Observations on the State of Journalism

Time mgazine’s cover story on Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto was widely panned on the internet and social media, and contributed to a growing collection of Pena Nieto memes.

Now, this story in NarcoNews highlights the financial links between Peña Nieto’s government and Time Magazine, and suggests that the venerable news source may have blurred the line between editorial and advertising.

A story now making news in Mexico, based on documents obtained from a Mexican government agency, indicates that Peña Nieto’s government paid Time Warner — the owner of TIME magazine — a total of 576,000 pesos (about $44,000) between January and October of last year for “publicity” (advertising). That might have covered the Mexican government’s portion of the costs for the multi-sponsor 14-page advertorial, though the Mexican government documents do not offer specifics.

Regardless, the fact that TIME was willing to publish a major cover story touting Peña Nieto as “Saving Mexico” — after only two months early publishing a 14-page advertorial that does essentially the same thing — raises some serious questions about who is really calling the editorial shots, ultimately, at the magazine. Is it the editors or the business department?

The Huffington Post, meanwhile, questions the editorial autonomy of the Texas Tribune:

The “non-profit” Tribune is the recipient of significant amounts of money from the same corporations and lobbyists that donate to legislators and other office holders to help them in their campaigns, and to influence the outcome of legislation related to those donor’s special interests. In any context, this is a classic conflict of interest, and regardless of how much the Trib’s editors might insist they are able to do their work without being affected by these funds, they have been in operation long enough to see there is no reason to take them seriously as a news organization, and the evidence to reach this conclusion is abundant.

It’s also a kind of rank hypocrisy that is so grandiose as to be entertaining.

Fortunately, El Paso is not beset by chummy relationships between reporters and those on whom they report. Oh, yeah. Not much.

The El Paso Times has always been beholden to its advertisers, especially the car dealers. And some of those car dealers are members of the Borderplex Community Trust, the shadowy Real Estate Investment Trust pulling the strings of city government. Which may explain the coverage (or lack thereof) of some news stories, like the secret emails the city is currently fighting to keep hidden in state court.

And then there’s NewspaperTree, financed by the Hunt Family Foundation, and supported by the El Paso Community Foundation. NewspaperTree is reliant on donations from the city’s movers, and so they tread lightly around controversy. Without a wellspring of popular support, they have no motivation to advance a contrarian agenda.

Which leaves El Pasoans operating on the mushroom principle. I guess it’s a good thing El Paso has a couple of cantankerous bloggers to keep things ornery.

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