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Maine TV Anchors Quit on Air, Igniting Journalism Ethics Debate
11/21/2012   Reported By: Jennifer Mitchell

Last night, two television anchors at WVII Channel 7 in Bangor stunned audiences by tendering their resignations live on air. News Director Cindy Michaels and Executive Producer Tony Consiglio had co-anchored the evening newscast on ABC 7 for more than six years.  Although neither has pointed to any specific incidents, Michaels and Consiglio both say that the station's managers have been exercising undue influence over news content. But the station's manager disagrees.  Meanwhile, as Jennifer Mitchell reports, independent observers are watching to see what comes of it all.

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Maine TV Anchors Quit on Air, Igniting Journalism
Originally Aired: 11/21/2012 5:30 PM
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The video has already hit news Web sites, trade publications and blogs nationwide - from the AOL Jobs Web site to the Huffington Post.

Consiglio in video:  "We have loved every moment bringing the news to you and coming into the homes with your stories of the community and the state, and some recent developments have come to our attention, though, and departing together is the best alternative we can take."

Michaels in video: "You are a wonderful community, Bangor, and we are very sad at having to say goodbye for now, but we will still be around."

Cindy Michaels and Tony Consiglio then signed off and turned in their company cell phones.  Soon after, their two positions were advertised on a national media jobs Web site.

None of the WVII staff contacted for this story wished to be quoted on record, but all claimed to be surprised by the sudden resignations - all, that is, except for the company's manager.

"Sometimes people leave before they're asked to leave," says the station's General Manager Mike Palmer. He emphatically denies that he ever exercised undue influence over the journalism at WVII. He says he never went to news meetings, never dictated the casts, and that the news was left up to Michaels, as the department manager.

Even so, he admits that he did have occasion to question Michaels' news judgment. "I had to make it known they had to present both sides of an issue rather than one side of an issue," he says. "For instance, we recently broadcast a gay marriage debate."

Palmer says that Michaels and Consiglio selected an openly gay man to moderate that debate, something he says shows biased judgment.

But that's not exactly how Cindy Michaels remembers it. She says that the moderator in question was a professional journalist - a member of her staff - who had come to her with the idea of holding that debate, and she says that Palmer never discussed that staff member's sexual orientation with her.

"There was a regular undoing of decisions made by me, the news director," she says. "Sometimes politically charged stories were not treated with unbiased approach."

Michaels says it's hard to offer specifics because these conflicts over news ethics arose constantly - she says at least every week.  And she says that after a long period of soul searching, she and Consiglio decided together that their principles were being compromised by staying.

"Bangor, Maine, is a fairly small news market, but it can represent, even given its small size those significant tensions that exist between the journalistic and the business values," says Bob Steele, who specializes in ethics and journalism at DePauw University.

Coincidentally, Steele once worked for WVII as its news director back in the 1970s. He says that while he can't comment more specifially on this situation until more details emerge, he says that it's unwise to ignore these kinds of conflicts when they arise, because the quality of a nation's journalism indicates the quality of information delivered to voters, educators, and citizens trying to make good decisions.

"And if there's some sense that that fair, responsible, professional, ethical news coverage is being undermined, then it should be a point of discussion, in the same way in which we discuss issues with the University of Maine or Eastern Maine Medical Center or the paper companies or any other major institution," Steele says.

Consiglio and Michaels' abrupt departure is already making a splash industry-wide. Mark Kelley, who teaches at the New England School of Communications, says he's planning on using this very case as a discussion topic with his students because it involves both professionalism and ethics.

Kelley says he's seen this sort of thing happen before. He says the public will forget all about it in a couple of days, but there's a chance that Consiglio and Michaels may have irreparably damaged their careers by choosing to quit on the spot.

"It'll come up in our media ethics class, it'll come up in our journalism classes, certainly," he says.  "We'll certainly be talking about it."

"I'm very sad to hear that this potentially could have a negative effect on my career, but you have to stand up for what you believe in," Michaels says.

Michaels says that the decision to leave was very emotional. She says she and Coniglio wanted to show respect for their viewers by issuing a personal goodbye, which probably would not have happened if they'd handed in their notice any earlier.

Meanwhile, Mike Palmer at WVII says that he plans to fill the positions as soon as suitable candidates can be found - which he says won't be long, given the amount of interest he's already received.
 
 

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