Oct 29, 2009

Adversarial advertorial

The Torrance Daily Breeze ran an unusual advertisement on Sunday.

A local condo association bought five pages in the middle of the main news section to deliver a long screed about a bitter power struggle for control of its board.

But that's not what made this ad unusual. It's the fact that the ad singles out for criticism the Breeze reporter who covered the story. The ad's author, Cyd Balque, president of the Scottsdale Townhouses Association, makes repeated references to the reporter, Gene Maddaus. She characterizes his work as sensationalistic and biased.

It is not unusual for someone in the middle of a public controversy to be unhappy with the coverage. It is unusual for a publisher to sell that person an expensive platform ($10,000? $15,000?) to attack the reporter. After all, Balque could have written a letter to the editor. And if the stories were incorrect in some way the paper would have run a correction. On the contrary, the editors ran an editor's note in Sunday's paper saying they stood behind the coverage.

Should the other side in the condo dispute get five pages to vent their concerns? Should other reporters worry about retribution if they take on special interests with deep pockets? What about editorial independence?

Since Maddaus is a former colleague, I'll let others decide how crazy this is. I did not speak to him about the ad because A. this isn't about him and B. I don't want to cause him any more grief.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

Disgraceful. Sold out the staff.

Anonymous said...

So just how much did the Daily Breeze get for hanging its own out to dry?

Anonymous said...

another illustration of this group's total lack of class. But, be sure to get those time cards in on time.

Anonymous said...

I would feel so betrayed if I was the reporter. It was a very cheap way for the DB to make a buck and truly shows their desperation for money. Next thing you know, LANG management will pimp out reporters and editors in sex ads to rake in some money.

Gary Scott said...

10:26 p.m.: Good question. Would the publisher have sold out a reporter for a mere quarter page ad?

Anonymous said...

Singleton's publishers would shoot their own mothers in the back for a buck. No respect for their own.

Would Sanfield do this ...I think not.

calwatch said...

I don't have a real problem with this, as long as all of the comments about the reporter are within the bounds of opinion and are not potentially libelous.

Letters to the editors are rarely published in full and are usually edited for space. In addition, reporters rarely follow up on stories, and often opposing sides are given short shrift or important points are not covered by reporters because they don't fit into the narrative of the story. If someone wants to bring out their own side of the story, to the same readers, what choice to they have but to purchase advertising?

Gary said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gary said...

calwatch:

No news organization can make everyone happy, and it's not their job to try.

But the answer isn't to start selling space to the people they cover to mount rebuttals. And it's definitely not to trade on a reporter's reputation or work for an easy buck.

Why have reporters at all? Why not a series of paid articles? Those with the most money get the most space, of course.

Or should papers shop ads to people who are the subject of stories? And should reporters insert bias in hopes of a good payday?

There's a reason why newspapers shouldn't trade on their coverage and why newsrooms should protect their independence and integrity. The slope is a very slippery one.

calwatch said...

I don't see any damage in the newspaper's integrity, though. The space was clearly marked as a paid advertisement. If the advertising department called the targets of the story to sell ad space, that is one thing, but to my knowledge, that wasn't done. If the reporter was targeted by name, that would be an appropriate reason to turn down the advertisement, but one of the purposes of the newspaper is to provide that kind of forum for the community, just like the classifieds provide a forum for people to sell their stuff. After all, when the New York Times sells ad space to an interest group critical of their coverage, or when the Washington Post has Exxon or the Petroleum Institute "setting the record straight" on whatever issue, no one complains. This is no different. The opinion, news, and advertising sections are supposed to be separate from each other. If that is the case, there is no problem with the advertisement, and Gary Scott's concerns are excessive.

Anonymous said...

My initial reaction was that of most. Why would a newspaper do this? For the money?

I strongly dislike the way these newspapers are run and believe that colors most of my opinions with them. Upon reflection and reading calmer thoughts here, I don't think what they did...accepting an ad marked advertisement was a bad decision.

I would have made the same one.

Anonymous said...

Calwatch, there are so many misconceptions in your comments as to how newspapers work and the function they serve ... one hardly knows where to start. So I'll just say this: I guarantee you the WaPo or the NYT would not sell FIVE PAGES of ad space to one group that was specifically targeting a single employee of the paper.

This completely short-sighted decision by the Breeze undermines the newsroom's integrity in every possible way. It is astonishing that these people could not see the implications of their actions. On the other hand, it's not surprising coming from a company that has consistently made decisions without any regard for the true value, place and purpose of local journalism.

Anonymous said...

Free speech. The newspaper has an obligation to accept contrary points of views on critical issues, and especially so when the speaker is the subject of coverage and critical of the newspaper. It is appropriate to charge for access, at a commercial rate, for extraordinary length as it is a cost to the newspaper, and, the newspaper has no obligation to carry such views beyond appropriate response, letter to editor or possible op ed, and in each of these, the speech would be subject to normal editing. This speaker does not wish to be edited, and he is willing to pay for the opportunity. This is not a sell out of the staff. The suggestion misunderstands the civic role of the newspaper, and raises the possibility of journalistic or institutional self-interest.

calwatch said...

Agreed. After all, there is no other forum for Balque to reach the same number of people that the article reached. Now, semantically, you might argue that it should have been in a separate section, to avoid tainting the news section (like those advertising sections with advertorial articles), but if she wanted to publish her five page response, the Daily Breeze isn't going to sell her the subscriber list so she can mail copies of her statement to every subscriber. And, by virtue of the response being five pages, very few people are going to read what she says anyway.

Again, there is no journalistic problem with selling the ad space. If the Daily Breeze was concerned about the individual reporter being targeted by name, that would have been a good reason to turn down the ad, or state to the advertiser that attacks on individual reporters are not allowed. But she could just make those same comments in the advertisement without singling out a particular reporter. If the ad was turned down, she could quite likely sue the newspaper for discrimination or something similar. Of course, it wouldn't survive the court, but that would waste more money than just letting her put the ad in the paper, and let the public judge for themselves whether Ms. Balque is credible.

Gary Scott said...

This isn't a case of free speech.

First off, ads cost money so only those who can pay would get to speak.

Second, newspapers are not free-speech zones; they're not obligated to run anything - what they do choose to run is how they build their reputation, maintain their standards, and stay in the news business.

Third, mixing profit concerns with newsroom decisions, which this would do, is always bad idea.

Fourth, making reporters a part of the story by letting the people they cover berate them in ads would inevitably lead to personal conflicts that distort the news coverage in ways that starve the readers of access and a fair presentation of facts.

Fifth, two classes of people would be shut out from this paid-speech model: poor people and reporters. This is hardly a way to create an open forum - it is a way to give people with deep pockets yet another way to dominate a conversation.

Lastly, the Breeze could have given unlimited online space to all sides in this dispute to make their cases - for free and with an admonition that they stick to the issues and leave out personal attacks on the reporter. Instead, the publisher chose to sell space at a cost most individuals couldn't afford so one side could spin its version of events and through its name calling insinuate that the coverage cannot be trusted because of personal bias.

calwatch said...

Gary, thanks for your thoughtful comments. A response.

The first statement is pretty meaningless. Of course ads cost money, and sometimes people need to buy ads in order to get covered. After all, most coverage of local races concentrates on the front runners and gives short shrift to the also-rans, for reasons of space. How does one get to be a front-runner? You show financial support, either through fundraising, or if you are a self-funded candidate, you show that you're serious by spending money - many times on political ads in the very newspaper that's covering you. There is no indication that the Breeze charged less or more than the appropriate rate for an one-off advertiser in the paper.

Secondly, I agree that a newspaper has no legal obligation to accept any form of advertising and to pick and choose its customers - as a private for-profit business, they have the right to do so. (Incidentally, this is why giving newspapers 501c3 status is a bad idea - the government can now dictate conditions that the newspapers must abide by virtue of them getting favored treatment.) However, they do have a civic obligation to act as a forum for the community, and one of those in accepting advertisements, whether for products and services, non-profit reasons (like those full page ads in the LA Times from that Korean church), or political or policy issues (like Exxon talking about how they feel global warming is overblown). The reasons a newspaper should reject an advertisement should be very limited, such as for illegal products or content not consistent with a "family newspaper" like profanity, nudity, or bigotry. None of that was in the advertisement.

Thirdly, I thought there was a Chinese wall between the advertising side and the newsgathering side. That's what newspapers love to claim (of course, you and I know that's not true). If there is, there should be no problem in the advertising. If there isn't, I fail to see how $20,000 would change coverage one bit, compared to, say, the thousands of dollars a month that the big box stores drop on the newspaper every Sunday for advertising.

Fourth, one of the possible reasons the newspaper could have exercised to reject the ad was to the advertiser's personal attacks on individual reporters. But media bias is a concern, and if the newspaper is not covering something appropriately (in their opinion), they should have a right to be called out on it, and let the public judge it. The newspaper should have a thicker skin than to be scared of being accused of bias. After all, the big national newspapers are accused of bias all of the time, and there is a cable news channel dedicated to exposing the alleged bias of the big media (Fox News Channel). But that doesn't affect how the New York Times covers Fox News, for example.

It is a concern that this advertiser has the ability to call them out whereas others who don't have those deep pockets are limited to a response in a couple of hundred words in a poorly marked section of the paper to respond to their feelings of bias (your fifth point), but overall, giving some people the opportunity to respond is more equitable, in my mind, to giving nobody the opportunity to respond to alleged bad reporting.

Sixth, that would have been an option for the newspaper to do, if the section was made prominently online and notation made prominently in the newspaper. The other option would have been a special section that might have juxtaposed the five page advertisement with a republishing of the past reporting, to put it in context. However, just because there might have been better options in hindsight doesn't mean that the Daily Breeze's choice in accepting the advertising was a poor choice, or that such a choice was tantamount to selling out its reporters.

Anonymous said...

wow, you folks should write for a living.

last responder said...

Gary and Calwatch clearly have a fundamentally different understanding of the media's role and duties.

I agree with Gary, and I know this statement is just going to annoy a media outsider like Calwatch, but I think *anyone* who works on the news side of any legitimate media organization would think what the Breeze did was wrong, and that the paper's action will compromise its journalism operations in the future, for the reasons that have been stated. This *will* have an impact on reporters in that newsroom, without a doubt.

Maybe it's hard for people who don't live and breathe daily reporting to understand that.

Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion. However, for anyone to derive nothing other than the fact that a DB reporter was cited in this AD and the ramifications thereof, clearly shows how insulated those who are in the news reporting industry.

If one is ever to be skilled and a person of integrity in any chosen profession one needs balance. The subject of this AD was not the DB reporter, however it appears that it was birthed from his consecutive articles which evidently lacked research and factual integrity (based upon my readings and the AD author's findings). And to be honest, if one were to retrieve and read the articles previously written by the cited DB reporter and compare them to the AD, Stevie Wonder could of obviously "seen" the bias he had towards the AD's author.

I know neither the DB reporter or the AD author, however after reading all related articles, it readily appears that the AD author's information (although lengthy) was far more believable and credible. When you have court case numbers cited, detailed factual history and apparent personal and financial sacrifice, bravery and commitment towards keeping and fighting for the integrity of an organization on a "volunteer" basis as compared to the DB reporter quoting "he-say, she-say, or they-say" statements from the "rogue" group...its absurd. I presume there may have obviously been some prospective self-interest groups involved.

Thus, to question whether the DB's decision to publish the article was ethical or not is not warranted. For, the substance of the article itself brings praises to the DB for EVEN allowing such "objectivity" to be heard or even addressed. For them not to allow the AD's author's voice to be heard would be the greater injustice.

In closing, it is my belief that this entire blog discussion was written to kindly defend a fellow friend and colleague in the industry.
The day when I surround myself around individuals who praise and support me because of my affiliations, class, membership or alliances alone and not based upon my character, ethics, integrity or "work" performance, that is the day I cease to exist and I've been sold out to the thoughts and opinions of "man". Balance and fairness is everything. Without it, what do we have? Robotic Journalism controlled by the powers that be.

Good job DB...however, if you mandated that this DB reporter have "factual" evidence and sound balance in representing all parties BEFORE their pen is put to paper, we wouldn't even be having this discussion today. Maybe tomorrow, next week or the future will be different.

Sincerely, Balance

Gary Scott said...

11:57 a.m.: Thanks for your post. Two clarifications:

First, I made clear in the original post that I wasn't going to evaluate the content of the articles or the ad precisely because the reporter is a former colleague.

Second, my problem with the ad isn't that the paper allowed someone to express a dissenting opinion or disagreed with the coverage. My problem is that the paper decided to charge someone for the right to publish their dissent and in doing so traded on that person's hostility toward the reporter and the editorial independence of the newsroom.

My argument is that this type of adversarial ad does nothing to improve coverage and in fact threatens to create problematic relationships between both reporter and source and news side and ad side. As I've said, the paper could have given all sides in the debate unlimited space online to make their case - and for free.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your response. I do agree that DB should never charge for situations like this. However, when isn't money ever a factor?
Hypothetically, let's look at the root of this circumstance. Let's say the DB reporter had the proper training and "balance" in being "fair" and "objective" while representing ALL parties involved. Let's say that there was no "adversarial tone" in any of his articles towards the AD's author or organization...this IF scenario would not of provoked anyone negatively because it would of been written fairly.

Thus, when we speak of "integrity" it begins with the heart and mind of the writer...what were his motives? Was the DB reporter influenced by upper management to BEGIN with? Did his DB Reporting 101 courses teach and train him how to provoke or stir up individuals or controversial issues... on "purpose"...because they know the power of influence they have in media (be it negatively or positively)?

I know for a fact that any form of media financially or politically "needs" to discuss "controversy" in order to obtain interest, support and higher ratings without a doubt. It's the way of this world and society.

Who ultimately is responsible for promoting it? The individual or corporation? It's endless whenever the finger is pointed at another entity - it's a strategic ball of confusion, crazy and convoluted but all by design.
"IF" a "corporation" is designed to provoke, if they promote self-interest groups behind the scenes who are trying to eliminate "obstacles" in "their" way, then of course, a reporter needs to keep "his" job, right? It's a maze of "passing the buck" all in the name of "money".

In the AD author's predicament, if she and the organization is credible and they did all the right things yet they received "bad DB press" that is adversely trying to oust "righteous" behavior for "ill-gained" means, what options did they have other than to tell their side of the story for the sake and salvage of the organization? Looking at the realistic facts (aside from the ideal ethics the news-room/industry "should have-but don't"...what choices did they have other than purchase DB news space?

My summation is that they didn't have an alternative other than roll over and die. In fact, they may have felt it was their civil duty to "defend" or "redeem" the "damage" cast upon them by the DB reporter's articles.
But like you said Mr. Scott, it's SAD that people "have to pay" to share their perspective of a story. The truth is never known unless you hear both sides of a story, right? So which is it? Does the travesty originate with the one holding the pen or does it lie with the one who is dictating what is to be written?

"A Lie will go around the world twice before the Truth gets around the corner." If this is true - it means that the media and their allies immediately "prosper" at the expense of telling "half-truths". A "Lie" gets "FREE" news article coverage but "Truth" has to "PAY" for coverage. Yes, Mr. Scott, it is a shame.

Like MJ sings, "I'm startin with the man in the mirror, oh yeh...". What if the DB reporter had made a change, had made a point to write "Truth" (tell both sides of the story fairly and with balance)? This matter would not exist and money would of been saved. But then, did the DB reporter have a choice? Were his hands tied? Would he have lost his job, commission, fringe benefits, or kudos?

Who knows? One thing I do know is that "what goes around comes around." And based upon all this drama, there appears to be a great forecast ahead of them.

Sincerely,
Balance

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your response. I do agree that DB should never charge for situations like this. However, when isn't money ever a factor?
Hypothetically, let's look at the root of this circumstance. Let's say the DB reporter had the proper training and "balance" in being "fair" and "objective" while representing ALL parties involved. Let's say that there was no "adversarial tone" in any of his articles towards the AD's author or organization...this IF scenario would not of provoked anyone negatively because it would of been written fairly.

Thus, when we speak of "integrity" it begins with the heart and mind of the writer...what were his motives? Was the DB reporter influenced by upper management to BEGIN with? Did his DB Reporting 101 courses teach and train him how to provoke or stir up individuals or controversial issues... on "purpose"...because they know the power of influence they have in media (be it negatively or positively)?

I know for a fact that any form of media financially or politically "needs" to discuss "controversy" in order to obtain interest, support and higher ratings without a doubt. It's the way of this world and society.

Who ultimately is responsible for promoting it? The individual or corporation? It's endless whenever the finger is pointed at another entity - it's a strategic ball of confusion, crazy and convoluted but all by design.
"IF" a "corporation" is designed to provoke, if they promote self-interest groups behind the scenes who are trying to eliminate "obstacles" in "their" way, then of course, a reporter needs to keep "his" job, right? It's a maze of "passing the buck" all in the name of "money".

In the AD author's predicament, if she and the organization is credible and they did all the right things yet they received "bad DB press" that is adversely trying to oust "righteous" behavior for "ill-gained" means, what options did they have other than to tell their side of the story for the sake and salvage of the organization? Looking at the realistic facts (aside from the ideal ethics the news-room/industry "should have-but don't"...what choices did they have other than purchase DB news space?

My summation is that they didn't have an alternative other than roll over and die. In fact, they may have felt it was their civil duty to "defend" or "redeem" the "damage" cast upon them by the DB reporter's articles.
But like you said Mr. Scott, it's SAD that people "have to pay" to share their perspective of a story. The truth is never known unless you hear both sides of a story, right? So which is it? Does the travesty originate with the one holding the pen or does it lie with the one who is dictating what is to be written?

"A Lie will go around the world twice before the Truth gets around the corner." If this is true - it means that the media and their allies immediately "prosper" at the expense of telling "half-truths". A "Lie" gets "FREE" news article coverage but "Truth" has to "PAY" for coverage. Yes, Mr. Scott, it is a shame.

Like MJ sings, "I'm startin with the man in the mirror, oh yeh...". What if the DB reporter had made a change, had made a point to write "Truth" (tell both sides of the story fairly and with balance)? This matter would not exist and money would of been saved. But then, did the DB reporter have a choice? Were his hands tied? Would he have lost his job, commission, fringe benefits, or kudos?

Who knows? One thing I do know is that "what goes around comes around." And based upon all this drama, there appears to be a great forecast ahead of them.

Sincerely,
Balance

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your response. I do agree that DB should never charge for situations like this. However, when isn't money ever a factor?
Hypothetically, let's look at the root of this circumstance. Let's say the DB reporter had the proper training and "balance" in being "fair" and "objective" while representing ALL parties involved. Let's say that there was no "adversarial tone" in any of his articles towards the AD's author or organization...this IF scenario would not of provoked anyone negatively because it would of been written fairly.

Thus, when we speak of "integrity" it begins with the heart and mind of the writer...what were his motives? Was the DB reporter influenced by upper management to BEGIN with? Did his DB Reporting 101 courses teach and train him how to provoke or stir up individuals or controversial issues... on "purpose"...because they know the power of influence they have in media (be it negatively or positively)?

I know for a fact that any form of media financially or politically "needs" to discuss "controversy" in order to obtain interest, support and higher ratings without a doubt. It's the way of this world and society.

Who ultimately is responsible for promoting it? The individual or corporation? It's endless whenever the finger is pointed at another entity - it's a strategic ball of confusion, crazy and convoluted but all by design.
"IF" a "corporation" is designed to provoke, if they promote self-interest groups behind the scenes who are trying to eliminate "obstacles" in "their" way, then of course, a reporter needs to keep "his" job, right? It's a maze of "passing the buck" all in the name of "money".

In the AD author's predicament, if she and the organization is credible and they did all the right things yet they received "bad DB press" that is adversely trying to oust "righteous" behavior for "ill-gained" means, what options did they have other than to tell their side of the story for the sake and salvage of the organization? Looking at the realistic facts (aside from the ideal ethics the news-room/industry "should have-but don't"...what choices did they have other than purchase DB news space?

My summation is that they didn't have an alternative other than roll over and die. In fact, they may have felt it was their civil duty to "defend" or "redeem" the "damage" cast upon them by the DB reporter's articles.
But like you said Mr. Scott, it's SAD that people "have to pay" to share their perspective of a story. The truth is never known unless you hear both sides of a story, right? So which is it? Does the travesty originate with the one holding the pen or does it lie with the one who is dictating what is to be written?

"A Lie will go around the world twice before the Truth gets around the corner." If this is true - it means that the media and their allies immediately "prosper" at the expense of telling "half-truths". A "Lie" gets "FREE" news article coverage but "Truth" has to "PAY" for coverage. Yes, Mr. Scott, it is a shame.

Like MJ sings, "I'm startin with the man in the mirror, oh yeh...". What if the DB reporter had made a change, had made a point to write "Truth" (tell both sides of the story fairly and with balance)? This matter would not exist and money would of been saved. But then, did the DB reporter have a choice? Were his hands tied? Would he have lost his job, commission, fringe benefits, or kudos?

Who knows? One thing I do know is that "what goes around comes around." And based upon all this drama, there appears to be a great forecast ahead of them.

Sincerely,
Balance