I’m glad to see the city funding for the Inquirer and Daily News’ move to a new home is finally getting some attention, even if it isn’t coming from the biggest paper in town.
I wrote early last week that the owners of the two papers completely omitted the $2.9 million in city financing from its press release announcing the move, and the assistance got only the vaguest, passing mention in one of four articles in the two papers.
I know that several reporters at the papers were surprised and troubled to learn of the public funding and its absence from their own coverage.
The day after I posted the story, the Daily News ran a four-paragraph brief, at least getting the public funding on the record.
I’ve been waiting for the Inquirer editorial which says,
“We understand that as a news organization, public trust is something we have to earn every day with reporting that is thorough and fair. Our coverage of the newspapers’ move to Market Street East fell short of that mark.
We should have reported the public financing in the deal, and done so prominently. While some may criticize this financial relationship with the city, we promise it will have no impact on our news coverage.”
I’m still waiting.
But others have noticed. Last Friday, Natalie Kostelni of the Philadelphia Business Journal wrote about it, including this nugget on the potential pitfalls of a news organization getting public subsidies:
“Taking city, state or federal funds can compromise future news judgment,” said Randall D. Smith, professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism who spent 30 years at the Kansas City Star on the business and editorial sides. “When a financially strapped news organization decides to cross the line, it’s important to be transparent.”
David Lipson wrote on PhillyMag’s The Philly Post that the subsidy made no sense to him.
And there’s this on the CBS3 website.
Reporters I spoke to at the papers who saw my post about the public financing had a range of reactions, none of them good.
Some thought the paper’s silence over the city funding would come back to bite them the next time someone thinks one of the papers is being too soft on city hall.
Of course the paper is in bed with the mayor, a critic will argue – they took his money and did their best to keep it a secret.
Others thought the papers shouldn’t be taking public money all. What standing will they have to criticize public spending for other corporations, one asked.
On that point, Kostelni’s piece in the Business Journal noted that an Inquirer business columnist recently questioned the public subsidies for Teva Pharmaceuticals’ new Northeast Philadelphia trucking and warehouse site, noting that the company posted $1.2 billion in profits the last four quarters.
I’ll finish by saying I still have great respect for these papers, and I understand they need good businesspeople to survive in this crappy economy and a changing media world.
But they have to understand that one of their most important assets is their credibility, and that’s something you have to earn every day by telling the whole story.