Maintaining Fairness in Community Journalism

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(Gillette, Wyo.) People who live in smaller communities, like we have here in Campbell County and most of Wyoming, often wear multiple hats. In addition to our full-time jobs, we serve on boards, volunteer for local organizations, and some people run for public office. Sometimes that includes journalists.

Paul Wallem, news director for Basin Radio Network, has been working and volunteering at the coroner’s office for years, in addition to his work as a reporter.

He has served as deputy coroner for three years. He has an active certification in death investigation from the Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy, and he was a volunteer for several years in the office under Tom Eekhoff, the previous coroner. He’s also recently received training from the county clerk’s office on how to enter purchase orders.

With these credentials, he believes he’s a good candidate for Campbell County Coroner, and he’s running for the position on the Republican ticket.

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Before putting his name on the ballot, he spoke to his managers at Basin Radio to get their input. They decided, as a candidate, he would continue gathering and writing the news, but he wouldn’t actually speak on the air until after the primaries.

“That’s the feedback I got,” Wallem said.

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The reasoning, Wallem explained, is candidates get equal time on the air. Since no Democrats are running for the office, he doesn’t have to wait until the general election. As soon as the primaries are over in August, he will be on the air again.

Here at County 17, we have to take similar steps to maintain fairness in our reporting. The news stream is published by Outliers Creative, LLC, which is owned by The MC Family of Companies, a company owned by Mark Christensen.

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Christensen ran successfully for Campbell County Commissioner in 2012 and 2016. As a result, any articles related to county business contain a disclosure at the end, noting his relationship to the County 17 publication.

In some cases, we didn’t pursue stories in which Christensen was heavily involved and independence in the reporting couldn’t be maintained.

These kinds of situations often arise in community journalism. People tend to be more involved on the local level in smaller towns, and journalists and media owners are members of their communities. Maintaining fairness and objectivity sometimes requires a few extra steps.

The primaries are Aug. 21. Wallem is running against incumbent Laura Sundstrom, Samantha Lang, and Kevin McGrath.

Originally from New Mexico, Killough began his career writing freelance for a weekly magazine in Albuquerque while completing his undergraduate degree. In addition to reporting on uranium mining in western New Mexico, he spent three years reporting in western North Dakota during the height of the oil boom. He can be reached at kevin@county17.com or 701-641-6603.