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TRANSPARENCY PUSH: CoMo newspapers (finally) start tackling conflicts of interest

Kennedy "embarrassed" by oversight; Tribune, Missourian gradually emphasizing better disclosure
 
COLUMBIA, 6/6/12 (Beat Byte) -- Public controversy about conflicts of interest surrounding the City of Columbia's Blight Decree has pushed both local newspapers to enforce transparency standards long allowed to lapse.

"Regional Economic Development Inc., a public-private partnership that receives some funding from the Tribune," is a new disclaimer Columbia Daily Tribune reporters are adding to stories about REDI and the Blight Decree. "Disclaimer: I have been on the REDI board for about eight years, including a stint as chairman," wrote Tribune columnist Jeff McClellan May 26.
 
Formerly, neither Trib stories nor editorials said anything about the Trib's role as REDI member and investor. Tribune reporters and publisher emeritus Hank Waters have yet to disclose that Waters' wife, Tribune publisher Vicki Russell, is vice chairman of REDI's board of directors. The Waters family has a long history of similar non-disclosures.

A pro-blight/EEZ column by Bob Black just three weeks ago brought howls of protest over Black's failure to disclose that he had chaired REDI, sat on its board, and presently chairs its EEZ subcommittee.
 
"I find 'interesting' that the original identification of the author of this piece did not disclose his involvement in this issue," wrote reader Carol Greenspan, a member of CiViC which opposes the Blight Decree. "Of course, some one involved can write an op-ed supporting their position, but they certainly should disclose their involvement."
 
This publication protested Missourian columnist George Kennedy's failure to disclose that he was a Food Bank board member in editorials praising Food Bank director Peggy Kirkpatrick's public support for blight/EEZ.

"After your comments earlier this week, we included a disclosure about George Kennedy's role on the Food Bank board in his May 10 column," wrote Missourian opinion editor Elizabeth Conner. "That was an oversight on our part, and we do want to be as transparent as possible about our columnists' and editors' involvement in the community."
 
Kennedy sent Conner a note about the earlier transparency lapses. "I'm embarrassed, as I should be. Except for the piece in September, which Mike [Martin] links to, I've intended to stay away from the Food Bank. My failure to repeat the disclosure in the more recent column was a lapse for which I have no excuse."
 
[Errata: An earlier Heart Beat story mis-identified Kennedy as a Missourian editor. He is a Missourian columnist, former managing editor, and J-school professor emeritus. We regret the error.]

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