OLD Media Moves

Dallas paper's reporter married to pilot in contract negotiations

October 25, 2007

Posted by Chris Roush

Tim Rogers of D magazine in Dallas writes on the publication’s FrontBurner blog about a potential conflict of interest at the Dallas Morning News in its business news department.

Dallas Morning NewsRogers wrote, “Katie Fairbank covers aviation for the Morning News. She has special insight into the industry because her husband is a pilot for American Airlines. All’s well. Except when she covers the airline’s contract negotiations with its pilot union, as she did yesterday. Did I mention her husband is an AA pilot? In my book, that’s not cricket.

“I called and e-mailed Fairbank yesterday. I’ve yet to get a response from her.”

Read here. I am assuming that the conflict of interest Rogers is raising is the fact that the reporter stands to benefit financially if her husband gets a better contract with the airline.

Morning News business editor Dennis Fulton referred me to a posting by the paper’s managing editor, George Rodrigue, on the Ask the Editor blog. The posting noted that Fairbank was asked to write the story only because three other reporters were unavailable.

Rodrigue wrote, “Business Editor Dennis Fulton, who assigned Katie to the story, asked his colleagues to scrutinize it especially closely for fairness, and I think it passed that test. So did American Airlines’ chief of media relations, Roger Frizzell.

“‘I wasn’t unhappy with the story, but it did worry me a bit that she was writing a union-related story when I learned her husband was a pilot at American,’ he wrote. ‘It feels a little bit like a conflict of interest, although I did not see any evidence of it in her writing.’

“Indeed, our request put Katie in the untenable position of writing about something that could directly affect her bank account. The fact that she handled it well speaks to her professionalism. But we never should have put her in a position of either saying ‘no’ to an editor or of writing a story that posed a conflict of interest. One reason her editors didn’t think of this was that she’d done such stories a time or two before, about five years ago, during similar staffing shortages.

“We shouldn’t have put Katie in that position back then, and we won’t do it in the future. Apologies from here for the mistake.”

Read more of Rodrigue’s explanation here.

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