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Opinion
Ormond Beach Observer Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 7 months ago

Observer responds to News-Journal report of discounted ads for Ormond Proud

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From now on, no discounts. Also, all political ads must be paid for in advance.
by: John Walsh Publisher

Sidebar added April 23, 2019.

Updated 8:27 a.m. Nov. 13. See Editor's Note below.

If you read the Daytona Beach News-Journal on Nov. 1, you likely saw the front-page story about a complaint filed against

the Ormond Proud Political Action Committee. In the story, the Ormond Beach Observer was accused of showing favoritism to the Ormond Proud PAC by offering special pricing for full-page ads.

Allow me to be straight-forward and brutally honest: We did give the Ormond Proud PAC a discount on our full-page rate. That was wrong, and I take responsibility.

Let me tell you the whole story.

Members of what would become the Ormond Proud PAC met with me on Aug. 8 and asked about ad prices. They said they wanted to publish eight full-page ads. 

Our standard practice is what most businesses do for their customers: Volume discounts. The more you spend, the better your pricing. One ad at the political/nonprofit rate is $1,775. We charged Ormond Proud $1,000 per ad.

After learning of our pricing, Bob Baumer, who is a former member of CANDO 2 and once wrote a letter to the editor asking our readers to donate to candidates supported by CANDO 2, contacted a member of our team on Oct. 12 to ask for the price of a full-page ad. He was quoted the one-time political rate of $1,775 — the correct rate.

This was the first advertising inquiry from anyone associated with CANDO 2. And you may find this hard to believe, but had CANDO 2 asked about pricing for 10 full-page ads, we would have been obligated to honor the same rate afforded Ormond Proud.

What complicates this and likely raises doubts in readers’ minds is the Observer also endorsed the same candidates supported by Ormond Proud. Does this mean the Observer is biased? What’s more, because Ormond Proud purchased advertising, did that influence a slant to the Observer’s news stories?

Neither is the case.

Our news stories, which we typically publish on Pages 1-5, have different rules from our opinion editorials on Page 6. We strive to be factual, fair and even-handed in our news coverage. Opinions by their very nature are slanted. And we know our readers are smart enough to know the difference.

To that end, we’re not going to be apologetic that, during election season, we endorse on our opinion page those candidates whose politico-economic philosophies align with the newspaper’s philosophies.

At the same time, we also believe we have an obligation to publish letters to the editor from all viewpoints, regardless of whether they align with our endorsements.

In the end, we want our readers to trust our endorsement process. We take that process seriously, and weigh the candidates’ positions regardless of who purchases advertising. Our company takes seriously and abides by that “wall between church and state” — between the editorial department and advertising.

Nevertheless, if our decision to afford the Ormond Proud PAC with a volume discount has diminished our reputation in the community, we need to admit our error and takes steps to avoid any perception of bias or favoritism.

By the way, you should know we did nothing illegal with regard to the discount. Florida statutes require us to charge every candidate the same advertising rates, and we follow that law. All candidates have paid the same nonprofit rate. PACs do not fall under that same rule.

Even so, going forward, the Observers will operate in a way that every political candidate and political organization will be treated the same. No one will receive a discount; everyone — candidates and PACs alike — will pay the same rate, our nonprofit rate. Also, we will no longer bill candidates or PACs monthly for ads that we have published. Political ads must be paid for in advance.

I am sorry and accept responsibility for creating an appearance of favoritism and bias. It pains me to think I have damaged our credibility.

We remain committed to our mission: to inspire our communities with extraordinary local content and to help our partners prosper. And we pledge to do the right thing, the right way, for the right reason.

Editor's Note: This story originally reported that Ed Kolaska was a former member of CANDO 2 who had asked readers to donate to CANDO 2-supported candidates. But the name was incorrect: It was Bob Baumer. Also, Baumer asked for the pricing on or about Oct. 12, not Sept. 12.

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