Publisher's Order Riles Staff p. 12

By: Joe Nicholson Story about advertiser moved to inside page

A DECISION TO move a news story about an advertiser from Page One to the front page of the business section has sparked a controversy in the newsroom of the Home News & Tribune in New Jersey.
The incident comes at a time of heightened sensitivity about newsroom ethics and the separation of newspaper editorial and business interests.
Two editors and a staff reporter say a story about Home News & Tribune advertiser Nationwide Computers & Electronics was moved at the request of Robert Collins, publisher of the Gannett paper.
Collins declined to comment on the matter.
The story by business reporter Liz Johnson said Nationwide was charged with 15 counts of deceptive advertising and consumer fraud after a three-year investigation into more than 135 complaints to the state's consumer affairs unit. Johnson said the story switch demoralized the newsroom.
Editors had agreed that the story belonged on Page One, according to editor Richard Hughes. In an interview, he said he carried out the publisher's order even though he disagreed with it and felt the decision was based on "a misunderstanding about the quality of the story."
"For a lot of good reasons it was a good local story for us and belonged on Page One," said Hughes, a veteran of 13 years at the paper. "I had to take the story off Page One and put it on the business page. I'm always uncomfortable with that sort of thing."
The story ran June 18 on the front of the business section with the headline "Retailer cited for deceptive ads."
Like the newspaper, Nationwide is based in Middlesex County. Business editor John Harrington said the news staff was "stunned" by the publisher's intervention. Since Gannett acquired the paper last fall, with the Asbury Park Press in neighboring Ocean County, business executives haven't meddled in news, he said.
Asked if he anticipated being overruled again on story play, Hughes said, "I don't think so." But he added, "You know a publisher has a right to do a lot of things at this newspaper and all others. Publishers are not inclined to abrogate those rights whether it is with the editorial page or
Page One, the sports page or with our comics, for
that matter; . . . and through three different owners I've always respected that right."

?( Editor & Publisher Web Site: http://www.mediainfo. com) [Caption]
?(copyrigh: Editor & Publisher July 11, 1998) [Caption]


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