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updated: 3/29/2012 5:56 AM

Talk with the Editor: Is it OK for journalists to sign a recall petition?

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  • Associated Press, February 2011 Opponents to the governor's bill to eliminate collective bargaining rights for many state workers protest in the rotunda of the State Capitol in Madison, Wis.

      Associated Press, February 2011 Opponents to the governor's bill to eliminate collective bargaining rights for many state workers protest in the rotunda of the State Capitol in Madison, Wis.

  • Associated Press, February 2011Rich Yaeger of Madison, Wis., waves his flag and a sign at a Tea Party rally at the State Capitol in Madison, Wis.

      Associated Press, February 2011Rich Yaeger of Madison, Wis., waves his flag and a sign at a Tea Party rally at the State Capitol in Madison, Wis.

 
 

There's been quite an uproar in Wisconsin, where it turns out that several newsroom employees from a handful of newspapers signed petitions to put a measure on the ballot to recall controversial Gov. Scott Walker.

Media blogger Jim Romenesko has a good summary of the issue, and I encourage you to check it out.

The long and the short of it is, several newsroom employees signed the petitions, many comparing their action to that of a citizen voting.

I disagree, as did a number of Wisconsin editors and publisher when they aired all of this in the past several days.

We attempt to be objective in our political coverage. While I know many critics (including some of you) think the media falls well short of objectivity, fairness and balance in our coverage, it at the very least is a deeply held goal. We strive very hard to do that.

Because of that, we and most newspapers -- including those in Wisconsin -- follow some tough ethics guidelines, particularly as it involves politics. Outside of a few exceptions involving opinion columnists, editorial employees at the Daily Herald are not allowed to put up yard signs, adorn their cars with political bumper stickers, work for political campaigns, contribute to political funds.

Or to sign petitions.

The nuance sometimes is more complicated than that. What if a spouse of an employee wants to drive a car with a bumper sticker, for instance? And of course, in the recent primary election, any of us who voted had to choose one party's ballot to do so. So the detail gets sticky sometimes.

But the main point is this: If we engage in political activity, we undermine our credibility and our goal of objectivity.

I don't know what discipline there'll be for the editorial employees in Wisconsin who signed the recall petitions. But clearly, they screwed up. And in doing so, they undermined the credibility of their newspapers and the newspaper industry.

That's my take on it anyway. Does it make sense? Or is it outmoded for this era? I'm interested in hearing your take.

• (We encourage you to talk with the editor by clicking on the Comments widget and providing your response to today's column. We want a provocative discussion but one that also abides by general rules of civility ... Please also consider friending John on Facebook by searching John Lampinen Daily Herald and following him on Twitter @DHJohnLampinen)

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