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Wednesday, October 08, 2008


Would the LA Times Dare to Muzzle Staffers?

LA Observed posted a chilling warning to staffers at the Los Angeles Times today about some alleged managerial rhetoric that comes dangerously close to censorship — something that, were it to ever actually occur at any American newspaper, would be so hypocritical and antijournalistic as to make laughable that publication's democratic role as a watchdog.

I mean ... yeah. Absolutely it would. Wouldn't it?

Maybe this is a case of "beginner jitters," as LAO suggested. It could even be a few suits suffering too much economic stress and spouting off mindlessly, or perhaps merely a matter of a few poorly chosen words.

It's just hard to believe that Tribune Chairman Sam Zell, the man in charge, would actually condone the censorship of what his staffers say, or to whom they say it; let alone try to do so on the QT.

Though no reporters I know have called Zell anything resembling a "true friend," at the very least, so far, he seems the kind of guy whose forthcoming enough to stab people in the front (with apologies to Oscar Wilde).

As LAO has often pointed out, Zell speaks his mind in no uncertain terms, which further supports the idea that it would be out of character for him to approve of an action so cowardly as censorship.

Granted, Zell's new to newspapering, but his past talk of the First Amendment and the fourth estate have made clear his familiarity with the concepts. As LAO referenced today, a Zell e-mail to staff in January 2008 supported unfettered employee access to Internet content:
"I do not see how a member of the Fourth Estate, dedicated to protecting the First Amendment, can censor what its own employees and partners can see."

Of course the same goes for what its own employees and partners can say.

To do otherwise would undermine the whole mission of the newspaper.

No reporter could ever hope to earn the trust of a whistle-blower if that reporter abided by a company policy that likened whistle-blowing to treason.

As it says in the Code of Ethics, as defined by the Society of Professional Journalists: The media must "abide by the same high standards to which they hold others."

Despite all the cuts that the journalism industry has made, it hasn't cut that, has it?

Click to e-mail TJ Sullivan in LA
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