Mayor Winder ends citizen-journalist experiment

By Mike Winder

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, June 7 2011 1:52 p.m. MDT

Mike Winder is the mayor of West Valley City, Utah.

Mike Winder

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Editor's note: Mike Winder is the mayor of West Valley City, Utah.

Earlier last month, I announced I would begin to submit stories about West Valley City via Deseret Connect, a freelance contributor network utilized by Deseret News, KSL and their affiliate media partners.

It has been my commitment since I campaigned for mayor to explore innovative ways to get word out about the many great things going on in Utah’s second largest city.

The idea of a mayor doing news reporting in his own city is, of course, unconventional and raised some concerns but also some good questions. Some mistakenly asserted Deseret News had replaced their beat reporter with me. The reality is Jared Page, a Deseret News reporter, covers cities and fulfills the important watchdog role of society's fourth estate. I was just submitting additional content.

Some worried I, as an elected official and likely candidate for future office, was given a platform others were not. The reality is anyone was, and still is, welcome to submit content for Deseret Connect. No special offer was made to me – rather, I took the initiative.

Some lamented my bias as an elected official would corrupt any story I submitted. The reality is stories I submitted — about a Target being built in West Valley, about high school students being honored at a city council meeting and about a new city attorney being sworn in — were all pretty harmless. In fact, I had positive feedback from people who appreciated these topics being covered when they otherwise might not have been.

But what about stories other elected officials might submit in the future? Would they be as benign? These are fair questions.

I said in my introductory piece on May 16 that Deseret Connect was “an experiment worth testing,” and like all good experiments, there needs to be evaluation and adjustments made along the way.

Several days ago, Deseret News CEO Clark Gilbert said in a staff memo, “we feel the best approach going forward would be to have a policy to not allow people holding a political office (or those actively running for office) to write for us.” Gilbert appropriately said this policy was coming into place so Deseret News would avoided any “unintended risk of implied endorsement.” All elected officials, like myself, are invited to still weigh in with op-ed pieces written in first person and appearing in the opinion section.

In the end, I am pleased DeseretConnect.com will continue as a vehicle for West Valley City to receive additional news coverage. It was also fun to be a citizen-reporter for a few weeks. I don’t know what I’ll miss most — the press parking privileges, getting to ask my colleagues if a given conversation was “on the record,” or the missed opportunity to do a gotcha piece on my favorite reporters!

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