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WCPO policies aim to avoid conflicts of interest

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Posted at 11:34 AM, Aug 30, 2021

CINCINNATI — Our journalists are all human beings.

That means they bring a lot of great things to their jobs: creativity, empathy, curiosity to name a few.

It also means our journalists have lives outside of work. They have connections in our community. They have friends, family and other ties.

Those connections can be helpful to know what is going on or to receive feedback on our journalism.

But they can also present conflicts of interest.

Thankfully, newsrooms generally have protocols in place to prevent conflicts of interest from impacting our work or to prevent the appearance of favoritism or other concerns.

In general, WCPO9 journalists are required to discuss any potential conflicts of interest with a supervisor immediately. The supervisor and journalist then weigh what course of action should be taken based on what the possible conflict is. Often, a journalist will not be allowed to play a role in that story or in stories with a particular news source or on a certain topic. Other times, we simply disclose the connection.

We put our conflict of interest policies into place involving a story last week -- where I personally removed myself from playing any role in a news story.

During my career, I have been asked to be on various boards for nonprofits, and I’ve seen my team members asked to be on boards. The organizations often think adding a journalist to the board will lead to favorable coverage. I normally tell them it likely would have the opposite effect because I would not be able to cover or advocate coverage for an organization I was involved with.

When it comes to potential conflicts, the instruction to our team is simple: When in doubt, discuss it with a supervisor.

Our parent company, The E.W. Scripps Company, also has a chief ethics officer who we can tap for input on conflicts of interest or other ethical concerns.

Last week, we aired and published a story involving allegations against Norwood City Councilman Chris Kelsch. This has led to some of Kelsch’s supporters criticizing the station and me in particular.

So I thought now would be a good time to explain how WCPO9 approaches conflicts of interest and how this story was handled.

Work on the story began when the mother of Deandre Jones, the man involved with Kelsch in the altercation on the video, contacted the station to tell us about an incident involving a Norwood council member. Her original message didn’t even say which council member.

From there, Chief Investigative Reporter Craig Cheatham began to look into the story.

When Senior Manager of Enterprise and Investigations Meghan Goth mentioned to me that the I-team was pursuing a story on Councilman Kelsch, I recused myself from any involvement with the story.

I have mentioned several times in my columns through the years that I live in Norwood. My wife, Hillary, has been active in several nonprofits in Norwood. She is currently vice president of a community development nonprofit called Norwood Together.

Norwood Together and Kelsch have not seen eye-to-eye on a few issues in the last several years.

Because of my wife’s involvement with Norwood Together and the organization’s history with Kelsch, I removed myself from any involvement with the story.

All decisions about the story were handled by Meghan. Any questions Meghan had, that would ordinarily come to me, instead went to WCPO9 General Manager Jeff Brogan.

The first time I saw the story was a few hours after it aired on TV.

This is a good illustration of how conflicts of interest are handled.

Journalists work hard to keep our personal lives and ties from impacting our work.

As always, please feel free to reach out to me with questions or feedback.

Mike Canan is the Senior Director of Local Media Content at WCPO. Contact him at mike.canan@wcpo.com. Follow him on Twitter or Instagram at @Mike_Canan.

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