INTERNATIONAL NEWS: Questions raised over school's new official PRperson

PHARR, TX: A south-Texas school district has caused an ethical

debate by hiring a local newspaper publisher as its official PR person,

paying him $40,000 a year to handle media coverage and special

events, as well as to write press releases.

Gregg Wendorf, owner of the Pharr-based Advance-News Journal, began his

new post as an independent contractor for the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo

school district beginning September 1, but will also keep an editorial

role at his weekly newspaper. Wendorf contended that the two jobs do not

pose a conflict of interest.

"The whole idea that (the school district) bought themselves a newspaper

is ridiculous," Wendorf said. He added that numerous TV and radio

stations and daily newspapers cover the 24,000-student district, and

that skewed coverage by his paper would be noticed immediately.

Furthermore, he claimed that he would turn over school-related stories

to his wife to ensure fair coverage.

Still, ethics experts pointed out that any school coverage in the paper

will be suspect. "The obligation as a journalist is to pursue the truth

and not be unduly influenced by those individuals or organizations who

are sources of news," said Bob Steele, director of the ethics program at

the Poynter Institute.

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