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Journalists and columnists and sensitive issues

For this week’s Clio/Mt. Morris Birch Run/Bridgeport Herald, I wrote a lengthy piece about Michigan’s anti-smoking measure and how restaurants and bars are dealing with it three months later. Back around December, when the measure was initially passed, I called various businesses and solicited their opinions and wrote a lengthy news-feature article. To say most of the businesspersons dislike the new law is like saying Boston Red Sox fans hate New York Yankee fans.

Originally, I planned to write a column about this issue. But as I thought and as I discussed it with my editor, he suggested asking local businesses what they thought of the issue. That sounded like a great idea, but I concluded that if I wrote a news article, I would feel very uncomfortable writing an opinion column about the issue.

My belief is simple. If I were to write a column, there would be people who–understandably–would want to know just how much of an effort I made to be fair and impartial in the news side of the story. I’ve seen other journalists write opinion columns like this, and to me it is messy. Besides, on the tobacco issue, I’m very opinionated.

At one newspaper I worked at, a public official was suspended amid allegations of financial irregularities. Some said it was a one-time occurrence while others said the official not only had his hand in the proverbial cookie jar before but had done so at a previous job. Another writer at the office then took the story and not only wrote a news article but then wrote a column saying it was a one-time act of compassion and should be treated as such. That reporter, as it turns out, was a friend of the official and should’ve recused himself from writing the news story. He did not, and I was left to wonder what investigative news story was lost as a result.

So, with that, I have no plans in the immediate future to write about my feelings about this Michigan anti-smoking law for my From A to Zowie column.

Richard Zowie is a Michigan-based writer. Post comments here or e-mail him at fromatozowie@gmail.com.

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