Sunday, November 22, 2015

Editor of Charlotte’s QNotes resigns after involvement with local Pride group becomes an issue

by Chuck Colbert

Editor Matt Comer resigned in late August after Charlotte, N.C.-based QNotes’ publisher Jim Yarbrough pulled Comer’s commentary on the local Pride celebration.The piece, however, was published on Comer’s blog (http://www.mattcomer.net/1099/quite-simply-the-best-charlotte-pride-ever/).

For Yarbrough, transparency and conflict of interest were major concerns. He offered readers an explanation for pulling the piece (http://goqnotes.com/36426/comers-last-issue/).

“The reason for my not running the piece is because of the lack of transparency around Matt’s involvement with Charlotte Pride and its conflict with his job as editor,” Yarbrough wrote. “Matt’s Charlotte Pride board position (chair, media and marketing) was never revealed to me and was in opposition to our agreement made last year and in violation of Matt’s comment, in writing, that he was not on the board of directors and would only be a volunteer.”

Yarbrough continued, “Approximately two-and-a-half years ago our staff talked about how we have grown journalistically and felt that to do our job well, we would have to back off our personal involvement in areas where our objectivity might be clouded. This became very clear when the LGBT center and Pride separated. There was no way it could be covered objectively by a Pride board member who was also the editor of the paper. Not being transparent to me was inappropriate. This paper, therefore, not being transparent to you, our readers and advertisers, is simply not acceptable to me.”

Reached by phone, Yarbrough declined to comment further.  However, he did point out that there is a difference between a publisher serving on LGBT community boards of directors and an editor serving.

For his part, Comer offered an explanation on his blog. He wrote, “Though the commentary was clearly labeled as commentary and a personal reflection — adequately distinguishing it from news content — Yarbrough felt it was an inappropriate conflict of interest to publish the commentary given my role with Charlotte Pride, despite the newspaper’s overarching institutional conflict of interest.”

Comer continued, “My involvement with local Pride activities and as a committee member working on media and marketing came in 2008 via the direct, personal invitation of Yarbrough, a few short months after I was hired at the newspaper. For most of the years since, I have remained involved as a board member or in some other volunteer role. I currently serve as a board member now. This note is published in an effort to be fully transparent — as it is highly uncommon for news organizations to unpublish content once it has been published. Yarbrough was given advance notice and acknowledged such notice that I would write a note publicly explaining why a decision was made to unpublish this piece of content on QNotes’ website.”

Reached by email, Comer offered a further explanation.

“My voluntary departure from QNotes was the result of a longstanding disagreement between the publisher and me,” he wrote in an email. “This contention stemmed from several unrelated issues, one being my involvement both as a volunteer and a board member for a local community organization, Charlotte Pride.”

Comer continued: "Yarbrough invited me to join the organization’s board shortly after I was hired as editor in 2007. At the time, he served as the group’s co-chair and, later, in other roles. Other staff members at the newspaper, including my predecessor, an associate editor and others, were also intimately involved in the organization for some time. As an institution, the newspaper itself was highly involved in this community organization and other local pride activities for at least two decades. Yarbrough did not disclose this crucial piece of context in his commentary. During my tenure, I consistently addressed this particular institutional conflict of interest in the most transparent and professional manner while avoiding other conflicts. My involvement, as well as Yarbrough’s and the newspaper’s, with this community organization is of general public knowledge in our local community. Contrary to Yarbrough’s commentary, there was never a mutual understanding or agreement among the staff regarding my involvement in this organization.”

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