I thought this was interesting.

I happened to exchange email correspondence between a paid employee of a local, public organization. At issue was a Confidentiality Agreement that the unpaid Board of that organization was considering. While the question of that Board's adoption of that Confidentiality Agreement might well be a topic for a later discussion, this person revealed something very interesting to me.

This person told me that the Great Falls Tribune "entered into the Confidentiality Agreement and witnessed the reporting on sensitive issues." What? The Great Falls Tribune, our hometown newspaper, self-proclaimed champions of the public's right to know, entered into a Confidentiality Agreement with a public entity and limited its own ability to report the news?

I was fortunate, too, to receive a copy of this Confidentiality Agreement from this paid employee. The Tribune apparently agreed that "confidential or proprietary information includes, but is not limited to, the following, which is by way of example only: anticipated or intended announcements by new or existing companies to contract with or do business upon the ___________." According to this person, the Tribune also "acknowledge[s] that unauthorized use or disclosure of such confidential or proprietary information would cause irreparable injury to the submitting or injured party and to ________. In the event of an actual or threatened disclosure, [the Tribune] hereby consent[s] to injunctive relief and specific enforcement of this Agreement, without bond, from any court of competent jurisdiction, enjoining and restraining the violation or threatened violation of this Agreement. In the event a dispute arises concerning this agreement and suit is filed, the prevailing party shall be entitled to recover reasonable attorney’s fees and costs incurred."

I have to admit that I was a bit flabbergasted when I read this. I cannot believe that a legitimate news outlet would agree in advance not to publish news, would agree to an injunction against itself, and would even agree to pay a government entity's attorney fees if it breached the Agreement. To be honest, even though I have been critical of the Tribune in the past, this seems to be a new low. How many of these Agreements is the Tribune party to? Does the City of Great Falls require the Tribune to sign such an Agreement? The County?

Or am I just incredibly naïve? Is this standard operating procedure in journalism?


Anonymous said...

unheard of and unethical.

Mose said...


A reader called this blog post to my attention, and I feel the need to respond.

First off, let me say that managers here at the Tribune have no idea what you are referring to in this post. The language sounds a lot like what we routinely see at the bottom of e-mails and faxes from law offices.

Nevertheless, no member of the Great Falls Tribune newsroom is allowed to serve on any boards — public or private — that would present a conflict of interest or in any way compromise our ability to cover the news. Each newsroom employee signs a thorough ethics policy annually, agreeing to uphold those principles.

Similarly, no member of the Great Falls Tribune newsroom would be allowed to sign the confidentiality agreement you describe. If a newsroom employee has not honored that, I would be interested to know.

Having said that, the Tribune employs upward of 200 people, and only about a fourth of them work in the newsroom. The restrictions I discussed above don’t apply to employees who work in the Tribune’s other departments, outside of the newsroom. Employees in our advertising, accounting and other business departments do not participate in news coverage decisions; they are allowed — even encouraged by our publisher — to be active on community boards, as long as they do not have a political affiliation. In those roles, especially executive boards of organizations and agencies, they may well have signed such agreements — as, presumably, did all the other members of those boards.

Because the business side is separate from the newsroom, these board affiliations in no way restrict what the Great Falls Tribune newsroom covers and reports.

Gary Moseman
Managing Editor
Great Falls Tribune