Michael Willard writes:
Newspaper is supposed to be tough and critical, but also nonpartisan and fair in coverage.
This might come as a surprise to some: The Kyiv Post is not an opposition newspaper.
I do not write this with tongue firmly planted in cheek. It is not a disingenuous statement to appease. It is not a ploy to avoid any pressure. In other words, the sucking sound you hear is of a country in transparency hell – not our newspaper sucking up.
However, in a recent meeting with the pro-administration website obozrevatel.com, it was flatly stated that our newspaper was considered oppositionist. I stopped the editor with a denial, but he smiled as if to say, “Yeah, sure. My cocker spaniel is a cosmonaut.”
It sounds rather sing-song to say it – for it has rolled off my tongue on multiple occasions over these last four months in discussions with both expat and Ukrainian business leaders – but the Kyiv Post strives for fairness, for balance and for accuracy.
These attributes, of course, are in the eyes of the beholder. If you are on the receiving end of a story that reveals an administration foible – whether it’s a brushfire or a raging inferno – you might see things differently, even if you gave your side of the story.
But that is what good reporting is all about: Getting the facts and letting the chips fall where they may. It is about not taking sides, and in this regard, I am assured by chief editor Brian Bonner that we have given many politicians indigestion, regardless of person or party. We have also dished out generous helpings of praise.
That’s what good reporters do, and good newspapers encourage. However, news being what news is, the so-called negative stories seem to trump the positive in the bazaar of current events.
It has been so since Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press 500 years ago. The voter here is the reader who knows what he wants to read, not the reporter or editor.
However, the Kyiv Post, given its position as Ukraine’s sole credible English-language newspaper – has a responsibility to not only be impartial but to appear impartial as well. There can be no reality distortion field here, no blue smoke and mirrors.
That is why when our publisher, Dr. Mohammad Zahoor, asked me to develop an editorial policy, I took my sweet time. I did my research.
I surveyed my own memory for historical data from experience with editors from the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, as well as smaller publications like the Charleston (West Virginia) Gazette and the Canton (Ohio) Repository. I asked the advice of a colleague who had once been editor of the Kyiv Post, and I spent an inordinate amount of time with the ultimate cheat sheet, Google.
In the end, I believe we came up with the most editor- and reporter-friendly policy possible, but one that still recognizes that the person who buys the ink and paper has a huge fiduciary and legal responsibility.
It should come as no surprise I started with the Kyiv Post’s motto, which figuratively is billboarded in flashing neon: Independence, Community, Trust.
However, the key passage in the newly minted document, in my view, is the following:
“The Kyiv Post is nonpartisan. We are not the voice of the powerful, nor are we that of the opposition. We take no position for or against any government, political party, faction, organization or individual.” It goes on: “If we see wrongdoing we will aggressively expose and report on it, regardless of the source. Our commitment is simply to be fair: We do our utmost to ensure that every story is balanced, that coverage is uniformly even-handed, and that it affords all responsible voices with an opportunity to be heard.”
Also, as an explicit demonstration of its impartiality, the document states that, in general, it is not the newspapers mission to endorse candidates, and an endorsement can only be done with the approval of the publisher.
There are, of course, other elements, including an editorial board headed by the publisher and including the chief editor, several sub editors and the chief executive officer.
The self-proclaimed outlaw singer David Allen Coe, an old acquaintance of mine, once proclaimed he had found the perfect country song: Its lyrics included references to mama, trains, prison and whiskey.
I do not claim I have nailed an editorial policy with the same accuracy. But, as Mr. Coe would have said, “It ain’t bad.”
Kyiv Post CEO Michael Willard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.