Use our Real People Bank to talk with Forum editors

Newsrooms across the country have been in a tizzy this week, and some of you will get a chance to weigh in on the subject of the current controversy.

Newsrooms across the country have been in a tizzy this week, and some of you will get a chance to weigh in on the subject of the current controversy.

Spokane, Wash., is the hotspot, but the journalism question is one that comes up from time to time when a news organization undertakes investigative journalism.

The issue in a nutshell: Jim West, the conservative, anti-gay mayor of Spokane has not been living the life he politicizes about. In fact, the paper had heard from several young men that West cruises gay Web sites and offers internships and jobs in exchange for sexual favors.

The paper sought independent confirmation that the man in the chatrooms was indeed the mayor. So, they hired an Internet expert to go onto the site to see if he could hookup with West and confirm the story.

He went in, confirmed the identity and the paper ran the story.


They also ran an article explaining how they got the story.

Then the earth moved - but not necessarily for the reasons you might think.

Reporters and editors around the country waggled their fingers, hung their heads and mourned the demise of Spokane's once-respected Spokesman-Review. They said going undercover is no way to get a story.

West resigned so he would be free to devote his energy to fend off the newspaper's attacks.

Readers applauded. They thought their hometown newspaper had finally done some darn fine investigative reporting.

Now editors, including this one, are scratching their heads. How did we get so crosswise with readers about how best to go about looking after their civic interests? Are we spending too much time talking to our editor friends about important journalism and not enough time talking to the people we serve?

It's time we talked.

Sometime in the next few weeks we're going to invite members of our Real People Bank to participate in a survey about newsgathering techniques and this seeming disconnected between journalists and readers. It will be an online survey - if you're not a member of the Bank and you'd like to join, follow the directions included with this article.


Reporters and editors here at The Forum will also take the survey, so we'll be able to compare results. Journalists and newspaper readers from cities across the country will do the same.

All of this information gathering may seem like a lot of hand wringing, but I think it gets at the bigger issues of expectations and trust. One of a newspaper's jobs is to be a watchdog of government, to make sure those in power don't abuse it. We need to agree on how far you trust us to go to do that job.

If we don't go far enough, you won't get the truth; if we go too far, you get a mess.

What we want is the truth. Consider joining the Real People Bank and help us hash this one out.

Reach Bellows at

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