It seems that one of Gannett's larger newspapers, the Indianapolis Daily Star, has hit a snag on its way to implementing the company's "Information Center" newsroom, aka the Seven Desk Initiative (which I wrote about on Wired.com as well as in a series of blog posts). Part of the Star's plans for reinventing its operations included asking its editorial staff to write advertorials. In a memo to management obtained by Editor & Publisher, the union representing the paper's writers and editors strenuously objected to the violation of ethics guidelines that require the union to uphold a "high wall of separation between editorial and advertising." Management then modified its request to include only copyeditors and designer, but those "non-bylined" positions are also covered by the guild's guidelines.
Issues of "church and state," as they're commonly referred to in journalism, aren't central to crowdsourcing per se, but the situation at the Daily Star raises issues with which any newsroom putting the crowd to work will have to deal. There's a common misperception that the wacky ways of the Web have blurred all the old boundaries. This is true, as far as it goes. But new boundaries have been established, and some look remarkably similar to the old ones. Online communities may not give a whit whether reporters write advertorials, but they will damn well expect to be informed of the fact. When open source methodologies migrated to fields outside programming, certain cultural assumptions that helped define the open source movement came along for the ride. Transparency, in all its forms, is taken for granted. If Gannett wants to play in the new sandbox, it's going to have to learn the new rules. This shouldn't be too hard since, to restate, they look a lot like the old ones. To quote an excellent post on Ken Doctor's digital media site Content Bridges, "Cardinal rule number one for the digital content age: Build trust."