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.
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 Observer, Detroit 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.