Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Audacity of Philadelphia Magazine

Philadelphia magazine is one of the better chroniclers of the rich in the Delaware Valley. Lately, they have veered into media criticism, which is the one subject that should not touch with a 10 foot pole. The magazine has always been beset with allegations that it favors advertisers in its editorial content. It is alleged that Best of Philly is really the Best of the Advertisers.

Philadelphia magazine itself does not adhere to basic journalistic standards such as forbidding journalists covering an event to accept payment from event organizers. At the very least, the magazine should include a disclaimer if the journalist was paid by someone connected with the event.

Hugh E. Dillon, one of the freelance photographers for their Philadelphia Scene column, also moonlights as an events photographer. At the Barnes opening, Dillon bragged that he was hired to cover by the committee for the Philadelphia Awards to cover the ceremonies the following week. Dillon's pictures of  Aileen Roberts, the wife of Comcast CEO, and Aramark CEO Joe Neubauer, the recipients of the award, were later featured prominently on the magazine's website.

Dillon is constantly blurring the boundaries between his photography gigs and his journalism assignments.  Advertisers (or their clients) on Dillon's website, Phillychitchat, often are covered in Philadelphia magazine by Dillon.

One local pr hot shot told me, "Everybody in pr knows that if you want coverage in Philadelphia magazine, you have to pay HughE."

A reader of mine contacted the publisher of Philadelphia magazine, David Lipson, alerted him to the journalistic conflict of interest. Lipson wrote back in an email, "I do not know anything about Hugh E's blog or other business ventures. Do I know you?"

When the reader urged him to check into it, the reader never heard from Lipson again. Erica Palan, the online editor, and Tom McGrath, the magazine editor did not answer the emails sent to them that questioned the propriety of payment of staffers accepting payment for coverage.

The magazine does not have particularly distinguished track record for their media criticism. In 2011, Steve Volk wrote an article about the Inquirer publisher, "Greg Osberg: Savior". A year later, Osberg is out as publisher partially due to his attempts to censor his own newsroom's coverage of the sale of the papers. 

Even worse, Volk later confessed to leaving out a crucial fact in his big story. When he was interviewing employees of the Inquirer, he was always escorted by a in-house public relations person. While that might be standard procedure for the business world, it does seem to indicate a newspaper publisher that does not value free press.

In this month's issue of Philadelphia Magazine, writer Jason Fagone starts the death watch for Philadelphia's two alternative weeklies, City Paper and Philadelphia Weekly. Both free papers rely solely on shrinking advertising revenues. In his analysis of their problems, he never once mentions the Metro newspapers. The   free daily has a completely different editorial model, but competes for the same advertisers and some of the same readers. He also did not reveal that Metrocorp, the parent company of Philadelphia magazine, is starting a weekly of some kind.

The two alternative weeklies fill a journalistic gap in the city. They are must reading for anyone that wants to know what is really going on in the city's neighborhoods and Harrisburg. Their arts calendars list affordable entertainment and events in the city. Fagone never mentioned that.

Suzanne Roberts, the wife of Comcast founder Ralph Roberts, expressed my sentiments about the article, "Wasn't it awful?'" She was objecting to how the article characterized the purchase of Philadelphia Weekly by her son-in-law, Anthony Clifton.

Philadelphia magazine, people in glass houses should not throw stones.

UPDATE David Lipson responded to my post: Thank you for sharing.  I am so pleased they spelled our name correctly.

The editor in chief of Philadelphia magazine, Tom McGrath's response was: "You spelled my name wrong." I had incorrectly identified him as Tim.

It is pretty obvious that journalistic ethics are not a priority there.

Disclaimer: I am a freelancer for Metro and sometimes contribute to Philadelphia Weekly. I have no knowledge of their publishing side because they are kept separate at Metro.Two bloggers for Philadelphia magazine objected to the coverage of my scoop that former Governor Ed Rendell was not going to buy the Inquirer, which proved accurate.  Hugh E. Dillon questioned my reporting that Sarah Madson, wife of former Phillie Ryan Madson hated the fans, which also was later proven to be accurate.


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