Thursday, January 05, 2017

Okla. publisher blasted for Clinton endorsement explains the separation of news, opinion and ads

Jeff Funk
The publisher of Oklahoma's Enid News & Eagle, which was highly criticized locally for its endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president, said in a column that the newspaper and its readers can all learn from the ordeal the role and responsibilities of community newspapers. After the endorsement the Eagle lost some advertisers and 162 local subscriptions, mostly from Republicans, but gained more than 200 subscriptions, "a majority of which appear to come from out-of-state Democrats," Manny Fernandez reports for The New York Times. Most of those subscriptions came after the Times ran a piece about the controversy.

Publisher Jeff Funk wrote, "Newspapers have been endorsing presidential candidates since at least 1860. That’s part of what newspapers do. . . . Starting last August, editorials took candidate Donald Trump to task for his comments on NATO, Muslims and women. That resulted in very few comments from readers." (Funk doesn't mention that the paper's owner, Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., advised its papers not to endorse Trump, mainly on First Amendment grounds.)

"Then, on Oct. 9, we wrote and published an editorial endorsing Hillary Clinton for president," he writes. "Wow! Reaction came like a shock wave. From the phone calls and emails coming into the newspaper office, you would think we had burst into a Catholic church during Mass and accused the pope of high crimes and malfeasance. What we thought was a well-reasoned stance on a critical political issue was flat-out offensive to a significant number of readers."

Funk draws this lesson: "We need to do a better job of educating Oklahomans on the three important—and independent—roles of a newspaper," news, opinion and advertising. "These three functions are independent of each other. That is, advertisers or opinion writers don’t decide what we’ll publish as news. We don’t prohibit people with differing opinions from advertising. And we don’t write stories about only the publisher’s favorite teams, only the best advertisers, just the candidates or causes we supported editorially, or only activities at the editor’s church or civic club."

"The News & Eagle publishes hundreds of local editorials each year and endorses or opposes numerous candidates or ballot issues—all on the 'opinion page' and all with an explanation of why we believe the way we do," he writes. "We try to express those opinions in a constructive way, and we encourage others to share their opinions as well. That’s part of what healthy newspapers do, and that’s part of the balance that keeps our communities healthy, too." (Read more)

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