The November 8 Message column about an editorial attacking Governor Bill Ritter discusses Post owner/publisher Dean Singleton's role in shaping the piece's message and placing it on page one. But it doesn't detail the item's possible repercussions in the newsroom -- one of several topics concerning staffers according to Post editorial page editor Dan Haley.
"Everybody comes at it from a different angle," Haley says. "Some reporters worry that readers won't know the difference between the editorial and news articles. And reporters who have to cover the target of an editorial are worried they're going to be iced out on something."
This last point is key. If Ritter's handlers want to provide a reporter with, say, an exclusive heads-up about a new appointment or policy decision, will they give it to someone at the Post? Or will they punish the paper for the editorial by handing it to a representative of another news organization? Retribution like this is difficult if not impossible to prove, but most journalists either suspect that they've been a victim of such payback or have heard from colleagues who say they've experienced something similar.
Evan Dreyer, Ritter's spokesman (and the Post's former city editor), insists that nothing of the sort will happen in this case. He feels that straight news reporting about Ritter's executive order allowing state employees to join unions if they'd like (the move that so upset Singleton) "was fair and balanced" -- including the November 4 article that ran alongside the editorial. And because, as Dreyer puts it, "we don't take any issue with the way the coverage was portrayed on the news pages," there's no reason to treat scribes on the Ritter beat any differently.
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Will these reassuring words calm anxious Post reporters? It's too soon to tell -- but if the paper scores fewer Ritter-related scoops over the coming weeks, few journos will be surprised. -- Michael Roberts