Tag Archives: Missouri Times

Missouri capitol reporters still trying to police their own

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri State Capitol is a very busy place in April as the annual legislative session nears adjournment and lawmakers hawk dozens of bills in frantic attempts to make them law.

Journalists sweat to cover the chaos.

But despite the pressure, the reporters who make up the Missouri Capitol News Association were not too busy to come together again earlier this month to consider problems with one of the press corps’ members, the Missouri Times, a newlyformed organ published by former Poplar Bluff Mayor Scott Faughn.

The press group, which represents about a dozen news organizations that cover state government, had put the Missouri Times on notice in late January that it had to come up with a policy that demonstrated editorial independence while at the same time giving assurances that it was no longer hosting lobbyist-sponsored parties.

While Faughn told the group the parties were a thing of the past, the policy he delivered fell short of expectations. His acknowledgement that a member of the state House had used a sleeping room for lodging in the Missouri Times business office did not add to Faughn’s credibility.

But while one member of the press corps wanted to suspend the Missouri Times from the group, the vast majority agreed to give him more time to come up with a stronger written policy that separates the financial side of the Missouri Times from the reporters who cover the news.

The policy statement that Faughn sent by email on March 30 said, in part, “The newspaper and its staff should be free of obligations to news sources, newsmakers, and outside interests. Conflict of interest should be avoided. Newspapers should accept nothing of value from news sources or others outside the profession. Gifts and free or reduced-rate travel, entertainment, products and lodging should not be accepted.”

Some reporters at Monday’s meeting said the constant use of the word “should” was too weak, and that a blanket prohibition against conflicts, gifts and political activities should be part of the policy. They also said a stronger “firewall” should be demarked between Faughn, who solicits ads and sells subscriptions, and his two reporters who cover the capital.

Question from reporters seemed to reflect a concern that some lobbyists are positioned to influence news coverage.

“If a lobbyist calls you to complain about a story, what do you do?” asked Bob Watson of the Jefferson City News Tribune.

“They do, a lot,” Faughn responded. “I have to read the story to see if they may be right, especially if it’s a factual thing. We won’t put something out that’s incorrect.”

“Is someone who bought a full page ad in the paper more likely to have a story written about them?” asked David Lieb of the Associated Press.

“No,” Faughn responded. “They wouldn’t even know that’s happening.”

“But don’t you assign stories though?” asked Virginia Young of the Post-Dispatch.

“If I get tips,” Faughn replied. “But I don’t assign stories or what to write about them.”

In response to a question from the Columbia Tribune’s Rudi Keller, Faughn admitted that state Rep. Elijah Haahr, a Republican from Springfield, had lodged in a sleeping room at the Missouri Times’ business office in Jefferson City.

“He stayed for a little bit between places, and again it was about two years ago maybe,” Faughn said. “I wasn’t there. He moved on.” Haahr did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

The Missouri Capitol News Association, founded in 1988, is responsible for allocating parking spaces near the state Capitol and offices within it for legitimate news organizations. The association’s bylaws state that members must be “editorially independent of any political party, institution, foundation, lobbying entity or business group.”

The association allocated facilities for the Missouri Times shortly after it was formed two years ago by Faughn and former House Speaker Rod Jetton. At that time, Phill Brooks, a journalism professor at the University of Missouri and the KMOX radio reporter covering the capital, asked for a written policy describing the Missouri Times’ editorial independence. He has never received an acceptable statement.

During the most recent meeting, Brooks moved that the Times be suspended from the association until it came up with an acceptable ethics policy while still keeping its access to a parking space and office. At stake, Brooks said, was “our credibility as an organization as to whether or not we will uphold the standards we espouse as journalists.”

“I feel like I tried to do what you asked,” Faughn said.

After no one would second Brooks’ motion, the group approved another Young offered that gave the Missouri Times until the end of May to produce “an updated policy that addresses concerns about establishing a firewall between financial activities of the Missouri Times with its sources and the people covering the news.”

The Missouri Times publishes a weekly print product that’s distributed free of charge and makes stories available on an Internet website. Its two reporters are Collin Reischman and Rachael Herndon, whose Republican connections and political activities raised questions during the association’s meeting in January.

Faughn said this week that the problems with Herndon’s independence had been addressed and resolved. “Anybody who works for the Missouri Times cannot be involved in partisan politics,” he said.

Jetton is no longer involved in the publication of the Times. Faughn also owns the SEMO Times in Poplar Bluff and has a show, “This Week in Missouri Politics” on KDNL-TV Channel 30 in St. Louis.

In 2007, Faughn was convicted by a Cape Girardeau County jury of three counts of felony forgery. In that case, he was accused of forging checks for an account for a highway expansion project.

Other journalists at Monday’s meeting represented the Kansas City Star, St. Louis Public Radio, the Missourinet and Politicmo.

Parties and the press

JEFFERSON CITY – The Jefferson City press corps has voted to give the Missouri Times until the end of March to clean up the news organization’s ethics mess or face the possibility of losing credentials to cover events in Missouri’s state capital.

Ten representatives of wire service, print and broadcast news organizations met Monday to discuss the lobbyist-sponsored parties that Times’ publisher Scott Faughn had held for lawmakers at the newspaper’s office in Jefferson City. While some press corps members appeared ready to vote to take away the Times’ allocation of capital office and parking spaces, the group approved a motion giving it the chance to draft a newsroom policy of editorial independence as well as time to demonstrate that the lobbyist-sponsored parties were no longer taking place.

Collin Reischman, the Times’ managing editor, told the group Faughn was not a journalist and was unschooled in ethics policies. And Reischman said Faughn was trying to hire a consultant to give advice on the development of a mission statement, an employee handbook and “best practices” that would prevent problems in the future.

“I do take issue with the way Scott does things,” Reischman said. “I told him fifty different times that he shouldn’t do them again. If it were up to me, there wouldn’t be any parties.”

While capital city reporters and lawmakers had been aware of the Times’ parties for months, the issue became public Jan. 4 when Rudi Keller of the Columbia Daily Tribune reported details of as many as six events, including the fact they “went largely unreported to the state Ethics Commission.”

James Klahr, the executive director of the Missouri Ethics Commission, said Tuesday that “it would be a good idea” for lobbyists who spend money on lawmakers, either individually or in a group settings like the Times’ parties, to report it to the commission.

The reporting requirements aside, several reporters present for Monday’s meeting said the parties violated journalistic ethical standards by creating an apparent, if not a real, conflict of interest.

“This has raised credibility questions for us,” said Phill Brooks, a journalism professor at the University of Missouri and the KMOX radio reporter covering the capital. “We uphold standards of editorial independence and the avoidance of a conflict of interest.”

Brooks noted that two years ago, when the press corps first accredited the Missouri Times, he requested a written policy that described its editorial independence since both the Times’ founders, Faughn and former House Speaker Rod Jetton, had been involved in politics. Brooks said he never got the policy.

POLITICAL ACTIVITIES

The Times publishes a weekly print product that’s distributed free of charge, and makes stories available on an Internet website: http://themissouritimes.com. Reischman said the press run is usually 1,000 to 2,000 issues, but sometimes has been as large as 5,000. The publication has two full time reporters, Reischman and Rachael Herndon, whose editorial independence was questioned during Monday’s meeting.

Herndon was identified as the president of the Cole County Young Republicans as recently as June of last year. Copies of emails were distributed at Monday’s meeting showing that prior to the November general election, Herndon was going door-to-door campaigning in behalf of Bryan Stumpe, the Republican candidate for Cole County circuit judge. In encouraging others to work for Stumpe, Herndon’s email said, “The current judge is one of the last Democrats holding office in Cole County.” The incumbent judge, Patricia Joyce, retained her seat.

“Standards that we expect are not being met when a company is soliciting lobbyists for parties and a reporter working for a paper is a party operative,” Keller said.

“I’m not denying that that was problem,” Reischman responded, “But we are rectifying that now.”

In an interview, Reischman said he had been aware of Herndon’s prior political work and that he had told her she had to stop it. But he said he apparently hadn’t been emphatic enough on that point. “I should have been more clear,” he said. Since then, Reischman said, he had had a “come to Jesus meeting” with Herndon, and she remains a reporter.

Neither Faughn nor Herndon responded to a Gateway Journalism Review reporter’s requests for comment.

According to the Missouri Times web site, Herndon studied communication and art history at the University of Missouri in Columbia, and previously worked as a campaign staff member. Reischman has a journalism degree from Webster University.

The web site also describes Faughn as the Missouri Times’ publisher and president of SEMO TIMES, a weekly newspaper in Poplar Bluff, Mo. It also describes Faughn as a member of the St. Louis Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. The SPJ’s Code of Ethics says journalists should “avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived” and “remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.” The code also says journalists should “refuse gifts” and shun “political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.”

Faughn is the former mayor of Poplar Bluff. In 2007 he was convicted in Cape Girardeau County of three counts of forgery.

ALLOCATING SPACE

Journalists covering state government are members of the Missouri Capitol News Association. The organization meets infrequently as the need arises, usually to allocate resources for reporters such as office accommodations, parking spaces and a spot at the Senate press table.

The organization’s bylaws require that for an entity to be credentialed, it must distribute news to a broad segment of the public, be independent of any lobbying activity and demonstrate its ability to cover the capital for at least six months. In addition to the Missouri School of Journalism, KMOX and the Columbia Tribune, journalists at Monday’s meeting represented the Associated Press, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Kansas City Star, St. Louis Public Radio, the Missourinet, KRCG-TV, and the Jefferson City News Tribune.

After agreeing that Monday’s meeting was open to coverage by the Gateway Journalism Review, the group discussed plans by the Republican-controlled state Senate to remove reporters from a press table on the floor of the chamber and sequester them in a spot in an upper gallery. It also voted to accredit Eli Yokley, who writes for a blog Politicmo and supplies news to the Joplin Globe, KY3-TV in Springfield and the New York Times.

After airing the controversy about the Missouri Times, the group agreed to reassess the news organization’s performance at a meeting that will be scheduled some time around the legislative Spring break, the last week of March.