Indy Star union protests changing reporter’s story for use in advertising section

From the Indianapolis News Guild’s E-Inkling:

*New Ethics Breach: The Indy News Guild officers and stewards have asked Star editorial NOT to allow any of our journalists’ work to be reused without their authorization as part of any in-house marketing or advertising campaign. This happened with disastrous results last week.

Features reporter TJ Banes wrote on summer camps in January 2007 — only to have the story “repurposed” and used with her byline as part of a metro section “summer camp guide” that was labeled a “special advertising feature” in the print Star metro section Tuesday, March 23, 2010.

The story and two photos were used without the writer’s or photographer’s knowledge and the content was manipulated to make it appear to be current. This wasn’t a case of an article being simply reprinted. It was altered to mislead readers in a way that could damage this reporter’s credibility with the sources of the original story. It was an embarrassment to the ethical standards the Indy News Guild has been pushing Star management to uphold since 2006, when the company first presented the idea of having journalists produce and edit so-called “advertorial” content.

The summer camp article is a glaring example of why the Guild has raised objections to the unit’s work being repurposed in this manner. It allows another department — marketing, custom content, momslikeme or whomever — to use our work in such a careless and unprofessional fashion that it reflects badly upon the journalism produced by those in the Star newsroom. Making it worse (in the Guild’s opinion) is that the tease to the “guide” above the Indianapolis Star masthead on A1 gave no indication this was an advertising product, conveying the impression that the summer camp material was produced by journalists. Look at the section and it is labeled “special advertising feature” in small type.

The Guild has asked for a meeting with management to discuss this issue. The Guild wants original reporters and photographers notified in the future if another department reuses a story or photograph. Guild members have the right to have their bylines removed from their work if they object to the way it is used. The online version of the story (which we spotted on indystar.com and asked to be removed from the site) had no markings that indicated it was advertising-produced.

This fiasco was embarrassing for everyone who works on the editorial side of the Star. It also violates Gannett’s written Principle’s of Ethical Conduct for Newsrooms which states, “We will be honest in the way we gather, report and present news” and “We will differentiate advertising from news.” To their credit a clarification was issued, the story was pulled off the Web and an explanation provided to the reporter.

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