Key West Paper Tells Local Candidates ‘Pay to Play’ for Coverage
In a stunning lack of ethics, Tom Oosterhoudt, publisher of the weekly “Conch Color” in Key West, Fla., has told city commission candidates that they are required to buy advertising with his newspaper if they want campaign coverage.
Mandy Bolen of the Key West Citizen writes:
[Oosterhoudt] acknowledged his policy, which alarmed journalism experts at an internationally renowned institute and troubled two national civic elections and election reform groups.
“As far as candidate forums and debates, we’ll cover those when we can, but if candidates want their campaign covered, they have to pay to play,” Oosterhoudt told The Citizen Thursday. “I gotta pay the bills.”
District 6 candidate James Marquardt, who is challenging incumbent Clayton Lopez, said he became concerned when both received an e-mail from Oosterhoudt on Tuesday. Lopez said he had no problem with the policy.
“From this point on, I will be treating you both like the other candidates in order to sustain a level playing field and ask that you both advertise in order for me to be able to afford any campaign coverage that you may ask for,” Oosterhoudt wrote. He went on to state that mayoral candidates Craig Cates and incumbent Morgan McPherson had purchased advertising, which is why Oosterhoudt had covered their campaign parties.
The Poynter Institute’s ethics group leader called his policy “horrific” and “appalling.”
“That is an absolute breach of the editorial independence of a newsroom,” Kelly McBride said, emphasizing that editorial content should be completely separate from advertising content. “Otherwise it has no value to the audience. The publication is putting its loyalty to their bottom line ahead of their responsibility to their readers.”