Gateway Journalism Review: Does Disclosure Remedy its Conflict of Interest?

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In the first issue of the Gateway Journalism Review, publisher William Freivogel wrote an editor's note disclosing his and his wife's relationship to the St. Louis Beacon. (Credit: Gateway Journalism Review)

Gateway Journalism Review’s first cover story featured a profile on the St Louis Beacon, an online news site.  The profile was written by Margaret Freivogel, who is the Beacon’s editor and the wife of Gateway Journalism Review’s publisher.  Was disclosure enough for the Review to run this story?

Gateway Journalism Review is the new name for the decades-old St. Louis Journalism Review.  Its focus is the journalism industry in the area.  Its new publisher, Bill Freivogel, contributes to online news publication the St Louis Beacon.  His wife, Margaret Freivogel, founded and edits the Beacon. Both Freivogels formerly worked for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper.  Given the close relationships between Gateway Journalism Review and St. Louis media, can disclosure fix any potential conflicts of interest?

The objectivity of Gateway Journalism Review (formerly known as St. Louis Journalism Review) has been called into question, St. Louis Today’s Deb Peterson reported.

Peterson explained that the magazine was run by Charles and Rose Klotzer for “nearly 40 years,” but is now run by Southern Illinois University-Carbondale School of Journalism.  The journalism school has been in charge since July and plans to publish quarterly.  According to the magazine’s website, it focuses on “covering and investigating the local print and broadcast media.”

The school’s director, Bill Freivogel, now serves as the publisher of the magazine.  And, in its first edition, Gateway Journalism Review ran a 3-page story on its cover by Freivogel’s wife, Margaret Wolf Freivogel.  Her story praised the the “virtues” of the St. Louis Beacon, a publication that she founded, according to Peterson.

According to Peterson, Bill Freivogel is also on the board of the Beacon and writes for them. Freivogel has written articles for the Beacon as recently as Jan. 10.

In response to criticism from “friends and former colleagues,” Bill Freivogel commented that “he should have done more to discourage the review’s editor from running the story or making it the cover story.”  Freivogel went so far to say that “next time I might put the arm on Babcock (editor William Babcock) in a way that I generally don’t think publishers should do,” according to Peterson.

He reportedly had “cautioned” staff that his wife’s story on the Beacon shouldn’t be on the first cover, but he was ignored.  He also criticized St. Louis Journalism Review columnist Joe Pollack for his report on the Post-Dispatch, for which Pollack used to write.

“We don’t want to do knee-jerk criticism of the Post-Dispatch or to givethe Beacon any special consideration or passes,” Freivogel reportedly said. “We are really trying to be very accurate.”

StinkyJournalism looked at the first issue of Gateway Journalism Review  (see here), which was distributed in December.  In it, Margaret Freivoigel’s article did disclose that she “is the founding editor of the St. Louis Beacon and a founding board member of the Investigative News Network” at the end of her article.  The package on online news sites included articles about the and, for example.

In a publisher’s letter, Freivogel disclosed that his “job is to make sure that the Gateway Journalism Review and St. Louis Journalism Review prosper.  I also have taken on the responsibility of ensuring the editorial independence of the publication.”

He wrote:

“To help ensure that independence, I will recuse myself from any coverage of the St. Louis Beacon, the new online publication that my wife edits and to which I contribute.”

“I cautioned against making the Beacon the cover of the first edition of GJR, but the editor and staff did what editors and staffs often do to publishers — they ignored me.”

In an interview with iMediaEthics, Freivogel explained “I tried to take pains to disclose that I would recuse myself from decisions involving the St. Louis Beacon” because of his and his wife’s relationship to the Beacon.

“I guess I felt that disclosure would be enough, but I’ve gotten quite a negative reaction from say four or five, maybe six people in the Post Dispatch news room.  I haven’t gotten a negative reaction from anyone outside the Post Dispatch newsroom.”

As a result of the criticism, Freivogel said that he intends to “keep an eye out to see if we’re being too favorable of the Beacon” and that he fact checked stories to ensure that “there wasn’t unfounded criticism of the Post Dispatch.”

iMediaEthics spoke with Bill Babcock, the editor of the Gateway Journalism Review.  When the decision was made to make new journalism the cover of the first issue, featuring the St. Louis Beacon wasn’t avoidable. “There’s no way you can talk about this subject without having one of the huge players, and that’s the Beacon,” Babcock explained.  And, “who better to talk to” for the story than Margaret Freivogel, who is the Beacon’s CEO.

“We disclose immediately that, yeah, there is a connection, but that doesn’t mean you don’t do a story,” Babcock explained.

Babcock, who has editorial independence from Freivogel,  explained that “ideally” they wouldn’t put the publisher’s wife’s news outlet on the cover.  But, as Babcock said he explained to Freivogel, “your wife happens to be putting out the major site, new online site, that there is in this media  geographical area.”

Gateway Journalism Review disclosed her relationship and covered the Beacon because “it’s such an important story, you can’t ignore it.”

Babcock noted that “most of the pieces” at the St. Louis Journalism Review were written by reporters from the Post-Dispatch.  The St. Louis Journalism Review didn’t disclose that, Babcock said, because the audience already knew that information.  With the “very expanded audience” of Gateway Journalism Review, “not everyone knows” which reporters have histories with which publications. As a result, Babcock intends to make sure any necessary disclosures are made.

He explained that the audience for the new publication is “Ohio to Oklahoma, North Dakota to Arkansas – a sixteen state area.”  Because in St. Louis a “lot of people have contacts with the Post Dispatch,” Babcock emphasized the importance going forward of disclosing any relationship to that newspaper in articles about the Post Dispatch.

See the first issue of the Gateway Journalism Review here.

According to Babcock, the second issue of the Gateway Journalism Review will hopefully be out in February and will focus on journalism schools.

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Gateway Journalism Review: Does Disclosure Remedy its Conflict of Interest?

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