Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Today's story is brought to you by ...

Here in the patch, we're waiting with baited breath for Herald-Standard executive editor Mark O'Keefe to explain in an upcoming column why a prominent local law firm was credited in a full-page advertisement with being the sponsor of his newspaper's five-part series on the Fayette County Prison.

(You can see it for yourself, on page B-8 of the Friday, August 9 edition.)

It will be staring back at you, in black and white: "Herald-Standard Investigates: Behind the Prison Walls ... Sponsored by Davis and Davis, attorneys at law."

This is the first time that we know of -- and perhaps the first time in recorded history -- that the Herald-Standard has had, or felt the need to have, a sponsor for a news story it should be doing anyway.

O'Keefe, as long-time readers will recall, has publicly staked out his position on ethics as pertains to journalism. We refer, once again of course, to his forceful Dec. 5, 2010 column entitled, "Ethics issues taken seriously."

His words of that time included: "It's paramount that our newsroom maintains its independence and covers stories objectively."

O'Keefe might be able to defend that his charges still cover stories objectively, but we can imagine a lot of stammering and stuttering as he attempts to explain -- verbally or in writing -- how acceptance of a "sponsor" for a series of news stories falls in line with maintaining newsroom independence.

According to the Society of Professional Journalists' code of ethics, journalists are to "Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two."

Surely, O'Keefe must recognize the problems inherent in accepting -- and then openly promoting -- a sponsor for a news story. It opens up the newspaper to a whole host of questions, including whether its coverage is for sale.

What's next? Will we see famed local auctioneer Wylie Rittenhouse standing in front of 8-18 East Church Street, yelling, "I got 50 bucks for the city council story, do I hear 55?"

We bet even O'Keefe cannot be happy about this. But it falls to him to do the explaining.