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Thread: Ethical delimma involving newspaper

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Ethical delimma involving newspaper

    The Village Manager asked me yesterday to provide a tutorial for a local reporter who doesn't understand zoning. When I called the reporter to set up a meeting, she told me that she doesn't really need a tutorial on zoning. She is covering a neighboring community who is in the process of updating their zoning ordinance and wants me to help her understand what the zoning amendments "really mean". The reporter says that she thinks there’s something afoot with the zoning amendments and doesn’t believe the local government line.

    I’m not sure how to handle the request. I agreed to meet with the reporter, but I don’t want to arm chair quarterback a zoning ordinance in a neighoring community. I know they’re going through some serious growing pains.

    The local newspaper has turned into a bit of a yellow-journalism rag due to staff cutbacks - helping out the journalist may help my village and my department receive better coverage, but I don't want to cause another planning department pain!

    What would you do?

  2. #2
    maudit anglais
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    My reaction would be to say that you are happy to assist with any questions pertaining to your jurisdiction but that you can't comment on another municipality's work.

    Definitely discuss it with your manager!

  3. #3
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    wow - be careful - don't make any opinions known because the paper will run with that and quote that you said thus and so - even if it's a good idea as well as a bad idea in your opinion - I would react to her questions - you may want to ask a person from the neighboring community to the meeting, their planner or if they have no staff, a member of the board that wrote it

    for me, I would not have agreed to participate in such an interview and I would recommend you refrain in the future

  4. #4
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
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    Politely decline participating in this....
    "Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how." -- Edward T. McMahon, The Conservation Fund

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    decline and be sure to discuss why your chose to decline with your village manager

  6. #6
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Run. Be evasive. You cannot respond to the intent of an amendment from another community. Text amendments can be for a specific project, I have had to draft a few in my day. I have gotten along great with most reporters...but I made sure there was a rapport before being too open.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    It sounds like you already said yes, so I'd handle it carefully. I'd take a look at what that community is proposing and ask her to clarify her objections. Maybe there's some kind of confusion here - I've found that journalists will screw up the specifics of these kinds of things with alarming regularity. If the journalist thinks there is some kind of ulterior motive or conspiracy afoot with the zoning amendments, I'd refuse to comment on it.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    In this situation: 1) I would only answer questions the reporter had, and 2) talk to the planner in the other jurisdiction warning him/her that there was incoming fire on the way.
    "I am very good at reading women, but I get into trouble for using the Braille method."

    ~ Otterpop ~

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Veloise's avatar
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    I'd send the reporter a bunch of Wikipedia and other "safe" links, and call it a day.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Tell the reporter that the paper needs to pony up some cash an hire a zoning expert to critique it. That's not your responsibility (especially free of charge).

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Fat Cat's avatar
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    Fat Cat

    Since the VM "asked" you to do this, I would first discuss this with the VM, bringing up all of the points that have been previously mentioned. Keep in mind that in addition to the reporter there will be an editor who may or may not "change" the story.
    Best of luck, this is not easy

  12. #12
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by southsideamy View post
    The reporter says that she thinks there’s something afoot with the zoning amendments and doesn’t believe the local government line.
    Completely innapropriate to be sharing this with you. Chances are this reporter cannot be trusted, so you definitely decline to help.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Dashboard's avatar
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    Originally posted by southsideamy
    The Village Manager asked me yesterday to provide a tutorial for a local reporter who doesn't understand zoning. When I called the reporter to set up a meeting, she told me that she doesn't really need a tutorial on zoning.
    There's your 'out' right in your opening statement. Your Village Manager asked you to provide the reporter with a tutorial on zoning. The reporter said she doesn't need a tutorial on zoning. Her wanting you to validate a hunch she has about the neighboring jurisdiction's zoning amendment is beyond the scope of what you were asked to do.

    I would agree with the other posters that you should explain the situation to the Village Manager along with the many reasons it would be a bad idea to get tangled up with this situation. I would also refer her to the planner in the community that is actually amending the ordinance to understand what they really mean. It's not up to you to do either one of them's (the reporter or the planner from the other community) job.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian
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    Wow -- I guess there's a pretty unified opinion about this, which is good because my gut told me it was very, very wrong, but I needed some moral support.

    I did speak with the Village manager and I expressed my moral delimma. He told me to meet with the reporter, but to stick to the facts of zoning theory and not agree to look at the neighboring community's ordinance. He suggested that I explain the conflicts to the reporter and then direct her to the APA or other source for a critique of the ordinance.

    This local newspaper has a lot of young reporters (all the old, experienced reporters were fired or bought out) and I sometimes wonder if they are all angling for their next job with every story they write. They can't write a story without expressing some conspiracy theory on issues where there are none!! (and then....they completely miss when there really is one!!!).

    Thanks for all your thoughts on this....really helpful.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian Plus
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    southsideamy:
    How did it finally go?

  16. #16
    Cyburbian
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    Reporter called....I explained that I could not talk specificially about another community's ordinance, but that I'd be happy to walk through any general zoning question. She said she'd get back to me and she never did.

    Her boss (the editor) did call the Village Manager and the VM backed me up.

    Thank you, again, for all your input.

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