Union leaders at The Indianapolis Star are decrying the newspaper’s use of a story written by a reporter more than three years ago that it repackaged as part of a recent advertising supplement.
The piece about summer camps, written by features reporter T.J. Banes in January 2007, appeared in a “summer camp guide” within the metro section of the March 23 edition.
Guild officers responded on Tuesday by asking editorial staffers not to allow reporters’ stories to be reused without their authorization as part of any in-house marketing or advertising campaign.
“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 notice from the union said.
The request was part of a dramatic newsroom overhaul proposed by Star management that industry experts believe was a reaction to sagging revenue, as major advertisers evaporated because of corporate mergers.
A stalemate with the union over the issue was broken in December 2006 when management of the newspaper owned by Virginia-based Gannett Co. conceded that, for the immediate future, editorial staffers would not be required to write ad copy. But management refused to rule out eventually raising the issue again.
The guild is upset now because it contends Banes’ story and two photos were used without the reporter’s or the photographer’s knowledge, and the content was manipulated to make it appear to be current.
Star Executive Editor Dennis Ryerson dismissed the flap as a mistake that will never happen again. He said it was his impression that the newspaper’s marketing department had requested to use an introduction written by a reporter for a past summer camp guide, not an entire story.
“It was bad communication; it’s not how we intend to do business,” Ryerson said. “Had I known it was a story, I would have never given my permission for use.”
Guild President Tom Spalding said he's pleased with Ryerson's explanation and he wants assurances that it won't happen again. The guild has asked to meet with management to discuss the issue, and it wants a guarantee that reporters and photographers will be notified in the future if another department reuses their work. Guild members have the right to have their bylines removed from their work if they object to the way it is used.
"What we're worried about is the staffing levels shrinking to the point where somebody has to [write advertorials]," Spalding said. "And we don't want that to fall back on the newsroom. We're busy enough with real news."
To management’s credit, the guild said, a clarification was issued, the story was pulled from the Star’s Web site, and an explanation was provided to Banes.