SPJ Calls on KSTP to Disavow “Pointergate” Story

Event planned to bring the community together to discuss the story.

The Minnesota Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is deeply concerned about the story that aired on KSTP-TV on Nov. 7, 2014 alleging that Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges appeared recently in a photo flashing a gang sign.

The Twin Cities chapters of the National Association of Black Journalists and the Asian American Journalists Association join MNSPJ in expressing their concern and calling for KSTP to disavow the story.

The story was fundamentally flawed and based on a faulty premise — that a silly gesture made by the mayor in a candid photo amounted to a gang sign. The SPJ code of ethics urges all journalists to never deliberately distort facts or context, including visual information. This story did just that.

Although KSTP is able to attribute the accusations to identified police sources, in airing the story KSTP failed to exercise its journalistic duty to ensure that the stories it airs are worth telling. Instead, KSTP allowed itself to be used by one political group to make points against its political opponent.

We have watched the reaction to this story with deep concern, but with appreciation for the challenges journalists face. We had hoped KSTP would realize this story never should have aired and take steps to acknowledge its mistake. But more than a week later, we feel compelled to speak out. KSTP needs to apologize to Mayor Betsy Hodges, the other person in the referenced photo, and to the public that relies on accurate, relevant information about public officials.

We do not suggest that reporter Jay Kolls or KSTP are driven by an agenda in reporting this story. In fact, both have made invaluable contributions to the local journalism community through years of solid reporting and good journalism. But this story missed obvious clues about the motivations of the sources proffering the information and cannot be defended. In addition, Kolls’ characterization of the other man in the photo merely as “a convicted felon” creates the appearance that the reporter is a mouthpiece for members of the police force who have an axe to grind with the mayor’s office.

Kolls and his editors should have applied much more skepticism to the elements of this story as it was presented to him. Again, the SPJ Code of Ethics says, as journalists, we should acknowledge mistakes and correct them promptly and prominently. This story was deeply flawed, and KSTP and Kolls need to acknowledge that.

MNSPJ, in collaboration with AAJA, TCBJ, the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law and the Minnesota Journalism Center, will host a public forum on the ethical issues raised by this story at Cowles Auditorium on the West Bank campus of the University of Minnesota — on Dec. 8, 2014 at 7 p.m. Panelists, who will include journalism professors and media professionals, will discuss how to avoid airing a similar story in the future, as well as other questions this story presents about our community. Members of the local law enforcement community, Mayor Hodges and representatives of KSTP will also be invited to participate. The public is encouraged to attend.

For more information, please contact:

Jonathan Kealing, Minnesota SPJ president-elect

Chris Newmarker, Minnesota SPJ president