Joyce Terhaar

From the Executive Editor: Degrees of separation at The Bee

A reader emailed me this week to talk about values, how The Bee's differed too much from his, for his taste.

"My political party, my religious faith and my views of sex education, gay rights and gay marriage are seldom in agreement with yours. I've gotten the decided impression in various Bee Opinion articles over time that the paper is often not on my side in most of these settings," he said.

The email was sent to me and Bee Publisher Cheryl Dell. It was not intended as a public letter so I'm not naming the writer, who went on to say he was unhappy with the paper's financial coverage and recent decision to accept some medical marijuana advertising. As such he was unhappy with three parts of our business we work to keep separate so as not to influence our reporting – news coverage, editorials and advertising.

Journalists working for a mass audience newspaper learn early in their careers, as I did, that we likely won't make all readers happy all the time.

That's particularly true in a region as richly diverse as Sacramento. We are politically polarized, with strong Republican support in the foothills and strong Democratic beliefs in the urban core. We are racially and ethnically diverse – more diverse by ZIP code than most places in the country.

It would be foolish to frame our news coverage or our institutional opinions to appeal to any one part of our audience, and it wouldn't adequately reflect the region.

Instead, the values we work by are journalistic rather than personal. I ask our journalists to be fair and accurate in their coverage. My colleagues and I work to be honest and transparent in our dealings with sources and readers.

The Bee's ethics policy for its journalists focuses on behavior and decisions, not the newspaper's institutional opinions.

That policy says in part that every day we "seek to report the truth fully while remaining independent and free from political, social, financial or other special interests."

We ask our staff to follow the law when covering and presenting news – a no-brainer, you'd think, but given the phone hacking scandal at News Corp., I'm glad we say it clearly.

Bee journalists identify themselves when working on stories. We ensure sources know the impact of being featured in a story, especially if they are not media savvy.

Importantly, we keep our news gathering separate from the paper's editorial opinions. I sit on the editorial board, but the daily opinion work is led by Stuart Leavenworth, our editorial page editor, who reports directly to Publisher Cheryl Dell.

While we direct most of our resources to news, both in number of journalists and space devoted in print and online, some of the most vociferous reactions in the community to our work is directed at The Bee's institutional opinions.

That's why The Bee includes letters to the editor in the newspaper, comments attached to stories online. It is also why we try to answer as many emails and phone calls from readers as possible.

When I responded to the emailer earlier this week, I said The Bee's editorial opinions won't always be in step with the personal values of each of our subscribers, yet we've made it a point to offer differing opinions on our editorial and opinion pages so that we include the range of views in this region.

That's also true of our news coverage. Our goal is to ensure our reporting reflects the breadth of community issues and discussion, not one slice of it.