Journalistic Integrity At The ProJo

News outlets across the country are being taken over by deep-pocketed corporations with no interest in winning Pulitzers and Edward R. Murrow awards; sadly, Rhode Island has been no exception. The purchase of  Channel 10 WJAR by the Sinclair Broadcasting Group brought about an immediate swing to the right in their editorial decisions. And now the Providence Journal — owned by Gatehouse Media whose journalistic integrity took a big hit last year in the Sheldon Adelson/judge-monitoring scandal (Politico 2.4.16) — may be compromising its excellent journalistic reputation.

At least those “must-run” segments — provided by recently hired TurnTo10 “Chief Political Analyst” Boris Epshteyn whose resume includes advisor to the Trump campaign and Trump White House functionary — while being transparently right-wing, are identified as “opinion.”

[Quick tutorial: John Oliver covered the Sinclair Broadcast Group and these insidious “must-runs” last month. Sinclair is the largest owner of local TV stations in the country.]

But over at the Providence Journal the line between opinion and unbiased reporting is getting a little fuzzy. Bob Plain, editor and publisher at RI Future, has written an excellent piece about one article, “ProJo’s partner Inside Sources creates biased news.”

The Inside Sources story appears to be a news article about cannabis cultivation and energy use. But the ProJo’s new content partner is more akin to fake news than the journalism Rhode Island’s paper of record built its once-stellar reputation upon. The wire service was founded by a Republican operative with a reputation for creating “native” or sponsored content. The story itself is overtly one-sided and relies on discredited information to make its case, hallmarks of Inside Sources content.

Adding:

Inside Sources seems to have a special affinity for advocating for the energy industry, headlines range from: “Ohio Pipeline Construction Brings Boost to Local Businesses” to “Why People Like Al Gore Hate The World’s Poor.”

Plain’s piece drew a response from Providence Journal editor Alan Rosenberg, who made it clear that it had been the ProJo editors who had made the decision to run the story.

The marijuana story was provided by the Tribune News Service, a highly respected wire service that provides us with stories from such newspapers as the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, and also sends us stories from other publications. We chose it ourselves. GateHouse does not tell us what to print.

Like Mr. Plain, I have no problem with local papers using wire services, but it is still up to the editor to decide if the piece is pushing an agenda, and whether the supporting data are still current and credible.

And consider the source — the publisher of Inside Sources had served as Iowa communications director on the Mitt Romney campaign.

I don’t care to contemplate what this state would be like without a strong daily newspaper. We need the Providence Journal to keep aiming for the Pulitzers. And we need RIFuture.org to keep an eye on the Providence Journal.

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