Inquirer is shocked — shocked I tell you! — at criticism
Hamilton Nolan writes for PR Week that the criticism of the Philadelphia Inquirer for selling a sponsorship for a column in its business section to a local bank has its editors on the defensive.
Nolan wrote, “Regardless, the Inquirer’s editorial leadership maintains that it is shocked and not a little insulted that outside observers would question the new column’s propriety. Asked if he had any initial doubts when he heard of the sponsorship plan for the column, Inquirer deputy managing editor for news Carl Lavin tells PRWeek, ‘I’ve been excited about the opportunity to provide readers with more fresh, sophisticated coverage of the local business community.’
“Asked if he received any assurances about the editorial independence of the new column, he replies: ‘When our owners bought the paper a year ago, they assured us about editorial independence. I don’t have to go back to them every time.’
“And asked if the readers themselves deserve some extra assurance that a business column sponsored and branded by a local advertiser would, in fact, be independent, Lavin responds: ‘We give them those assurances every day through what we cover. You’re judged by the kind of coverage you provide. Nobody in this company would do anything to damage that credibility.’
“While there seems to be no reason not to take Lavin at his word, the view that simply saying, ‘We are honest,’ is enough to negate such an apparent conflict of interest is myopic in the extreme. This is the reason that so many rules exist to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest: Because once the appearance exists, a reader can never be totally certain the actual conflict is not affecting coverage.”
Read more here.Â If even the PR people paying attention think there’s an appearance of a conflict — even if there may not be — then you know you’re in trouble.