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Chicken-Fried News: Journalism violation?

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According to a sternly written piece by Columbia Journalism Review, the line between advertising and editorial was crossed when The Oklahoman ran a front-page Sunday Life feature on Sea Island, Georgia, titled “Resort offers one-of-a-kind experiences, chance to be pampered.”

Columbia Journalism Review (CJR), a publication of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, called the recent article a “full-fledged puff piece.”

Take it from us at Chicken-Fried News; you don’t have to be a graduate of the private Ivy League school to feel at least a little queasy about the decision to have an investigative journalist tackle a story on the boss’ other business. Typically, Intro to Journalism courses touch on the separation of advertising and newsroom functions. It’s a core principal in journalism, though not always rigidly adhered to as it should be, as the CJR piece underscores.

Since Colorado billionaire Philip Anschutz earned bachelor’s degree in business from University of Kansas, we assume it is unlikely he enrolled in a journalism or mass communications class. Regardless, Anschutz celebrates five years of ownership of The Oklahoman and its parent company The Oklahoman Publishing Company in September. In mid-June, he bought out fellow owners of the Sea Island resort to become sole owner, according to Atlanta Business Chronicle.

That’s why CJR staff raised its eyebrows when the Sea Island piece hit newsstands. The travel feature focused specifically on the resort, noting the accomplishment of receiving four Forbes Five-Star Awards for eight consecutive years. Adjacent to the cover story was another article, “Sea Island resort acquisition includes generational commitment to excellence,” which quoted Anschutz about his dedication to Sea Island.

New York-based CJR posed the question, “Why was The Oklahoman offering this sort of gushing coverage to a high-end coastal resort?” The reporter was unable to find out. Phone calls and emails to several Oke editors were not returned.

Was a line crossed? Was the code of ethics violated? Does real journalism still exist? At Chicken-Fried News, we hope the latter is true.

Print headline: Journalism violation?

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