By: Arthur Kamin
Increasingly, newspaper journalists are taking jobs with
politicians and later returning to newspapers, raising debate,
questions, concerns and eyebrows in the state’s media circles sp.
FORMER NEW JERSEY Democratic Gov. Jim Florio’s press secretary, who often lobbed personal attacks at current Republican Gov. Christine Todd Whitman during the last year’s bitter campaign, has quietly joined the Asbury Park Press in Neptune, N.J., as an editorial writer.
The action has raised debate, questions, concerns and eyebrows in the state’s media circles and in the halls of government in Trenton, the state capital. It also put the spotlight on the increasing number of journalists crossing the line into political publicity and policy positions ? and those like Jo Astrid Glading, the 35-year-old Florio spokeswoman and veteran reporter, who found their way back into newspapering without skipping a beat after the candidates they worked for lost their election bids.
Glading joined the Press’ 11-member editorial board and, according to sources, will be writing many of the editorials dealing with state issues that appear in the state’s second-largest paper.
“It’s a no-win situation for Jo Glading and for the newspaper,” said a Press staffer who asked not to be identified. “The appearance of a conflict of interest always will be there. People who know about it are talking about it.”
Not so, says Press executive editor W. Raymond Ollwerther.
“We hired her for her ability, her experience and her knowledge of state government. They are great assets. I have confidence in her integrity and in her credibility,” he said, noting there are built-in safeguards on the editorial board to prevent writers’ personal opinions or agendas from creeping in.
And Ollwerther said he usually reads all editorials before they go into print.
Glading said her experience in state government brings with it a strength for her new job, one she claims she did not have when she left newspapering.
“I am not an ivy tower journalist, a complaint you hear about editorial writers,” she said.
The former daily newspaper and wire service reporter said she wants only the “best for New Jersey, like Mr. Florio and Mrs. Whitman,” and is pleased that she has an opportunity to help achieve that as an editorial writer.
“I did nothing unfair and nothing improper during the campaign,” she said. “It’s now over and I would like to put it behind us.”
Interestingly, a vacancy was created when James Gardner, the 36-year-old, award-winning acting editorial page editor, jumped over to the Whitman administration, in which he serves as chief speech writer and policy advisor.
He earns $70,000 a year in that position and was offered what he described as several major salary increases by the Press to get him to stay on. Glading received $73,000 in her Florio media post.
At the same time, two other Press senior State House reporters who covered the 1992 campaign also joined the Whitman team, one as a treasury spokeswoman and the other as a top policy and planning advisor. A third, the paper’s Trenton bureau chief, became campaign spokeswoman for the Republican U.S. Senate candidate, who is now the speaker of the New Jersey Assembly.
And returning to the Press as assistant state editor was a former State House reporter who became a spokesman for the New Jersey Dept. of Community Affairs under the Florio Democrats.
Ollwerther said he was “insulted” at the question that hiring Glading was his way of getting back at the Whitman administration for taking away Gardner and the other staffers. “We don’t do things like that,” he said.
Glading’s arrival at the Press did not escape Gov. Whitman’s attention. At a recent legislative correspondents’ dinner, she made a point of wryly announcing that little did she realize by hiring Gardner she was creating a job for, “of all people,” Glading.
Carl Golden, Whitman’s communications director and her spokesman during the campaign, went head-on with Glading. Himself a one-time reporter, he said he would be watching Press editorials to see the pattern they take.
He said he had no question about Glading’s ability to handle the job.
“It was a difficult campaign,” he said. “It was largely a clash of ideas, but it was a campaign that had an atmosphere of ritual killings. Jo Glading got caught up in that.”
Michael Aron, New Jersey Network senior political correspondent and author of a recent book about the campaign called Governor’s Race, agreed.
“It was a campaign of ‘Kill Christie With Ridicule,’ ” said Aron, who is also a media columnist for New Jersey Reporter magazine. “That was the tone and the posture that the Florio leadership took. Jo Glading did not set the tone; others did. I think she’s professional enough to take off one hat and put on another.”
Glenn Ritt, editor of the Record in Bergen County, N.J., said he did not want to comment on the Glading hire. But he said he has a problem with journalists who cross the line and then try to return to the profession.
Robert Comstock, a former Record editor and press spokesman for former Democratic Gov. Brendan Byrne who now teaches journalism at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., said editorial writers should have strong opinions and should express them freely.
“That’s their job and that’s what they’re getting paid for,” he said. “I regret the notion that being in politics contaminates a journalist.”
Ollwerther said there was no attempt by the Press to hide the Glading addition or the other staff shifts.
“We don’t announce changes like that,” he said.
But two media experts said the Press should have made an announcement given Glading’s high visibility during the campaign.
“In such a case, I think full disclosure is important,” said Everette Dennis, executive director of the Freedom Forum Media Studies Center at Columbia University in New York. “Of course, it’s up to any news organization to do as it pleases, but it’s best to be as up front as possible.”
He also suggested a cooling-off period of about six months before Glading starts writing any political editorials.
Tony Atwater, chairman of the Rutgers journalism and mass media department, praised the Press’ “high journalistic standards” but said its readers should have been informed about Glading.
“Given the history of the campaign, readers should have been told,” he said.
Neil Reisner, president of the New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, said it would not have hurt if the Press carried a story or a column about Glading’s position.
Reisner said it is possible that SPJ at a future meeting might organize a panel discussion on the so-called “revolving door” issue and invite Glading and others to speak.
H.L. “Sandy” Schwartz III, publisher of the Trentonian, described the Glading move from state government to the Press as one more example of the closeness that exists between the media and the state’s officeholders.
“I don’t take the newspapers in New Jersey seriously,” he said. “Very little investigative journalism goes on.”
The Trentonian was a sharp critic of the Florio administration and one of five of the state’s 20 daily newspapers to editorially endorse Whitman for governor. Schwartz said Glading would bring a “Florio-style Democratic voice” to the Press editorial page but predicted she will be under “a lot of constraints” and that her opinions will be watered down in the editorial process.
William Dowd, the Republican chairman in Monmouth County, where the Press circulates, said he did not know Glading had become an editorial writer.
“I have complained to the publisher on several occasions that the newspaper is getting too liberal,” he said. “I would have liked to have known that someone who played such a major role in the Florio campaign joined the Press.”
?( A vacancy on the editorial board at the Asbury Park (N.J.) Press was created when James Gardner left to join the administration of Republican Gov. Christine Todd Whitman(left). His position at the newspaper was filled by Jo Astrid Glading, who had served as spokeswoman for former Democratic Gov. James Florio (right) ) [ Photo & Caption]
?( Kamin is a free-lance writer and journalism educator. He had a brief stint in state government as an administrator one year after leaving the newspaper business. As a newspaper president and editor, he gave Glading her first full-time reporting job.) [Caption.