New Philadelphia newspaper ownership sparks debate over conflict of interestPosted: February 16, 2012
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?