as when we let our egos take center stage at news events, or when our aggressiveness as journalists become rude and unreasonable. As Steve Buttry pointed out in a comment he posted on Part 1, “We do have to know when to be aggressive as journalists. But I find I get a lot further by being polite and persuasive most times.”
Integrity is key to credibility
Fighting the good fight
- Eventually, the city manager chose to accuse my editor of mischaracterizing his administration in editorials. He then accused the newspaper of twisting facts, lying and reporting half-truths. We did no such thing. The facts we cited were well-documented and spoke for themselves. The only half-truths were the constantly changing stream of explanations coming from the city manager about the sudden state of disarray in city finances. New reasons were cited, first on a near-daily basis, then weekly, shifting each time the truth showcased the flaws in the earlier statements.
- A city manager who fired a headstrong, longtime city treasurer who kept the city’s books the old-fashioned way — in a handwritten ledger. Several months later, a bank refused to deposit a Rawlins police officer’s paycheck due to insufficient funds, which turned out to be nothing more than a procedural error — someone forgot to transfer money from the city’s interest-bearing account to its no-interest payroll checking account. That episode, however, ushered in the discovery that the city administration mistakenly had spent tens of thousands of dollars from the police pension fund. That was reflected in the handwritten ledgers.
- On an earlier occasion, this same city manager once locked me in his office for nearly two hours as he tried to interrogate me to learn the source I had cited in a story. This was one of the few times in my career that I had used an anonymous source, with my editor’s approval. The story arose from a spat between the city’s part-paid, part-volunteer fire department and the local hospital, leading to a vote by the volunteers to stop responding to ambulance calls outside the city limits in protest of some hospital policies. No one believed they actually would not respond when called. It was a protest vote at best, but it was embarrassing to the city, and the city manager was livid that I had found out about it, let alone written about it. He wanted to fire the person who had told me. When I continued to refuse and got up to leave, he began impugning my integrity, saying my use of an anonymous source was unethical. I guess he never paused to consider locking me in his office might be construed in the same manner. He never did learn the name of my source, but if I recall correctly, he did try the locked-door routine again later, on the reporter who eventually replaced me on the city beat.
- I pushed hard, if naïvely, over the course of five years to gain public access to school board-teacher negotiations. When I started, public information about those negotiations amounted to a one-paragraph statement marking the start of talks, and another at the end announcing the ratification of a contract and the contract terms. I say I pushed naïvely because Wyoming’s public meetings law did not apply to the negotiations sessions, since less than a quorum of the board participated. For five years I asked and was told no. Toward the end of that time, however, I stumbled upon a loophole I could exploit via the state’s public records law. Whatever documents the two sides exchanged in negotiations were considered unrestricted public records under the law. I filed a Freedom of Information Act request for copies. Suddenly, both sides wanted the press in to cover the actual negotiations sessions, because the sessions would provide greater context than the documents alone would. Still, in the final weeks before that nut cracked open, people I knew began relaying to me that I had angered the union and that my life might be in jeopardy if I did not back away. I never took the threats seriously, although words began to spread that I was out to get the union. I started getting phone calls from angry residents because, well, in addition to the teachers union, Rawlins was a railroad hub, and there were a lot of union guys working for Union Pacific.
The latest assault
'The truth will out'