We acknowledge an error in judgment was made Publisher's blog, posted by Gina Channell-Allen, president of the Pleasanton Weekly, on Apr 7, 2009 at 10:42 am Gina Channell-Allen is a member (registered user) of PleasantonWeekly.com
As was noted in a Town Square forum by frequent poster “Stacey,” the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics includes being “honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information”; being “free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know”; and treating “sources and subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect,” which falls under the standard “minimize harm.”
These are the standards thousands of journalists embrace and hold dear - myself and my staff included.
An error in judgment was made this week and we failed to “minimize harm” to three individuals when they were named in an editor’s blog Monday. This is a violation of our policy as well as a breach of the journalistic ethical code to “minimize harm.”
Another standard of practice in the aforementioned Code of Ethics calls for journalists to be “accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other,” which means that when mistakes are made, we admit them and correct them as soon as possible.
Editor Jeb Bing realizes he made a “terrible mistake” by "outing" these individuals. When it came to my attention, I removed the names immediately and eventually took down the blog. Jeb made error in judgment. I will not be the one to cast the first stone because I have made errors in judgment in my career, too.
I came to the Pleasanton Weekly because I have a passion for community journalism and believe local news is important. One positive thing about community journalism is that readers take ownership of the content and publications. In other words, they are not hesitant to pose a question or call us on the carpet. While Monday morning I was a little harried by the onslaught of emails, phone calls and such, reflecting back now I’m glad so many people felt at ease to call this to my attention.
Another positive that came out of this is the editorial staff had an opportunity to review our coverage and assess our success with restricting posts on Measure G … or lack of success to be more precise. In the past, the editorial staff of the Weekly has shut down forum topics completely because of harsh comments on sensitive subjects, such as teen suicides and the DUI crash that led to the death of Laurel Williams. Other than that, aside from a few inappropriate comments here and there, the Weekly's moderating of the forum has been fairly light. We began to edit comments to say why they were censored, to help readers understand why it was being removed.
We monitor the forum as much as possible both during the workday, as well as on our personal time in the evenings and on the weekends. It is our goal to provide a place for discussion, with the idea that anyone should be able to contribute.
When things begin to get out of hand, whether it be name-calling, comments going off topic, or an excessive number of comments on a single thread, we have seen fit to set some restrictions. We had hoped it would help guide civil discussion to focus on the issues at hand.
Topics regarding Measure G have been the most popular since the debut of Town Square two years ago. As comments veered away from civil discussion, instead of shutting down topics completely, we thought we would see what might happen if we required people to register to comment. We thought if people took the extra step to register, they might think twice about what they were about to put out to all of Pleasanton. (Forums are quite new and have no best practices for us to refer to; it is ever-evolving.)
My staff and I are grateful for the feedback from our readers and posters because it helps us navigate what is becoming the future trend of newsgathering.
Posted by anonymous (yeah right), a resident of the Another Pleasanton neighborhood neighborhood, on Apr 7, 2009 at 11:48 am
Thanks for your comments. However, Jeb's "terrible mistake" deserves more than a "gosh, we all do bad things".
He REQUIRED users to register in order to comment. Your policy GUARANTEED that no personal data would be released and that you would "minimize harm" to every individual. He DELIBERATELY defied that policy and publicly posted names. Seems like the only one here who will have their harm minimuzed is Jeb.
If I were an advertiser in the Weekly I would think seriously about renewing my contract with a paper that has become so controversial. Not controversial in your coverage of subjects, that is probably a good thing. But a paper that requires registration only to post private information is a paper that can no longer be trusted. My advertising dollars would certainly move elsewhere.
Sorry to say that your support of Jeb, and his lack of personal apology, is a big mistake.
Posted by Amazed, a resident of the Vintage Hills Elementary School neighborhood, on Apr 7, 2009 at 12:06 pm
Ms. Allen's post glaringly omitted what, if any, actions will be taken in light of this incident. This wasn't a low- or mid-level staffer - it was the editor. Your credibility has been shot - what are you doing to repair it?
Posted by resident, a resident of the Another Pleasanton neighborhood neighborhood, on Apr 7, 2009 at 12:28 pm
While I commend you for your acknowledgment of the error in judgment mentioned, I feel strongly that your semi-apologetic letter does not go nearly far enough in addressing the legitimate complaints of the community. The “mistake” was a transparent attempt to silence those with an opposing opinion to the heavily implied position of your organization through intimidation. The clear and intentional implication is that anonymously voicing opinions, concerns, and information on this obviously volatile and emotional subject may have severe and irreparable consequences, as you may be forced to defend your thoughts throughout your community. And the Pleasanton Weekly has no possible way of knowing how much harm that position could potentially inflict on any individual. It is hard to view this “mistake” as anything but a successful method of minimizing the discourse while your paper continues promote passage of the parcel tax. Publishing an eloquent version of “Opps, my bad” does not restore credibility. It is just a simplistic way of responding when one is caught in an indefensible position.
Posted by Kathleen, a member of the Vintage Hills Elementary School community, on Apr 7, 2009 at 12:31 pm
As one of the people written about at length in the editorial written by Jeb, I have a couple of comments. First, I wasn’t identified after being anonymous; I’m on the blogs as me, so having my name in Jeb’s commentary was not the concern.
What was at issue was that nothing that he wrote about me was accurate, not when I left the district, not why, not when I worked in Pleasanton, not where I went after working there. And those are questions I would have answered for him had he bothered to ask. (I’m happy to respond if anyone else needs the information, but I didn’t want to add to this unnecessarily.)
Jeb’s personal stance noted regarding the Signature/Standard Pacific contract has no bearing on my position on the parcel tax, and asking my opinion as a then administrative assistant about that contract is incomprehensible.
Gina, I sincerely appreciate all that you and the Weekly staff did to correct and address this issue.
I did ask for an apology in this public forum because it is where this began. Jeb, I still expect that apology (I won’t speak for the others). That is the minimum people do when they acknowledge a mistake.
Posted by Gina Channell-Allen, president of the Pleasanton Weekly, on Apr 7, 2009 at 12:36 pm Gina Channell-Allen is a member (registered user) of PleasantonWeekly.com
The action is that we acknowledge and apologize for the error in judgment. As the president of the division, I have made an apology on behalf of Jeb and my staff. I have also personally apologized to the injured parties and have decided to be the lead on coverage of Measure G. The actual reporting will be done by Emily West, the education reporter and features editor.
Do I condone what Jeb did? No, and he is aware of that. Will I continue to support Jeb, even in light of the mistake he made? Absolutely. Just as I don't condone what was done, I don't condone punishing someone to the point of terminating his or her employment for a momentary lapse in judgment.
Posted by Paul, a resident of the Castlewood neighborhood, on Apr 7, 2009 at 1:04 pm
Yes...he made a huge (pre-meditated) mistake.
How about the following action as a start.
I assume that one of the reasons this mistake in judgment was made was that he could not restrain his strong political opinion in favor of Measure G. His liberal opinions were VERY APPARENT about this subject and MANY others...including a STRONG BIAS toward Obama during the presidential election.
As one way he could redeem himself in my eyes, is that he could personally write a series of articles on BIAS in the MEDIA. One of the resources I recommend that he use is the "Media Research Center 'dot' org" ( w w w . m r c . o r g ) which has a mission to communicate to those unaware how the mainstream media influences audiences toward democrats. (If he finds sources that reveal bias the opposite direction, I welcome this information as well.)
Posted by Enough, a resident of the Foothill Knolls neighborhood, on Apr 7, 2009 at 1:16 pm
Oh my - enough. It has been dealt with. I am disappointed that the Weekly will now head back to "light" monitoring. The Pleasanton Weekly has a responsibility to maintain civility in the forum that bears its name. Watch how quickly the lack of civility will return now that all restrictions on Measure G are gone.
Posted by Amazed, a resident of the Vintage Hills Elementary School neighborhood, on Apr 7, 2009 at 1:20 pm
Ms. Allen - can you enlighten us as to why this thread is being deliberately omitted from the "top posts" that appear on the PW home page? If this isn't an example of continuing to tinker with the news, I don't know what is. You really should be ashamed.
Posted by anonymous (yeah right), a resident of the Another Pleasanton neighborhood neighborhood, on Apr 7, 2009 at 1:44 pm
You have done the right thing, to a point, as you are where the buck stops. Jeb still owes the public a personal apology for what he did, many of us will not be satisfied with less.
When I was young and foolish I did something equally dumb. In a public forum. My mother forced me to acknowledge that act and offer a sincere apology in the same public forum. She could well have apologized on my behalf as I was only about 5 years old at the time. Even then she believed that allowing me to hide behind her skirts would teach me nothing about life. You must have some mighty big skirts to be willing to allow Jeb the protection of not being directly accountable for his actions.
Please rethink this. To paraphrase another saying "It ain't over til the bad man apologizes".
Posted by ? !!!, a resident of the Another Pleasanton neighborhood neighborhood, on Apr 7, 2009 at 1:44 pm
Anonymous cause I can,
Sure… Brent Bozell is the model of journalist integrity that everyone should strive for.
Jeb made an error in judgment. I for one don’t have a problem with making people register to post a comment. This seems to be standard practice at other publications. At the Wall Street Journal you need to be a member to post. I don’t hear anyone from the right side of the isle complaining about the WSJ and its editorial staff.
Posted by Parent of Two, a resident of the Val Vista neighborhood, on Apr 7, 2009 at 1:50 pm Parent of Two is a member (registered user) of PleasantonWeekly.com
This isn't a left-wing or right-wing issue. And it's disingenuous of both sides to imply that it is.
Jeb screwed up. His boss has apologized on his behalf after his half-hearted apology exacerbated the firestorm. This is a situation where ONE guy (granted, he's the "editor" but he's still one guy) broke company policy. We have to take Gina's word for it that the situation has been addressed with Jeb. Calling for a pound of flesh doesn't help either side.
Posted by foothill parent, a resident of the Del Prado neighborhood, on Apr 7, 2009 at 2:24 pm
Gina, I would appreciate if you added to your post that one of the reasons that Jeb will not be writing about Measure G is his wife works for the school district and it would be preceived that his family has a conflict of interest in a school tax measure. That was how this whole incident occured with Jeb responding about his wife working at Foothill High, and then he tried to take down some members of the community.
Posted by Jack, a resident of the Downtown neighborhood, on Apr 7, 2009 at 2:49 pm
I agree 100% with Stacey! (That didn't exactly roll off the fingertips)
A couple points to add: There is a horrible double standard at play in this medium: Jeb, Gina, and others sign their real names to their work, and many times even post a picture of themselves. But that's not enough! Now we feel we have the right to know where Jeb's wife works! And who demands this information? People who aren't even asked to give their names...
If we all elected Jeb to public office, we might be right in expecting some level of disclosure. Just as if tax dollars funded the Weekly we might be right in demanding some level of even-handed reporting. Jeb is a private citizen, and the Weekly is a private enterprise.
No post would be complete without a Constitutional reference: What happened yesterday might not have been right, but it was well within their rights...
Posted by Jane, a member of the Amador Valley High School community, on Apr 7, 2009 at 3:20 pm
Gina - this is what your paper has created, a community forum for residents to take shots at and show so little respect for each other, whether Measure G, Stoneridge Road, the Mayoral Race, Sound System at Amador... Sit back and watch. The shots will keep on coming. The accusations will keep on coming. I feel sorry that Jeb has to deal with all of this. I am glad, however, that staff at the Weekly can now feel, because of your blog, what many members of the community have felt. This blog has become a blight for our city - a poor reflection of news, a poor reflection of citizens, just a poor reflection. If you put it out there with the Pleasanton Weekly name on it, you have an obligation to monitor to insure, at least a little, accuracy. I for one would like to see the Weekly take more responsibility for content and accountability - not just with staff. If you truly feel that your blog "helps us navigate what is becoming the future trend of newsgathering," you must get serious about news and demand that your reporters, blog writers, be accurate and accountable. We will live in a safe community where people care for and support each other. Reading this blog, you would never know that. If Jeb did make an error, it is insulting for someone to write "JB should take on assignments that are less controversial like the Little League games, soccer mom accidents, dog poo problem in Ptown." Yes, apologies are in order - we should all apologize to each other for treating each other with so little regard and respect - the Pleasanton Weekly bears much of the responsibility. My suggestion - rethink the whole concept - become a newspaper again.
Posted by Parent of Two, a resident of the Val Vista neighborhood, on Apr 7, 2009 at 3:40 pm Parent of Two is a member (registered user) of PleasantonWeekly.com
Wow, Jack, nothing like having a low bar for journalists... I guess honesty and objectivity aren't necessary for newspapers in your world. This has NOTHING to do with the First Amendment and everything to do with journalistic integrity and company policy.
Posted by Doo Doo, a resident of the Valley Trails neighborhood, on Apr 7, 2009 at 3:58 pm
Gina, Thank You. I support you and the rest of the Pleasanton Weekly staff.
And try to keep in mind that some people are just having fun with the situation. When they are calling for Jeb's job, they are just expressing how angry they are. Others are calling for his job just to see if they can do it. Either way, you and Emily just have to keep things at the Weekly rolling. Let the angry mob shake thier fists for awhile, and then they'll cool down. All you can do is try to get back to normal operations. Good Luck.
Posted by Jennifer, a resident of the Walnut Hills neighborhood, on Apr 7, 2009 at 4:39 pm
I wholeheartedly agree with what Jane wrote above. The outrage that people displayed when they felt their voices were being "censored", to me, showed that many of the people who post here feel entitled to do so. Actually, PW owns this blog and PW can set the rules for public discourse on this site from here on out. I would encourage you to rethink your rules and find a way to limit the discussion to people who have a verifiable REAL identity (the problem with registering is that you can register and continue to be anonymous with a fake name).
I must admit, it's interesting to read this blog and see the conflict (kind of reminds me of reality TV in our own town), but the reality is that is has had a very large detrimental, divisive effect on our community. Yes, there would've been disagreement about the parcel tax no matter what. The of lack of respect shown by people on BOTH sides on this site - made possible by the cover of anonymity - has made the conflict exponentially worse. Today it's the parcel tax, tomorrow it'll be something else.
I know there are people who think that anonymity encourages people to post without having to worry about retribution from others in the community. I think there is truth to that. I think less people WILL speak their mind on this site if they have to take public ownership of their beliefs. However, I see that as a good thing in a community of character. Let's see each other as human beings instead of names we can "flame" and have a civil conversation.
If this site sets up a system that encourages productive dialogue and discourages "trolls", we'd all be better off.
Thanks for reading!
BTW, I know someone's going to chime in about how they need anonymity to keep the teachers from persecuting their kindergartner. I don't buy it...
Posted by Mike, a resident of the Highland Oaks neighborhood, on Apr 7, 2009 at 5:46 pm
If Mr. Bing were a fresh young college graduate working his first job, his violation might serve as a capital lesson for him. As an experienced individual, however, his violation should not be overlooked or go unpunished. I have lost my respect for the weekly.
Posted by Claudette McDermott, a resident of the Del Prado neighborhood, on Apr 7, 2009 at 6:47 pm Claudette McDermott is a member (registered user) of PleasantonWeekly.com
I agree with Jennifer that if everyone were made to own their writings here, the quality of the conversations would rise and there would be less offensiveness tossed in the mix. I don't like the idea of anonymity as it brings on the opportunity for bashing.
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger, a resident of the Vintage Hills Elementary School neighborhood, on Apr 8, 2009 at 6:49 am
The problem I have with registering (and I am registered, but now it's just one less step to use my name) is you still don't have to sign your real name, or all of your name, or use your real name. So registering isn't accomplishing much. You can use an alias, a CYA email address, the address from a movie, and you still are registered.
Here's a whole link on anonymity quotes. Web Link My favorite is the first noting it goes back to the bible.
I think the question to be asked is whether you can get people who are expressing their opinions to do so in a civil way. As that is a self policing function, it isn't something the PW can control. But those of us who think someone's comments are out of line can call them on it or not engage them further by ignoring them.
It reminds me of Speakers' Corner in London. People take up a spot and start drawing people in with their topic. Most of them are shouting matches, a few of the people are probably certifiable, but people listen, speak if they have a mind to, and/or walk away. You can take photos and probably could use them for identifying everyone, but it doesn't stop the free flow of the conversation. And for me that is what counts.
As to anonymity and credibility, if something said anonymously rings true or is fact, it's easy to verify. Adding a name doesn't change that reality. It's nicer, but it isn't necessary.
So that's my opinion. People will agree or disagree based on what I said, I think, and not because I've put my name to it.
Posted by mary, a resident of the Del Prado neighborhood, on Apr 8, 2009 at 9:35 am
I very much appreciate your attention to this serious issue. Though I don't think Jeb needs to lose his job over it I still have one very obvious question - that many seem to have.
Why is it that Jeb, himself, is unable to see the need for an appropriate and personal apology? My best guess is that he cannot tender one from his gut, that he simply does not 'feel' it. Is this the reason you've had to apologize for him?
I respect your 'take charge' position and actions. I respect all that you have done in this regard. However, it seems imperative that Jeb show CHARACTER by owning up to his poor behavior and judgement and offer a professional and sincere apology.
For those of you who want this to be done...it will be done when Jeb shows a bit of remorse and takes responsibility for his actions. He has acted no differently than a political machine who wields manipulative power and might over people.
Posted by Jade, a resident of the Another Pleasanton neighborhood neighborhood, on Apr 10, 2009 at 9:17 pm
I think more than an apology is warranted. We should have an explanation, Jeb should describe his thinking and how he felt what he was doing was justified and appropriate. If his thinking has now changed, he should tell us why and how it has changed. When a person in power has betrayed his position, he needs to do more than apologize. He has to restore trust with an explanation as to why he acted the way he did and why he would not act the same way again.