The Union’s growing presence on local boards: Is it a conflict of interest?

octopus-norris In the famous 1901 novel “The Octopus: A Story of California,” Frank Norris writes about  control of “forces”—such as the power of railroad monopolies—over individuals. It is a good read.

In our towns, The Union newspaper long has extended its reach beyond news gathering.  Its managements sits on a lot of boards, which help set policy and disperse money in our community. Other local media, including KNCO, KVMR and YubaNet.com, have nowhere near this kind of presence. This can create potential for “conflicts of interest,” because The Union is a private, for-profit enterprise. It also has a “bully pulpit” (in print and online) to influence the community — for fundraising, to praise or to blame. In many cases, The Union also does not disclose its relationships with the nonprofits or groups it writes about. It should — and the nonprofits and other organizations should seek it.

Here are some examples:

•As it turns out, three of 16 members of the Nevada County Economic Resource Council’s new “external marketing team” (nearly 20 percent) are from the fold of The Union: Jim Hemig, The Union’s publisher; Hollie Grimaldi-Flores, The Union’s business development manager; and Mike Dobbins, editor of the Lake Wildwood Independent, which The Union owns. All three of them write regular columns in the newspaper. The NCERC is largely funded by the county.

Isn’t ONE representative from this private enterprise enough? This can create a “conflict of interest.”

Rather than writing about community issues,  Hemig often uses his column to promote what’s best for The Union’s business. In “Wish list for 2016 from my ‘bully pulpit,'” he writes: “Readers who follow real news from printed sources, like The Union and the Sacramento Bee, and online news from theunion.com and yubanet.com are far more up-to-date on the goings on than our community members focused on the latest gossip on social media.” “Real news”? Really? “Gossip”?

•Jim also is a member of the Executive Board of Directors of The Greater Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce. In “What a Great Year,” Hemig wrote: “I felt an overwhelming sense of pride when The Union’s management team stood on stage with me as we accepted the Greater Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce ‘Business of the Year’ award.”

That’s nice, but Jim should have at least disclosed that he is an executive member of the Chamber’s board and the criteria was for selecting a “Business of the Year.” Like others, I wondered, because in 2015, The Union outsourced its printing (and the jobs that go with it) to Sacramento. Jim recently wrote a column supporting the Dorsey Marketplace without giving much credence to the opposition. It’s a serious issue that will reshape our community — for better or worse — so it deserves a “fair and balanced” approach.

•Jim has been a board member of the Grass Valley Downtown Association for the past year. He also is a board member of the Sierra Memorial Hospital Foundation.  At the same time The Union is charged with writing about groups such as the GVDA, Grass Valley Chamber and Hospital. This can create a “conflict of interest.” And I do not see these relationships disclosed in the newspaper.

•Event Manager Mary Anne Hughes Davis is a director of the Penn Valley Cultural Center, which proposes to build a new concert hall. Mary Ann has promoted the project in The Union. The editorial should have disclosed more clearly that she sits is on the board of this group.

All told, The Union needs to do a much better job of disclosing its potential “conflicts of interest.” And the organizations that decide to bring them onboard as directors need to think of the unintended consequences — that is, how it can be perceived as a “good old boys network.”

About jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for years, was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News, and was Editor of The Union, a 145-year-old newspaper in Grass Valley. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing and trout fishing.
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7 Responses to The Union’s growing presence on local boards: Is it a conflict of interest?

  1. jeffpelline says:

    Speaking of “real” news in The Union, a reader pointed this out from the Maiden Lane feature: “Since then, Maiden Lane has managed to create a repertoire with its clients, who enjoy the quality of clothes and accessories the store provides. For Stu, customer service should be the first priority for any operation.”
    http://www.theunion.com/news/localnews/19926397-113/nevada-city-institution-maiden-lane-closing-doors-after
    Repertoire? I think the correct word in this context is rapport.

    Editing helps.

    • jeffpelline says:

      Todd Juvinall and his yokels continue to revel in ignorance, calling this a “spelling error.” This is an embarrassing word choice error. Some in our community continue to revel in ignorance and a lack of education.

  2. brucelevy says:

    The Union is now like Mad Magazine, but without the self awareness.

    Spelling error. Right Rapport and Repertoire. They’re so close. easy mistake to make…

  3. Ben Emery says:

    Very good Jeff, I didn’t realize The Union had its tentacles in so many organizations of our community.

    It is absolutely horrifying how much intertwining of interests on the international and national company boards goes on. Check out

    They Rule.net
    “They Rule aims to provide a glimpse of some of the relationships of the US ruling class. It takes as its focus the boards of some of the most powerful U.S. companies, which share many of the same directors. Some individuals sit on 5, 6 or 7 of the top 1000 companies. ”

    Here is an article on the subject
    http://www2.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/power/corporate_community.html

    • Tony Loro says:

      Smart people buy newspapers to control the local politicians. Las Vegas Review as an example.

      • jeffpelline says:

        Yes, and here’s the rub: Politicians read those newspapers (the older demographic), but the younger ones don’t. So the politicians and those who seek to control them are in a bubble within the community. LOL.

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