Newsroom staff must stay out of politics

This being Labor Day weekend, a respite from what promises to be an ugly 14-month presidential campaign, I found a query from faithful reader Frank Almaraz worth sharing.

Almaraz, 78, who recalls standing in relief lines as a child during the Depression, asked what he said was an apolitical question: “Much is said about the unemployment rate today. What was it during the Great Depression?”

Here is what I found: In 1929, the year the stock market crashed, unemployment was 3.2 percent. It increased to 8.7 percent in 1930, 15.9 percent in ’31 and 23.6 percent in ’32.

The worst year was the year Almaraz was born, 1933, when 24.9 percent of the workforce was jobless, followed by 21.7 percent in ’34, 20.1 in ’35, 16.9 in ’36, 14.3 in ’37, 19 percent in ’38 and 17.2 percent in 1939, when the buildup to World War II sparked the economy, and the world faced a different kind of “hard times.”

Defining what started the Great Depression, and what Washington did to address it, will spark partisan haranguing, but the numbers are what they were. The jobless compose 9.1 percent of the workforce today, 8.4 percent in Texas.

It’s a testament to my skills as a writer — or lack of same — that I received more attaboys last week from liberals than I did conservatives for a column that advised the San Antonio Express-News to talk to some of the millions of Gov. Rick Perry fans, and find out why they “adore” him.

I don’t know what the liberals were thinking, but conservatives seemed to think it was a phony attempt to be objective.

It was not.

Hang in there, you conservatives who think the Express-News is piling on the governor. That can change overnight. On Aug. 17, a few days after Perry entered the fray, reader David Williams observed in an email:

“I am very disappointed. I, maybe naively, believed the (Express-News) was … dedicated to printing information that was factual and unbiased. For the last week, the front page articles on (Perry) have seriously challenged my belief,” adding that the paper used “one-sided language” intended to “sell (Perry) to its readership.”

A man who identified himself as Jim Engle left a phone message, asking what percentage of the E-N newsroom voted for Barack Obama and Perry’s last opponent, Bill White; also, what percentage of the newsroom gave money to Democrats?

We don’t ask and, for the most part, employees don’t tell how they vote. More important, the Express-News ethics policy says, “Employees should not make contributions to or work for political parties or candidates or have direct involvement with entities organized to advocate for a candidate, a political party or a solely political issue.”

And, Mr. Engle, ours is a non-union newsroom. Employees are not members of the Newspaper Guild, as you said.

Reader John Olmstead questioned the lead paragraph and headline of an Aug. 27 Metro story, “South San grad convicted of murder.”

After reading the story, Olmstead noted, “there was no mention of any connection of the high school … having any impact on the crime … (or) if he was a troubled student who had many disciplinary problems (at South San), or if he was a model student. … But there was nothing. This seemed like a cheap shot to me.”

He’s right. We’ve published many stories, legitimately, about the troubled South San ISD, but this one was piling on for no good reason. I refer you to Olmstead’s Monday letter to the editor for more.

This column was originally published in the San Antonio Express-News on Sept. 4, 2011.
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