I, like so many, was disappointed Saturday to see our local newspaper endorse Donald Trump. The Topeka Capital-Journal published an editorial on their website Nov. 5 titled, “Trump is the right choice for president,” accompanied by a letter from W.S. Morris, CEO of Morris Communications (the company over the newspaper), explaining the choice of endorsement.
I’m not saying that corporate media is wrong, or that the tradition of news media endorsing candidates is inappropriate, but I do think it’s upsetting to see opinions censored by corporate oversight.
Having connected with members of the Topeka Capital-Journal staff through my classes and through student media, I found them to be sharply aware and extremely empathetic writers. I just cannot believe that this endorsement is an opinion shared by much, if not most, of the Topeka Capital-Journal’s team. Based on my experience with their staff and published stories, this endorsement is not representative of the newspaper itself. It is primly from the corporate head.
And herein is where the problem lies for me, morally.
Let’s not pretend that this is an issue of free speech. It’s not. The Topeka Capital-Journal is a privately owned newspaper. This endorsement is not a limitation of the press or an infringement on the First Amendment. It’s completely within the rights of the private media corporation.
But this is a reality I was not exposed to until I took media classes and once I saw it, I couldn’t come to terms with the possibility that I could one day face a similar dilemma. Could I write an editorial endorsing a candidate who I personally opposed, even though my employer determined I do so? The answer, for me, was no.
Ultimately, I’m not criticizing the Topeka Capital-Journal or even Morris Communications. I’m sympathizing with a writer who may, or may not, have had to write a piece against their conscience. And that’s a position that too many journalists find themselves in on regular basis.
For me, it comes down to the tenacious values that journalists commit to from the start, a dedication to truth and public service.
As it says in “The Journalist’s Creed” by Walter Williams, “I believe that a journalist should write only what he holds in his heart to be true… I believe that no one should write as a journalist what he would not say as a gentleman; that bribery by one’s own pocketbook is as much to be avoided as bribery by the pocketbook of another; that individual responsibility may not be escaped by pleading another’s instructions or another’s dividends.”