Journalists Critical of Tallahassee Democrat’s Defense of $10,000 Bill to Mayor Gillum’s Office for Stories

Journalists Critical of Tallahassee Democrat’s Defense of $10,000 Bill to Mayor Gillum’s Office for Stories

On Friday the Tallahassee Democrat published a 1,500 word defense of a $10,000 charge to Mayor Andrew Gillum’s office to publish stories favorable to a Gillum initiative.

The relationship was discovered and reported by Tallahassee Reports.

Editor William Hatfield authored the article and said the Tallahassee Democrat responded to TR’s findings “because we saw journalists who we respect sharing it on Facebook.”

However, after the response by Hatfield, these same journalists were still critical of the approach that Hatfield indicated is now a part of the Tallahassee Democrats business model.

Before we provide the comments of former journalists that were posted on Facebook, it is important to note that these comments are not an endorsement of Tallahassee Reports.

Rather, the comments are provided to shed light on the ongoing debate over an important issue that is facing for-profit media and has significant implications on traditional journalistic principles.

With that in mind, these are the comments in response to Mr. Hatfield’s article.

Lucy Morgan – a long-time reporter  at the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times), in 1985 she and Jack Reed shared the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting.

I remain uncomfortable about any newspaper taking payment from a government it covers to write a given list of stories….It would be only slightly more acceptable if disclosed at the time….

Bill Berlow – a former Tallahassee Democrat journalist and policy coordinator with Leon County Schools

I agree with Lucy Morgan. When I read those stories, they appeared as conventional news stories. There was nothing that I recall seeing to indicate anything different. Even if there had been, having a newsroom employee write the story blurs the line between advertising and the newsroom, which I admit has gradually been blurred anyway. In any case, I, too, am uncomfortable, although I appreciate the explanation. What do you think, Walker Lundy?

Walker Lundy – retired in 2003 from the editorship of the Philadelphia Inquirer, after editing stints at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Arkansas Gazette, the Fort Worth Star Telegram, the Tallahassee Democrat, The Charlotte ObserverDetroit Free Press and Atlanta Journal.  Lundy was part of a Pulitzer Prize investigation at the Pioneer Press.  

Here is the long, tortured explanation for the latest in 21st Century, entrepreneurial journalism. It makes me miss journalism’s old days and old rules.  Back then, anything that took this many words to explain would be suspect on the face of it. 

If I understand this complicated deal, and I may not, the Tallahassee Democrat newsroom, the advertising department and the City of Tallahassee climbed in bed with each other, an ethical conundrum in the old days.

When the dust settled, the city got the stories it wanted and the Democrat got $10,000 cash from the taxpayers. Under terms of the deal, the stories themselves were worth $7,500.  Making the deal evener murkier is the fact that Democrat readers were in the dark about the deal until another publication revealed it.

If the stories are good journalism, why can’t the newsroom just publish them without involving the ad sales people and getting paid by the tax payers?

At minimum, the Democrat should have let the readers in on the arrangement the editor is so proud of. At maximum, the newsroom, the advertising department and local government should probably stay in their own lanes — if the new rules of journalism allow it. But read the editor’s explanation. Maybe I’m nuts. Or old. Or both.

Martin A Dyckman – retired associate editor of the St. Petersburg Times and the author of Floridian of His Century: The Courage of Governor LeRoy Collins.

It’s bad practice, in my opinion, to couple advertising revenue with news articles in the way he describes–even if the city money did not pay for the articles directly. Money is fungible, remember.

Michael Abrams – a veteran journalism professor at FAMU and Faculty Senate member

All of this family friendly business stuff is a lot of goose fat and Winky Dink. Their object was to get more ads from the business community by promoting what they see as civic good.

I agree with Democrat editor that the right wing article misstated the facts and jumped to conclusions, but it does leave the Democrat open for some criticism on ethical questions. Unfortunately it also leaves room for right wing crazies and Trump lapdogs, bigots and fools, pernicious blatherskites and weird newspaper haters affiliated with Tallahassee Reports to jump in with their mickey mouse ideas of what journalism is all about. Give them an inch and they will take a yard and paint it into a conspiracy. This is why it so irritating to watch the Democrat, which has improved its coverage over the years, put itself into their target range.

Susan Gage – former employee at the WFSU News Department

OMG! I am face-palming and cringing over here and experiencing PTSD remembering how many times I, and others in the FPR/WFSU-FM news department, had to stave off these same attempts to blur lines and jeopardize our reputation as a credible news source (yes, friends: “FSU Headlines” came about because some of us refused to be a party to ‘positive puff piece news’ about FSU).

TR wants to make this about Gillum. I don’t blame the mayor; he’s a politician doing what politicians do. But the Tallahassee Democrat is not even worthy of mullet wrapping if this is their idea of “news” reporting.

15 Responses to "Journalists Critical of Tallahassee Democrat’s Defense of $10,000 Bill to Mayor Gillum’s Office for Stories"

  1. Snidely Whiplash   June 9, 2018 at 8:34 pm

    Hey here’s a couple of FloridaFornia ideas hopeful Mayor Andy and his evil master Darth Soros may want to weave into their campaign for Governor planks.
    1). We have determined wealthy folk gain an unfair benefit from the rain. What with their fancy lawns ornamental shrubby vegetable gardens and what-not. We propose a tax be imposed on the rain to be distributed the less fortunate by a select graft – corrupt ridden – kickback expert – nepotism commission.
    a). We are looking into imposing the rain tax on golf courses and farmers too.
    b.) We also have a team of experts (mainly global warming scientists and Al Gore) working on taxing the sun for the same group of wealthy folk.
    2.) We have determined the same wealthy folk gain an unfair benefit from their ability to purchase condoms and all other forms of birth control common to wealthy folk. We propose a tax be imposed on the purchase of birth control methods to be distributed to the less fortunate among us. Once again by a select a select graft – corrupt ridden – kickback expert – nepotism commission. This fund will be earmarked for early – late term abortions for the less fortunate.
    a). We are also looking into a voluntary self imposed tax on those same folk who have the unfair willpower to successfully use the rhythm method.
    b). OK it’s a joke!!!!
    c). But is Andy’s run for Governor also a joke?

    Reply
  2. tallypally   June 9, 2018 at 10:37 pm

    For more of the same: check out our local candidate’s treasurer reports for this upcoming election. Payments to the Tallahassee Democrat for advertisements coming out of campaign accounts, but I have yet to see any financial disclosures or “sponsored content” notices on any of the recent articles pertaining to the local races… This practice is likely long-running and systemic.

    Reply
  3. AD   June 10, 2018 at 3:28 am

    I’m still.waiting to read the expose about Putnsm’s out if state contributions that seemed so important when applied to other candidates….I guess that actually would take real journalism.

    Reply
  4. Mimi   June 10, 2018 at 8:24 am

    As someone who is most definitely not a “right wing craz(y)and Trump lapdog, bigot and fool, pernicious blatherskite and weird newspaper hater” I think TR did a good job of covering an important issue and raising questions that demand to be answered. The degree of ad hominem attacks is out of control. And one of these people is a journalism professor?

    Reply
    • Snidely Whiplash   June 10, 2018 at 8:51 am

      Good post Mimi. I will not be shocked if the powers that be at FAMU find a way to quietly retire or help that blathering “professer” find it in his heart to move along to Berkely or some other university where foolishness is more widely accepted.

      Reply
  5. Mike   June 10, 2018 at 9:59 am

    Reading Mr. Michael Abrams “professional opinion comment” on TR and all things, thoughts, and people Not-Liberal (“right-wing crazies” – is that a “professional journalism” term? Will it be on the midterm test?) was disappointing and sadly unsurprising. Knowing that many college journalism professors such as Mr. Abrams are lockstep, intransigent Liberals who impart their “knowledge” (impose is probably the more accurate term) on their students, no wonder so many graduates leave college knowing “what journalism is all about” – according to Mr. Abrams and his academic ilk. And we wonder why 90% of the “journalism” world is nothing but the publishing and propaganda arm of the Liberal Democrat party. We can’t have those journalism grads getting out in the world with their own “right-wing crazy” views and opinions now, can we?

    As a retired newspaper Editorial graphic artist of over two decades at both major metro and smaller city papers, what I observed as good journalism was simply the objective (repeat: objective) reporting and-or investigation of events in our world and times. It certainly was not the slanted, opinion-laden, omission-filled, anonymous source pap that are the trademarks of most print and broadcast media nowadays. Selling a purported “news” story for money (especially without disclosure) would be a fireable offense. But it’s the Tallahassee Democrat, and thus unsurprising.

    In true professional Journalism, opinion is strictly supposed to be confined to the Opinion section. News is not supposed to be infected or inflected with opinion – ever. With professors like Mr. Abrams influencing students, I can see why things changed – or rather, went downhill.

    Reply
  6. Hope   June 10, 2018 at 10:42 am

    The Tallahassee Democrat simply needs make a few adjustments to more adequately portray what they are providing. Their new name should be The Vancore Jones Propagandist with Tamaryn as the new Publisher. Problem solved.

    Reply
    • News Maven   June 10, 2018 at 8:25 pm

      Perfect, Hope! LOL!
      Yeah, T-Flub is a product of this sorriest-in-the-US J-Skrewel. They even FAILED to get full accreditation in their last review, whoops: https://www.tallahassee.com/story/news/2018/04/30/florida-m/565673002/
      IF I was an editor looking through job applications, the first thing I’d do is see which applicants had FAMU on their résumés. They would all go in the garbage can as fast as gravity allowed. I mean, here’s a so-called veteran j-prof commenting, who rants about our amazing president in a grammatically-incorrect post! Would you want to pay that clown your tuition money? He should be fired yesterday. But he’s no problem for them, as they are the local rag’s Farm Club. Don’t know if FAMU and the Democrap still have a “partner$hip”, but they used to for many decades. FAMU supplied “interns” to the Democrap, which cost them almost nothing. Like $1/hour, or something ridiculously low. Truly “slave labor.” (Yep, look no farther than feet from Billy’s corner office to find slavery in action.) In return, the interns got “credit hours” towards graduation. (Guess that would be Almost No Pay-For-Play.)

      And to pivot: a BIG “Thank You!” to The Great Walker Lundy, for hiring me so, so many decades ago. As you can conclude from his comments above, he was and still is the best Executive Editor the Democrap ever had. (And we all know the worst editor, so I’ll keep this line “short”). Walker, it must break your heart to see the waste of dead trees Gannett has made of things. And folks, there are many other former colleagues than just the few above that have privately told me how repugnant they find the Democrap’s new money-making deception…err, I mean journalism…to be.

      All that Public Trust,
      All gone now.

      But they’ll still take your money – if you want to buy their Snake Oil Journalism.

      Reply
  7. Snidely Whiplash   June 10, 2018 at 1:32 pm

    Wouldn’t you all love to watch Ms. Diamond and Ms. Silk debate the bow tie sweater vest wearing Professor Michael Abrams on the crazy raciest things he had to say?
    They would chew him up and spit him out.
    The bow tie sweater vest wearing Professor Michael Abrams would leave the debate crying like the delicate baby that he is.
    Diamond and Silk !!!

    Reply
    • Gabriel   June 10, 2018 at 5:59 pm

      Like those Ladies – Ms. Diamond and Ms. Silk!

      Reply
      • News Maven   June 10, 2018 at 8:33 pm

        Yeah, they rock!
        A recent riff on Hannity: “Russian collusion?! The only Russian I’ve seen is the salad dressing on my corned beef sandwich!”

        I don’t care who you are, that’s funny!

        Reply
  8. David   June 10, 2018 at 9:37 pm

    Word is, the Tallahassee “Mullet Wrapper” is, and has been in dire financial straits with feeble circulation numbers and even less advertising revenue, for two reasons; 1) with the advent of the Internet, print media has been withering on the vine for years. 2) even the die-hard leftists in town know it as fake news. So Gillum’s campaign money was a shot in the arm to the dying Democrat and they gladly took it, doing a self-righteous sideways shuffle when found out.

    Gillum spending his campaign money to run an ad disguised as an actual news story in the Democrat shows poor spending habits, squandering campaign money on a little-read fake news paper. Internet, radio and/or TV would have been a better choice, but the problem may have been that no local Internet news site, radio station or TV station was hungry enough to flush their integrity away for that money as the Mullet Wrapper did.

    Sad twice.

    Reply
    • News Maven   June 11, 2018 at 1:51 am

      Theyve been hurting financially for two decades, so that’s pretty old news.
      They want $182,700/year to sublease the 12,600 square feet of empty space in their building:
      http://images2.loopnet.com/d2/Aa-lLZhbjLmrEvuwya1CKXrYOijGhMEnc8NuelS2z30/document.pdf
      Massive necessary remodeling (and air freshener) NOT included.
      After a year, no takers.
      Would make a good place for a funeral home to relocate. Has that ambiance.

      Reply
  9. Mike   June 11, 2018 at 9:02 am

    From the Society for Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, which reads in part: “Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.”

    By the definition above and the practices it uses, the Tallahassee Democrat is not comprised of “Professional Journalists”. So if the ’newspaper’ (as it’s staff refers to it and hardly anyone else) dies, we have no loss of an actual professional publication. It will not be missed.

    Reply
  10. "PPB"   June 14, 2018 at 3:19 pm

    I have a new goal in my life.

    Thank you, Michael Abrams. From this point forward, I would like to be a “Professional Pernicious Blatherskites”.

    Particularly if it will drive a leftist like you off the deep end.

    Reply

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