The Message

Saint John

The silence has everything to do with the removal or altering of the policy's most divisive proclamations. In the version of the directive linked to the paper's home page, www.denverpost.com, the section about public protest has been changed from a decree to a suggestion: "Employees should take care in considering whether to attend any rally, march or demonstration, especially those events that are overtly political." On top of that, there's no longer any mention of political buttons, signs or bumper stickers, and the threat of firing that once punctuated the plan has been replaced by much more diplomatic verbiage. "The Guild may grieve any alleged arbitrary, capricious or discriminatory application of this policy," it states. "Any discipline or disputes arising out of the application of this policy that concerns Guild-covered employees shall be subject to the grievance procedures under the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the Denver Post and the Denver Newspaper Guild."

On the surface, the policy seems significantly diluted, but Post editor Greg Moore doesn't see it that way: "I'm very happy with the policy," he says. "It's a very strong policy." Even so, he concedes that "the final policy came as the result of constructive negotiations with members of the Guild, and in some places it was toned down for some legitimate reasons, some contract reasons. They had some good suggestions, and it was appropriate for them to participate, because for the policy to be effective, it's the responsibility of everyone."

To Mulligan, the new language delineates "the separation between work and personal life, and in no way diminishes the rights of the employees and the obligation of the employer to comply with the contract." As for the last paragraph, he doesn't believe it renders the blueprint toothless. "I think the intent of the policy is still intact," he says.

Christopher Smith

Whatever the case, Mulligan reveals that no Post staffers have complained to the Guild about the ethics policy being used against them. Furthermore, the paper treated at least one clear violation of the policy's principles with kid gloves.

In a March 2 profile of singer Sarah Brightman, writer Elana Ashanti Jefferson used quotes from a Q&A provided by a public-relations outfit without the proper attribution. Such a move is identified as a major sin in the policy, which notes that "attribution is crucial.... Information, quotes and passages from another publication must be attributed. All writing and reporting in the Denver Post must be original or credited to the proper source."

Moore spoke in even stronger terms last November, around the time that longtime rock writer G. Brown resigned in the face of plagiarism charges. He called plagiarism "one of the cardinal sins of journalism. Even at newspapers that believe in second chances, when you have blatant lifting of material, you just have to impose the severest penalty." Yet Jefferson remains at the Post, and Moore feels that's as it should be.

"I don't talk about disciplinary actions, but we dealt with Elana on that -- and there's a big difference between what she did and plagiarism," he says. "She took information that was given to her to use and didn't attribute it properly, which is different from lifting quotes from someone, actually stealing someone's work." He adds, "I'm not trying to be a killer or anything like that. Everything that happens has to be looked at in its own light."

No wonder the ethics policy isn't frightening anymore.

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