“Greek Sailors on a Venetian Canal” by Friedrich Nerly
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
News reporters are supposed to be flies on the wall – observe and report, and if you’ve done your job right, no one remembers you were there. But The Tecumseh Herald reporter Kerry Hamilton Smith was anything but a fly at Tecumseh Public Schools’ organizational meeting Monday evening. Instead, she was a proverbial bull in the china shop of journalistic integrity.
Near the end of the meeting during the public comment portion, a terse back and forth between TPS board president Tim Simpson and vocal board opponent Bill Swift culminated with Simpson saying, “This whole town is tired of your BS,” to which Smith, the Herald‘s reporter, seconded, vocally saying to Swift, “It’s true. It’s true. It’s absolutely true.” You can watch the interaction in the timestamped (48:13) video below.
A central pillar of good reporting is to avoid any real or perceived bias or conflicts of interest. It’s a delicate line to toe with some reporters going as far as abstaining from voting in elections big or small in an attempt to hide any bias. That’s an extreme case. However, Smith’s conduct didn’t just cross the line; she destroyed it along with her journalistic integrity.
As a reporter on assignment, you represent the outlet or publication you work for. The absolute last thing any publication would want is their reporter espousing biased opinions, especially opinions about a private citizen during a public meeting. The role of the reporter is to hold those in power accountable to the public they serve, not the other way around.
If Smith is willing to vocalize her biases in public, what biases are she injecting into her reporting? How long have her views colored her reporting? Is she capable of continuing to cover the school board, and able to do so neutrally? Those are tough questions the publisher and editors at The Herald have to answer.
From the public’s view, the answer is no. She can’t.