Start The Presses: Ethics don't just affect stories

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.

At approximately noon, I received a proof of an advertisement purchased by the Burbank Police Officers' Association, an ad that runs on A2 of today's paper. The BPOA had taken issue with Ron Kaye's column the week prior, which described Interim Chief Scott LaChasse's work to change the culture of the Burbank Police Department.

Frankly, the fact that the BPOA wanted to buy space made me somewhat uncomfortable. We are not in the business of requiring people to purchase an ad to have their voice heard. This is why we have a forum page and a mailbag section.

In fact, BPOA President Mark Armendariz had called me last week about submitting such a letter. However, when I told him that letters generally need to be 400 words or less, and that I could not guarantee it would run in a particular edition, he asked to place an ad.

That was the last I had heard about it until Friday.

Let me be clear: I do not approve ads. It's not my job. However, I received a proof because the ad related to editorial content. Reading it, I thought the BPOA's text was a well-reasoned criticism of Kaye's piece. However, I thought the second sentence was unclear.

In that sentence, the BPOA references “erroneous statements, rumor, innuendo and false allegations” regarding coverage of the Burbank Police Department. If there is something incorrect in Kaye's column, I told Armendariz, I need to know specifics. If I can verify his complaint, I need to run a correction.

If, however, the phrase related to media coverage in general, the BPOA needed to make that clear. Armendariz was not happy about this. I understand. He and BPOA are paying for the space, and they should have little interference regarding that message.

In the end, however, Armendariz agreed to insert the phrase “in the wider media” into the BPOA's ad. I believe both sides got what they needed.

After my afternoon back-and-forth with the BPOA, it was time to actually get down to work. I had a column to write.

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