Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Critical Thinking: J-School Students and Industry Vets Tackle the Tough Questions

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Critical Thinking: J-School Students and Industry Vets Tackle the Tough Questions

Article excerpt

Q: After ceasing print publication in 2009, the Fitchburg (Wis.) Star returned to print in March thanks to city hail pitching in more than $30,000 to help with the relaunch. Should newspapers accept financial support from a government it's covering?

A: When the Fitch burg Star ceased its print publication, there was a reason for doing so. While it may be challenging to accept, the speedy progression towards online content is equally fading away the tradition of print publications.

If a news organization has the independent funds to support a print publication, that's great. But when a local government--which the newspaper reports on--decides to fund a newspaper with taxpayers' dollars so it can put a tangible publication in the community's hands, that crosses ethical boundaries with strings attached.

In a small town like Fitchburg, the local newspaper is the top source of news that unifies the community. I come from a small town in Tennessee that relies heavily on a weekly newspaper as most of the population's main source of news, so I understand the town's desire to become better connected. But accepting money from a governing body the paper reports on comes with strings attached, no matter what.

There may be an agreement between the city and the paper that editorial independence is a necessity, but those agreements are easy to make during the honeymoon stage.

What is going to happen after several months of publishing and the paper finds itself in a situation to be critical of the government? This creates conflicts of interest no matter what 'agreement' they may have in place.

This is an extremely sticky circumstance where biting the hand that feeds you could leave you starving, and when and if the string is pulled, so goes the foundation in which the paper relies on.

It's unethical to take gifts from a source, so if a paper were to take money from the government it covers, it is automatically at the mercy of the source of funding, and it puts any editorial independence the paper has on the line.

Elliott Pratt, 21

senior, Western Kentucky University (Bowling Green, Ky.)

Pratt is a broadcast journalism major with an emphasis in broadcast news and is working on his minor in athletic coaching. …

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