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Buying the news … literally

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In a $100,000 contract awarded without bidding, a start-up New Jersey weekly will publish “positive” information about the city of Newark.

According to the Star-Ledger, the Newark Weekly News‘ editor argues that “the arrangement is similar to the way large newspapers are paid to print the legal advertisements that municipalities are required by law to publish.”

I suppose I ought to be righteously uppity about this. After all, the Bush administration paid journalists and pseudo-journalists to promote its various policies (remember Armstrong Williams?). Ethicists such as Poynter’s Roy Clark are aghast. Clark told the Star-Ledger, “If you are publishing government propaganda in the guise of neutral, detached reporting, that’s about as unethical as you can get short of putting a hit out on somebody.”

And there’s my problem. Raise your hands, please, if you think readers believe they’re getting “neutral, detached reporting” from their newspapers about their governments — local, regional, state or federal.

In general, the journalists I know and admire are neutral and bring a detached point of view to their work. But the issue isn’t what I think: It’s what readers think.

If readers believe journalism is in cahoots with government to keep citizens from understanding the forces that affect their lot in life, then the Newark Weekly News only made it manifest.

Hell, for $100,000, I might sell out, too.


Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

October 24, 2005 at 11:46 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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