Reporter disciplined for ethical lapse

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A lapse in journalistic ethics by a Southeast Missourian reporter has raised serious issues about the newspaper's coverage of the eligibility of a Scott County Central School Board member.

On June 19, the Southeast Missourian first reported, in a story by reporter Mark Bliss, that a question had been asked in an anonymous letter from a Morley, Mo., resident about whether board member Eric Kesler resided in the Scott County Central School District. The story also reported that the residency issue had been brought up by school board members when Kesler was running for office. School officials determined that they had no responsibility to confirm a candidate's residency.

On June 24, the Southeast Missourian published another story that said the Scott County prosecuting attorney or the Missouri attorney general's office could investigate the residency issue if either office received a written complaint. On the same day, the Missourian published an editorial suggesting that the issue needed to be resolved.

On Aug. 17, the Southeast Missourian published a story about a faxed press release from Paul Boyd, Scott County prosecuting attorney, which said Kesler would step down by the next day amid evidence that Kesler didn't meet the state's residency requirement. Kesler, with the consent of fellow board members, was still considering his options this week.

After the Aug. 17 story was published, managing editor Sam Blackwell received information from a Scott County Central administrator that action by the attorney general's office and the Scott County prosecutor's office had been initiated by a complaint sent to the attorney general's office by reporter Bliss.

Following a thorough review of what transpired, it has been determined by the Southeast Missourian's management that Bliss' decision to file a complaint violated the journalistic standards that the newspaper strives to uphold.

"To have a reporter inject himself into a story like this is unacceptable," said Jon K. Rust, publisher.

Bliss' further failure to inform his editors about the complaint and to continue to report on the story after filing the complaint were serious lapses of journalistic ethics.

"I did it with the best of intentions," Bliss said. "It wasn't an issue about Mr. Kesler to me, but about state law. I regret how this whole situation has developed."

Disciplinary action is being taken.

The Southeast Missourian makes every effort to uphold the highest journalistic standards and regrets the actions of one of its reporters.

-- R. Joe Sullivan, Editor

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