Johnson is the editor for the Shelton-Mason County Journal and Belfair Herald. He can be reached by email at [email protected].