Credibility row a PR disaster at LA Times

LOS ANGELES: The Los Angeles Times’ financial involvement with the city’s new Staples Center sports arena has become a serious PR headache for the newspaper, giving both staffers and readers the perception that editorial coverage can be bought.

LOS ANGELES: The Los Angeles Times’ financial involvement with the city’s new Staples Center sports arena has become a serious PR headache for the newspaper, giving both staffers and readers the perception that editorial coverage can be bought.

LOS ANGELES: The Los Angeles Times’ financial involvement with the

city’s new Staples Center sports arena has become a serious PR headache

for the newspaper, giving both staffers and readers the perception that

editorial coverage can be bought.



It started when angry Times reporters and editors protested after

learning - two weeks after the fact - that revenue from the October 10

issue of the paper’s weekly magazine was shared with the Staples Center,

the sole subject of that issue. Not surprisingly, the journalists

believed the arrangement undermined their credibility.



Current publisher Kathryn Downing quickly acknowledged the mistake at a

meeting with several hundred still-irate Times staffers, and pledged to

take steps to prevent a recurrence of the embarrassing deal.



’I thought I was protecting the line (between editorial and

advertising),’ she said. ’But I completely missed the fallout from

sharing the revenue.’



Indeed, the controversy was just getting started. Facing stinging

internal criticism and barbs from outsiders (such as revered former

publisher Otis Chandler), the Times was forced to issue a formal

bulletin to its employees announcing the start of ’a full, independent

and in-depth investigation’ into the Staples incident.



It also took the unusual step of promising to publish the results in the

paper, a promise which appeased Times staffers somewhat.



But from a PR perspective, it is questionable whether the Times will be

able to overcome the perception that editorial coverage can be

bought.



During an interview with a political consultant last week, one reporter

was jokingly asked, ’What’s the going rate on page one?’



Leaders of the PRSA’s LA Chapter and the Publicity Club of America had

mixed feelings about the brouhaha. Greg Waskul, president of the

260-member Publicity Club and a former Times writer, said his former

colleagues had ’dreaded something like the Staples Center incident, and

now that it’s happened, they feel betrayed.’ Added crisis communications

guru Michael Sitrick, ’Unless you’re super careful to maintain a Chinese

wall (between advertising and editorial), you begin to trample on

credibility.’



However, PRSA/LA president Dan Durazo said the incident illustrated some

of the interrelated PR and financial difficulties faced by today’s

newspapers.



’There’s a lot of pressure to find more creative ways of generating

revenue,’ he said.



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.