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Media Transparency Vital to Building Trust

My two favorite classes that I teach at the University of Tampa are called media writing and media ethics. I do a section of each Wednesday nights so the subject matter from both is fresh in my mind as these columns approach on Thursday.

When I began the Concurrent, I imagined it a lot less like a media outlet someone would turn to for news and instead pictured it more like an extension of these classroom lectures.

I opened last night's media ethics class with a discussion on the sudden resignation of CNN President Jeff Zucker following the admission of an unreported consensual, though adulterous, relationship with a subordinate.

Sunday's column categorized candidates' lives into the professional, personal and political aspects. Mr Zucker's situation was personal but it does have ties to his professional work as well, and even though he does not have a political category in a candidate sense, he is a public figure so the consequences of his actions in the other two categories are amplified because of this.

Resignation was the only real option within his control, because the likely outcome was removal from his job to stem the tide toward what is being revealed as an increasingly toxic culture at the network. This is what my media ethics class decided last night.

The media writing class, however, learned something different. We talked about types of news stories. There are five of them: hard news, investigative, opinion, feature and review.

No true newspaper is complete without a combination of all five, though audiences with less familiarity in how media should work lament the idea that opinion is introduced into a paper at all.

While it is true that the public trust in media objectivity is much lower now than it was in the perceived golden era of journalism in the 1960s and ‘70s, this does not mean that bad journalism is happening now. Media outlets just need to be more transparent.

A big question facing this election season is how the voting public will perceive trust in the Chronicle particularly when it comes to the candidacy of longtime employee John Murphy, who is also the husband of the paper’s publisher.

The newspaper has done an incredible job building up well-earned goodwill with the community through its fantastic feature reporting even if its hard news reporting is mainly oddities in crime reports and its investigative reporting is nearly nonexistent (see the stories on the Halls River pollution from 19 that only quoted a state agency spokesperson that everything is fine.)

The possibility of media conflicts go far beyond the Chronicle however. Just Wright Citrus has accepted ads from Mike Bays, husband of candidate for state house Rebecca Bays, as well as the businesses of current elected officials such as Commissioner Jeff Kinnard’s chiropractic business, from Meek Real Estate, a firm owned by the family of the Crystal River Mayor Joe Meek and lastly from Inverness Councilman Gene Davis.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with these businesses choosing to advertise with the outlet and I’m happy they are supporting local media. The potential problems that could arise are not with the advertisers, but rather with what the outlet chooses to do.

I made the same point in the last column regarding the Chronicle saying that any potential would be the fault of the paper, not of the candidate.

It comes down to transparency to build trust - so here’s ours:

The Concurrent is the media outreach of Winsler Consulting, a Citrus-based political consulting business that has managed over a dozen local races.

In the last week, Winsler Consulting agreed to manage the Stacey Worthington and Philip Nichols campaigns who are both running for county commission albeit in different districts. These are the first candidates my business has begun to work with but they will not be the last.

The Concurrent has always been up front about being an opinion outlet though our opinion is not all of the sudden going to try to influence you who to vote for nor should you take our view as a policy position for any candidate.

Media ethics is a tricky field, and for all of Jeff Zucker’s personal shortcomings giving into adulterous temptations, his transparency and accountability should be admired.

The field of journalism is a complicated one, with several categories of reporting, but it is incumbent upon the outlet to remain true to the principles that guide each even when personal attachments or financial incentives give cause to act otherwise.


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