Denver Post employees will be able to attend the February 5 Colorado caucus after all. Following an objection by the Denver Newspaper Guild, the broadsheet has modified its prohibition against certain staffers taking part. However, as of this writing, Guild reps have not yet been able to convince the Rocky Mountain News to lift its wholesale ban on participation by those who draw a paycheck from the tabloid.
Here's the context, as laid out in previous More Messages entries:
A January 29 blog spotlighted a memo from Post editor Greg Moore on the caucus topic. In the note, Moore told employees that while he preferred that they not get involved in such sessions, he would allow the majority to do so, with the exception of reporters or editors whose beats meant they were likely to be involved with political coverage. An e-mail to Rocky staffers from editor/publisher/president John Temple was considerably less nuanced. As noted in a January 30 More Messages offering, Temple stated that none of his crew should drop by the caucuses unless they've been assigned to write about them for the Rocky.
According to the Newspaper Guild's Tony Mulligan, he received inquiries about the Post policy shortly after Moore's initial declaration, and quickly began looking into the matter. "We found that there is a state law that appears to prevent employers from precluding employees from participating in caucuses," Mulligan says. "We made the employer aware of it, and they backed off the ban and fell back on their ethics policy."
Moore explained the change in approach in a memo sent out late on February 1, the day the Post and the Guild reached an accord:
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I don't know if you are aware, but the Guild has threatened to file a lawsuit to obtain an injunction against The Post over the guidelines I sent out about the caucuses, citing a Colorado law that gives everyone the right to participate in a caucus. This threat comes even though many folks here were allowed under the guidelines to participate in caucuses except those who cover or influence coverage and presentation of political news. I think the reasons for the guidelines were obvious in light of the questions raised by the staff. Though other papers have barred everyone from caucus participation, I thought we had found a good compromise. No one in the newsroom complained to me about the memo I sent out, by the way.
As I wrote, it is everyone's right to vote, and I surely support that.
On the other hand there are things journalists should not do to maintain the pact with our readers and those we cover. If this were a primary and not a party function, we would not even be having this discussion.
However, because "voting" in a political party's caucus is a public display of political support, not anonymous, it raises concerns identified in our posted Ethics Policy (and that of several national journalism organizations) [please review our policy at www.denverpost.com/ethics].
In light of the Guild's concerns, I want the following statement to supersede my previous memorandum.
We expect employees to abide by the ethics policy and in the case of the caucuses, the Guild and management agree to the following guideline: "It is not the newspaper's intention to attempt to control private lives, but an employee’s involvement in an organization or activity could compromise the individual’s professional credibility and the newspaper’s. Therefore, newsroom employees are required to notify a supervisor of any such potential conflicts so that appropriate assignments, reassignments or public disclosure can be made, if necessary. "
I believe this addresses potential violations of state law and Guild concerns about employee freedoms and disclosure requirements.
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Mulligan expresses satisfaction with this compromise. "What we try to do is protect the employee's right to a life outside of work. But the policy also requires and guides the employee to make sure their outside activity doesn't come into conflict with their unique role as journalists." He believes this balance was struck by asking the Post to simply "comply with the law" while reminding staff members who choose to participate in caucuses to "keep journalistic ethics in mind, like they always do."
As of 1 p.m. on February 4, no such compact is in place at the Rocky. Mulligan says that his Guild colleague, Tracy Simmons, has been in contact with representatives of the paper, but the situation "remains unresolved." If the matter is to be worked out amicably, both sides had better act quickly. The road to Super Tuesday is getting shorter by the minute. -- Michael Roberts