How the Chicago Tribune covers Tribune Co.

Tribune MediaChicago TribuneMedia IndustryJournalismPhil RosenthalWGNTribune Tower

When we as journalists sign up to work at the Tribune, or anywhere, we take on the responsibility to report and write aggressively, honestly and fairly -- no matter the topic or the people involved. So in a way, the Chicago Tribune's coverage of Tribune Co. can't be, and isn't, any different than anything else we do.

But the reality is also far more complex. We are writing about our own employer.

A basic tenet of journalism is to keep a certain distance between reporter and source that allows the reporter to maintain an objective view and avoid even the perception of a conflict of interest.

Obviously, distance is impossible when reporting about the company that pays your salary. But by being mindful and honest about how those inherent conflicts might affect perceptions, it is possible to avoid the pitfalls and write fairly about Tribune Co.

The alternative -- to not cover ourselves -- would cheat our readers and violate a more fundamental obligation.

In fact, the Tribune's written ethics policy states specifically that we should cover Tribune Co. and its business units as we would any other company. And why wouldn't we? Tribune Co. is the largest media company in Chicago, and it is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy at a time of upheaval in the media business, making its travails a window for understanding a story of far-reaching significance. Our readers would be missing a great story if we didn't report the hell out of it.

So here's how we approach it...

First of all, no one outside the newsroom, including any executive on any other floor of Tribune Tower, ever has access to our stories before publication, or dictates coverage in any way. We decide what we should write, and when, without any interference from company management.

For those who cover Tribune and edit those stories, recognizing and dealing with potential conflicts is a daily exercise. In some cases, it means that reporters do not attend "town hall" staff meetings. That way, they avoid hearing internal Tribune Co. information meant only for employees. In other cases, it means making the appropriate editing accommodations. For example, if we quote Tribune Editor Gerould Kern, he would not see that story before publication.

One important practice is to disclose our relationships. In the business section, any time we write about Tribune Co. or one of its businesses, such as WGN radio or television, we note that the Chicago Tribune is also owned by Tribune Co.

Often, the bigger challenge is to separate what's of burning interest to us as Tribune employees from what is interesting and relevant to readers. The latest turn of the screw about our 401(k) plan may be a subject of fascination within the Tower, but who else truly cares?

That said, we report on ourselves with the same enthusiasm we devote to our coverage generally. We do the same things every reporter here does. We pursue sources both inside and outside the company, we evaluate the information and we draw conclusions based on the evidence.

It helps that we have two aggressive staff members writing about Tribune Co.: reporter Mike Oneal and media columnist Phil Rosenthal. They are committed to doing responsible, no-holds-barred journalism, and that includes their coverage of Tribune Co.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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