Conflict of interest? Unprecedented coverage for an air show

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.”

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18 Responses to Conflict of interest? Unprecedented coverage for an air show

  1. leslie says:

    an interesting note to your comments about this story. i was curious whether or not coverage of the air and car show had changed this year with the launch of Gridiron Central, as opposed to last year, when it didn’t exist. Here are the results from the archives search done from their website. 9 articles over 6 days.

    Now showing results 1 to 9 of 9 articles
    1. Local pilots looking for ‘Young Eagles’
    10/24/06 – By Sarah Tebo, Young Romans Editor
    Children enthralled by the Tiger Flight formation flying team during this weekend’s air and car show have the opportunity to fly in those brightly-colored planes for free. The pilots of T…

    2. Air show plans 2007 return
    10/23/06 – By Heath Hooper, Rome News-Tribune Staff Writer
    Click here to see a SnapHappy gallery from the event Neither parking worries nor the threat of rain kept airplane buffs away fro…

    3. Backup parking ready today at North Georgia Air and Car Show
    10/22/06 – By Chris Fincher, Rome News-Tribune Staff Writer
    Click here for a SnapHappy photo gallery of the Air and Car show. Organizers of the North Georgia Air and Car Show may have fa…

    4. Explosion of history awes at air show
    10/22/06 – By Chris Fincher, Rome News-Tribune Staff Writer
    The skies of Armuchee were alive with history and smoke Saturday as the regional airport hosted the return of air shows to the area. Thousands of visitors filled the runway to look upward at th…

    5. 4,500 turn out for air show’s finale
    10/22/06 –
    Neither parking worries nor the threat of rain kept airplane buffs away from this afternoon’s finale of the first North Georgia Air and Car show. An estimated 4,500 people turned out for …

    6. Air show buzzes into town today
    10/21/06 – By Chris Fincher, Rome News-Tribune Staff Writer
    Click here to see air and car show schedule. The Richard B. Russell Regional Airport will be buzzing with horsepower today and Sunday a…

    7. Large turnout for air show changes Sunday parking plans
    10/21/06 –
    Spectators look at a U.S. Marine Corps Cobra attack helicopter today during the North Georgia Air and Car Show at Richard B. Russell Regional Airport. A larger than expected turnout today has …

    8. Skies to come alive for air and car show
    10/19/06 – By Severo Avila, Rome News-Tribune Staff Writer
    The theme of this weekend’s North Georgia Air and Car Show might as well be “back in time.” With World War II Warbirds roaring overhead, an F-18 Hornet perched for all to see,…

    9. Air show planning to re-enact Pearl Harbor
    09/20/06 – By Diane Wagner, Rome News-Tribune Staff Writer
    Click here for more information about the air show, including ticket sales locations. The Richard B. Russell Regional Airport Commissio…

    Now showing results 1 to 9 of 9 articles
    copied from http://news.mywebpal.com/news_tool_v2.cfm?pnpid=680&show=advsearchresults&requesttimeout=500

  2. leslie says:

    also, a correction. i was incorrect when i said there were 3 videos done on the air show. there were 3 planned, but apparently only 2 done and for some reason, only one seems to be posted right now. sorry. my error.

  3. bc says:

    Thank you, Leslie, that’s very helpful. In fact, the more information on this we can get, the better for everyone.

    The Gridiron Central sponsorship likely isn’t a reason for the wall-to-wall coverage, but clearly another dimension to what clearly is a fairly close business relationship between CVTC, which does great work, and the paper or its ownership.

    Another question: What else in this town gets six consecutive days of A1 coverage (discounting for a moment the videos, the letters to the editor, inside sidebars)? I’d be very interested in knowing; I can’t think of anything off the top of my head.

  4. Jim says:

    Our planning for video for the air show was done months before Coosa Valley Tech became one of four sponsors for Girdiron Central.

    My staff produced three videos. A preview piece in which Ross McDuffie got to fly in a B-25 bomber, a piece on renaming the field in honor of a military hero and the typical feature piece during Saturday’s event.

    This falls close in line to what we did with the Atlanta Steeplechase, Tour de Georgia, etc…

    To be honest, I still don’t know who the air show sponsors are. What I do know is that projections had close to 40,000 people attending the three-day affair.

    Adding one more thought. My staff posted 40 videos the week of the air show, so I don’t think having three of them focus on the event is overkill.

  5. bc says:

    Agreed, Jim. The video is compelling, and the story of the vet flying a bomber again is a great story. So I don’t think three videos is overkill, either. It’s the composite of coverage that just seems out of whack, at least to me.

    Tour de Georgia is a good comparison, event-wise. I wonder how, specifically, the two compare. Or are you comparing new media coverage of the two. I’m referring to primarily print coverage.

  6. Jim says:

    I’d have to go back and look at our Tour coverage, but I’d say we probably did as much if not more for that one. And unless I’m mistaken the air show probably has a bigger impact on our area and more people than the tour.

    I’m Athens talking to journalism students this week but I’ll take a look back at both our tour coverage and Steeplechase coverage in print to see how they compare. I can let you know early next week.

  7. That’d be great.

    I would still be of the opinion that six consecutive days of A1 coverage, including two six-column banner headlines, and the very large, flattering letter-to-the-editor add up to essentially event marketing. Three days, or half, would seem to be ample — preview, event coverage, wrap.

    I also recognize that it is difficult to meaningfully critique coverage over time without doing it exhaustively. What else was happening on any particular day (and, conversely, what was not happening), what kind of human resources were available, what is the competition doing? All are factors.

  8. Andy B. says:

    I heard about it, then I heard it. And that’s all the air show meant to me. Obviously, though, I’m not from Rome and I wasn’t really “here” this weekend, particularly Satuday, being stuck inside on the most beautiful day of the semester so far.

    I guess where I have problems with 6 days of A1 coverage is the fact that it was just an event. It was even on Berry’s side of town and I didn’t notice much of an impact. I guess from mid-September, after the RIFF, not much goes on during the weekend. I can’t imagine that it would have pulled much traffic from Atlanta, seeing as areas around Dobbins Air Reserve Base get an air-show just aout every day, with new F18s, B-52s a common sight to see, and sound to hear. Maybe, I might be able to comprehend over-coverage if it really affected traffic, businesses and the economy that much. I have a feeling that HWY 27 was not a parking lot when it was time to get to the air show, and I imagine that businesses did not close down due to the show. Maybe it brought in a bunch of money for Rome? The real story would be to where they’re planning that money to go.

    I don’t know, maybe I’m ranting a little bit, but I completely agree that 6 days of Air show coverage are a bit much. Oh well…

  9. L Myers says:

    Excessive coverage: yes
    Conflict of interest: yes

    The coverage, in my opinion, should have been a preview, a day of, and a wrap. One video the day of the show would have been great.

    The executives can get away with it. Let the little guy do something like this, and he is out the door.

    Six days of coverage=boring newspaper!!!!!

    That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

  10. Ross M. says:

    L Myers, before suggesting what/when video would have been appropriate for romenews-tribune.com’s coverage, perhaps you should watch the video preview piece done earlier in the week. It involves a flight in a WWII era B-25 bomber and rarely mentions the upcoming show. In fact, the video piece has much more to do with the historical aspect of the naval airforce during the war and the heritage surrounding our ever-shrinking population of WWII vets. Oh…and I am a “little guy,” but I wasn’t shoved out the door, nor was I ordered to do it…I considered it my pleasure. Your opinion is greatly appreciated, but the measure of news-worthiness is not always as simple as “what the air show meant to me.”

  11. Ashley Hunter Hamilton says:

    Well, I suppose if it takes RN-T that much coverage to get the story right, then go for it.

    I did a preview story on this for another publication. Admittedly, it was after RN-T’s preview story. Unfortunately, R-NT’s preview story (Jake Clark’s piece, around July 22 or so) linked readers to LAST YEAR’S air and car show website, and appeared not to have really researched things that potential ticket buyers would need to know.

    Quick googling will show you that this is the site for this year’s show: http://www.ngaaircarshow.org/, not the parent transexpo.org, which provided no links to this year’s site.

    Would that anger a show sponsor or two enough to want A1 coverage for days and days? Sure. Would that anger a show sponsor enough to deserve it when nothing odd is afoot? Not really.

    Just throwing it out there. I could always be off on this, not actually living in Rome anymore and seeing how much A-1 really got slathered on this thing.

    Ashley :)

  12. Great to hear from Ashley! Hope you are doing well, enjoying married, graduated life!

    Leslie H. kindly brought me last Wednesday’s RN-T, the first of the six-day lovefest. The six-column banner headline, two days before the event was to start: “Air, car show to span weekend”

  13. Jim says:

    Aren’t blogs such great discussion places.

    Quick answers to three

    L Myers- this is hyper local you may think it’s boring but we’ve more than doubled web traffic and added several hundred subscriptions covering our area like this. Rob Curley would cringe at your comments.

    Andy– last year the first day of the show turned local roads into parking lots and projected attendance this year was 40,000+ for three days. That’s yet another reason why it matters.

    Ashley– their new web site wasn’t posted until after Jake’s story ran (I know the guy who built and posted it).

    If you want to claim to be hyperlocal or practice community journalism, you have to cover the community like this.

  14. Indeed blogs are, and I applaud you, Leslie and Ross for taking the time to dialog with us about the paper’s coverage.

    In the students’ defense, we haven’t yet covered hyperlocal, including Rob’s work in Kansas, his and your work in Naples. We will, and we hope to get you guys into the classroom to show us how it’s done.

  15. Ashley Hunter Hamilton says:

    My apologies. Even though it may not have been up when the story ran, it was certainly up within the week afterward when I spoke with Gene Schayer, who runs the show, and is quoted in Clark’s story.

    It’s one of those questions that should just be asked when you’re doing a preview story for a yearly event, “Will the website be updated for this year?” Not to ask, or to not let on that the info is old, is misleading to readers.

    This is especially true if it’s a news item that is very important to your paper, whether the readers feel that way or not. Sorry, still sitting in the ‘do not feel that way’ camp.

    Dr. Carroll, I’m doing very well. I do freelance writing from home. I contract with a publishing company here in Chattanooga (we live on Lookout Mountain now) that does marketing mags for hospitals, and I’m writing some movies about insurance and finance for a guy in California. I also do some stuff around Rome.

    It’s pretty sweet. I hang out on the couch drinking coffee, writing, and chilling with my puppy. I’m pretty sure that God intended work to be this relaxing :)

  16. L Myers says:

    Ross-Before you jump to conclusions, let me introduce myself and my family. My grandfather died at Normandy on D-Day in WWII. My father served 4 years in the Navy, then worked at Lockheed Aeronautics for 38 years before retiring. I am well acquainted with Bombers and many other aircraft as well as the work Lockheed does for NASA. I’ve lived it for nearly 40 years, and I do think vets should be honored. I have no problems with videos of that nature.

    Also, I think you are missing the point I was trying to make about the little guy. I was talking about the man who has jockeyed a desk for 5-10 years, made friends in the community, and established a name for himself, then ran 6 print stories which involved a conflict of interest. I don’t believe you have attained that level in the journalism field.
    However, if you desire to experience exactly what I am suggesting, you can take your camera and walk into the building where the suits live and ask the guy about the conflict of interest in being a board member at Coosa and being on the executive staff at the paper. Be sure to ask if he received any kickbacks from all the free advertising he gave the air show and if he was on the board at Coosa prior to the creation of Gridiron Central to establish a pattern of conflict of interest. It’s only good journalism. But, wait, I don’t want you to do that because you probably wouldn’t be given an hour to pack your personals, much less be able to find another job that involved anything other than your name being “from staff reports.”

    Jim-I am not talking about web traffic, which changes daily, or even more often than that if you read the AJC, which is why I personally hit their site 4-6 times a day. It’s not boring. I am talking about print, but thanks for your comment.

    Next, I want to address the beast we call hyperlocal. Hyperlocal can be a good thing when it involves updating breaking news. I won’t disagree there. As a consumer I want to know and I want to know NOW! However, I have certain reasonable expectations when I drop my coins into the box everyday at the Marathon Gas Station and pull out a RN-T. I expect ethical practices from the newspaper I read and I expect truth without bias. When I pull out the same event 6 days in a row, red flags start flying all over the place. My reasonable expectations dissolve and the next time I stop at the gas station, I drop my coins in the box beside RN-T and eventually your job will dissolve like my expectations of the paper. (Does that make Rob cringe?)

    I’ll close with one last question. Why isn’t our mystery man talking about his position at Coosa and the newspaper? I’d love to hear from him…but wait…anything you say can and will be held against you. That might account for the silence.

    That’s my story and I’m still stickin’ to it.

  17. Ross M. says:

    L Myers, you apparently misunderstood my intentions in my last post. I wasn’t intending to attack anyone or there family, I too have a family with deep military roots. It’s unfortunate that you found it necessary to take that act upon yourself in attacking my career and level of expertise. I have posted over 55 video pieces while at the Tribune, not to mention my work as an assistant producer on numerous vodcasts and co-host on Gridiron Central. I have been given credit by name for every one of those pieces. You’re right, I’ve not ‘jockeyed a desk’ for 5 to 10 years. However, I worked incredibly hard through my four years of undergraduate at Berry College and have worked with no less vigor through my tenor so far at the paper. Have I established a name for myself over the last 5 years? For the answer to that question I think you need only ask your professor and my friend Brian Carroll. Perhaps he could enlighten you as to whether or not I’ve attained the level of intellectual success to achieve whatever goal I choose. Be careful with your assumptions. Oh…and the next time you are around an RN-T newspaper box, check out the “little guy” on the rack-card before you put your quarter in.

  18. bc says:

    As gratifying as the froth of engagement might be, the discussion has veered way off track, and that’s unfortunate.

    Each and every individual who has commented on this post is interested in the best journalism possible. We all are interested in community journalism that is balanced, responsible, inclusive and absent of good-ol’-boy politics and back-scratching, so we’ll together endeavor toward that end.

    RN-T new media is doing a great job with hyperlocal sports coverage. The questions about the RN-T’s imbalances in coverage have little or nothing to do with what Jim and his team, all current and former Berry students, are doing to bring this community’s media into the 21st century.

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