Using ad dollars to control media: Why we should take notice

By Don Kirkland

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Having spent these many years in the newspaper industry and its closely aligned
counterparts, advertising and public relations, I’ve had an opportunity to see how these two “frenemies,” for lack of a better word, have been able not only to coexist but, in many
cases, actually thrive.

Reporters learned to place their trust in certain longtime sources and feel confident that
the stories they wrote as a result would stand the test of journalistic integrity. Likewise, those sources felt assured that they would receive fair treatment from reporters and editors with whom they had shared their confidence.

It neither case, it seems, can this onetime unspoken covenant still always be counted on.

While reporters are quick to point out that their coverage of stories is not and never will be
influenced by advertising dollars, the nature of communications appears to be evolving into what rightly may cause us to wonder if what we read, hear and see in the traditional media is as trustworthy as we once believed.

With advertising dollars providing a major lifeline to the media’s continued existence,
a reduction in that source of revenue—which seems to be occurring more frequently these days—can have a crippling consequence.

A case in point, appearing in a story in the Dec. 25 issue of The New York Times, relates to a report that newspapers, radio stations and television outlets in Mexico are experiencing the ripple effect of government cutbacks in advertising expenditures if officials perceive that a particular outlet isn’t delivering the government-preferred content or tone
in its coverage.

Conversely, according to The Times report, outlets that are deemed by the government to be those officials’ favorites have been the beneficiaries of hundreds of millions of dollars in state money— dependent, it is assumed, on their continuing willingness to toe the ruling-party line.

As a result, according to an analysis by Mexico’s Center of Analysis and Research, an independent, interdisciplinary organization involved with research issues related to democracy and citizen participation, tough-line stories are less likely to appear, are killed by an editor or are delayed interminably.

The majority of Mexican journalists report that they censor themselves, and those who insist on delving into issues the government views as not in its best interest will likely see their funding evaporate.

While this kind of situation seems to strain credulity in our own country, even its appearance elsewhere becomes a worrisome development, not only for those of us in the media who, by our very nature, are committed to telling stories that we believe to be truthful and that are told with integrity.

Unlike The Times and other large, respected newspapers around the country with huge staffs and dedicated fact-checkers, there are only two of us in the Wrangler News universe who work full time to ensure that what you see in our pages is as accurate as we can make it. It’s our promise, and we take it seriously.

You can also feel confident that businesses which entrust us with their advertising dollars—our only source of income, I should point out—receive in return our promise to help them tell their story in interesting and worthwhile ways, not however by sugar-coating what we publish about them to garner their continuing support.

While The Times reportage gave needed transparency to a phenomenon in Mexico, and likely other countries, that we have not experienced here, we felt it was important to share with you the news of what seems to be an alarming trend in controlling the flow of news that thankfully has not reached our shores or our town. Let’s hope it never does.

As always, we encourage you to share with us your thoughts, ideas—and criticisms when you have them. We may be living in times that are significantly different than when I was a young reporter, but one thing hasn’t changed: Our deeply held promise to be the best we can for our community and for you, our reader.




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