Business people and politicians. They like to work together, for their mutual benefit.
Understandable. But in a business that’s all about perceptions, coziness between the two can be damaging. Latest example: disclosure that the general manager of television station WRGB in Schenectady made a contribution to a political action committee set up by that city’s mayor.
“a Poynter Institute journalism professor said the donation could taint public trust in the fairness of the WRGB news broadcast.
“He’s essentially hanging his news director out to dry,” said Roy Peter Clark of the St. Petersburg (Florida) journalism school. “Now when anyone does a story on that political candidate, the news director is going to be under additional pressure to make sure to bend over backward to be fair.
“That’s not a position for that news director to be in.”
To make matters worse, the station manager tells the paper he doesn’t think he told the news boss about the contribution- a fact that can double the embarrassment if the station flatters the mayor, or chooses not to report something negative about him, and the donation is disclosed. These days, that’s almost a certainty.
As we think about media owners and elected officials trading on each others’ good names- or bad- listen to one of the country’s greatest financial minds- Warren Buffett. He thinks that one of the surest routes to influence and respect in a community is to own that endangered species of “old media,” the newspaper.
“In his yearly letter to Berkshire Hathaway investors, (Buffett) wrote that ‘ownership of a city’s paper, like ownership of a sports team, still produces instant prominence …’
Buffett’s firm owns the Buffalo News in Upstate New York, as well as an 18% stake in the Washington Post. He said that the company would stick with News “unless we face an irreversible cash drain.”
Buffett’s letter took note of increased pressure on papers from broadcast and online media. All of which need to keep their distance- arm’s length or longer- from political influence if they’re to have any prestige in their community, and any credibility with the people who see the ads, buy the products and services, and ultimately keep them in business.
Okay. Packing up the soapbox now, and resuming the search for news of a non-serious nature…