(Photo credit: DC Public Library Commons)Carla Branch, Alexandria (Va.) News co-founder and education reporter, was paid $11,000 as a communications consultant by the Alexandria City Public Schools system while covering the district for the paper, according to rival publication The Alexandria Times and media Web site Romanesko.com.
Branch reportedly was paid $75 an hour to write press releases for the school district and to advise the superintendent about improving the district's image, tallying about 150 hours of work besides her Alexandria News Web site duties, the Times reported. The Times article states Branch disclosed her consultant work after she learned a competing paper was going to write a piece about her second job.
Branch claims she avoided any conflict of interest by signing a confidentiality agreement with the school district at the outset of their contract in which she promised not to use information obtained during her consulting duties for any other purpose.
Sadly, Branch misses the point. She may not be betraying any confidences to the Alexandra City Public Schools working as a consultant, but are her Alexandria News readers getting objective "full picture" coverage of the district's performance, blemishes and all? Can the same person who is writing press releases praising the district criticize the superintendent's decision making at the risk of her $75-an-hour fee spigot being turned off?
The staff of "TUOL" isn't going out on a limb in asserting that Branch is mired in an untenable conflict of interest situation.