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WITF’s election conflict of interest, and how we’ll handle it

  • Scott Blanchard/WITF

 Mike Albright / WITF

This originally appeared in The Purple Buck, WITF’s weekly newsletter aimed at bringing you inside our newsroom and helping us all make sense of the sometimes overwhelming news we encounter every day. Subscribe here

The 10th Congressional District race was already shaping up as a big one: Several people have said they’re running for the Democratic nomination to take on Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, who the Jan. 6 committee labeled a central figure in helping Donald Trump try to remain in office despite losing the 2020 election.

But a couple weeks ago, it became complicated for us. Blake Lynch, who used to be senior vice president and chief impact officer at WITF, announced he’s running for the Democratic nomination, too.

That sets up a potential conflict of interest and raises an obvious question: How can we fairly report on the 10th district race now that a former WITF executive is among the candidates?

Part of the answer is what you’re reading right now. Before Lynch declared, we had decided we would not publish or air stories each time a candidate announced they were in the race; we would wait until the filing deadline passed, and report on all the candidates at once. So, because we had not already reported on other candidates’ announcements, we didn’t report on Lynch’s.

But other news organizations did, as we knew they would. Then one outlet published a story about ex-White House staffer Cassidy Hutchinson’s interview on WITF’s The Spark, in which she said Perry was “central” to Trump’s plan to “essentially shred the Constitution in any way that he could to stay in power.” The last paragraph of that story noted that former WITF exec Blake Lynch was running in the 10th — but didn’t mention other candidates. Readers could have perceived that as linking our interview, which was tough on Perry, with the candidacy of a former colleague.

So we decided to address the issue now. Here are important things to know about how we’ll treat the 10th district race and Lynch’s run for office.

  • We began reporting on Perry’s support of Trump’s effort to invalidate millions of legally cast votes in early 2021, months before Lynch joined WITF.
  • In his role at WITF, Lynch did not have any direct influence on the newsroom and was not involved in any journalism decisions, including about news coverage.
  • Lynch’s role here was to represent and promote the WITF organization and its work across all departments. In that capacity, he attended at least two News & Brews events put on by the newsroom.
  • We will treat Lynch as we would any other candidate. When we’re writing about an issue in the race, for example, we’ll reach out to all candidates. His comments won’t receive prominence over others simply because he used to work here. His campaign’s news releases will be assessed in the same way any other candidate’s releases will be.
  • We will ask our sister newsroom at LNP | LancasterOnline to have editors available who can edit stories that may focus on or feature Lynch, should we do, for example, candidate profiles. Editors there did not work with Lynch in any official capacity. That will give us an extra level of separation from the conflict of interest issue.
  • For transparency, in stories we publish or air about the 10th district race that mention Lynch, we will note his former employment at WITF.

These all stem from our commitment to be transparent with you, and our commitment to our ethics and our guidelines for editorial integrity. There may be other issues we’ll address as the campaign goes on. Let me know if you have questions I didn’t answer here.

And, since I’ve just written about one candidate, here are the others who are running for the Democratic nomination in the 10th district:

  • John Broadhurst, a businessman originally from Delaware County
  • Rick Coplen, a Carlisle school board member and Army veteran
  • Shamaine Daniels, Harrisburg city council member who ran against Perry two years ago
  • Bob Forbes, a retired Army sergeant from Camp Hill
  • Mike O’Brien, a retired Marine living in Harrisburg
  • Janelle Stelson, a former WGAL TV anchor

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