Florida Paper Runs Series — Then Gives Subject Page One Response

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By: Joe Strupp

In an unusual move, The Naples (Fla.) Daily News on Sunday allowed a lawyer tied to a development targeted in a three-day series to write a front-page response to the report. The paper also gave the development team space to respond on an inside section front page.

“All we told them was we would take a look at anything they submitted and go from there,” said Allen Bartlett, managing editor/local news. “We didn’t feel there was any problem with the series. Their piece had some underlying criticism with what we did, but part of our position now is transparency.”

The series, which ran May 10-12, focused on Ave Maria, a planned community 35 miles from Naples that was created in 2002 and is hoping to reach 25,000 residents by 2025, the paper reported. Among the series’ claims were that Ave Marie Development, which included Dominos Pizza founder Tom Monaghan, crafted the town so they would have more power than most governments and could “rule the town forever.”

Bartlett said the series included several responses and space for comment from the developers involved.

After the series ran, developers and the lawyer asked the Daily News for more space to respond. What resulted was a Page One piece on Sunday, May 17, by Kenza Van Assenderp, a lawyer who wrote the law that created the town. He wrote in the piece that “the foundation of this series of articles is incorrect.”

The Daily News also gave space on the front of its Sunday Perspectives section that same day for a piece written by the Ave Maria Development Committee Executive Committee, which included four names, among those Monaghan. It stated, among other things, that the “Naples Daily News reporter got it wrong, really wrong.”

It added that the “series at several key points failed to specify
the nature of the government being analyzed.” However, it appears the development committee was satisfied to be given the space as they did not demand any retractions or corrections.

The original series and the developers’ response pieces can be found at the Daily News Web site, here.

Reporter Liam Dillon, who spent more than a year on the series, stood by his reporting, noting that no inaccuracies were found or corrections demanded, and he did not object to the space given to the subjects of the series.

“Giving the developer that space does not affect what the paper thinks about the effort I put in to get the series done,” says Dillon, who wrote his own reaction story for Sunday’s front page. “We encourage community responses to things.”

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