Plain Dealer President and Publisher Terrence C. Z. Egger was named Monday a Cleveland Clinic board trustee, an appointment he said will not compromise the newspaper's duty to cover the Clinic impartially.
Egger said in an interview that trustee Chairman Mal Mixon asked him to serve on the 60-member board. He accepted to be involved with the growth engine of the area economy, he said.
The Plain Dealer did at least allow that this new appointment might be controversial.
The newspaper should take steps to assure the public that Egger's role as trustee has no influence on news coverage or editorials related to the hospital, said Bob Steele, a journalism values scholar at the Poynter Institute, a newspaper think tank in St. Petersburg, Fla.
'It's dicey territory,' said Steele. 'You have competing loyalties. And competing loyalties, if not properly recognized and professionally and ethically addressed, can create conflicts of interest [that] can corrode the credibility of either organization.'
It's interesting how the paper chose to quote someone who could not bring himself to say that the newspaper publisher's new position created a conflict of interest, only the potential for one.
News reporters are usually very careful about not having any financial relationships with people or organizations about which they may report (to the point of refusing a cup of coffee from someone who someday might be in a story they would report). Yet when the boss of the newspaper, to whom ultimately all those reporters report, is now also the boss of a major hospital system, that's only a potential conflict of interest.
In fact, the wishy-washy way in which this story was reported suggests just why this sort of conflict is important and troubling. It would take a courageous reporter to write a story critical of the Cleveland Clinic, when he or she knows the newspaper's boss is a leader of the Clinic.
This story does illustrate another mechanism for the propagation of the anechoic effect.