By Tracy Dingmann
My colleague Denise Tessier writes about the new partnership between the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce and the Albuquerque Journal today and calls it “a little cozy.”
I’ll say. The chamber bought two full pages in the Journal‘s A1 section and filled them full of glowing copy about events and awards and messages along with outright ads from chamber heavy hitters like PNM and Gap Inc.
Essentially, it’s the Chamber newsletter, but printed on Journal paper. Do any other readers find that a bit confusing? Any other journalists? A similar arrangement between the Los Angeles Times and the Staples Center caused a giant stink 10 years ago and led to the resignation of the paper’s publisher. I wrote about the section last week before I saw it, and I stand by my opinion that such a venture sends mixed messages to readers.
The Chamber pages also include tributes to outstanding chamber volunteers. Featured is Journal Editor Kent Walz, who is cited for his “continued dedication to fair, objective reporting of the news and for understanding the importance of a vital New Mexico economy.”
The section also lists events, including a mayoral forum on Aug. 20 that is sponsored by the Chamber. The section in the Journal doesn’t mention it, but material elsewhere from the Chamber says Walz will moderate the forum.
It is obvious that the Chamber has invested a great deal of money and trust in this new partnership with the Journal. It is also obvious that the Chamber considers Walz a cherished member and an ally, and has asked him to personally partner with the chamber on at least one highly-newsworthy venture.
It makes me wonder about the rules all of the rest of us followed as reporters and editors at the Journal. In order to preserve our objectivity and so as not to create an appearance of a conflict of interest, we weren’t allowed to have political bumper stickers on our cars or yard signs on our lawns. Signing petitions was frowned upon, as was expressing any kind of political opinion on or off the job. We literally had to ask Walz’s permission to join any group – political, philanthropic, you name it – that could in any way be conceived to ever come up in our coverage.
Like my Journal Watch colleague Denise, I understand that the editor of the paper is a public figure who needs to maintain certain relationships in the community.
But this one makes me queasy. The chamber and the Journal are two very powerful entities in the community, and I hope the readers aren’t going to suffer because they’re doubling up so publically.
What if a story comes up that would make one of these chamber businesses look bad? Would the Journal write that story?
Tell me what you think.