More sponsors than a NASCAR driver: George Smith – a contributor to this Web site, as well as a columnist for the Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal – runs an informative Web site of his own, where he provides his perspective on issues affecting hunting, fishing, and natural resources. It’s that last gig that’s causing ethical concerns.
Smith’s blog lists a half-dozen sponsors, including First Wind, Elliotsville Plantation Inc., and (until this week) Shipyard Brewing. Their logos are prominently displayed, so if Smith writes about issues in which they’re involved, visitors to his site will have no trouble finding out he has a financial arrangement with these companies.
But that’s not the case in Smith’s other journalistic undertakings.
His July 13 column in the Sentinel and KJ praised the efforts of Roxanne Quimby to promote a national park in the Maine woods. No mention that Elliotsville Plantation is Quimby’s land management company. In fact, no mention of Elliotsville, at all.
If it were, it wouldn’t explain why Smith devoted his July 20 column in the two papers to defending a controversial wind-power project. And it also wouldn’t explain why he didn’t include a disclaimer about First Wind, the project’s developer, being a sponsor of his Web site.
In the July 24 Maine travel column Smith and his wife write for the Sentinel and KJ, he claims Shipyard offers the “best tour” of any Maine brewery. At the time the column appeared, Shipyard was listed a sponsor of his site. That fact wasn’t mentioned in the travel piece.
Media outlets that carry Smith’s writings need to be more vigilant in making sure his conflicts of interest are clearly spelled out for their readers. And it also wouldn’t hurt if they gave Smith a little lesson in journalistic ethics.