The Burlington Free Press is a whore

The second third of Paul Heintz’ “Fair Game” column delivered a bombshell for those of us who follow — and root for — our dwindling media sector.

The Burlington Free Press has begun to — not once, but routinely —  publish bespoke content written by interested parties, formatted and presented as if it were actual news.

Recently I caught one instance of this disturbing trend: the Free Press ran an article on the Q Burke Resort (before it was de-Q’d) — written by the resort’s PR person. It ran as a news story; the writer’s affiliation was not identified until a small note at the end of the piece.

The timing was unfortunate, since the article was published only a few days before the SEC came swooping down on the Stenger/Quiros operation.

What Heintz has done goes way beyond my isolated discovery. He runs down a lengthy list of articles, formatted and presented as news, in space supposedly reserved for journalism, that were provided by interested third parties.

Instances besides the Q Burke story:

— an article about advocacy work by a Burlington High School student, written by the PR flack for the state Agency of Education.

— a piece about a class at the Greater Burlington YMCA, written by the Y’s paid flack.

— a story about Danforth Pewter founders Fred and Judi Danforth “written, in an awkward third person, by Fred Danforth himself.”

Heintz also provides damning insight about the Q Burke article. The idea came from the Free Press and was suggested to Q Burke — along with an offer for discounted ad space in the paper. 

In other words, buy some ads and we’ll run your fluff — as news.

This is just so many kinds of wrong, I don’t know where to start.

Publisher Al Getler defends the practice.

“It is always appropriate for a daily community newspaper to run submitted content,” says Free Press publisher Al Getler. “We clearly label each piece to make it clear to the reader.”

Yeah, well, the pieces are positioned in spaces designated for original Free Press journalism, with the exact same format and visual presentation as a news article. The “label” is only in fine print at the very end. That’s grossly insufficient. More from Heintz:

Getler’s right that many small community weeklies fill their newsprint with press releases from the town grange or the local little league. But until recently it would have been unfathomable to think that the state’s largest daily would run state-sponsored propaganda, in full, outside its op-ed pages.

Now it’s a matter of course.

Yup.

The Burlington Free Press used to be a perfectly cromulent small-market newspaper that did a pretty fair job of covering its state. Now, it has ditched journalistic ethics in a desperate effort to meet corporate profit targets.

In short, it’s a whore. And Al Getler is the pimp.

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7 thoughts on “The Burlington Free Press is a whore

  1. Brooke Paige

    Nothing like a scorched earth analysis Thanks for passing along Paul’s thoughts with you dangerously accurate perspective – Nothing better than having four-color process paper for wrapping fish and lining the cat box !

    Reply
  2. nortryder

    I don’t know anyone other than you that actually reads it anymore. I used an old issue to clean the windows today. Works great and doesn’t leave streaks. Besides that?

    Reply
  3. GJD

    So does this explain the 4 page “Champlain College History” that reads like a freshman essay published in the Freeps recently? It was put out by the Marketing Department. Nice photos, though.

    Reply
  4. Brooke Paige

    BFP – More Useful After the First Day !

    The BFP is little more than a couple of pages poorly written reporting phoned in by the amateurs who replaced Sam, Terri and Nancy * – wrapped around Al’s stale old USA Today. Heck, the Mitchell Empire’s Vermont Press Bureau does a better job prowling around the golden dome and while Burlington residents believe that all things Vermont revolve around their ‘burb- little of substance happens in BTV that has ant real significance statewide.

    I still buy it daily because my bird likes to poop on the color pages and it’s also great for wrapping the food scraps before putting it into the composter by the garden shed !

    The whole print media industry is on the skids and the “cost saving” efforts in the newsroom are only hastening their demise.

    * and now even the two Mikes (Townsend and Donoghue) have left for greener pastures.

    Reply

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