Journalism industry magazine Columbia Journalism Review and Asheville Citizen-Times reporter/columnist John Boyle both weigh in today on the recent controversy surrounding the newspaper’s inclusion of a paid political advertisement that was not labeled as such.
The Citizen-Times published a 48-page insert titled The Raleigh Digest on Nov. 27. It included articles on everything from controversial issues such as changes to the state’s election system, tax reform and gun rights to the Rev. Billy Graham, who was honored by the N.C. General Assembly this year, all action led by the Republican-controlled General Assembly. It lists its website as theraleighdigest.com, which is a site that offers a pdf of the publication. A blurb on the inside front page lists the publication’s editor as James Smith of InTouchNC LLC at 1854 Hendersonville Road. That’s a company owned by Republican N.C. Rep. Tim Moffitt of Buncombe County, according to Mountain Xpress. But that was the only identification offered.
CJR reporter Corey Hutchins received this response from Citizen-Times Publisher Dave Neill, who has said nothing beyond a short apology the newspaper printed the day after the insert appeared.
I spoke last week with Dave Neill, publisher and president of the Citizen-Times, and asked what he thought about Moffitt’s take—that the lawmaker was essentially using the newspaper to distribute a competing editorial product. Neill said he didn’t have an opinion on it. He wasn’t much interested in discussing the situation beyond the paper’s apology for a lack of disclosure.
“It’s advocacy advertising,” Neill told me about the insert placement. “If someone has a viewpoint that either isn’t offensive, threatening or totally we find inaccurate, we welcome people to use our product as a vehicle.”
“The piece that was sent to us was not reviewed prior to being inserted, and that’s it,” he said. “That was the issue.”
The CJR story goes on to not amplify the ethical issue surrounding The Raleigh Digest and the Citizen-Times:
Moving forward, the most crucial thing is transparency—by both the Citizen-Times and the Raleigh Digest, said Lois Boynton, a University of North Carolina journalism professor and a fellow at the school’s Parr Center for Ethics.
Partisan political publications have a long history, Boynton noted. American media began with patrons who would pay the costs to publish newspapers and pamphlets; part of the payment included having the patron’s point of view included. “Readers understood that and knew that there were a variety of media outlets available to them to collect the various viewpoints on issues of the day,” she said. “The whole idea of objectivity didn’t take hold until the late 1800s and early 1900s.”
Boyle also addressed The Raleigh Digest in rather cursory fashion in his Answer Man column on Monday. Click over to the CT to read it.