Friday, May 22, 2009

Feeding the Watchdog

The Carrboro Citizen, a two-year-old weekly newspaper covering a town of approximately 18,000 people just west of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, adopted a novel approach to the financial crisis plaguing newspapers nationwide. They asked the town government for a loan--and they received one.
The Carrboro Board of Aldermen on May 19 approved a $50,000 loan--half the amount sought by the Citizen,--from a seed fund used to promote local business development. Publisher Robert Dickson plans to use the money to bolster the Citizen's press run to 10,000 copies from its current 6,000 copies and will hire more staff and expand the Citizen's office. Dickson is dismissive of any potential conflict of interest in reporting on the town government/holder of the loan, claiming that newspapers often transact business with people on whom they report.
Is he kidding? Hard to be the watchdog of government officials when those officials are feeding you the kibble. It's unlikely that aldermen would blatantly threaten to turn off the funding spigot if they read a story they dislike, but the Citizen's editorial staff might subsconsiously pause before doing town officials in for violating open meeting laws, for example. The press is called the Fourth Estate precisely so that it never becomes a tenant on the "First Estate."

1 comment:

  1. Does the Publisher intend to pay back the town? If so, how? If he's not selling enough copies, printing more won't help. (If he wants more advertisers, he can fudge the circulation nnumbers. Bigger publications do that all the time.) As for expanding his staff, that begs the question: does news sell newspapers?