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Seattle Times Ad Buy Leads To Newsroom, Reader Protests

Seattle Times McKenna AdIt happened Wednesday, and only in the printed version of The Seattle Times. But the controversy and conversation have played out on Facebook, Twitter and blogs — both mainstream media and organizational.

“It” was an unprecedented act.

The Seattle Times Co. placed a full-page ad on page B6 asking voters to support Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna. It’s an independent expenditure (meaning not coordinated with the campaign) valued at almost $80,000.

And the ad donation makes the Seattle Times the third largest independent contributor to the McKenna campaign, after Our Washington and Stand for the Children WA PAC.

In defending its actions, the company set up a new Twitter account, @SeattleTimesCo:

There has been exactly one tweet, and no response to the three readers who replied.

The ad, according to the public statement, was designed to prove to political campaigns that newspaper ads are just as effective as local TV ads. So the company decided to offer support to two campaigns: Yes on Marriage Equality (Referendum 74) and Rod McKenna for governor.

These campaigns were chosen in part because they are consistent with Seattle Times’ editorial positions, as well as the fact that these two campaigns cover a range of political and social perspectives. Being for marriage equality and for McKenna for Governor provides some balance given the constituencies of these two statewide elections.

Neither the newsroom nor editorial board was consulted. More than 100 reporters have objected because the ad threatens the perception of an independent newsroom.

The publication of the first ad came one day after The Seattle Times showed its commitment to old-fashioned independent journalism by sponsoring a debate between the two candidates, moderated by one of our political reporters. During that debate, both candidates pointed to stories or editorials written by our staff to support their points. To the candidates and the viewing public, we weren’t part of one campaign or another. We were the arbiters, a trusted, third-party source of information. That is core to our identity.

Read the Storify to see the full extent of the controversy.

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