Confusing the News

California publisher who prohibits coverage of gay issues and abortion does disservice

Last month, fledgling newspapers The San Luis Obispo and Atascadero Gazettes formalized their policies against reporting news concerning homosexuality or abortion. David Weyrich and his wife, the owners of these local papers of California, asserted this position with a front-page editorial advocating the sanctity of family "as God defines it." Todd Hansen, the weeklies' chief operating officer has referred the new policy as one that prevents the paper from "promoting the gay lifestyle or abortion."

However, the paper's policy does much more than this. It destroys the proper barrier between the news and editorial departments. If Weyrich wanted his newspapers to offer an opinion on homosexuality or abortion the editorial page would have been the proper place to express his views. His decision to determine what's worthy of reporting fails to further his agenda and detracts from the credibility of his newspapers.

The news section of any paper for a local community has a duty to report the events that effect the people it serves. When Ron Bast, a longtime local writer and editor of the Atascadero Gazette, asked Mr. Hansen, "How we would cover the annual AIDS bike-a-thon from San Francisco to Los Angeles, which brings 10,000 people through town, presumably most of them in support of gays," Hansen replied "We won't."

In response to this new policy, Bast and other editors of the weeklies have quit, advertisers have pulled out and readers have asked their names be taken off of mailing lists. Despite these repercussions, the weeklies have shown no signs of retracting their narrow-minded policies.

Americans should be able to read the news section of any paper and feel they are gaining an accurate and impartial knowledge of actual events that concern their communities. They should not have to worry that the agenda of their paper's owners is preventing fair and full coverage of the news.

In this time of consolidation when fewer owners control more parts of the media, it becomes even more important for news sources to exercise restraint and provide unbiased reporting. The division between the news and editorial sections of newspapers is necessary for the integrity of the news media and the service it provides for society.