People tend to spin all kinds of theories about the choices made by news media, and the Independent sometimes takes plenty of heat for getting a story wrong. We certainly understand the urge for casual readers to speculate about the motives of the press. Armchair analysis makes good conversation. But once in a while, somebody points a finger that, as the familiar saying suggests, reveals more about their personal frustrations than our professional lapses. And when a candidate for public office suggests we’ve got an ethical problem, we can’t let it go unanswered.
Missoula City Council candidate Justin Armintrout says we’ve got a conflict of interest in the current election campaign. Armintrout’s opponent in Missoula’s Ward 1, Jason Wiener, worked at the Indy in the past, and Armintrout argues that we’d like to see our boy win so that he’ll feed us juicy stories from City Hall.
Don’t worry, we’re smart enough to get interesting news out of our local government without planting a mole. All kinds of people talk to us all the time about all kinds of stories. That’s why we were so surprised when Armintrout staged a silly protest by abruptly ending his candidate interview with us about two minutes into the substantive questioning. And we were rather insulted by his presumptuous lecturing on how we should do our jobs.
Newspaper work involves all kinds of potential conflicts. The tension between the advertising side of the business and the editorial side of the business permeates everything we do. We try to sell advertising. And we try not to let that pursuit undermine the trust of our readers. Sometimes, we end up making judgment calls. Despite the common perception that journalism strives for some kind of objective ideal, there ain’t no rulebook, and we develop a lot of valuable relationships in the course of our efforts that pull us in a lot of different directions. We see our job as trying to maintain a respectable balance that preserves our credibility and integrity.
Turns out, it really is a small world after all; Armintrout works for Portico Real Estate, one of the Indy’s biggest advertisers. So where do our genuine interests lie? With you, dear readers, and with our own reputation. In the end, we’re counting on you to judge if our editorial decisions advance the paper’s interests at the expense of truth and reason, or if maybe—just maybe—we’ve earned enough trust to call it like we see it.