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Update: SPJ Comes Down on Gannett

In a release published Tuesday on its website, the Society of Professional Journalists' Ethics Committee said that it "is dismayed that some New Jersey newspapers let a sports team cover itself."

We harrumphed about this shoddy behavior last Wednesday when we followed up on a New York Times story that reported the Gannett papers in New Jersey were using a New Jersey Devils employee to help cover the hockey team for the newspapers.

If that move wasn't disreputable enough, the executive editor of the Asbury Park Press, Hollis Towns, defended the decision of his newspaper chain with this little pearl of insult and stupidity:

"As long as it served our readers and we told them where that content was coming from, the readers were fine with it," Towns said. "I think journalists get hung up on certain lines of what's ethical more than the readers."

To which we typed:

"Yeah, and cops get hung up over laws more than most citizens, and firefighters get hung up over fire safety more than most people, and doctors get hung up over preventive care more than most patients ..."
"I'm really not sure who should be more offended by Towns' fire-able offense -- the journalists at his papers who damn well better be steeped in ethics, or the readers who are allegedly just fine with this cozy arrangement."

The SPJ was a bit more measured, but no less stern in their rebuke of this line-crosser:

"The public expects journalists to be ethical -- including fair and impartial -- and holds us accountable when we fail," Ethics Committee Chairman Andy Schotz said. "We hear constantly from people upset about eroding standards by news organizations."
"Economically squeezed journalists might seek more efficient ways to cover news, but ceding journalistic duties to newsmakers and giving space to what could be seen as glorified press releases is a poor choice. It cheapens journalism."

The Devils' season has since ended. Let's hope this nonsense at the Gannett papers has too.

(Got a tip, a gripe, or some kudos? Send 'em along.)