Publisher Editorial: Transparency and My Dual Roles

Guest Editorial from Merle Reeder

Yesterday I was verbally attacked on Twitter for my dual roles as the publisher of iLoveKent and for serving as a temporary communications consultant to the City of Kent. For the sake of transparency, I want to clarify those roles and explain how I have handled them thus far. First, a little history about iLoveKent.

  1. I began publishing iLoveKent in 2007 to help fill a growing media gap in South King County. The King County Journal had stopped publishing, Kent Reporter had gone from two days a week to one, and Seattle media outlets were reducing their coverage of Kent, including The Seattle Times, for whom I wrote for the SE Living special section.
  2. I am a one-man operation and never intended to cover breaking news or do hard news. My degree is in business administration, and I was trained as a journalist by some amazing editors when I started my freelance career. After being laid off from my “corporate job,” I started my own freelance career full-time in 2004. I do not have the capacity or training to do breaking news.
  3. As a freelancer, I joined the Society of Professional Journalists in 2005 to better learn my profession and to learn and uphold the organization’s Code of Ethics. I served as local president for several years, served on the national board of the organization for seven years, and was the national president of the 7,000+ member organization in 2014-15.
  4. Another goal when starting iLoveKent was to highlight nonprofits, local businesses and events, including providing a community calendar.
  5. As the website has grown, I have redesigned it and hired several talented writers and marketers to help support my work. Currently, there are two independent contractors – Michelle Teeter and Kara Hackney – who work with me to post news and events to the site and to help with social media. Also, Lynn Cheng generously donates her time to keep our calendar updated.
  6. We still do not cover “hard news” or “breaking news.” Michelle Teeter and I write features, usually about nonprofits for the site, and occasionally, I write public service pieces such as the recent “When to call 9-1-1 versus the non-emergency number” article. We do not, nor will we, do investigative journalism. I am not trained to do that, and I don’t have the desire to learn. My passion is storytelling.
  7. The “news” you see on the site is largely repurposed or lightly-edited press releases. They are typically identified by the “Guest Contributor” byline, and we always include the name of the source, and a link if possible, to the original press release. I will not take credit for work that isn’t mine.
  8. My site earns some income, but I wouldn’t consider this a “for profit” site. The advertising money I make is reinvested in the site (e.g., hard costs like web hosting, graphic design, print materials, marketing, stock photos) and used to pay my contractors. I do not pay myself for my time. After my costs are paid, there is little if anything left. I do not publish iLoveKent as a money-making venture. I do it because I am passionate about Kent, I believe a source like iLoveKent is needed in our community, and I want to support my city however I can. I am essentially a volunteer.

Last month I was asked by the City of Kent to help them fill a temporary vacancy in the mayor’s office. I am contracted as a communications consultant through year end. The mayor-elect Dana Ralph will choose how to fill that vacancy. Until then, I am acting as the city’s primary communications professional, and I work with a team of talented city employees who assist in our communications efforts.

I accepted the contract position because I saw a new way to serve the City of Kent. It was an opportunity to share my passion and expertise while learning more about the city from the inside and to perhaps learn some new skills and establish new relationships and connections. It has been an amazing experience, and I am honored to have been asked to help in this way. Though I was not asked to do so, I changed how I manage iLoveKent to be as transparent as possible. Here are some of the steps I have taken to separate the two roles:

  • When initially contracted with the City, I disclosed to administration, city directors and my colleagues how I would handle iLoveKent moving forward.
  • I stopped publishing city-related news releases to the site. The ones that come from the City of Kent now come from my office. They are typically about upcoming events like the Holiday Craft Market, the Christmas Rush Fun Run, or the 12 Days of Goodness. I sometimes write them for the City or have at least edited and/or distributed them. It is, therefore, not appropriate for me to publish them here. Michelle Teeter does that, often under her own byline, but crediting the original source. Here is an example of a press release I wrote the other day. My name is listed as the source at the bottom.
  • When these press releases are published, I do not share them on social media. That is done by my iLoveKent team.
  • Information I learn during the course of my work at the City is for the purpose of serving the City, not to promote my site or to publish as an “inside scoop.” I am there as a contractor, but my sole purpose there is to serve the City, not for personal gain.
  • I have found the employees at the city, particularly administration and the directors, to be transparent and above board. They are happy to share information with me, staff, residents, other governmental officials, etc. Each day I continue to be impressed with the high caliber and ethical behavior of those with whom I work. I am proud to be a colleague, even if my role is temporary.
  • On multiple occasions, both in my weekly Sound Bites column and on Facebook (which auto-posts to Twitter), I have disclosed and explained my dual roles. No one approached me at those times or commented, publicly or privately, that they felt there was a conflict of interest or the potential for ethical violations.
  • I have separated my iLoveKent and Virtually Yourz businesses from my city work for the purposes of transparency and public records. My iLoveKent work is done on own computers, and I have two separate phones – which I provide and pay for – one for city work and one for my own business. I do not do my other work at the city. When I’m at the city, I’m working for them.

Some will still choose to believe there is a conflict of interest. I understand and respect that concern, but I am confident that I have handled the two roles ethically and transparently. If you have specific concerns, I welcome the opportunity to discuss them one on one, or you may reach out directly to city administration or the city attorney’s office for additional clarification.

Thanks for reading,

iLoveKent Publisher Dana Neuts

 

 

 

 

Dana Neuts, publisher