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.