When writers have a personal interest in the articles they submit

Anyone in Cleveland Heights and University Heights who is willing to meet some basic standards of civility is invited to write for the Heights Observer.

That means our pages are filled with articles by people who have a personal interest in the events and organizations they’re covering.

That’s supposed to be forbidden at a traditional newspaper. But the Observer has never paid for anything it publishes; it couldn’t exist without volunteer contributions. So at the bottom of each article, we run a biographical statement that aims to disclose any pertinent information about the author’s connection to the subject matter. We believe you're smart enough to take it from there.

There’s no magic system to achieve this transparency. We rely on the honor system and our volunteer editors. If we miss one, we count on readers to let us know.

That’s what happened recently, when a reader accused the Observer of publishing articles about the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District without disclosing that the authors had been paid to write them.

The contributions in question were from Krissy Dietrich Gallagher and Patti Carlyle. Both are active in the community and contribute frequently to the paper. Carlyle is a past board member of FutureHeights, which publishes the Observer, and a former member of the Heights Observer Advisory Committee.

When contacted, they confirmed that they’ve been paid as freelance writers since late last fall to write articles for use in the district’s communications, and that they had also submitted some of these for publication in the Observer in the November 2015 to March 2016 editions. If we had known of the financial relationship, we would have disclosed it then. We didn't, so we're disclosing it now, at the first opportunity.

Personally, I don’t believe the school district was trying to pull one over on anyone. It doesn’t need to; we would have published these stories anyway.

I know both of the writers personally and don't think their intent was malicious either. But I wish they had been proactive about mentioning the financial relationship when it began, and I regret that it took five months to learn about it.

With that said, not every contribution they’ve made in recent months was an article they were paid to write. Both have been active and constructive contributors to the Observer and I hope that will continue.

In the future, though, their freelance role with CH-UH schools will be acknowledged in articles they write related to education and children.

We will continue to insist that contributors disclose such relationships, and we’ll continue to let you know when we miss one. You can take it from there.

Bob Rosenbaum

Cleveland Heights resident Bob Rosenbaum is co-chair of the Heights Observer Advisory Committee, and is responsible for its advertising sales and market development.

Read More on Opening the Observer
Volume 9, Issue 5, Posted 4:34 PM, 04.29.2016