Every quarter at Everett Community College, I teach several dozen students about mass media. Central to that class is the important role the free press plays in a democratic society. We discuss watchdog journalism and the importance of local news. We talk about understanding the difference between news content and advertising, and the importance of “the wall” between the two within a news organization. And I often point them to The Herald as an example of a newspaper that’s serving its readership well.
Imagine then my shock on Election Day when I turned to HeraldNet.com to research my ballot. At the top of the site was a paid political advertisement masquerading as a Herald headline. This ad, which was maligning one of the mayoral candidates, was in a similar font to the site’s headlines. It used The Herald’s signature red. And was nearly impossible to distinguish as an ad.
This was a shocking betrayal of the public trust. Everett is lucky to have such fantastic journalists doing the important, difficult and often thankless work of local watchdog reporting. On Election Day, the leadership at The Herald let those journalists down. More importantly, they let down our community — and our democracy.
I understand it has been a difficult stretch for our nation’s local newspapers. For many, it’s been a battle just to keep the presses rolling. But if betraying the public trust is the cost for staying in business, that battle has already been lost.
T. Andrew Wahl
EvCC journalism instructor