The Union has another conflict of interest — this time covering a big arts & culture win

The Union can be a walking “conflict of interest,” as this blog has previously observed. Often times, the publisher would sit on the board of a nonprofit (or three or four) that it was supposed to be covering, raising questions about bias in news coverage. The excuse is that it is a “small town,” but it’s avoidable if those involved would focus on the possibility of a conflict, rather than sweep it under the rug.

The latest conflict involves The Union being a paid subcontractor to the Nevada County Economic Resource Council in managing the Rood Center’s tourism website,, and its bias in underreporting a major arts and culture coup.

In July, the California Arts Council announced that Nevada City, Grass Valley and Truckee were among the 14 California cultural districts in a new creative statewide program.

Yet the website, which The Union manages, has not posted a single blog item on the announcement. Not one. Go ahead and look for yourself. This should have been a major post, because the designation is a big cultural tourism win. The Truckee Chamber made a big deal about the announcement.

You could chalk it up to incompetence, but it also raises questions about a conflict of interest — wearing “the hat of news reporting” and “the hat of promotion.”

At the same time all three towns are celebrating their new status as “cultural arts districts,” The Union has launched a crusade against the Nevada County Arts Council for an administrative mistake that cost the loss of grant dollars with the California Arts Council. To be sure, it was unfortunate. The Council apologized.

But talk about missing the “big picture.” What the article left out was the Council’s Herculean effort in helping all three cities win a prestigious cultural district designation. That is unprecedented for a County in the state. It has generated robust coverage statewide.

The Union’s own news coverage was modest for such a landmark announcement. But again, under The Union’s “watch” did not even post a blog item about it. So you have to wonder why.

I warned about this conflict a long time ago. Does The Union want to be “Inspector Clouseau” or promote an arts and culture achievement on the County tourism website? So far, it’s been unable to do both. Let’s hope the ERC and the Rood Center is listening up.

Those tax dollars going to The Union for the subcontract are ours.

Author: 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 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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