If ever the term “conflict of interest” needed a definition, the St. Petersburg Times has provided a doozy. The Bay-area newspaper announced Wednesday that it has signed a 12-year deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning to rename the Ice Palace the St. Pete Times Forum. The stupid name not withstanding, this ground-breaking deal violates many logical assumptions.
The Times has now become an advertisement itself by naming a major sporting venue after itself. This cannot be a good thing. Can they have first crack at interviews with coaches, players and visiting teams? Oh, can’t do that. Journalism’s code of ethics is very clear on these types of “gifts;” they’re not allowed.
The Times is the first newspaper in the nation to bear the honor of having an arena named after it, and there’s a reason. The line between journalism and advertising should never be crossed. As reporters and editors, the Times has a responsibility to provide objective coverage of any and all events in the Tampa Bay area. It has long been considered the premier newspaper in the region and has been ranked ninth in the country by the Columbia Journalism Review. How will CJR view the paper now? It’s doubtful the Times will be able to maintain such a prestigious position when its comprising its integrity with this advertising venture.
The only thing the St. Petersburg Times has managed to do with this latest development in marketing manipulation is bring its journalistic integrity into question. The Times‘ reporters, staff and editors are now forced to walk a very fine line between company pride and bias. Objectivity is the crux of a good journalist, and while The Tampa Tribune may welcome the chance to play “watchdog” on its competition, let’s hope this doesn’t devolve into a case of yellow journalism. Maybe just blue, black and silver.