Should journalists feel violated when an owner removes an article?


By now everyone has heard that the top editors at the far-left homosexual-oriented gossip website called Gawker have resigned in protest over an article that was pulled by the owners of the website. The article in question was a story which outed the CFO of Conde Nast, who, while married to a woman with children, was arranging a sexual encounter with a homosexual gigolo. (You can read about the sordid details, complete with references to Tom Cruise, Elton John, and Anthony Weiner-like photos, here.) The article attracted a lot of controversy because the CFO of Conde Nast who was outed was not a public figure (although he was the brother of someone who was--David Geithner, the former treasury secretary).

Advertisers such as Discover and BF Goodrich, who seemed to have no ethical problems with advertising on a homosexual advocacy site, were said to have problems with this, and so the article was pulled by the Gawker owners.

As a result, the two top editors of Gawker, Max Reed and Tommy Craggs resigned, claiming interference with editorial independence.

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And this is the part that confuses me. What, exactly, is editorial independence? If a person owns a newspaper, isn't it only natural that he has the right to cover the news as he sees fit? Why should he hire people to run it in a way that is different from his own idea how it should be run?

You wouldn't see this in any other kind of business. The managers of Walmart have to run the company as the board sees fit, or they're out. The same with Microsoft or Google or most other companies.

Why are newspapers supposed to be any different? When an owner hires editors and writers, he is presumably hiring people who are going to be covering the news that way he wants the news covered. Why else would he be hiring the particular people he is going to be hiring?

For many years the Wall Street Journal was supposedly proud of the firewall between their ownership and editorials, and their news reporting. Their news reporting was, and is, as far-left as the New York Times in many instances. But their editorials (except for subjects like immigration which aids big business) tended to be conservative. Why is this something to emulate or be proud of?

I think there is an idea that you can hire journalists who will be "perfectly unbiased", and by letting him run on his own without any interference, you will have perfectly objective and "totally unbaised" news. But that's ridiculous. If I were editor of a major newspaper and the owners pulled one of my articles, I wouldn't be happy about it, but it would only be natural that, from time to time, they would have different opinions about one of hundreds of articles. Just like in a corporate environment from time to time a board may disagree with one particular decision of a CEO or President. That's not an occasion to quit.

Of course, if the Gawker editors were simply fired, as fall guys for their advertisers, that would be another story.

What do you think? Do you think it's weird for the owner of a media outlet to want to be able to run his own business as he sees fit?

(Abridged version originally published in AT)



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