Results tagged “Milwaukee” from ARTicles

A mini-scandal has broken out in Milwaukee, where the city's police chief and a smitten journalist who wrote a breathless magazine profile of him have admitted that they had an extramarital affair. The controversy -- which, if nothing else, surely has been great for driving traffic to Milwaukee Magazine's website -- has zero to do with arts journalism in particular (even if "The Music Man" provides a key metaphor in the 5,400-word piece, where Shakespeare also crops up now and again). But it has everything to do with journalistic ethics, and with an unavoidable ethical issue we tend not to discuss.

The issue is this: Journalists, being human, do sometimes feel strongly attracted to their subjects, whether that attraction is sexual or platonic, and whether it blossoms in a single interview for a one-shot story or develops over time on a regular beat. So at what point does a reporter tell his or her editor, "I'm sorry. I can't do this story because I like this person so much that my objectivity is shot"?

For Jessica McBride, the author of the profile of Police Chief Edward A. Flynn, that conversation probably should have occurred around the time she became conscious that her attraction to him was clouding her vision. McBride, a freelancer and a journalism lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, says the affair began after the story ran. There's no reason to doubt that. Even so, a message from her to Flynn, quoted in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, suggests the conflict was evident to her while she was working on the piece:

"Perceived you instantly - knew you were a good person who does things for the right reason," reads one signed Jessica. "As a result, I began to struggle with the story - having to give time to vitriolic baseless attacks."

I've never become romantically involved with someone I've written about, but I've encountered that kind of struggle. I think a lot of us have. The editor of Milwaukee Magazine, Bruce Murphy, confesses in a post today (where he also defends McBride and attacks Journal Sentinel columnist Daniel Bice's "hatchet job" on her) that he has: "I've had the same feelings sometimes as a reporter when writing about someone for whom I have some admiration." It's hard to report and write clearly, fairly and well about people for whom we feel strong affection -- which is one of the reasons we shouldn't do it. (The converse is true, too: It's tough to be fair to subjects we can't stand.) At the same time, gut feelings about the people we cover are real, and even necessary to guide us, at least to some extent. We can't discount them. But we're not always the best judges of the effect our emotions are having on our work.

Ideally, that's where editors come in.
June 22, 2009 11:59 AM |


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