Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dan's Papers Guide to Payola

In the news gathering business, you might hear the term "separation of church and state" bandied about. Basically it's an editorial policy that prevents the advertising sales team from influencing editorial decisions up to and including which stories to run. So, for example, your newspaper is about to run a scathing story on the shady business practices of Acme Inc. But your top ad salesperson knocks on your office door and says, "listen, Acme Inc. spends $1 million dollars a year in advertising with us. If you run this story, we're gonna lose that revenue for good."

The answer is supposed to be: too bad. In fact, the separation of church and state is so important to most newspapers that if the above scenario ever did play out, that ad salesperson could very well be fired just for approaching the editor or reporter.

It also works in reverse. Newspapers aren't ethically supposed to hang editorial coverage as a carrot above the head of businesses as a way to entice them to advertise. Even the appearance of payola will often cause editors who might assign a story on, let's say, termite prevention, to run down the list of exterminators advertising with their paper and then pick a source for the story NOT on the list. Definitely NOT on the list. It's also the reason no reporter worth his/her salt would ever walk over to the advertising department for a source contact on a given subject. Even if there isn't any sort of agreement between a business and a local newspaper, the use of a business as a source when that same business advertises with the paper would give too much of the appearance of impropriety for any newspaper to take the risk.

Well...any newspaper except for Dan's Papers, apparently. In the September 24 issue of that paper Dan's ne'er-do-well son David Lion wrote a story on kitchen renovations for their House & Home Guide. The piece is nothing short of an advertorial for Smith River Kitchens in East Hampton. It's even in the headline! Getting Your Kitchen On with Smith River Kitchens. It ran on page 34.

Wethinks that odd. Very odd. Untils we turn to page 37. A full-page advertisement for Smith River Kitchens! Separation of Church and State, David. Learn it. Love it. Live it.

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