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Personal Bias Has No Place in the Newsroom

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By Kathleen Sterling

I’ve been publishing community newspapers for over 40 years.

It’s an incredible job, if not an easy one.

I started in 1982 with the Warner Center News, and we now cover from Calabasas to Sherman Oaks, up to Chatsworth and across the valley to Porter Ranch.

It’s a lot of territory, and a lot of stories.

Over the years I’ve published a lot of good news – promotions, new development, elections, achievements, awards. There are feel-good school stories, community improvements, non-profit achievements.

There has also been a lot of bad news – suicides, local human trafficking, deaths, political corruption, citizen arrests.

We’ve covered them all.

But we’ve covered them as straight news stories on page one. 

The recent controversy over L.A. Times owner  Patrick Soon-Shiong and his daughter’s supposed influence over editorial has reverberated across news platforms. 

It’s brought to a head the difference between news and editorial.

A news story is just that – straight news. Look, I’ve covered stories that have been more than difficult to write – homelessness and its solutions, elections and their outcomes, political fraud, people’s personal proclivities. 

But with those I have always stuck to just the facts – a police report, a telling photo, a straight-forward interview. Sticking to the who, what, where and when are tenets of journalism. It’s when a reporter ventures into the “why” that things get dicey.

It’s not a reporter’s job to guess at motivation, or give their own comments on breaking news.

I have a real problem with television newscasters who veer off from the main story to give their personal opinion on what they are reporting. I don’t need to know what you think about it. Tell me the story and let me decide what I think about it. Personal bias has no place in the newsroom.

I trust that those that pick up our newspapers are intelligent enough to make their own decisions and draw their own conclusions.

It’s why the paper itself does not endorse candidates. Over the years I’ve realized that I may have an opinion, but so do my readers.

Our job is to lay out the facts of a story and let you make your own decisions.

We clearly delineate opinion pieces and carry them only on page 4. Opinions are clearly written on our “Viewpoint” page.

We may wax strident on certain issues – certainly I have and Dennis Zine does regularly – but they are just our own opinion and we clearly label them as such.

With the upcoming elections there are certain known facts about candidates. They have stated their positions on many issues. There are certainly opinions about the different races, and I have my own. 

But to continue with fair and accurate coverage, we are asking each candidate in the major races to submit an editorial about their specific plans for the valley. Not their general, overall philosophical platform, but their detailed program to get the homeless off valley streets, to fight crime along Ventura Blvd., to put more taxpayer money directly back into the valley instead of the city’s general fund.

We’ll let you hear from the  candidates themselves.

Then you can read, think, and make your choices.

The old Dragnet cop show was known for the line, “Just the facts, ma’am.”

And that’s the bottom line – stick to the facts and you won’t get in trouble. And that’s true for publications across the board. Big or small, our job is to report the news, not make it.