Editors On the Spot When Publishers Run For Office

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By: Joe Strupp

When reporters at the Post Register of Idaho Falls, Idaho, write about gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brady this year, they may be walking a journalistic tightrope. After all, he signs their paychecks.

The Post Register has the rare honor — or nightmare, depending on how you look at it — of covering the campaign of its own editor and publisher. Jerry Brady, who owns 51% of the paper with his brother Jack, announced last month he would seek the Democratic nomination for governor. As of now, Brady is one of only two announced candidates in the May 28 Democratic primary, which will send the party’s designate to face the likely Republican nominee, incumbent Dirk Kempthorne.

“I’m looking forward to it — I think it will be fun,” Corey Taule, the paper’s political reporter who will cover the campaign, told E&P. “It will be an interesting challenge.”

Other papers in Ohio, Minnesota, and Wyoming may face similar challenges. At least one other newspaper publisher, along with two former newspaper executives, are making political moves.

Brady, whose great-grandfather served as governor in the early 1900s, has taken a paid leave of absence to distance himself from the publication, according to editors. The Post Register‘s daily circulation is 24,001, the second largest in Idaho, making it highly influential on statewide issues.

The paper, therefore, has done everything short of writing press releases for Brady’s opponent to assure it will not appear biased toward the boss. Along with inviting readers to attend its daily afternoon news meetings, the paper’s editors have hired a communications professor from Brigham Young University-Idaho to act as ombudsman during the campaign. The ombudsman will be given complete independence to write about coverage of the election as he sees fit, Acting Publisher Roger Plothow told E&P.

“We’re really engaging in full disclosure and being very, very forthright,” Plothow said. “We’ll let the chips fall and let readers decide how we did.” Since the paper has a practice of not endorsing candidates in most elections, editorial-page support is not a factor.

In Ohio’s 3rd Congressional District, meanwhile, Roy Brown, CEO and president of the Cincinnati-based Brown Publishing Co., which owns 11 daily newspapers as well as a number of weeklies, is seeking the Republican nomination against former Dayton Mayor Mike Turner. The race has already resulted in complaints being filed against Brown with the Ohio Elections Commission and the Federal Election Commission by the Turner campaign, including one that claimed Brown’s papers were running more stories favorable to their CEO.

Among the former publishers entering the political arena are Joel Kramer, who departed the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 1998 after serving 15 years in different positions and recently announced his candidacy for lieutenant governor in Minnesota, and William “Bill” Sniffin, who left the semiweekly Wyoming State Journal in Lander after serving as publisher from 1971 to 1999 and is now seeking the GOP’s gubernatorial nomination in that state.

Kramer said he had no plans to seek public office when he left the Star Tribune, but that he could not turn down the offer to run with state Sen. Becky Lourey, who is seeking the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party gubernatorial nomination at next week’s state convention. “I’ve always been engaged in and interested in public policy,” Kramer said. While he remains in touch with several people at the paper, Kramer doesn’t believe his ties to the Star Tribune will give him an unfair advantage or make it difficult for the paper to cover the campaign.

But Dane Smith, who’s covered state politics for 16 years at the Star Tribune, said he’s a little concerned about reporting on his former boss. “It makes it that much tougher to establish credibility,” Smith said. “I don’t know what to do about it other than continue to be as fair and accurate as possible.”

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