About MARTA, SaportaReport and building a new journalism model

By Chris Schroder, publisher of SaportaReport

Recently, SaportaReport itself has been in the news regarding a contract that publisher Chris Schroder signed with MARTA to begin a Thought Leadership column in the near future. Some writers – and we fear some readers – might be confused as to the nature of our relationship with MARTA. We thought this would be a good opportunity to clarify our journalistic role in the community, as well as our efforts to build innovative revenue streams to support our new model for online journalism.

A little history first

Newspapers, radio and TV stations set up a business model many decades ago to provide for independent and fair reporting. Journalistic insiders call it “church and state,” meaning the sales divisions of these operations sell as much advertising as possible to support the the costs of producing and delivering their content. Advertising was sold to some of the same retailers, businesses and political/governmental entities that the news reporters and editorial writers were covering in the editorial sections or news reports.

When we say “church and state,” we mean that these sales are made with the understanding that the news reporters would not alter their coverage because the sales were made. Having worked for six daily newspapers throughout the South, I can tell you there have been many uncomfortable times when the news side of the organizations for which I worked were publishing very unflattering stories or columns about organizations that were also advertising within the same pages.

Sometimes, the advertisers were so upset at the news coverage they would threaten to cancel their advertising and their subscriptions to the paper – all of which was in their right. I’ve never witnessed – and rarely heard about – instances in American journalism when advertisers were able to influence the writers or editors in the professional newsrooms. Those departments operated independently from the advertising departments.

Not all reporting that is published in print, on the airwaves or on the Internet follow these rules. In recent years, some of these lines have been blurred as publications build a new model for revenue. At SaportaReport, this is not the case.

SaportaReport and Thought Leadership

The reason I got involved with SaportaReport is because it was founded by Maria Saporta, whom I believe is one of the most trusted and honest reporters in the Atlanta market for perhaps the past three decades. Her reputation as a fair and responsible reporter is legendary.

She does have her passions – particularly for the future of Atlanta, public transportation and parks – and sometimes her news coverage or opinion columns have led people to think she is crusading unfairly. I don’t think so.

Jeff Cochran is our salesperson and I serve as this website’s publisher. In our roles, we talk to many businesses and organizations about how they could support our efforts by advertising with us or sponsoring us. In an effort to build new revenue streams, I suggested SaportaReport start a relatively innovative concept called Thought Leadership.

It is sort of a cross between sponsorship and editorial in that different organizations have agreed to pay SaportaReport an annual fee in return for us hosting and promoting their individual websites that discuss topics relating to their industries and/or areas of expertise. So far, our thought leaders – a mortgage company, a healthcare firm, an architecture firm and a technology attorney write very interesting blogs and post photos and videos on topics we hope you’ll find interesting. I host a public relations blog written by our team at Schroder PR, my “day job.”

I also contribute a weekly column to SaportaReport called Moments in which I interview people about that one moment that changed the course of their life and contributed in some way to our community. Sometimes, I have found interesting Moments participants who are also clients of my PR firm. In those cases, Maria has asked me to disclose that relationship in the article, which I have. That lets you know if I have some relationship with the person that I am profiling that is not entirely objective. You can choose to weigh what I write with that information in your mind.

Maria and the other writers on SaportaReport are committed to disclosing any relationships they have that might be significant to readers in order to weigh their perspectives. In other cases, you should trust that we are writing with as much objectivity and balance as possible for people trained in journalism, but who live and work and participate in the metro Atlanta community.

MARTA

Earlier this year, after long discussions, MARTA agreed to sign a contract to participate in sponsoring a thought leadership column. I’ve had many discussions with Lyle Harris, MARTA’s chief spokesman and media relations press officer, about the benefits of such an investment and how and when the public entity should start publishing their weekly blogs. Those columns should start soon. We will be welcoming a few other organizations in the coming months who are also close to signing contracts for their own thought leadership columns. Please let me know if I can present this opportunity to your firm. You can get more information at www.saportareport.com/advertising.

This week, Maria chose to write a column about State Rep. Mike Jacobs, chairman of the legislative MARTA Oversight Committee (MARTOC), that was critical of his involvement in the selection of a new MARTA general manager to replace retiring CEO Beverly Scott. Many readers were praiseworthy of Maria’s efforts to point out the relationship between Mike and an internal candidate who was not selected for the position and remarks Mike made to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Others thought Maria was too critical. Some have taken the step of reporting MARTA’s purchase of a thought leadership site at SaportaReport as evidence that Maria was not objective in her coverage. I disagree. Maria has covered MARTA for years and her coverage at times has been positive. Other times it has been critical. I think she has been fair, though I personally do not know Mike.

That might change. Today I was informed that as MARTOC chair, Mike has requested – and will receive – copies of emails between Lyle and me and Lyle and Maria. I also know reporter Richard Belcher of WSB-TV has requested MARTA and SaportaReport documents and some bloggers have commented on Maria’s coverage.

This is all good for you, the informed reader and resident of metro Atlanta. Close scrutiny by a reporters such as Maria and Richard, or by the legislature means that your tax dollars are being watched closely and that oversight of organizations within our growing metro area are being actively managed by many parties – all of whose reports are available to you online.

Journalism is evolving. So is SaportaReport, and MARTA and even state government. I hope you will continue reading and participating as we make our best efforts to provide an emerging destination on which you can read excellent and fair coverage of issues and people that impact you and the region. At the same time, I will do my best to find increasing revenue streams to support our efforts.

Please let us know what you think.

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21 comments
garyjones 63
garyjones 63

We seem to miss the real point : Representative Jacobs is tasked with oversight of MARTA  and NOT being involved with determining or trying to influence MARTA's Board to hire his candidate for CEO . Legislative oversight means providing oversight on policy and operations and not trying to put your person into a position where they may be influenced by you on letting MARTA contracts. Seems to me that that there is a six feet of separation between most people of influence and accomplishments so the fact the Mr Harris once worked at the AJC and joined Ms Sporata briefly in her then new venture is not a indictment of anything other than networking .

 

I look forward to the Thought Leadership  blogs -the more information a free society has -the better we all are -seems to me from a distance Mr Jacobs has a big ego and wants to be a big fish in a rather small pond -

 

Watch out you don't cause folks to wonder if the pond should not be drained -to cease your food supply

 

 

YellowJacketsFan
YellowJacketsFan

 @garyjones 63 Clearly, gary, you're trying to minimize the issue and whitewash the problem. Where are your "six feet of separation" b/w Saporta and Harris? First they work together, then they are in business together, next he leaves for MARTA and sends business to Saporta... If you don't see a conflict here, you're either blind or naive.

Murph Kwaterski
Murph Kwaterski

I'm calling total BS on this. 

 

The poster failed to divuldge alongside Lyle Harris' MARTA professional creds that he was at one point a full-blown SaportaReport partner, accoring to Ms. Saporta herself in a June 9, 2009 posting: 

 

"Dear Readers,

 

For the next 10 days or so, I will be out of pocket. That means there will not be daily updates on SaportaReport.

But while I’m gone, you will be in for a special treat.

 

Lyle Harris, my former colleague at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has agreed to write the next column in the Maria’s Metro spot.

 

Many of you know Lyle. You have read his editorials in the AJC focusing primarily on transportation, housing, land-use and the environment.

 

Better yet, Lyle has agreed to join me as a partner on SaportaReport. In the coming weeks, you will see a regular column from Lyle. And that’s just the beginning. Lyle and I hope to partner in more ways to help make the Atlanta region and Georgia a more vibrant place for all.

 

Maria Saporta" 

 

Here's the cached link: http://saportareport.com/blog/2009/06/coming-soon-lyle-harris-joining-saportareport/

 

Mr. Harris' photo and bio also used to run right along with Ms. Saporta's as the publications lead correspondents. 

 

There's also a typo in the above posting in the second graf, halfway point: "the the costs of producing..." 

 

Now to see how open and truthful this forum really is. 

 

:-(

 

inatl
inatl like.author.displayName 1 Like

What's the problem here?  Mr. Harris was a journalist and on the editorial board of the AJC.  That's the experience I'm sure that got him the job with MARTA's Public Relations.

 

Are you saying because Maria maybe friends with him or respect him she is making stuff up? 

YellowJacketsFan
YellowJacketsFan

 @inatl I think it's clear that there is a conflict of interests here....If you and I work together, and then I leave the place but send business to you from my new employer, only a blind man won't be able to see a conflict here. Mr. Harris was a partner in SaportaReport, left the gig to work for MARTA, and now is directing MARTA's $$$ to his partners...Are you blind?

YellowJacketsFan
YellowJacketsFan

Are you expecting a reply? Most people when caught red-handed just disappear. Let's see if ScotNAtlanta or any other apologists for Maria show up...

ScottNAtlanta
ScottNAtlanta

 @YellowJacketsFan Some people have a life other than commenting on blogs...grow up.  I have read Maria's work for many years and I find it informative and discussion provoking.  If you dont like it...there is a vast internet for you to enjoy

YellowJacketsFan
YellowJacketsFan

 @ScottNAtlanta get that chip off your shoulder, Scotty! While I never called you "Maria apologist, idiot, needing civics 101", I can see that you really deserve all of it. And your constant suggestion for me to "grow up" displays snooty insecure juvenile.

 

Guess what bud? I don't need to know who you are and what you do, I already know: you are a troll and you shill for Maria.

ScottNAtlanta
ScottNAtlanta

 @YellowJacketsFan PP said it was 10,000.  That doesn't mean its true.  I also have no interest in people such as yourself throwing hyperbole (Maria apologist, idiot, needing civics 101) my way when you have no idea who I am or what I do.  You will not bait me again...you are not worthy of my time.  When you grow up...perhaps we can have a civilized discussion about these issues without trying to make a game of it

YellowJacketsFan
YellowJacketsFan

 @ScottNAtlanta Kinda strange to hear it from someone who littered this board with his/her comments for the last week...Do you happen to know how much MARTA paid SaportaReport? Just curios....

YellowJacketsFan
YellowJacketsFan

What is MARTA doing paying for columns, anywhere? They are in the business of providing transportation, not income to local entities ala SaportaReport.

inatl
inatl

 @YellowJacketsFan from the above article "how and when the public entity should start publishing their weekly blogs"

 

MARTA is paying for the space to publish their own column that hopefully will make their case on various issues related to their provision of transportation service and/or the need in the region for transportation supportive development.

 

As many have noted, MARTA's ridership could be higher if we could overcome the false perceptions about riding MARTA.   Not to mention there are a number of decision makers or other relevant folks who read the Sapporta Report.   This seems like a worthwhile investment in marketing.

YellowJacketsFan
YellowJacketsFan

 @inatl I don't mind MARTA publishing a column, marketing itself do the general public, etc. But they don't have to pay for it out of public funds. And when they do send money to someone who immediately comes out swinging defending MARTA, it stinks to high heaven.

 

"MARTA is paying for the space to publish their own column" - MARTA has a website, what a great place to make a case.

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

I guess we now know the pro-MARTA, pro-TSPLOST, pro-Beverly Scott articles weren't biased, they were thought leadership.

If you really want to be open with your readers, list all of your clients with whom you have similar contracts.

ScottNAtlanta
ScottNAtlanta like.author.displayName 1 Like

 @Burroughston Broch as I said above...if you dont like it...there is a vast internet waiting.  If you think its biased, or dont like whats here, feel free to never come back...its a free country we live in...the choice is yours. 

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

Scott, my comment was addressed to Maria and her staff, not you. Are you presuming to speak for her? I don't think she needs anyone to speak for her, least of all you.

 

SpaceyG
SpaceyG like.author.displayName 1 Like

Oh please. You'd never have written this justification (ye olde Jeff Dickerson method of none to little disclosure of blatant client-shilling) if Mike Hassinger hadn't outted your MARTA invoice on Peach Pundit.

ScottNAtlanta
ScottNAtlanta

 @SpaceyG Mike's piece on PP was probably the most juvenile smart_ass piece I've ever read there (and I'm there often).  He should get no props for that piece of writing

Trackbacks

  1. […] Wednesday afternoon, the digital publication released a column about the Thought Leadership contract with MARTA, saying that MARTA did, in fact, purchase a Thought Leadership website from SaportaReport in […]

  2. […] Saporta Report is defending Maria Saporta’s column inveighing against Rep. Jacobs by claiming with a straight face that MARTA’s $10,000 payment did not influence her opinion.  In an effort to build new revenue streams, I suggested SaportaReport start a relatively […]