Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Freebie at the Expense of Neutral Journalistic Reporting

We are starting to see more campaign ads on TV these days because of the upcoming municipal election. It is the norm for an election cycle. Local television stations have a delicate balancing act during this election cycle between reporting news that is public information and reporting news that includes a public interest's regarding a specific candidate.

Last night's story on KELOTV regarding cheap tickets brings the subject up for debate. Let's remember that the airport is separate entity governed by an airport authority, separate and distinct from city government. It is not a city department.  It is not under the administrative jurisdiction of the mayor. 

The story lead with the statement, "When he was elected in 2010, Mayor Mike Huether said one of his top priorities was to bring down the price of airfare out of Sioux  Falls.Four years later, that's happened, for some destinations." It continued with this statement, "The airline business has changed changed considerably since Mayor Huether took office calling for lower fares. He helped bring Frontier Airlines into the city. Frontier offered lower prices to the West."

The story did get Sioux Falls Regional Airport Executive Director on camera for a brief statement and it did include a statement from a travel agent but it continued with the airport cheerleader, Mayor Huether. The piece concluded with, "Huether believes as long as people continue to choose to fly out Sioux Falls, the airlines will come. But if you work toward it, if you devise a plan, if you execute the plan then ultimately yes, I think we've got a really good chance to make that happen, Huether said. " 

Why was a candidate for the mayoral position featured in this story about cheap airline tickets? I get that he is the current mayor, but we are in the middle of a local campaign. Was including Huether in a story about the airport's achievement in increased boardings and cheaper tickets important to the completeness of the story? I'm not sure you could tell the difference between publicly important information and information that projected a mayoral candidate's purported achievements.

I don't think of our local 6 o'clock news programs in the same light as I view cable news. I expect neutral reporting of local news. Including Huether in this story limited the independence of KELO's reporting on the story of cheap tickets when they used him as source of information during an election campaign where he is one of the candidates. 

During this election cycle, the incumbent mayor walks a fine line between being mayor and being a candidate. The blame does not fall on Huether in this case. He was handed a golden opportunity and he took it. He got a free campaign ad. The story was written on behalf of a mayoral candidate who just happens to be the incumbent who just happens to be a cheerleader for cheap airline tickets.

The story would have been more credible if it had just been about cheap tickets and the airport and actually featured the person who actually runs the airport and who should have received credit for the good things happening at the airport. Just once I'd like to see Dan Letellier get some credit for what's happening at the airport. Afterall, he is the executive director who runs things out there.
Oh, and when I see a campaign ad, I don't want to see it reported by a journalist.


  1. Amen. The Argus ran a story indicating this had nothing to do with the Mayor.

  2. Journalist are a breed in this Country. And as your blog reflects, they don't even know it. They have no sense are understanding of journalism at it's purest; thus, they are unable to practice it. With the proliferation of outlets supplying "news" we are faced with executives focused on the bottom line and monetary goals instead of serving the public good. Where will it end? It will leave us with a constituency no longer able to think for it's self. Democracy cannot flourish without a vigilant fifth rail constantly challenging all elements of government. The Argus hasn't thought this through. Where is it's editor?