Journalist Fired After Column That Was Critical Of Major Advertisers

from the separation-of-church-and-state dept

While there are questions as to how separated the "church" and "state" part of the newspaper business has been, it seems to be disappearing almost entirely these days. We already talked about one paper that was starting to have editorial staff report to ad sales staff, and now we've been alerted to a story about a journalist in Colorado who was apparently (at least according to his side of the story) let go for writing a column critical of local ski resorts, who are major advertisers in the paper:
Berwyn said Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz called him at the paper and expressed displeasure with the column.

"I don't remember his exact words, but the thing that stuck in my mind was 'This calls into question our ability to work with you,'" said Berwyn. "That was sort of the main thing that stuck in my mind."

Berwyn says Jim Morgan, the publisher, was concerned that Vail Resorts would end their advertising relationship with the newspaper.

When describing what Morgan said to him, Berwyn said, "he went on to talk about the business situation of the Summit Daily and how it was a business, how they had to watch out for the bottom line."
Now, I've never really believed that the church and state parts of the news business were really that separated, and I actually don't have a huge problem with the two sides understanding where the other is coming from. But, if you're going to deal with such a situation, then you have to know that the scrutiny is going to be even stronger over anything that smacks of bias or favoritism. And stories like this raise serious questions about the credibility of The Summit Daily as a news gathering operation. And, without credibility, it's hard to get readers, and without readers, it's going to be hard to get advertisers -- even if some of those advertisers are pissed off about a random column here or there. If the paper had stuck up for its author, telling Vail that its credibility was more important than a few ads -- and Vail had still threatened to pull its ads -- then the paper could have told its readership what happened, and built up even stronger credibility with its audience (and that, in turn, could create additional ad revenue from elsewhere).

Filed Under: advertising, journalism
Companies: summit daily


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  • identicon
    Lobo Santo's Ugly Goldfish, 16 Dec 2009 @ 9:36pm

    perhaps you want to quote a little further down, as there appears to be two sides to the story:

    Vail Resorts said they had recently become concerned about a series of Berwyn's stories. Company officials said they frequently felt that Berwyn didn't seek their comment on stories that related to them. In one instance, Vail Resorts said Berwyn reused quotes from a story that ran six months earlier and were not accurate.

    I would say that the resort(s) in question were nice enough to contact the paper before just pulling their ads. They could have just pulled the plus and the paper would have been none the wiser as to why.

    You know Mike, the story is much more interesting when you present both sides, something it looks like Mr Berwyn may not have been doing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      mobiGeek (profile), 17 Dec 2009 @ 6:20am

      Re:

      Yes, but why are paper editors/management not in hot water. The fact that a journalist continued going after a story, unless it was his management telling him not to I think the reporter was in the right.

      I'm gonna bet that nearly every single story (except "oooo, look puppies!" ones) that a reporter does, they get people from one side or the other threatening some type of recourse.

      So was the reporter warned by management and/or editors about avoiding this topic? Why did the paper print the stories if they didn't agree with them?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Derek, 17 Dec 2009 @ 9:17am

        Re: Re:

        "Yes, but why are paper editors/management not in hot water."

        Especially since they published the column!

        The editors decide what gets printed and what doesn't. If this was so egregious, why wasn't an editor fired for allowing it into the resort-town advernews?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Sidney Rodriguez, 16 Dec 2009 @ 9:58pm

    The problem is that people are moving away from print in droves. And if Vail® Resorts thinks that they have the power to push around columnists, and the paper values ad revenue over columns, it's quite possible within the next 12 months, The Summit Daily will ultimately be reduced to a corner side ad-subsidized paper filled with real estate ads.


    So what caused this, you may ask. Well Dear Reader, I point my finger to a few people. Vail® is the place that is literally a ghost town 8 months out of the year. The Movie, "Dumb and Dumber" was completely filmed in Vail®, but had a last minute editorial decision.

    You see, The City of Vail® threatened lawsuit if they used the word "Vail®" in the movie. This resulted in the producers changing the storyline from Vail® to Aspen at the last minute. Apparently, the city (if you can call it that) of Vail® didn't want the rich movie stars egos to be tattered and drive down property valuations.

    Oh Boo Hoo.

    But something tells me that there are some good properties being sold at firesale rates in Vail® right now. Which makes for a great opportunity for The Summit Daily to get dumb and dumber: after all, the real estate market is calling!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Dec 2009 @ 12:08am

    Vail as a Lifestyle

    After a few Google searches, it looks like this Vail Company (Perhaps under Vail Dude's leadership) has a goldfish or couch that is offering some very interesting legal advice.

    http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-126906260.html

    The story about Vail Resorts' grievance towards some company owning a telephone number (1-800-SKI-VAIL) even made Eric Goldman's blog.

    This Vail Dude (whose company's legal address appears to be about 150 miles from Vail) seems a little off his rocker and maybe needs better managers around him if his biggest problem is a column in a local paper.

    Think about it... How can you calmly call in and get a reporter fired on the spot?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    pr, 17 Dec 2009 @ 4:49am

    Utopia's coming

    Nn Masnick's perfect world where 100% of a news organization's revenue comes from advertisers (see e.g. the Evening Standard article) where nobody even knows who the readers are because it's all anonymous and free, is this sort of thing going to be more or less common?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    bob, 17 Dec 2009 @ 7:09am

    Church and State

    As Church and State are fundamentally separate issues, using that term will confuse some and diminish the general overall First Amendment arguments.

    Instead of denigrating the Church and State issue, why not just call Editorial/Advertising issues as such. Editorial/Advertising issues.

    Overall I do agree with the idea of Mikes article.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bravo, 17 Dec 2009 @ 7:52am

    Thinking Inside The Box

    "he wrote a column that was critical of how ski resorts report their daily snow totals"

    Of course, the only solution is to can his ass. Correcting a potential problem is certainly out of the question. I think this is one of the first things taught in any MBA program, right after the part where you learn to comb what's left of your balding hair into two points, one above each ear.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Overcast (profile), 17 Dec 2009 @ 8:18am

    To many, it seems - the 'state' is the 'church'.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    tracker1 (profile), 17 Dec 2009 @ 9:22am

    Church and State

    The irony here is, The Constitution doesn't say anything about separation of Church and State... it mainly makes the point of not having a State sanctioned religion. The separation was a point of dealing with lawsuits at the government level.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Dec 2009 @ 2:46pm

      Re: Church and State

      What about a law which provides freedom from religion ...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      JEDIDIAH, 17 Dec 2009 @ 7:24pm

      Re: Church and State

      ...no the "irony" here is that people still try to pretend that the establishment clause doesn't exist. The presumably morally uptight can't resist the urge to engage in a very incompetent lie.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Kelly Ladyga (profile), 17 Dec 2009 @ 2:10pm

    Vail Resorts Response

    I want to respond to your blog on behalf of Vail Resorts because it is not true. First rule of journalism: Get all of the facts and verify those facts.

    We in no way threatened or asked for Bob Berwyn to be dismissed. We simply expressed disappointment when very serious allegations about us were made and we had not been contacted beforehand for comment. Since Rob and all of us have worked with Bob many times and thought we had a relationship whereby we could call one another when there was an issue, we thought there was nothing wrong to call him and Jim Morgan to express our disappointment. Bob knows full well that happens every day at every newspaper across the country. We expect the media to hold us accountable, and they do, but that also means that anyone should be able to hold the media accountable, especially when balance and fairness are at issue. We work with journalists every day across Colorado, the country and the globe. There have been many stories written or broadcasted about us that we may not have liked or agreed with, but never have we threatened someone's position because of our disappointment.

    Second, we do not exaggerate snowfall totals. We adhere to the guidelines of measuring and reporting snowfall totals that Colorado Ski Country put together for all of the resorts and we are completely transparent with our reporting - after all, our web cams do not lie. We are unaware of any credible allegations of us misrepresenting snowfall. Furthermore, our guests and employees share real-time, accurate information about snow conditions through social media. Several of our employees did tweet from their personal accounts (which are completely transparent in their profiles about where they live) that our corporate offices were closing early during the big mid-October storm which shut down most of the Front Range for two days - when our ski resorts were not open for the winter. We, like many others in Colorado, enjoy celebrating snow. There's absolutely nothing inappropriate or disingenuine about that.

    Third, our company advertises in numerous local, national and international publications and websites that often say things we don’t like, but that in no way affects our advertising policy with them. What is of serious concern to us is not being treated fairly by misrepresenting facts (and not inclined to correct mistakes) or, even worse, not contacting us at all for comment on stories about us - and especially when this becomes a regular pattern of behavior over time, as was the case with Bob’s reporting on stories about us. We hold the media accountable in the same way that we expect to be held accountable.

    Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz blogged about what happened, as did the publisher of the Summit Daily News in the paper.
    http://news.vailresorts.com/article_display.cfm?article_id=1070

    I would encourage you to consider the facts of this story, not just one person's account.

    Sincerely,
    Kelly Ladyga
    VP, Corporate Communications
    Vail Resorts

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Mar 2010 @ 10:11am

    Now Enzyte, I've never really believed that the church and state parts of the news business were really that separated.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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