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
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
However, PRSA/LA president Dan Durazo said the incident illustrated some
of the interrelated PR and financial difficulties faced by today’s
’There’s a lot of pressure to find more creative ways of generating
revenue,’ he said.