We know this is a little stale, but it irritates us to no end

Last Wednesday night, issues of the St. Pete Times, which are normally found in and around Tropicana Field, were noticeably absent. What was so special about this particular issue? It was the issue that featured a cover story reporting that Devil Rays center fielder Elijah Dukes had threatened to kill his wife and kids and sent her a picture message of a handgun.

One fan contacted the Times to inquire as to why the issues were missing from the Trop. The response was not a surprising one.

Aaron – thanks for the heads up. We made the choice not to distribute at Tropicana Field yesterday. Naturally there is a fine line we have to walk at times and that seemed like the best choice. Things are back to normal today.

Well at least they were honest about it. But wait! The Times immediately retracted this statement and changed their story to indicate that withholding the papers was not intentional. Supposedly they only meant to make fewer papers to be available at the Trop. Even if this later excuse is to be believed (though it smells like a diaper filled with Indian food) neither decision should have been implemented. The Times has a duty to their readers to report the news in an unbiased fashion nor can they make decisions to report some of the news or to report the news only in some places.

We wish we could say that this move surprises us, but it doesn’t. In fact we warned you about scenarios much like this earlier in the season when we discussed our distaste for the sponsorship deal between the St. Pete Times and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. We understand that running a newspaper is a business and like other businesses the point is to make money, but a newspaper is not a business like any other business. There is a fine line between making decisions that are good for the business and making decisions that are ethical for a newspaper. In this case the Times ended up on the wrong side of the line.

Would the Times have withheld the papers if a member of the New York Yankees had pulled the same stunt? Better yet, would New York Newsday, a major sponsor of the Yankees, have withheld their papers if a similar story occurred with the Bronx Bombers? The answer in both instances is ‘no’. The papers were withheld because the story was a black eye for the Times business partner, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

We applaud the Times for having run the story in the first place. Certainly the paper held internal discussions about the pros and cons of damaging their bed mates. In the end they must have thought the national exposure that was due to follow the exclusive piece outweighed the small economic impact on their business relationship with the Rays.

We don’t know who made the decision to go silent at the Trop on Wednesday night. Whether the decision was made by the Times, was requested by the Devil Rays or a mutual decision by both parties doesn’t matter. The decision was made and it was wrong. The decision was made and this is why many people are losing faith in traditional media forms to provide unbiased coverage of the news.

[From the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics] Journalists should avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived, remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility, disclose unavoidable conflicts… deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.

It might be time for the editors of the St. Pete Times to go back to journalism school.

times employees get important updates? [Sticks of Fire]
Elijah Dukes covers missing Wednesday at the Trop [Creative Loafing]
Times reports news, but doesn’t deliver it [TampaBay.com]
The St. Pete Times And The Tampa Tribune Would Like Rays Fans To Drink Their Kool-Aid [Rays Index]


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