Over the course of the magazine, one of our media watchdogs, Michael J. Nighan, has drawn attention to the decline of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, especially in Sinking in a Sea of Mediocrity, Raving Nighan skewers the Democrat and Chronicle, Is Public Input to the D&C a Dead Letter? and A New Low for the D & C.
Today, he examines Gannett’s Principles of Ethical Conduct.
Chicken Journalism: The D&C lays an egg.
Another sad and sorry example of the continuing decline of journalist standards at the Democrat & Chronicle has come to light. Specifically, their coverage of the recent opening of a Chick-Fil-A restaurant in Greece.
As background, it seems that for some time Gannett has provided their print and broadcast outlets with a document entitled, “Principles of Ethical Conduct for Gannett Journalists.” That document can be seen here:
A cynic might say that it’s little more than your typical mishmash of self-serving platitudes, with all the sincerity and value of a corporate mission statement. However, giving Gannett the benefit of the doubt, perhaps it’s actually what it purports to be, forthright guidelines to govern how their reporters and editors conduct themselves professionally. Unfortunately, proof one way or the other is lacking as we have no way of knowing to what extent, if any, Gannett monitors and enforces compliance. But what we CAN determine is how well the Democrat & Chronicle complies with them. And it doesn’t look good.
First, checking the online editions and Facebook pages of several other Gannett newspapers around the country shows that the Principals were announced to their subscribers. But to the best of my knowledge, after searching various sites, while the D&C may have posted the Principals somewhere, no public reference to them seems to have been made. But even had they done so, they obviously forgot to post them in their newsroom, specifically that section of the Principles which states that:
“We will not blur the line between advertising and editorial content. We will provide appropriate disclosures, exercise transparency and avoid actual or implicit commercial endorsements by our journalists.”
So here’s the (at long last) point. As mentioned above, the other day the first local Chick-Fil-A restaurant opened in Greece. Regardless of whether one agrees with, condemns or just ignores the religious views and policies upon which their corporate operations are based, it must be admitted that CFA is nothing more than another fast food chain which happens to be entering our market. No different from any other new business. Yet for reasons known only to D&C management and editors:
1) on April 11 and 12, ELEVEN Facebook articles were posted, breathlessly anticipating the Chick-Fil-A’s Grand Opening, including live on-the-scene “reporting” of the event
2) AND over the last week or so TWELVE Chick-Fil-A articles were published in the D&C’s on-line editions
It would be interesting to hear from Karen Magnusson, Editor and VP/News, (who seems to be the only one left in charge at the D&C following the resignation in February of President Dan Norselli, who has yet to be replaced) why this massive overdose of free advertising laughingly presented as “news” isn’t an egregious violation of Gannett’s alleged commitment to, “not blur the line between advertising and editorial content”, or does not constitute “actual or implicit commercial endorsements”. But despite the Principles admonition that their journalists, “will be conscientious in observing these principles,” and, “will explain to audiences our journalistic processes to promote transparency and engagement, ” it’s a safe bet that Magnusson, et aliae are too (ahem) chicken-hearted to discuss their decisions publicly.