Paul Farhi of The Washington Post examines the issues behind news startup Semafor’s decision to hire noted journalist Bill Spindle to cover climate and then sell advertising to Chevron, which resulted in Spindle’s departure.
Farhi writes, “Semafor is reluctant to address the specifics of Spindle’s employment but said his dismissal had nothing to do with its advertising partnerships. The site’s editor and co-founder Ben Smith deferred to the company’s previous statement, which cited its ‘robust’ advertising policy and added, ‘We did not remove advertising due to editorial requests and have a number of rotating sponsors of the climate newsletter.’
“Spindle’s public criticism of Semafor’s ad policies offers an unusual glimpse into discussions that typically stay behind the scenes. Mainstream journalists tend to avoid raising objections to advertising that supports their work — which they typically have little say over anyway. And media outlets are often loath to turn down ads or sponsorship when the news industry is facing cutbacks and layoffs.
“But Spindle, a 60-year-old former Wall Street Journal editor and reporter, argues that it’s time the news media makes a hard choice about associating with the makers of fossil fuels, which scientists overwhelmingly believe are destabilizing Earth’s climate by pumping massive amounts of heat-trapping molecules into the atmosphere. He compares the industry to tobacco marketers, whose ads were banished from radio and television by a federal law in 1970 because of rising health concerns.”
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