Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Indianapolis Star Editors Violate Journalistic Ethics in CIB Editorial

This morning, the Indianapolis Star published an editorial entitled "CIB can't afford this big hit."  The editorial arose from the proposal that the CIB make payments in taxes (PILOTS) for Lucas Oil Stadium and Bankers Life Fieldhouse  While those facilities put money in the pocket of two billionaire sports owners, they pay nothing in property taxes because they are ostensibly owned by the Capital Improvement Board, a non-profit, quasi-government entity.  In arguing against the proposal, the Star editorial opined:
Jeff Taylor, Editor and Vice President, Indianapolis Star
"As CIB President Ann Lathrop noted Tuesday, the agency has built up reserves in part because it has large loans that will come due in the next few years. That starts in 2017 with $33.7 million that the city owes to private investors that helped initially with funding for Circle Centre mall and later Bankers Life Fieldhouse...."
What the Star's editors failed to disclose to its readers is that the owner of the Indianapolis Star, Gannet Co., Inc., is one of those private investors.  On September 13, 1994, Central Newspapers, Inc. approved investing $2.3 million into the Circle Centre Mall, which debt has been rolled into the debt on the Bankers Life Fieldhouse.   In 2000, Gannett bought Central Newspapers.  Thus, Gannett is now one of those investors it was saying in the editorial needs to be paid back, even if it means higher property taxes for Indianapolis residents.

Under even the most forgiving standards of judicial ethics, the Indianapolis Star's editors at the very least had a duty to disclose in the editorial Gannett's ownership interest.

This breach of judicial ethics by the Star points to another one.  A newspaper should never become an investor in a major city project that will be the subject of numerous stories in the newspaper.  Disclosure alone isn't enough to avoid the inevitable conflicts of interest that arise when a newspaper abandons its role of unbiased observer to become a player in local politics.

Jeff Taylor, Editor and Vice President of the Indianapolis Star, owes the newspaper's readers an apology for its breach of judicial ethics.