iMediaEthics recently mentioned the longtime animosity between the St. Petersburg Times and the Church of Scientology. So it comes as a surprise that–as the New York Times reports–the newspaper announced on Friday Nov. 20, that it is selling one of its “sibling publications” to a company run by Scientologists.
“Governing magazine, which is based in Washington and for 23 years has covered the workings of local and state governments across the country, will be sold to e.Republic, whose founder and other top executives are Scientologists. The sale is expected to close after Thanksgiving,” New York Times writer Tim Arango reports.
According to Arango,
Andrew Corty, the St. Petersburg Times executive who led the sale, said he was in a no-win situation: if he didn’t sell to e.Republic, which offered the highest bid out of six contenders, he would have been accused of discrimination. “I felt I would have been criticized either way,” he said.
Corty also told the Times “The reporting of the St. Petersburg Times has always been separate from our business functions.” The question remains, though, will this same separation hold true under the direction of e.Republic?
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Arango writes, “Some of the anxiety among the staff stems from a 2001 article in the Sacramento News and Review, an independent weekly, about e.Republic. That article, which has been widely read by Governing’s reporters in the last few days, reported that e.Republic’s staff members are required to read a book on management called “Speaking From Experience,” written by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology.”
Paul Harney, e.Republic’s chief operating officer, however, said that “he had been with the company for 13 years, and that he had never read Mr. Hubbard’s book” and that “Scientology doesn’t guide how the company is run,” according to Arango.
But in a news environment where relationships between reporters, owners and advertisers have blurred, it is reasonable to wonder if there might be ethical issues in this sale, as there would be a sale to any group with a known agenda (especially in light of the News and Review article). It’s just not reasonable to assume anymore that a publication’s reporters are free from influence by the business end, when they often aren’t even safe from advertisers.
Read more in the full New York Times story here.