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Avoiding Temptation

About 30 or so years ago, news folks didn't think all that much about "taking freebies." For example, free food and drink was, and still is, a common sight in press boxes at college and professional sporting events.

Restaurants who'd gotten nice reviews weren't above calling up later and offering the reviewer a free meal or a bottle of a mid-grade wine for the kindness. And at holiday time, local businesses used to ship over various tokens of peace on Earth and goodwill to all.

But somewhere along the way, folks started remembering something Ralph Nader once said about how he couldn't, in good conscience, speak out on the safety problems connected with the Chevrolet Corvair if he'd been a dinner guest at the home of General Motors' president.

The Arizona Daily Star's code of ethics is a pretty tightly drawn document that lays down the law about accepting freebies. The rules--which roughly translate to "the Star pays its own way"--are pretty tight.

And that's a good thing. The tough part, however, is finding a tactful way to explain to the source that the paper has a policy against accepting gifts and gratuities, without getting into the whole conflict-of-interest thing. If the discussion goes that far, it can turn into an unintended insult.

At breakfast in a foothills eatery last week, I watched a Star photographer handle the situation with much grace during a shoot. Someone in the kitchen shouted an offer of pancakes and bacon through the serving port. "I'm a vegetarian," she replied.

"How about pancakes?" came the voice from the kitchen. "I'll look at the menu on the way out," the photographer said.

Nicely done.


MEDICAL COVERAGE

Jane Erikson, who covers the business of medicine for the Arizona Daily Star, had an excellent centerpiece on the Sept. 7 lead business page about the high survival rates at University Medical Center's trauma center.

It merited better play. On most news days, it was a story worthy of A-1. It's hard to compete with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin ordering forced evacuations. But keeping it on the business front may have discouraged some readers from ever seeing the story.

That's because newspaper section names are meant to help organize the paper for the reader, and a lot of folks who aren't active in business may see the section flag and think, "There's nothing for me here."

Story quality wouldn't have been the sole argument for moving Erikson's story out front. It also deserved better play, because it answered a question that arose from stories two years ago about Tucson Medical Center's decision to close its Level 1 trauma center: Was UMC up to handling the region's trauma medicine needs alone?

Those stories, under medical writer Carla McClain's byline, ran on A-1 and in the metro section. And it seems that if you raise the issue in one part of the paper, the follow-ups deserve the same level of play.

Actually, there was a way for the Star to give the story an A-1 presence--in the skybox space at the top of the page. Frankly, the quality of trauma care in Tucson probably meant much more to the Star's readers than the "oddball news" teaser that editors chose. The teaser headline--"Italian too sexy to teach religion?"--sent readers to the tale of a woman in a small Italian community who was fired after teaching religion for 14 years.


NUMBERS

There was one small problem with the UMC trauma center story: the graphic that accompanied it. It looked informative, but it really didn't say anything, because it was missing one key piece of information. The graphic broke out patient stats for the first six months of 2005 by cause of injury, gender, race, age and place where the injury occurred as percentages.

Unfortunately, the graphic didn't have the total number of patients. Without that, the reader has no idea if the stats were derived from 20 patients, 200 patients or 2,000 patients.


CHANGES UP NORTH

Sue Clark-Johnson, the head of newspaper operations for Gannett's Pacific Newspaper Group and boss of bosses at The Arizona Republic, has been named to replace Gary Watson as head of the giant chain's newspaper operations. Watson will retire Sept. 30, ending 39 years with Gannett.

Clark-Johnson, 58, has headed Gannett's newspaper operations in the Western states since 1985, initially while serving as publisher of the Reno Gazette-Journal. In 2000, she moved to Phoenix to serve as the Republic's chairman, CEO and publisher.

She racked up numerous awards while turning the Reno paper into one of Gannett's more profitable midsized properties.

But her tenure in Reno also included a six-year run of controversy over her "other job"--a $30,000-a-year gig on the board of Harrah's Entertainment, a gaming and hospitality business. She served two three-year terms on the board, despite complaints from media critics (including Weekly editor Jimmy Boegle, while he was at the Reno News & Review) that her dual role amounted to a conflict of interest.


DIFFERENT TAKE ON KATRINA

Greg Hansen's column in the Sept. 8 Star, "Leave dramatics in the real world," was an excellent read.

Sometimes, the joy of living vicariously though successful teams plays an occasional mind game. In his book The Glory and the Dream, a narrative that looked at the country between 1932 and 1972, author William Manchester's notes on the Pearl Harbor attack included someone calling The Arizona Republic's sports desk for football scores, frustrated the radio offered only war news.


CORRECTING CLARIFICATION

A reader with a great feel for music trivia points out that "He's So Fine" was written by the late Ronnie Mack, rather than Carole King, as reported here earlier.

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