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Start The Presses: Ethics don't just affect stories

March 05, 2011|By Dan Evans

The red voicemail light on my phone Friday morning looked ominous.

I had arrived a bit before 8 am, having left at about 7 pm the night before. People do not normally call me so close to dawn without there being some sort of an issue. As much as I'd love to believe people will call to complement us on a pithy headline or our ability to spell words correctly, it just doesn't happen.

On the voicemail was Glendale Councilman John Drayman, who expressed his concern regarding a political ad that had run on the forum page of that morning's paper. He was concerned because our advertising department — at my direction — told him a few weeks prior that neither he, nor any other candidate, would be permitted to run an ad in that spot.


Under long-standing Times Community News policy, political ads cannot run on the forum page. Readers' letters run on this page, as do our endorsements and unsigned editorials — unsigned because they represent the official view of the paper. During the political season, the content on this page is often, well, political.

Having an ad on that page may imply to readers our endorsement of a particular candidate or view, something that would salt away our editorial independence.

But there it was Friday morning: a political ad. (Drayman was too nice to say it, but I'm guessing he was closer to “incensed” than “concerned.” But I digress.)

Why did this happen? Though deflating to conspiracy theorists, it was a simple mistake. The ad was ordered for a different page, but got moved at the last moment for space. Proofers on both the advertising and editorial sides missed the switch, and the ad ran in the wrong spot.

Tougher question: What to do now? We could allow Drayman to run his ad on the forum page. That would be fair to him, but it would also double the error — or more, as we would have to open the space to all candidates. Continuing to refuse to run the ad on the forum page would be unfair to Drayman, but fair to all other candidates, perhaps overly so to the one whose ad did run.

Based on the simple fact that it would be fairer to more people, and because I'm not willing to discard a well-reasoned policy due to a mistake, we are continuing to disallow candidates from running political ads on the forum page.

There is still a matter of making right with Drayman, however. Publicly acknowledging the error in this column is perhaps unsatisfying, but it may be the best I can do.

That was the morning dilemma.

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