Joe Coffey / The Fifth Estate
The research phase of many a local news story involves a reporter checking out a company’s website to get some basic facts. Who owns this company? What do they do? How do they do it?
Trusted businesses make it easy to find their mission statements, purpose statements, promises to their customers, information about what they do, etc. Let’s turn the tables and see how well some Corridor media outlets fare when it comes to their own websites and the sharing of basic information that everyone wants to see.
KCRG – F
Atlanta-based Gray Television owns KCRG, having added it to its 90-plus station portfolio in 2015. KCRG’s website lacks easy-to-find pages that detail this ownership, the station’s approach to serving this market or even the station’s history. The only mention of Gray that I could find is a tiny “Designed by Gray Digital Media” next to the webpage’s copyright.
KGAN/KFXA – D
The Corridor’s CBS affiliate is owned and operated by Sinclair Broadcast Group, while its FOX affiliate receives certain services from the broadcast giant. You can get top-line details about this if you go to the “contact” page that is a click and long scroll down the main menu tab. I found no page detailing the news operation’s mission or methods, or answers to the questions that tend to arise every time Sinclair stations make national headlines for disseminating right-leaning content in unison.
The Gazette – C
This grandfather of Corridor media has a better backstory than it’s telling. I tried but came up short in my attempt to find a page touting the Gazette’s history (which even includes winning a Pulitzer). To access any kind of ownership info you have to click the Folience link in the website’s footer or the “contact us” link in the main menu. Sure, Folience is employee-owned – which is a positive in today’s media ownership universe – but clicking to learn more takes you to a corporate Folience site that leads with language about “investing” and “long-term financial value.”
Look closely in the Gazette webpage’s footer and you’ll see an “Earning your trust” link that goes to a page that says almost nothing about the company’s purpose or actual approach to serving the community. The page does, however, solicit feedback while boasting of its nondescript participation in the Trusting News Project.
KWWL – C
Two clicks deep, starting with the “contact KWWL” link, you can find an 800-plus word overview of KWWL’s ownership that also touches on equipment advances, local programming highlights and infrastructure improvements. Current-owner Quincy Media has stations in 15 markets, largely here in the Midwest. Just like the other Corridor TV stations, however, KWWL doesn’t present an easy-to-find journalistic credo or commitment to viewers that can serve as a guiding light or a differentiator in the market.
Little Village – A
The independent media company is known for its twice-monthly, print publications focusing on local lifestyle and arts content. Their webpage has the kind of “About” page you’d expect from any media organization. That’s where you’ll find basic info about the company alongside their core values and summaries of their other revenue streams. It explains their Letters to the Editor and Reader Comment policies, and even shares best practices for pitching a freelance story to them via the values that make a story actually matter to our community.
Iowa City Press-Citizen – A
The “Part of the USA Today Network” branding is hard to miss on the Press Citizen’s website masthead. A long scroll to the bottom of the site’s main page reveals an “Our Ethical Principles” link that takes you to a 700-plus word manifesto that is the mothership’s ethical guidelines for their journalists across the organization. In addition to the standard stuff about the First Amendment and fairness, they detail the company’s commitment to transparency, diverse opinions and separation from business interests.
The media organizations that did poorly on this unannounced test will surely improve their ability to share this stuff. They’re aware of the growing divide between media credibility and consumers, the need for ownership transparency and a public journalistic credo that is worth being held accountable to. After all, they’re journalists. •
Joe Coffey has 20 years of experience as a journalist, educator and marketer in the Corridor.