LA Times Asks: Is University Section Sponsorship a Conflict of Interest for Orange County Register?

Next week, the Orange County Register is launching three new weekly six-page insert sections dedicated to area universities. The UC Irvine one debuts April 1; Chapman University April 2; and Cal State Fullerton April 3.

Ahead of those debuts, LA Times reporter Kim Christensen questions the wisdom of the paper respectively partnering with each institution for the sections on a $275,000, one-year contractual basis. For that money, each university gets a half-page ad in 45 issues. From Christensen’s piece:

Some Register staffers have expressed concerns — most of them privately for fear of alienating their bosses — that the collaborative effort and the schools’ paid sponsorship of it will undermine the newspaper’s credibility and blur the line between advertising copy and news stories…

Register publisher Aaron Kushner said the newspaper would maintain editorial control over the sections… “We are explicit with advertisers that just because they are buying ads that does not give them veto rights or approval rights or control over content,” Kushner said.

Editor Ken Brusik adds that he and his staff will play no favorites, which we believe. Reinventing a print newspaper in the 21st century is going to require a lot of creative new modeling; this BuzzFeed-like approach – and it is certainly up for debate – is one such example. Read Christensen’s full piece here.