A Note about PubliCola's Endorsements

By Josh Feit July 28, 2009


Sandeep Kaushik and Erica C. Barnett

In today's Morning Fizz comments thread, there are a lot of fair questions from readers about potential conflicts of interest at PubliCola regarding people on our masthead, such as Sandeep Kaushik (who does campaign work for Mayor Greg Nickels and Dow Constantine) and Cynara Lilly (who does campaign work for Ross Hunter).  My answers to those questions were a little flip.

Sorry about that. I've forgotten that we have a lot of new readers since I originally addressed these issues. And, definitely, it's important to explain it again as we plan to roll out endorsements. (Quick update: Our endorsements, initially intended to hit tomorrow, are going to hit on Monday. It's just two of us here, man, and endorsements are a ton of work.)

Erica did address most of the issues in her post last week when she announced we were doing endorsements, but let me lay it out as well.

Erica and I do all the reporting and writing about local politics at PubliCola. And along with former PI editor Mark Matassa—who's also on our advisory board —we will be making the endorsements. No one else at PubliCola is involved in the endorsement process. Our endorsements will be based on Erica's and my regular reporting and on interviews with the candidates.

Sandeep Kaushik—who works as Mayor Nickels' campaign spokesperson and King County Executive candidate Dow Constantine's campaign spokesperson—co-founded PubliCola with me in January. It's hard to define what that means other than to say this: He was there brainstorming with me as this site began to take shape late last year, he's been in on all the business meetings (except one back in December when I scored my very first bit of startup cash to help me cover the legislative session in Olympia), and he weighs in when needed with advice about the business side of running this site. On our masthead, Sandeep is listed as "Spiritual Adviser." While that's a bit of a goof, it's also pretty accurate.

Obviously, there's potential for conflicts, so we set up straightforward rules. Kaushik is not involved in the day-to-day editorial decisions, he doesn't write about local politics for us (he doesn't write much at all for the site), and he has zero editorial control over what Erica or  I write. (He doesn't see it until it's up on the site—just like any regular reader).

As for his role as Nickels' and Constantine's campaign guy? He calls me and Erica just like any other spokesperson would and pitches us stories. We bite on some and not on others. We call him for statements when we're working on stories that involve his candidates. When we do meet about PubliCola business stuff, we don't talk about his candidates.

It's just common sense, and it's worked well. Check out our Election '09 coverage and judge for yourself.

Cynara Lilly sells ads for us part-time. She also works as the campaign spokesperson for State Rep. Ross Hunter, one of Constantine's opponents. She has zero editorial input at PubliCola.

We have contacted all of Hunter's opponents and told them about Cynara's role. We've set it up so that if they want to buy an ad at PubliCola, they go through me, and I keep Cynara out of it—to the point that Cynara will not  even know if an ad from a Hunter opponent is queued up.

A month after Matassa joined our advisory board, he was hired as the campaign spokesperson for one of Nickels' opponents, Jan Drago. Matassa will not be involved in our mayoral endorsement process.

Our "OMG!Obama" columnist—mostly a humor column (although, oftentimes he drops some dead-on political science)—has a major role at Joe Mallahan's mayoral campaign. His role at PubliCola is limited to that of a freelance writer. He sends me hilarious copy about Obama, and I edit it. Other than that back and forth, he has no role at PubliCola. (I don't mean to be coy about ObamaNerd's true identity, but for now, we like keeping the Nerds anonymous. That'll probably change soon. And he weighed in on this morning's comments thread, so it's not too hard to figure out who he is.)

If anything, it seems to me, with all these folks working for competing candidates, the potential conflicts are canceled out. But that's just being cute. The real safeguard is as I've stated it: Sandeep, Cynara, and ObamaNerd have nothing to do with our local politics coverage. And Mark was only consulted on non-mayoral endorsements. (He also has zero input on our regular political coverage.)

I see the fact that Sandeep, Mark, et al have day jobs that put them in deep in local politics as a credit to PubliCola. These folks are involved in the DNA of Election '09 and Seattle politics. So is PubliCola. It's a perfect fit. It makes sense that someone like Matassa—who's wrapped up in local politics and local news reporting—would land on PubliCola's advisory board and on a local campaign. We're proud to have him. The same thing goes for my close friend Sandeep (I can't imagine doing PubliCola without him and his brain power) and Cynara and ObamaNerd.

Again, people are bringing up important questions and concerns. I hope this explanation answers them. Ultimately, though, it comes down to our reporting. I think you'll find that it's fair, accurate, and useful, and like our staff, it's in deep.
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