January 29, 2014 - 11:00 AM
By Alan Pergament
What was that all about?
I’m sure that was the reaction of some viewers about the two-minute explanation that Channel 2 News ran on its 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. newscasts Tuesday about how it handles environmental stories done by partner Investigative Post that includes interviews with the daughter of Investigative Post editor and executive director Jim Heaney.
At 6 p.m., anchor Maryalice Demler that since "someone" asked about the situation again, "we thought we'd remind all of you" about the station's policy.
Blame me. I was the "someone" who motivated the story since I had been asking for a few days why the father-daughter relationship isn't explained every time Channel 2 carries an IP report about environmental issues that feature an interview with Erin Heaney. She is executive director of the Clean Air Coalition and Jim Heaney's daughter.
It is the kind of ethical question that Jim Heaney may have asked if it involved people he covers. Heaney, who was a longtime Buffalo News reporter before founding Investigative Post, is sensitive to the kind of issue that pops up time to time with journalists and their relatives who work in fields they cover. In an email to me Sunday, Heaney wrote that he "failed to see how this is a story."
After a thorough investigation finished before Channel 2’s piece ran, I concluded that Heaney and IP's handing of the potential conflict is admirable, if not perfect. Demler conceded it wasn't perfect Tuesday in reading Channel 2's explanation.
While many viewers undoubtedly think of Heaney as being synonymous with Investigative Post, he also has another reporter on board, Dan Telvock.
Telvock specializes on environmental matters and he has done the interviews with Erin Heaney on pieces that have run in a weekly newspaper and air on Channel 2.
Heaney is Telvock’s boss, which would have been a significant conflict if he edited those environmental stories. However, Heaney made an arrangement with Lee Coppola, the highly-respected former dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at St. Bonaventure University who is now the board president of Investigative Post, to edit Telvock’s stories.
Heaney also wrote an IP post in November of 2012 explaining the situation with his daughter because he wanted to be transparent about the matter.
He also added in his email to me that it is Channel 2’s decision whether to note Erin Heaney is his daughter.
In an interview Monday, Coppola didn't think it is necessary for Channel 2 to reveal the relationship when the stories run on the station because Heaney doesn’t have anything to do with the stories. He also surmised that Channel 2 probably agreed with that assessment based on his involvement.
In an email Monday, Channel 2 News Director Jeff Woodard wrote: “Since the beginning of our partnership with Investigative Post, we have been transparent about how we deal with stories involving the Clean Air Coalition. It is spelled out in a very well-written article that is on the Investigative Post website, and also on the ‘IP’ page on wgrz.com.
“The careful handling of these stories by I.P. reporter Dan Telvock, well-respected journalist, professor, and I.P. Board President Lee Coppola and Channel 2 news management, keep Jim Heaney out of the loop on the reporting, writing and editing of those stories. We have not hidden from this sensitive situation; to the contrary we have been upfront about it."
Heaney and Channel 2 admirably tried to do the right thing.
However, Heaney’s post was written more than a year ago and his site and the IP page on Channel 2's website get a fraction of the attention that IP stories get on the station's newscasts.
Unlike Heaney, the station didn't fail to see how it was a story. A day after Woodard sent me the email defending its policy, Channel 2 ran the story on its air that included Heaney explaining how transparent he and the station have been dealing with the issue.
I give the station credit for doing the story even if it was intended to minimize anything I might write.
My feelings and the post I had prepared before Channel 2 ran its story haven't changed, except to add that Channel 2 addressed the issue on-air.
To be even more transparent, every time Telvock does a Channel 2 story that includes an interview with Erin Heaney, the station should mention briefly that Jim Heaney is her father and he has nothing to do with the story.