Magazine article Editor & Publisher

The Philadelphia Story' : A Case of Control vs. Fairness at the Daily News

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

The Philadelphia Story' : A Case of Control vs. Fairness at the Daily News

Article excerpt

When a city official's statement of protest appeared on the same page of The Philadelphia Daily News as an earlier story that criticized her, more than a few eyebrows were raised among journalists.

Although some editors contend that giving the subject of a critical piece a place to respond is not unusual, others say allowing the offended party to dictate terms of a rebuttal including placement on a news page instead of on an Op-Ed page sets a dangerous precedent for settlement of future disagreements.

"That is very unusual, and to give news space is very different," says Gina Lubrano, president of the Organization of News Ombudsmen. "If someone disagrees with a story, and the story checks out, I suggest a letter to the editor. Otherwise, it sounds like a he-said, she-said."

Daily News editor Zachary Stalberg agrees that the move was out of the norm, especially since he did not believe the original story contained any errors. But he says the newspaper wanted to avoid any appearance of unfair reporting.

"We're willing to do unusual things, and have in the past, to maintain a good working relationship with those we cover," Stalberg says. "Placement of the letter really mattered to her."

The series of events began May 6 when the Daily News ran a lengthy story by reporter Paul D. Davies that criticized Philadelphia city solicitor Stephanie Franklin-Suber, an appointed official whose role is similar to a city attorney. Davies' article accused Franklin-Suber of seeking to control information about a federal probe into a city empowerment zone committee that had been appointed to oversee $79 million in federal funds.

The story cited confidential memos to committee members from the solicitor's office, as well as comments from the committee, city council members and Franklin-Suber herself. In the same issue of the Daily News, columnist W. Russell G. Byers wrote about the matter, calling the city's actions "a classic in government obfuscation."

Franklin-Suber says the article unfairly depicted her office as engaging in obstruction of justice, although it did not directly accuse her of breaking the law. She says her office called the newspaper the day the article ran and requested a meeting to discuss the issue and a possible rebuttal.

Stalberg and Franklin-Suber discussed several options, including a follow- up story or a letter to the editor on the Op-Ed page. Franklin-Suber says she sought legal advice after the story was published, but says no attorneys other than herself were involved in the meeting with Stalberg. …

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