New Philadelphia newspaper ownership sparks debate over conflict of interest

by Cy Brown

Julie Moos, of Poynter Online, recently wrote a piece discussing the effects of local ownership on a newspaper. Her article centers around a bid by a group of local leaders, headed by former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Randell, attempting to purchase a number of Philadelphia newspapers.  Moos gives numerous examples of when local ownership has allowed their own business endeavors to interfere with how the newspaper reports news.

One public affairs journalism issue brought up in this article is how much influence an owner or ownership group should have over the direction of the newsroom. One key element all newsrooms should share is transparency. The obligation of the newsroom is to “seek truth and report it.” This cannot happen when outside influences are allowed to dictate what is deemed newsworthy. Having a conflict of interest between the ownership and the newsroom is almost inevitable in many situations. The problems arise when the ownership is allowed to decide what is covered, because they will almost never allow a story which shines a negative light on one of their business endeavors.

Another public affairs journalism issue is the ethicality of a politician owning a news outlet. One major criticism of Rendell is his attempt to “bailout” the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2009, using tax-payer dollars. Had such a deal gone through, the Inquirer would effectively be a state-run newspaper. Another worry is if Rendell were in any sort of political scandal, would the papers he owns be gun-shy in reporting information on such an event?

What are your thoughts on keeping ownership and the newsroom separate? Should potential investors with possible conflicts of interest be allowed to invest in the paper? If so, is there any scenario where the conflict of interest is to great?


One Comment on “New Philadelphia newspaper ownership sparks debate over conflict of interest”

  1. hkreese says:

    I do think that news delivery would run smoother and more transparently if ownership and the newsroom were professionally separate, yes, but that is only in an ideal world. Conflicts of interest are not always situations where it is clear whether one exists or not, and even the ones that do have varying levels of conflict (how prevalent the connection or interest is). That level would have to be determined by somebody, or a group of somebodys, in order to restrict investment in the paper, which would be difficult when dealing with conflicts of interest that are more abstract and less direct. Also, restricting investment based on a conflict of interest could get unconstitutional fairly quickly if the conflict lies more in intention, and is harder to prove harmful or even existent.

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