Recent coverage in Rome’s newspaper, the Rome News-Tribune, of a local air show raises questions of conflicts of interest or, at the very least, of balance in the way the paper covers local events and the organizations that sponsor them.
Here are the basic facts. Beginning Wednesday, Sept. 12, the RN-T began promoting a local air show with six-column headlines and front-page stories and photography, including detailed information on how to get there, where to park, admission prices and where to buy the tickets, even what to do with the tickets if it rained (good news: the tickets were good the rest of the event).
This front-page coverage continued for six consecutive days — three before the event, two during and one after. The last was my favorite, headlined, “Air Show Flies Out of Town.” That’s right, a front-page story on how the air show ended the very day everyone thought it would, the day it was supposed to end.
Other gems included the hype-filled, “Thousands expected for air, car show,” another the A1 story, “Air, car show begins today” (in case you hadn’t purchased a paper for three days), and, “Delayed air show thrills; Unused tickets for Friday’s show may be used today or Sunday.” This isn’t advertising. This is A1 editorial. Sunday’s six-column spectacular: “Show about more than air” ?!?
The print coverage was supplemented with three video presentations on the newspaper’s Web site and letters to the editor in support of the show. (I wrote a letter on Friday, three days into the media extravaganza, questioning the blanket coverage. That letter ran today, Wednesday, three days after the event, with no changes, as if I’d it had published on Saturday. Thanks, RN-T!)
Now, I have absolutely nothing against air shows in general or the local one in particular, but this lavish, extravagant coverage is coverage most suspicious, and it is coverage any local event would kill to get. You can’t even pay for this kind of exposure — it was all on P1.
So, let’s connect the dots. The primary sponsor of the air show? Coosa Valley Technical College. The primary sponsor of the RN-T hyperlocal Web coverage, Gridiron Central specifically? Coosa Valley Technical College. On the CVTC board of directors is an executive with the RN-T’s parent company. Hmm….
A conflict of interests of epic proportions? Of course not. Suspicious? Most definitely. I hope the 100BlackMen event here in Rome gets lavish coverage, too, and I hope Berry’s own French Film Festival, which I help to organize, gets at least a line or two. I can see the headlines: “Festival about more than film.”