Readers' Representative Journal

A conversation on newsroom ethics and standards

Category: Bias issues

The whys and whens of (D) and (R)

The front-page article on Feb. 8 about the shooting at a city council meeting in Kirkwood, Mo., included a reference to the state governor that reader Roslyn Lothridge questioned.  "I would like to know why you felt it was necessary to write the following: 'Republican Gov. Matt Blunt called the tragedy a "senseless and horrific crime."' Yes it was a horrific crime, but what does Gov. Blunt's choice of his  political party have to do with the article? I noticed that you did not point out any one else's political party. What was your point in doing so?"

It’s not the first time a question has been raised on when and why party affiliations are made a part of the story. 

Editors think that providing the party affiliation of elected officials is useful for readers. As chief of copy desks Clark Stevens puts it, “Besides the basic information it provides, it gives us uniformity, consistency and, presumably, even-handedness.” But it’s less policy than practice, as Lothridge noted in her e-mail and as other stories show.

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Is immigration status relevant?

As staff writer Tony Barboza put it, "It might be worthwhile to post something about when and why reporters include immigration status in stories, and why they often don't."

He and other reporters -- and the readers' representative office -- get the question whenever, it seems, a crime story is published about someone who "happens to have a Spanish last name,"  as Barboza puts it. Some readers ask whether the person is illegal and often believe that The Times is not reporting information that, in these readers' opinions, would provide insight into a correlation between crime and illegal immigrants.

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Race, gender, religion: What's the relevance?

Several descriptives applied to candidates in recent campaign coverage have raised valid questions: What details are needed, and what is extraneous, in reporting on candidates? When does faith -- or race -- go from something reporters and editors try to strip out of the discourse, to a necessary fact?

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Strike story: Writers react

This e-mail from Melinda Hsu Taylor of Los Angeles represented several dozen that came in to the L.A. Times in response to a Dec. 12 story on the writers' strike: "I object to the vague, prejudicial and unsupported claims that 'the Writers Guild of America is under new and mounting pressure from its ranks to get back to the bargaining table'... and 'a number of union members are unhappy... .'  Only one WGA member (Craig Mazin) was actually quoted by name. Meanwhile, thousands of picketers are showing up at the studios every day."

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Illegal immigrants and health care

The Times' Nov. 27 story on a study that found that illegal immigrants in Los Angeles County used fewer health services than U.S.-born Latinos garnered the same sort of response that comes for most stories about illegal immigration: Impassioned notes from people with viewpoints on all points of the political spectrum. Some 30 readers sent questions on the piece.

One of them, Kay Brown of South Pasadena, took The Times to task for seeking comment from a group she says is "anti-immigrant." Writes Brown: "I am offended that a totally anti-immigrant organization, Federation for American Immigration Reform, is being used without extensively qualifying this source. I hope the federation is not used just because they are easy to find. Reporters and editors are easily fooled into thinking the federation's point of view will help 'balance'  immigration issues."

Other readers questioned the study itself. Robert Hemedes of Los Angeles echoed others when he said the study was flawed because "it relies on a phone call survey where people will lie or undercount the number of times they use hospital services. The most accurate information can be collected from hospitals themselves. The collected results will most likely contradict what the phone survey missed."

Reporter Mary Engel, who covers health care, responds.

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