file photo of PJ Blogger reading the Ridgewood News
Follow Up Re: The Ridgewood News Letter to the Editor
James J. Foytlin
The Ridgewood Blog
Ridgewood, New Jersey
Dear Mr. Foytlin:
I am writing as a follow up to North Jersey Media Group’s (NJMG) June 28, 2013 letter posted on The Ridgewood Blog in response to several comments left by blog readers concerning a letter submitted by a resident for publication in the Letters to the Editor section of The Ridgewood News. It is kindly requested that you post this letter on the blog as well.
It is my understanding that some were disappointed with NJMG’s June 28, 2013 letter because it was not as forthcoming with details as those interested in this matter would have liked. However, as you likely know, New Jersey has a very strong shield law that is designed to safeguard the newsgathering process and allow our reporters to do their job to the fullest ability. Information obtained by reporters in the course of their professional activities, including discussions with their sources, is privileged. NJMG must be cautious with the information it discloses so as not to unintentionally waive this most important safeguard.
NJMG recognizes that some will likely decry this explanation as a way to simply dodge the underlying issues. However, such complaints are shortsighted. The shield law is designed to protect the free flow of information to the press. If the information obtained and the sources consulted in connection with news articles and editorials, such as letters to the editor, are subject to disclosure at the demand of the public, then the willingness to provide information to reporters will quickly evaporate and have a detrimental effect on the amount and quality of information available to the public at large.
However, in light of the fact that Mayor Aronsohn has already identified himself as having contacted The Ridgewood News and without waiving the right to any otherwise privileged information, NJMG would like to state the following:
· The Ridgewood News was never asked by the Mayor or anyone else in person or by any other means to withdraw, hold, pull or not to publish the resident’s letter;
· As he himself stated, Mayor Aronsohn contacted The Ridgewood News after a June council meeting to confirm what had already been discussed openly during that public meeting covered by our reporter; to wit, that there was a discrepancy between the letter writer’s statement regarding the village attorney’s advice and what the village attorney’s actual advice was with respect to handling matters in open or closed session.
The Ridgewood News was obligated to hold the resident’s letter until the facts could be confirmed. While The Ridgewood News does not fact check every letter to the editor, the newspaper would have been remiss by publishing information that it actually knew was not entirely accurate. Indeed, our courts have held news media liable for publishing letters to the editor that contain inaccurate statements.
As a further point of clarification, the resident was never advised that the letter would be printed in The Ridgewood News in the days immediately following the submission. Rather, newspaper staff contacted the resident for the purpose of confirming the authorship of the submission. The decision to print any news or opinion letters in The Ridgewood News rests in the sole discretion of NJMG and is further subject to space limitations in the newspaper.
In accordance with the privilege afforded The Ridgewood News under the shield law to safeguard its newsgathering activities and editorial process, NJMG is unable to make its editorial staff available for further inquiry, including personal meetings, to discuss this matter.
Finally, to the extent that any individual or entity has impliedly suggested or explicitly stated that The Ridgewood News succumbed to any pressure from the Mayor or any other public or private figure with respect to publication of the resident’s letter, NJMG unequivocally denies the accusation and the actual facts support that position.
We appreciate the community’s interest in our reporting and for bringing these concerns to The Ridgewood News’ attention.
ROBERT D. THOMPSON
Robert D. Thompson, Esq.
North Jersey Media Group Inc.
1 Garret Mountain Plaza
P.O. Box 471
Woodland Park, NJ 07424
T: (973) 569-7685
F: (973) 569-7268