Credibility is 'our currency. That's really all we have.' - Albuquerque Journal

Credibility is ‘our currency. That’s really all we have.’

Karen Moses, Journal editor

The Albuquerque Journal’s freelance policy, last updated and distributed to all newsroom staff on Sept. 18, 2018, prohibits newsroom employees from writing “for any organization or person related to a political party, candidate or government agency,” and requires prior approval for all outside writing work.

The policy – similar to others in newsrooms nationwide – is designed to protect the credibility of the newsroom by preventing potential conflict-of-interest arrangements between staffers and other entities.

Unfortunately, we learned last week the policy was violated when the city of Albuquerque and a Journal employee signed a contract for the employee to write a book about how Mayor Tim Keller’s administration handled the COVID-19 pandemic and some of the 2020 protests.

The Journal did not authorize, nor was it aware until last week, that longtime Journal UpFront columnist Joline Gutierrez Krueger was being paid by the city for more than a year while she was an employee of the Journal. She received $44,640 in payments from the city from April 2021 through June 2022. She retired from the Journal in May 2022.

Gutierrez Krueger told the Journal last week she was not aware of the prohibition on working for government agencies while a Journal employee, though she had requested permission to write for other publications in the past. In at least one instance, she received permission to do so. She also said she did not see a conflict because she did not cover City Hall.

However, in at least two instances during this period she wrote about the city of Albuquerque – one column supported Albuquerque police officers’ actions during a tense night of violence and another defended Mayor Keller’s plastic bag ban.

Shelle Sanchez, the city’s director of Arts & Culture, told the Journal that “City at the Crossroads: The Pandemic, Protests, and Public Service in Albuquerque” was published by the Arts & Culture Department in collaboration with One Albuquerque Fund, a nonprofit aimed at helping address some of the city’s most pressing issues. Part of the book’s proceeds will go to the One Albuquerque Fund.

Sanchez said the book was paid for using discretionary funds in her department’s budget – with money generated from gross receipts taxes and other sources. She said it’s not unusual for her department to take on a book project.

At least one city councilor said she was unaware of the arrangement. City Councilor Trudy Jones told the Journal last week, “I am basically speechless. I have never heard of such a thing happening with taxpayer money to promote a sitting politician.”

“City at the Crossroads” contains an introduction by Keller, a foreword by first lady Elizabeth Kistin Keller and 36 photos featuring the mayor.

As we move forward, the Journal is taking the proactive step of reissuing its freelance policy throughout the newsroom; we will reanalyze and reissue the policy annually.

We’re confident the current newsroom staff is already aware of the policy and how serious a violation of it is, but we are taking this step because – as managers – we want to do everything within our power to prevent something like this from occurring in the future. The fact our newsroom is so outraged is proof of the passion and pride they take in covering this community in a fair and balanced manner.

We take our watchdog role seriously when covering all government entities, and City Hall is no exception. The Journal’s coverage of City Hall and all its departments, including the Albuquerque Police Department, is rigorous, fair and frequently quotes critics of Mayor Keller and his administration’s actions. This situation in no way should undermine that coverage.

Rod Hicks, a former Associated Press editor, and director of ethics and diversity at the Society of Professional Journalists, points out that journalists and news organizations “should avoid conflicts of interest and also the perception of conflicts of interest because both can hurt your credibility as a journalist and as a news organization.”

“Our credibility is really our currency,” he says. “That’s really all we have.”

This newsroom couldn’t agree more.

Karen Moses

Journal editor

kmoses@abqjournal.com

Home » From the newspaper » Credibility is ‘our currency. That’s really all we have.’


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