Newspapers Flog Each Other Over City Government Issues p.29

By: David Noack

In a slugfest of news stories and public charges, the Los Angeles Times and the Daily News continue to pummel each other. Journalism authorities question the propriety of it all.
THE LOS ANGELES Times and its rival, the Daily News of Los Angeles, are using their news columns to bludgeon each other in a continuing battle over the reshaping of the city and its government.
Both papers have taken opposing stands on whether the San Fernando Valley should be split from the City of Angels to become its own municipality. And they’ve both backed up their political positions with financial support.
As reported in last week’s E&P, the Daily News, based in Woodland Hills in the heart of what would be the new city of San Fernando Valley, gave $60,000 to a group ? Valley Voters Organized Toward Empowerment ? that is collecting signatures to legally set the secession effort in motion.
The contribution was approved by Daily News publisher Ike Massey.
Meanwhile, Times publisher Mark Willes joined ? and the Times’ corporate parent made a $40,000 contribution to ? a group of high-powered L.A. businessmen called Los Angeles Business Advisors that is critical of the secession movement. Instead, the group wants to expand the size of the city council from 15 to 35 members.

REPORTING ON Each Other
At the same time both newspapers’ corporate executives are maneuvering, their respective newsrooms are covering each other’s moves ? following the money trails, questioning the motives, and analyzing the use of each newspaper’s influence to alter public opinion.
The stories published by each paper cover the charges and countercharges their executives are aiming at each other and some of that coverage has been controversial for its omissions or play.
For instance, the Times, in a May 31 story, reported that Willes was a member of the Los Angeles Business Advisors, but did not disclose that the newspaper’s corporate parent had also contributed $40,000 to the group.
On Aug. 8, the Times reported that the Daily News was a major financial backer to the secession petition group. That was less than a day after the Daily News confirmed in a low-key story that it had contributed money to the organization.
An Aug. 17 Daily News story characterized Willes’ business group as “L.A.’s Power Elite” and reported their opposition to charter reform if it meant giving neighborhood councils decision-making authority.
An Aug. 20 article in the Times reported its $40,000 contribution and quoted Willes as saying that his membership would not affect news coverage.
In an Aug. 14 column on the editorial page, Daily News’ Massey explained his support of the secession movement: “Local institutions ? including the Valley’s newspaper ? have a responsibility to step up with the financial support necessary on an issue that is so important.” He went on to say that he expected Daily News reporters to cover the issue “objectively, fairly, aggressively and thoroughly.” But Edwin Guthman, a journalism professor at the University of Sou-thern California, said both newspapers should have refrained from creating any appearance of a conflict of interest.
“There is just no question that the Daily News has compromised its coverage of that rather important issue,” said Guthman, a former Times national editor. “They have been editorially supporting it, so there’s no question of where they stand. . . . In both cases, I think the Daily News stepped further over the line than the Times.” Still, Willes had no pressing need to join the business group, Guthman said, adding, “I just think it’s something that he’s not fully sensitive to yet.”
Daily News editor David J. Butler did not return messages seeking comment. Mike Lange, a Times Mirror spokesman, said the money paid to the Los Angeles Business Advisors was not comparable to the Daily News’ contribution to the secession group.
?( E&P Web Site: http://www.mediainfo. com) [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher August 29, 1998) [Caption]

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