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Columnist's Affiliation Not Mentioned in Reader Write-in Piece

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A sharp-eyed reader noticed something unusual about the February 10 debut edition of "Consumer Shopping Bag" in the Denver Post. The column found "Bag" author David Migoya answering a question about Xcel and tree-trimming from a reader identified as Joanne Ditmer of Denver -- and if that last name looks familiar, it should. As noted at the bottom of her January 24 piece for the broadsheet, "Joanne Ditmer's column on environmental and urban issues for the Post began in 1962 and now appears once a month." However, Ditmer's relationship with the paper isn't mentioned in Migoya's offering.

Migoya is an excellent journalist who's done often brilliant work for the Post. In fact, his incisive coverage of the meatpacking industry won him a Best Daily Newspaper Investigative Reporter nod from Westword in 2004. As such, he's undoubtedly well-versed in the concept of full disclosure. So why didn't Migoya add a few words to acknowledge that Ditmer has written for the Post since the Kennedy administration?

"Honestly, didn't even think of mentioning who she was," Migoya concedes via e-mail. "The question was of more substance to me." In the beginning, he failed to register that Ditmer writes for the paper when her query was passed along to him by a Business department colleague. "Then we had the 'Shopping Bag' ready to design and I used hers as the prototype," he goes on. "Once it was done, it seemed reasonable to keep it as the opener, which wasn't supposed to be for another week or two, but then got moved up. I was out sick Thurs/Fri, so if they wanted to swap it out, I wasn't there to do it."

As Migoya notes, Ditmer is a contributor to the Post at this point rather than a forty-hours-per-week employee. "Had she still been with us full time, I probably would have had pause to use the question," he acknowledges. "But as a once-a-month columnist on op-ed, I didn't see an issue... Post reporters are consumers, too."

True enough. Yet the decision not to I.D. Ditmer makes it seem as if editors wanted to avoid looking incestuous even though one Post columnist was publishing the answer to a question by another columnist at the paper, and hoped no one would notice the connection.

But someone did. -- Michael Roberts


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