Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Is It Good Policy?

I haven't posted for several days now. I've given a great deal of thought to what I'm about to say, and I hope that everyone concerned will read my thoughts for what they are - they are my thoughts. I'm the only one responsible for these thoughts. I am writing to express a concern about a policy in a company that isn't my own. I don't have an ax to grind, I'm not looking to insult or injure, but to express a thought that's been with me for the past six months.

Last week's LNR contained a rather blunt letter from a friend of mine, a fellow member of the Lindsborg Folkdanslag. He was upset with the publishers of Destination Lindsborg because they had not included even a mention of the Folkdanslag in this year's Hyllningsfest edition of the magazine.

Marv was answered by the editor. The editor pointed out that the Folkdanslag had been offered an arrangement similar to that offered to the Swedish Folkdancers. The Swedish Folkdancers took the LNR's offer, the Folkdanslag chose not to take the offer.

The offer was the same kind of offer that the LNR makes to any organization that holds an event at which tickets are sold and/or funds are raised. If you don't buy an advertisement in the LNR you don't get a news story. That may be stating the policy a little too baldly, but that is what the policy amounts to.

I discovered the policy last spring when the paper published no notice of the final production of the 2006-07 Bethany theatre season, Talley's Folly. I was told of the policy by our then director of communication, too late to do anything about either placing an ad or protesting the policy.

That policy was one of the reasons I started doing this blog. If the LNR wouldn't bring news to the people, I would. A little arrogant on my part, I suppose. I was certainly angry when I began this blog.

I was angry not simply that the LNR had that policy, but also that I hadn't been given even a courtesy call telling me of the policy. (I wonder, do the school sporting events all have to take out advertisements for each game?)

The more I think about this policy the more I think it is misguided. The paper may be gaining some involuntary revenue, but it has become an object of derision in much of the community and has made a number of enemies with the policy.

I wonder about the ethics of the policy as well. In most newspapers the editorial side of the paper is sharply divided from the business end. When a non-newspaper person took over the publisher's job at the LA Times a few years ago he wondered why there was the wall of separation and how quickly he could tear it down. The newsroom rebelled.

The reason to keep a wall between the business and the editorial wings of the paper is to keep at least some semblance of objectivity in the reportage, to keep some kind of credibility with the readers. If the paper only prints the news that pays, how credible is the reporting? Would the paper print a negative review of a show that took out a display ad, or would the only pan only a play that purchased a two line classified? Would the paper do independent reporting on businesses and not-for profits when the paper's bottom line depends upon those same organizations buying space? Can a newspaper that prints news only when the sponsor pays be trusted?

I know things are different in Small Town Journalism. But no newspaper can survive long without its reputation in tact. Pay to play journalism is the quickest way I know to lose your reputation, and frankly, the LNR has lost much with many Lindsborgians. Marv Johnson is just the latest to complain about the paper's policies.

It's ultimately their paper and they can do with it what they want. But with the rise of citizen journalism - our little town supports multiple bloggers - I wonder how long they can make the people pay to get noticed in the LNR.


John Ruberry said...

No it isn't. Trade journals, rotten ones that is, do that. Buy a few ads, and we'll write an article about your product. The piece ends up as a cut and paste job from the adverister's PR office.

And the journals fade away.

But they're good placeholders for coffe cups.

Julie-Ann said...

I have now read you entire blog. Been too busy to catch up!! What I have heard/seen/read about the new college president gives me hope. I found his blog & enjoy reading it.

About the LNR....hmmm. I had noticed in the last Destination Lindsborg that there was not one mention of the Red Barn Studio, where I volunteer & docent. I understand that there cannot be a large ad if you do not pay for one. That is fair. But when they list 'all' the art galleries or eating places you should not have to pay to be listed. When listing all of something in town, then ALL should be listed. Anyone reading Destination Lindsborg would never know we even exist. Would they go bankrupt by simply having a complete list of art galleries? Or eating places? I think not. To me it seems unfair & quite petty.