Peoria Journal Star takes a stand on ethics, Gannett responds

The Guild fights every day for the craft of journalism, which is under attack from all angles – including newspaper managers.

Another example came from Peoria Journal Star columnist Phil Luciano, the UMG unit chair at the newspaper. He wrote this note to Mike Reed, the Chairman of newly merged GateHouse/Gannett company:

“We’ve met before, but it’s been a while. I write for the Peoria Journal Star and serve as the chair of the local Guild Unit. My members asked me to share with you the following thoughts, which are not so much Guild-centric as newspaper-centric.

“Re the Rebuilding America project: it’s horrible journalism, at least how it was done in Peoria. Here, we had to do stories based on ‘sources’ who were actually advertisers. Those sources were provided from advertising reps, and we reporters were told by our editor to use those advertisers as the sources for our stories.

“As you know, for reasons that truly have nothing to do with newspapers, much of the public sees us as  ‘fake news.’ Yeah, that’s a bum rap, but that’s the label hung on us. Many of us try to fight that label every day, mostly by doing solid newspaper work.

“That’s why Rebuilding America could be called Destroying Trust. For this project, sources are being pick directly on the basis of whether they take out ads.

“It’s pay for play. And it’s horrible.

“When the public hears about this pay-for-play atrocity — Poynter ran a piece today — we really will be fake news. We are confirming the public’s worst suspicions of us.

“Historically, newspapers have respected a wall between ads and editorial. Now? The wall has been crumbled.

“I understand the financial predicaments of the industry. But whatever the price on these ads, it’s not worth selling our soul.

“I’m not trying to sound dramatic. Nor am I trying to sound overreactive or obstreperous.

“Mostly, I’m just sad and disappointed.

“Thank you for reading this.”

Reed read it. Maribel Perez Wadsworth, publisher of USA Today and president of Gannett’s editorial division, contacted Phil to discuss her serious concerns about the breach of ethics.

“This is something that won’t stand,” Wadsworth told Luciano. “Any story, in Peoria or elsewhere, that has been compromised will not run.”

Subsequently Gannett fired Illinois editor Dennis Anderson.