January 30, 2007

Event to explore tension between news, advertising

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Journalism faculty members and students at Southern Illinois University Carbondale will explore the competing interests between the news media and the companies that advertise with them during a symposium next month.

The symposium examines the case of a newspaper reporter who lost his job after writing a story critical of an automobile corporation. It is set for noon, Feb. 6, in the dean's office at the Communications Building on the SIUC campus and is free and open to the public.

Oliver Witte, a lecturer and graduate assistant pursuing a doctorate in the School of Journalism in the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts, is organizing the event. It focuses on the firing of Demetrius Patterson, an award-winning business reporter for The Journal News of White Plains, N.Y., who lost his job after writing a 1997 front-page story about General Motors' relationship with its minority car dealership owners.

Three years later, editors accused him of plagiarism involving a different article, though a review by other media, including ABC's "Nightline," concluded the charge was dubious. Patterson maintains Gannett Co. Inc., the company that owns The Journal News, fired him for writing the GM article and for further investigating the automaker. Patterson now works as a reporter for the Chicago Defender newspaper.

Witte, who once counted Patterson among his students at Loyola University Chicago, said the symposium addresses one of the great issues of media ethics.

"It's an important story that says if a publisher can be bought, the news is devalued," Witte said. "There is constant tension between the need to get revenue and the need to uphold journalistic principles. It's never-ending and has to be solved on an issue-by-issue basis. In this case, it was solved to the detriment of a good young reporter whose story has never been impeached and whose editors thought it at the time worthy of banner play on a Sunday."

The School of Journalism is inviting a host of guests to participate in the discussion, including representatives from GM, Gannett, The Journal News and Ted Koppel, former host of "Nightline."