Maintaining balance in covering Issue 9
The Heights Observer doesn’t endorse political candidates or issues, and the Issue 9 ballot referendum in Cleveland Heights is no exception.
But Issue 9 represents the biggest challenge we’ve had to date in making this claim. That’s because FutureHeights, which publishes the Observer, has taken a public position on the matter.
FutureHeights receives federal grant money, allocated by the city of Cleveland Heights, to work as a community development corporation on the city’s behalf. It was involved in planning for the development project that gave rise to Issue 9. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for FutureHeights to have a strong opinion on the matter.
But how can the Observer claim impartiality when its publisher has taken a side? It’s admittedly a fine hair to split.
First, those of us who produce the Observer tend not to get involved in other FutureHeights activities; we're here to publish, and that's enough work for a part-time job. And separating emotions from the job of producing a publication is no great feat; it’s a learned discipline we practice every month.
It’s also relevant that the Observer doesn’t receive any of that grant money; it’s funded solely through its advertising. So the Observer owes its continued existence not to FutureHeights, but to our advertisers. We keep our advertisers by serving our readers—and we do that by producing a paper that reflects the community rather than the policy concerns of the publisher.
Of course, Editor Kim Sergio Inglis and I have our own opinions on the big community issues, and (not speaking for Kim) I'd love to participate in the debates as much as anyone. But whatever either of us might say would be interpreted by some as bias in the publication. So, for the most part, we keep our mouths shut and take satisfaction in the idea that Observer itself is more important to the community than one more point of view.
People who do express opinions in the Observer—including those directly connected with FutureHeights—must all meet the same standards in submitting an article or opinion for publication. They must:
- Make the submission under the byline of an individual, not an institution;
- Disclose any relevant relationships in a sentence at the bottom of the article;
- Submit the article through our automated system;
- Accept that all submissions are subject to editing.
In past election seasons, we haven’t always had space to publish every submission about controversial issues. I’ve previously used this column (see November 2021) to outline criteria for selecting which contributions will run.
This month, we're able to run everything that came in on the topic except for a letter that arrived so long past the article deadline that all space in the issue had already been allocated.
We’re also conscious of balance in working with potential advertisers. There are three paid ads in this edition about Issue 9: one in favor and two against.
Initially, for the April issue, we didn’t communicate proactively with any potential advertisers about Issue 9. But when two groups opposing the ballot issue submitted ads on their own, we contacted the other side to make sure it had the opportunity to advertise as well. We didn’t tell them what the opposition was planning; we never do that—as anybody who has run political ads in the Observer can confirm.
All three political advertisers in this issue paid the published nonprofit rate for their respective ads. No space was donated, and no other consideration was offered.
So, what you see in this edition about Issue 9 reflects the most even-handed treatment we were able to provide.
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There are no plans to publish further opinions about Issue 9 in print, because the next edition comes out just three days before the May 3 primary election. We also don’t have staff resources to promise that any new articles or opinions on the issue will be edited for use online.
That could change if significant new information or a meaningfully different perspective comes to light. But outside of unforeseen circumstances, this edition of the Observer is effectively the last to address Issue 9 before it’s decided at the polls.
Cleveland Heights resident Bob Rosenbaum is co-chair of the Heights Observer Advisory Committee, and is responsible for its advertising sales and market development.