Meet Denise Konkol, the editor of the Muskego, Wisconsin, branch of the AOL-owned Patch.com, a hyper-local alternative news and information outlet. She’s the latest target of conservative Milwaukee talk show host Mark Belling for alleged ethical lapses.
As discussed here two days ago, Belling devoted a substantial portion of his March 15 show to an odd situation in the very conservative Milwaukee suburb Konkol’s in charge of covering: the Muskego Chamber of Commerce is being run by an anti-business political activist, Tina Weiss, who signed a petition sponsored by Big Labor to recall pro-business Governor Scott Walker.
Like Ms. Weiss, Ms. Konkol fell under Belling’s scrutiny entirely as a result of her own actions in failing to adhere to her proper professional role. Her transgressions appear more severe than Weiss’s.
A quick summary (more detail below): Using not a personal blog, but her perch as an editor of Patch.com, on March 16 Konkol published an editorial defending Weiss. Konkol pretended not to know Weiss personally, and she implied that as a “conservative” she was generally inclined against someone like Weiss who had signed an anti-business petition. Even so, Konkol wrote, Belling’s “rant” against Weiss amounted to “McCarthyism” — “not everything is about politics,” she lectured her fellow conservative, Belling. Konkol praised Weiss’s work on a seasonal project at the Chamber without disclosing that she’s a friend of Weiss and has worked with Weiss on that same seasonal project (last summer). Indeed, as Belling would later discover and publicize, according to the “Denise Konkol’s Summary” section of Konkol’s LinkedIn bio, she is currently working at the Chamber.
Ms. Konkol claims to be a professional, ethical journalist. In her LinkedIn bio, Konkol represents that after attending college for six years (1983-89) she obtained a bachelor’s degree from Marquette University in “Journalism / Advertising.” Konkol does not say whether she has a double major, or simply a major and minor. However, Marquette’s website indicates that advertising is not offered as a major, so it appears Konkol is saying she holds a major in journalism from Marquette. Marquette’s journalism program is well respected, and it specifically covers journalism ethics: “the ethical dimensions of what to report and how to report it.” So it seems clear Konkol is claiming familiarity with the ethical standards journalists are expected to live up to. Indeed, on her Patch.com homepage, Konkol emphasizes her commitment to “truth and ethics,” and assures readers they can expect her to “tell the straight story.”
How well did Ms. Konkol live up to her promise to tell the straight story, adhering to truth and ethics, after she heard of Belling’s attack on Ms. Weiss and the Chamber of Commerce?
The first thing Konkol thought when she heard Belling had attacked Tina Weiss may have been: ”Tina is one of my closest friends in Muskego!” About 23,000 people live in Muskego. A quick glance suggests that perhaps a fifth of Konkol’s 267 Facebook friends, about 50 in total, are Muskego residents. That is, less than 1 in 4,000 of the people who live in Muskego are among Konkol’s Facebook friends. Weiss is one of them. (Konkol also has a second Facebook friend adversely impacted by Belling’s coverage: Kathy Chiaverotti, who serves on the board of directors of the Chamber which employs Weiss as its executive director even though she publicly signed an anti-business petition.)
The second thing Konkol thought concerning Belling’s attack on Tina Weiss may have been: ”Hey, I’ve worked for the Chamber of Commerce. In fact, last summer I worked closely with Tina on the ‘Jammin’ on Janesville’ event which I highlight in my LinkedIn bio. In fact, the “Denise Konkol’s Summary” section of my LinkedIn bio says I’m currently working with Tina at the Chamber of Commerce: ’I am also the Muskego Chamber of Commerce’s events coordinator, building awareness for upcoming “Jammin’ on Janesville” summer events.’”
Nearly all editors placed in this situation, after reflecting on their economic connection to the entity being criticized by Belling, and their friendship with the person being criticized, would have assigned someone else to the story. Not Denise “Truth and Ethics” Konkol. After learning that her friend and co-worker was being attacked by Belling, Konkol published a Patch.com piece attacking Belling without mentioning any of the facts bearing on her conflict of interest.
Ms. Konkol did not even mention she personally knew Weiss. Indeed, she turned verbal somersaults to avoid mentioning that fact. For example, using curiously passive language she referenced positive “[f]irst-hand accounts of working with Weiss” without mentioning that these included her own first-hand account, as she had worked with Weiss! Konkol specifically praised the good work Weiss “has done in putting together the second annual Jammin on Janesville” this summer without mentioning that as stated on Konkol’s LinkedIn page, she and Weiss working together (Weiss became executive director in May, 2011) had “launched the first-time festival” last summer.
These facts pointing to Konkol’s undisclosed conflict of interest only came out because of Mark Belling’s further digging into the matter and his followup reporting in his March 19 broadcast (and the further analysis in this blog post, prompted by Belling’s broadcast and Konkol’s failure as of last night to address Belling’s criticisms of her journalistic ethics).
To listen to an mp3 clip of Belling’s March 19 discussion of Ms. Weiss and Ms. Konkol, click or download this link. Belling’s discussion of Konkol starts at 11:40 of the clip and runs through 21:30. Here is a transcript of the end, from 19:30 to 21:30, along with a photo of the portion of Konkol’s LinkedIn bio which Belling referenced:
Here, you have a chance with this company Patch, which is setting up these online papers across the country, to be an alternative to the lefty newspapers in their local areas, and you end up with even the alternative papers being, in this case, farther to the left than the mainstream media. Saying something that’s news in their community shouldn’t be reported!
Here’s the kicker to the story. And it reflects terribly on the complete lack of ethics, the lack of integrity, the unprofessionalism, and the dishonesty, of the woman who’s the editor of this Patch newspaper.
It is a basic premise of journalistic ethics that journalists are to avoid conflicts of interest of their own, and if they do have any they should disclose them. . . .
What Denise Konkol, the editor of the Muskego Patch, does not disclose in her screed, defending the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce of Muskego, is that Denise Konkol works for the Muskego Chamber of Commerce. Her own LinkedIn site says that she is the special events coordinator of the Muskego Chamber of Commerce.
She works for the organization whose executive director she takes to the pages of a news organization to defend!
Is it possible for a so-called “journalist” to be more unprofessional than that? Perhaps, but the cases are few and far between. I don’t think the Sentinel Journal has much to worry about from Patch,
when the people that Patch is hiring don’t show even the most basic adherence to tenets of journalistic fairness and objectivity.
Someone said never pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel. The modern-day adaptation for Ms. Konkol and other ethically challenged Milwaukee-area “journalists” might be never pick a fight with Mark Belling.