As I grow older, my goal is to learn from my mistakes rather than plunging myself into a pool of shame.
Our errors should be teaching moments, as well, rather than just causes for flagellation.
The March 28 Tribune Profile on Gary Herzberg printed in the Neighbors section offers a prime example.
Herzberg was a candidate in the April 2 election. The suggestion to write a feature story about him came after the Tribune had followed readers’ suggestions to write stories on Ann Lewandowski and Mary Heimbecker, who were also candidates.
After Lewandowski was contacted by one of our three freelancers who write these pieces, she called me and disclosed that she had filed papers to run in the April 2 election.
Naively, I said if the story were written about her, personally, not about her as a candidate, the Tribune would in no way be seen as promoting one candidate over another. We would write about all of the candidates’ platforms in our election story. The story on the candidates was published March 14 in our showcase edition.
Former Tribune publisher Rich Murphy began the Tribune Profile around 40 years ago. My sense is, as the area was rapidly growing, he intended it as a means to introduce community members to readers and foster closer ties among residents. In the 40 years since this feature began, the Tribune has consistently included it, even when our freelancers scrambled to find subjects.
Once Lewandowski was profiled, the gates opened for other candidates to be written about. Mary Heimbecker followed, and then we were asked to write about Gary Herzberg.
Like the others, I forwarded this suggestion onto our three freelancers.
The Friday before the March 28 edition, the final edition prior to the election, I opened the profile our freelancer submitted, and seeing it featured a candidate, I buried my head in my hands.
I knew it was ill-timed, that a barrage of complaints and even accusations would follow.
But weighing the alternatives, mustering up another profile with little time and a pile of work on my desk, or omitting the story altogether, I chose to publish it. Previous articles had been published about the other candidates, as well.
The same day of publication, the Tribune was accused of bias, partisanship and even providing in-kind campaign contributions. It just didn’t look good.
And I knew it wouldn’t.
But the lesson is learned. The election is now over, and in future election seasons, no candidates will be featured in this section.
The Tribune Profile was never intended to be used for political gain, and agreeing to print the piece about Lewandowski was my first step into this mire. I won’t walk that path again.