Possible Conflict of Interest
Posted: May 11, 2007
I remember when I worked as the news director for WIAL-94.1FM and WEAQ-AM 790 in Eau Claire from 1990-1992, I would often read local stories that were written by another member of the stations' news staff. There were times when I rewrote some of the copy to make the story fit into the newscast, but I never edited the local story to change the content. After all, I was not at the previous night's school board, city council or county board meeting, so I relied on the evening news reporter to write the story for me.
When Bruce Butler joined John Murphy nearly four years ago on the "NewsTalk 790" WAYY-AM morning show, he not only read the news, but also delivered his personal opinion on some local news topics. I remember asking George Roberts, vice president and market manager for Maverick Media (which owns six radio stations in the Chippewa Valley) if management ever considered hiring an individual to just read the news. I told Roberts that it often sounds like Butler is writing, reading and editorializing local content, which is a journalistic no-no.
At the time, Mr. Roberts told me that the station did not have enough personnel to read the morning news. In fact, Roberts said he receives one or two calls every few weeks about the possible conflict of interest for the morning show newscast. Four years later, Murphy and Butler have received the highest Arbitron ratings for the morning drive slot in WAYY's history. However, Butler is still reading the news and offering his opinions on some of the day's top local stories. Roberts says there is still a staff shortage that does not allow for another person to just read the news. Yet, veteran radio personality Bob Bosold has recently joined the WAYY morning show as a third commentator.
Just this week, Butler read a story about the previous night's Eau Claire School Board meeting. After a short commercial break following his newscast, Butler began to offer his support for the school board action the previous night. If a listener did not know that Butler does not write his own news copy, they may have been turned off by the timing of the newscast and the follow-up editorial.
I generally like to listen to the WAYY morning show. Murphy, Butler and Bosold are all seasoned radio talent. I would like to know, though, if Butler considers himself a journalist because I personally do not classify him as a "news guy". The problem is that most of the morning show audience does not realize that Butler is not preparing his own local newscast. Maverick Media ownership should hire, or assign, a news reporter to read the local news to avoid any potential conflict of interest. As they say: "Perception is often considered reality".