When the publisher of The Los Angeles Times, Kathryn Downing, ran a special edition Sunday magazine Oct. 10 about the city’s new Staples Center sports arena, she failed to inform the newspaper’s reporters, editors and readership that the Times would share the revenue from the issue with Staples.
Not only was the deal an appalling conflict of interest for the newspaper, but by making the deal secret, the integrity of the entire newspaper took a major hit. The Times’ newsroom rightfully responded to word of the revenue sharing with outrage, and Downing, who was hired in June to help the paper’s sagging circulation and revenue, apologized.
The special edition, which reaped a record $2 million in advertising revenue, fits the growing trend in the newspaper industry of mixing business and editorial interests. Rather than folding, newspapers in financial distress may take on questionable ethical tactics to stay above water, as in the case of The Times.
Downing was hired as businesswoman, not a journalist. She took advantage of an opportunity to make money for her company without considering the high standard of journalism ethics.
To make things worse, Downing said, It makes me feel better to know it’s a common industry practice.
For those concerned with journalistic integrity, the increasingly blurry line between the business interests of newspapers and their editorial decisions is disturbing.
Editorial credibility and independence should be sacred to members of the publishing industry. Publications should strive to gain the trust of their readership. The Times violated the trust of its readers by dishonestly portraying what was essentially free press for the Staples Center as a news feature.
There are places for biased information in newspapers – they’re called the opinion pages and advertisements.
When editorial integrity is compromised for the sake of boosting revenue, the reader is the real loser.